Tuesday, August 30, 2016

ADVENTURES IN RETREATING!!! (and no, this isn't about the French Army in WW2)

This year at Greenville Christian School we decided to start the year with a 2 day secondary retreat.  A good friend of mine asked me what that was like, and I wrote this account as a lengthy Email . . . and I liked it enough that I thought I would share it with you (with a few edits here and there).

OK, since you were curious, and since I had a marvelous time while I was there, I thought I would write down for you everything that happened at our Secondary Retreat.  The original idea was that, after the first day, "Hi, I'm your teacher here's your schedule have a syllabus" song and dance was done, that we would take all of the secondary kids - 5th through 12th grade - off campus for a couple of days of class bonding, spiritual emphasis, and a healthy dose of fun and games before we settled into the business of the school year.   I was a total curmudgeon about the whole thing - "Two whole class days?  Do you know how much teaching I can get done in two class days??" - but I decided to get over myself and give it a chance with a good attitude.  I'm glad I did.


      So at 8 AM Thursday morning the buses were loaded up, and I got an overflow bonus of four sophomore guys to ride with me in my XTerra, heading out to Sabine Creek Ranch, a nearby camp and retreat complex.  I left the school last of all because one of my boys was stuck waiting for his parent to show up with a signed permission form/waiver.  We finally got it in hand, and off we headed - about ten minutes after last of the buses had left GCS. 


   Here we hit the first snag - I'd never been to this place, so I simply programmed the address into Google Maps on my phone.  Problem was, Google Maps lost its signal and got all turned around somewhere on FM 276, sending us on a cloverleaf overpass that didn't exist, and then on a fifteen minute detour through the countryside along some very remote county roads with potholes that could have swallowed a schoolbus whole and denizens so sketchy I could have sworn I heard banjos playing the theme from "Deliverance" as we went by!  But then the navigator brought us back out onto 276 about a mile behind where we turned off of it, got its bearings, and took us straight to our destination - and despite our delay, we pulled into the parking lot before the last of the buses had come to a complete stop!


   At that point the Secondary Retreat finally began.  I got chosen to lead a team of Middle Schoolers ("Team Yellowjackets!  We fly, we sting, and trouble we bring!") and we did a series of competitive games against the other teams until lunch time.  I'll admit, while I'm generally OK with 7th and 8th grade, I'm not used to 5th graders! It's not that there is more drama with 5th grade than with high school; it's just a very different kind of drama than I am used to!   But we all made the best of it, and after lunch (which was 'camp food' - not terrible tasting, but VERY small portions for a big guy like me!) was swim time.  The main attraction was the "Fat Boy," which the kids called "The Blob."  It's basically a giant floating balloon shaped like a number 8 on its side, and one kid gets out on the far end while another jumps onto the end nearest the pier, launching the first delighted adolescent high into the air and landing him in the pond.  I didn't get to try this, since they require a weight differential of no greater than 50 pounds, and there are no 200 pound middle schoolers!  I did try the zip line once and only once - I traveled along the rope about 3 feet before losing my grip and landing butt-first in the water from about 12 feet up (AKA a "pond-water enema")!  But I did do the basic jump off of the high end of the pier - about 15 feet above the water - not once but around 8 times, and loved it every time!


   After swimming we did some indoor games, and then came back to the chapel where a praise band was all set up and ready to go.  They absolutely ROCKED THE HOUSE! (I have already asked them to come and perform at my church in a few weeks!)  They played for about an hour as we all rocked out and sang along, and when they finished our guest speaker, Dr. Joe Parris got up and gave a wonderful message on what it means to be "Set Apart" as a follower of Christ.  After he finished, we all went to supper together, and then the Middle Schoolers loaded up on the bus and headed home around 7 PM while grades 9-12 prepared to spend the night at the Retreat Center. 


   Once the munchkins were gone, I was relieved to be with my beloved high schoolers for the rest of the evening.  We had another great message from Dr. Joe - I was so impressed with him I gave him a free copy of THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE, a treat I normally reserve for family members and a few close friends.  For the next couple of hours we had some small group time, feedback sessions, and free time with the kids.  I got called on to capture and then liberate a baby water snake that had found its way into the chapel and scared the bejabbers out of one of my fellow teachers, and also discovered something I did not know about one of my long-time co-workers, Sandra Fields: this woman gets absolutely punchy after 9 PM.  I was rattling off a long series of my Bible pun jokes  ("Who was the best female investor in the Bible - Pharaoh's daughter; she went down to the river and drew out a little prophet!") and she was laughing harder and harder at each one, no matter how dumb they were, and the kids were cracking up at her cracking up!


  At ten we withdrew to our cabins.  I was sharing Cabin A with all of the Junior and Senior guys.  I brought a devotion on Psalm 103, then showered and we began to get ready for bed.  I told them that, in order to go to sleep, I liked it dark, quiet, and cold. The lights went off at 10:30, I put on my CPAP and tried to doze off, but they absolutely would not SHUT UP!  At one point I took the mask off and said "What part of DARK AND QUIET do you not understand??" but it was to no avail.  Then I got an idea.


   I rolled on my side and was very quiet for a few minutes, then started to talk "in my sleep".  They got all excited - "Is he really asleep?"  - "What did he just say?" - "We need to write all this down!"  So as they listened raptly,  I led them through an imaginary P-51 air mission over occupied France in World War 2, complete with epic fighter battles, aerial victories, the tragic loss of a squadron mate named Jenkins, and a hair-raising wheels-up landing at the end.  However, as I talked about this magnificent dogfight, my voice got softer and softer, and I spaced my comments further and further apart.  By the time I climbed out of the smoking wreckage of my Mustang and reported to the Briefing Room, the bunkroom was dead quiet.  I waited a few minutes, and no one made a sound.  I yelled out at considerable volume:  "Zombies at 12 o'clock!" (confusing genres there a bit) and no one  made a peep. 


     "That's better," I thought, and rolled over and slept all night.


     Got up the next morning and rejoined my Middle School group at the school (after a quick stop at a convenience store for a Dr. Pepper and Snickers breakfast!).  We had chapel, spent some time in small groups, then went out on the playground and played Ultimate Frisbee and Blindfold Kickball for an hour or so.  After that we had lunch with our "Partner class" (each upper grade is paired with one lower grade, and they occasionally eat lunch and do activities together).  It was fun to watch my 8th graders interact with the little 1st graders.  Once that was done, we did recess with the wee ones on the playground for a half hour, then went to the gym for some more games - "Ships and Sailors," "Sharks and Minnows," and "Human Pac-Man" (which, despite its name, does NOT involve students eating each other!).  By 2 o'clock, the kids were worn out, so we went to one of the empty classrooms and sat them all down in the AC, and we had "Story Time with Uncle Indy," starring yours truly (I told them 'The Story of Little Johnny', a longtime favorite of my high school classes).  Afterwards, we split up by grade, did a roundtable discussion of what we liked and didn't like about the retreat, and I shared with them some of my own thoughts on what it means to be faithful in our following of Christ.  Finally, the bell rang, and we all headed home - bedraggled, enlightened, and exhausted, but ready to come to school and LEARN on Monday!


So, to answer your question, THAT is what goes on at a Christian School  retreat.


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