By now I oughta have this whole "retreat" thing down.
We did a pair of them last February, a few months after I got here. We did another set of them in the fall, and just finished up another set of them over the last couple weekends. So I've handled six of these things, three for older kids and three for younger kids. They're full of excitement and anticipation and stress and sunburn and gratitude. And each one has its own lifespan:
First, the planning stage where we dream big and everything's perfect, and we want to get the giant inflatable moonbounce thing for the kids and have this absolutely mind-blowing life-changing heart-impacting weekend, fully saturated with opportunities to minister. The planning is really fun, and it always looks really great on paper.
Then you get the marketing all finished and mailed, and book a speaker. You get someone (Suleika or Bubu) to make some phone calls, and the list starts to fill up. You write devotions, make sure the speaker has everything he needs, start filling out the schedule. Then the reality of limited resources sets in. No giant inflatable moonbounce thing.
For the week leading up to the retreat, it's slightly less fun. In my experience, no matter how many checklists of tasks I make, there's always this hovering blob of undefined, undone stuff that probably has to get defined and done but I probably won't realize it until kids start to arrive. I'm always forgetting something, and realizing I'm forgetting something, without knowing what that something is.
That last week, the list really starts to fill up. For my first retreat, we ended up with some 60 kids signed up, and around 50 attended. The next retreat, we crept up over sixty on the signup sheet, and had 54 show. This time, we had 79 kids sign up, and 62 actually came.
And by the time they arrive, you realize that regardless of the perfect little details you never thought of until too late, camp is here, kids are here, and to some extent things begin to run themselves. Doesn't stop me from running around like a mad man, but 60 often screaming/mostly enthusiastic teenagers have a way of pumping you up. It's something, it's Holy-Spirit-infused enthusiasm.
From Friday night, until long into Saturday, that enthusiasm and a dose of adrenaline run the show. I take note of the stuff we have to do better, like: no more registration in our tiny office if 62 kids are gonna have to check in individually. Getting kids towels. Band-Aids. Maaaaybe some behavior management, but the older kids usually stay in line for the 42ish hours we have them with us.
It's fun until the sunburn kicks in sometime late Saturday afternoon. They have free time. I stop. Enter my nothing box. Maybe have a couple of long blinks in there. Saturday night, after a decent meal, we go go go until the sun is down. Some of them want Capture the Flag more than anything else. Some of them refuse to play it. Can't please everyone. Later, they go to bed. Lots of yelling, pillow fighting, stuff that might not fly at Summer camp. I should enforce lights out. I probably don't.
Sunday - it ends too quickly. Up and at 'em. Ejercisio. Desayuno. Tiempo a solas. Tema en la capilla. Empacar y limpiar. Almuerzo. Adios.
They leave. Then: More kids are on the way for the next weekend.
I guess maybe you never get these retreats "down." You try to improve them every time, making improvements and changes that may or may not work, or make things better, or keep kids happier, or help them go deeper. Something.
This Spring, they were successful. Of course they were. Glory to God, I'm supposed to say, I think. But that's a given. I'm the last guy to try to take credit for a camp going well. I always forget things, fail to write them down, something. Most program directors probably feel the same way. The older kids retreat was a blast, and kids were parroting back to me stuff that Nick, the speaker, talked about in Chapel. They loved it. Raved about it on Facebook.
The younger kids retreat - it's been a bit of a struggle to get kids to show up. It's a little deflating when only 14 kids are on site, but it's still a success. They have fun, they love it, they learn, they can't wait to come back. But there's gotta be some way to reach more of 'em.
I say they're successful. But I really don't know how you could deem anything a failure in ministry. And I'm not saying that in a hopelessly optimistic way, but I really mean it. Maybe I haven't been around long enough. Regardless of how I feel about a retreat's attendance, or if I bumble through a talk, or a game goes south or gets boring really fast, or I fail at navigating a behavior issue, I know that something probably happened, something good. God gave some kid a lesson he'll recall one day. A counselor, a cook, a staff member learned how to do something better. I learned something. God did something, regardless.