Nick was invited to be the speaker for the Academy's Junior High/High School retreat that took place a few weeks ago. Here are his thoughts from the weekend...
Life is change. God is constant. The sooner in life we are able to accept and walk in these two realities, the better, the stronger, the more prepared for life we will be.
The Junior High & High School (JH/HS) students in the Mercy Ships Academy are about to encounter a tremendous amount of transition. Of the 18 students in 6th-12th grades, 8 of them are leaving the ship this summer, as their families are ending their commitments or taking up posts at other locations around the world. These 8 students will be heading to new countries, new cities, new schools, new neighborhoods - all filled with new people. Tremendous amounts of change are right on their doorstep.
For the 10 students who are remaining onboard for next year, they too will experience a great deal of change: saying goodbye to their friends who are moving; welcoming new families, students, and a new Principal next school year; sailing to a new country in August to begin a new field service in a new land... Lots of change coming up for them, too!
It is for this reason that the current Principal and I decided to set the theme for the JH/HS Retreat as “God: Faithful Through Change”. It was a wonderful honor to be approached by the Academy Principal with the request to be this year’s JH/HS Retreat Speaker. After 17 years of Teen Advisors’ Retreats back home, I was thrilled to be able to not only accept the Speaker role, but also to get to plan out the Sessions for the students and teachers in an interactive, high-participation, Teen-Advisors-style Retreat!
Over the 3-day weekend, we had 7 Sessions that blended the elements of short subject-matter teachings, object lessons & purposeful games, guided individual reflection times (called Solo Times), and small group discussions. These sessions were interspersed with snack breaks, free time, organized fun events, meals, and a few hours of nighttime sleeping.
The students and their teachers on this Retreat were amazing! They arrived ready, open, and eager to participate. It can be the case in Retreats like these that you have to spend the first day just helping the group lower their walls and barriers so that they can actually engage, participate, and glean the content that has been prepared for them... but not this group! From Day 1, Session 1, they were fully present. They were attentive and engaged. They dove right into the object lessons and games. They ate up the guided Solo Times alone with God (they were hungry for it!), and they were actively engaged in the small group debriefing / discussions after each. It was awesome! And it made for such a successful Retreat.
To top it all off, we were in a gorgeous location, full of open green fields surrounded by lush forests. It was so great to see all the kids just running freely, out in the open, enjoying being kids! They could throw a frisbee without fear of it flying off the ship! We stayed at a Catholic Retreat Center, run by a a group of 20 Congolese nuns who lived on the property. They prepared our meals each day, comprised of delicious soft steamed rice, fresh vegetables, a light meat course, and a variety of African sauces. We ate GOOD! And in the morning, midday, and evening, the sisters’ songs of worship would echo throughout the Retreat Center as they gathered for their own daily times of worship. We could truly sense that we were gathered together on holy ground.
Though I had not yet moved into my new role in Chaplaincy, this Retreat felt very much like a return into full-time ministry for me. Oh how I have missed these days of planning events, writing teaching lessons, planning session handouts, organizing worship services, and spending quality time with brothers and sisters in Christ amid both fun memory-making together as well as meaningful sharing, counseling, and praying together. It was a kind-of homecoming back into the world of what I genuinely feel God has called and is equipping me to do with my life: full-time pastoral leadership and discipleship ministry.
By the end of the weekend, both the students and teachers had interacted with each other and God around numerous topics related to the realities of being people in transition, and in trusting in our constantly faithful and present God. He is Emmanuel, God with us. His Spirit lives within us, and accompanies us through every change in life. Thanks be to God for His Presence, His provision, and His faithfulness!
Surely there will be more to come!