“That you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.” (Phil. 2:15-16, NKJV)
As we sat in the comfortable living room, sipping our hot apple cider out of mismatched mugs, these words from Philippians 2:15-16 ran through our minds. It was fall, and time yet again for our small young adult group to come together and plan what would become the 4th annual Shining Lights Youth Retreat. This had become tradition for us, to gather at the Brews’ house for dinner, Bible study, and ministry preparation. Over the years, the people had changed but the mission had not. We were there to learn how to become godly men and women and to explore ways in which we might better serve where we are. We had chosen this verse as a guide to help us do that.
In past years, our chapel had hosted youth rallies, day-long events where young believers from surrounding churches would come to sing, hear the Word, and fellowship with one another. I myself was very young when we had those youth rallies. I don’t remember much, but I remember that it was evident that these were good times for the older kids and an encouragement for them to see the people of the church come together. Thus, we were all a little bit sad when the couple that had organized these rallies was called elsewhere and the meetings stopped happening. We missed the opportunity the event had provided us to not only learn about God but to see fellow believers working together towards a common goal. Thus, the idea was born for a new era of youth gatherings—but this time led by the youth ourselves.
I remember the very first planning meeting, how many people were there and how quickly the ideas came. Many in our young adult group frequently attend camps, retreats, and conferences elsewhere. We borrowed ideas from these experiences and extended the event to be an entire weekend. This would require extra planning in the way of food and housing, but we decided that the effort would be well worth it in the end. We added a variety of group games, smaller breakout sessions, and prayer times to the new schedule, and with hopes set high, hosted the very first Shining Lights Youth Retreat in 2016. Our mission statement was (and still is), “For all to witness the marvelous light of the Lord Jesus Christ in a new and profound way, and to encourage attendees to shine brightly for the Lord in a world that is becoming darker and darker” (Phil. 2:15).
Four years later, we’ve all learned a lot. First, it was the technical stuff: which activities work best, how many meetings can fit well, how to organize all the myriad tiny details and a hundred other things we had not thought of when we first started out. Then, as time went on, we started to discover deeper lessons. I would say that the biggest one has been about how amazingly the Lord Jesus Christ can use the church to accomplish His will. This past fall, our young adult Bible studies have focused on the topic of spiritual gifts. We talked a lot about which ones we ourselves might have, and how they can be used in a practical, everyday setting. We learned that there is no gift too unimportant to be helpful, no gift-bearer too young or old to be useful, and no better blessing than to see these gifts working together to bring glory to God.
We were so glad to see these lessons come to life this past year. Our main speaker was Richie Benitez, who came with his family to speak on “Life-Changing Lights of Fire.” He used the lives of Moses, Gideon, and Paul to discuss the ways in which young people today can be true testimonies of the love of Jesus in their everyday lives. On Sunday, he talked about how Jesus was the truest light of all and how we should ultimately look to Him as the best example of how to be shining lights in our world. In our breakout sessions, leaders had the chance to more deeply discuss issues and practical solutions with the youth. I went to the women’s session, titled “The Beauty of Holiness.” I found it especially encouraging as I realized how awesome it is that God in all His holiness loves me, individually and specifically. As in past years, there was also a Q&A session, and for the first time a testimony sharing. It was so encouraging to hear how God has been able to work in the lives of those who shared, and how He is continuing to do so even today. The variety of speakers throughout the retreat allowed for so many different perspectives and lessons to be given. In addition to the thought-provoking messages, retreat attendees also got to participate in a number of games and other fun activities. Saturday morning, we planned some awesome team games for everyone to get to know each other. In the afternoon, everyone got to be shining “movie” stars, and record a skit they prepared in front of a green screen. At that night’s Starlight Café (a favorite youth retreat tradition), we all got to watch the videos they created together, and judges chose a winning team who was rewarded with a Dunkin’ Donuts party. We had a lot of fun throughout, whether singing or playing games or listening to the speaking.
However, the most encouraging thing was ultimately seeing how it all came together in the end. I haven’t yet mentioned the food that needed to be prepared, or the beds that needed to be made, or the floors that needed to be swept. We tend to think of these details as “little” things, and when giving a report focus on the speakers and the activity planners. But without all the people willing to use their gifts in less “glamorous” ways, we wouldn’t be able to have the retreat. These roles are just as important, and just as blessed by God. It has truly been a lesson to us young adults to see the way in which our church works together to make something like this retreat happen. Christ wants His people to work together, show love to others, and proclaim the truth and glory of God to all peoples.
I am truly grateful for the opportunity to not only help plan the retreat but to observe others helping as well. Like the end of our key verse says, “I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain” because of those who are laboring alongside me, and because of the blessing these individuals have become.