“I’m not going unless you make me laugh.” “I’m not going unless there is WiFi.” These phrases were floating around the bus as we made our way to Watermarks Camp in Scottsville, VA. With an energized group of students and mentors running on fumes, it was going to be an unpredictable STRIVE retreat. Just under 24 hours jam-packed with activities and conversation. God would work, we just didn’t know how.
Upon arriving, I was so shocked by the sheer size of Watermarks Camp. It is by far the largest camp I have seen. We unpacked quickly and headed to dinner. After dark, we played some rounds of basketball knockout and drank hot chocolate before making our way to field games. We began with random games in teams to warm up. Then we played several rounds of Capture the Flag, demonstrating mentor wisdom and mentee athletic prowess. These games managed to simply humble all.
From fun and games to deep conversation
“The next day, we set out to the battleground on foot. We knew it would be fierce and we may leave with scars but what 15-year-old guy doesn’t want to shoot his best friends with paintballs?”
We ended the night making s’mores around a fire pit and talking about life. The sports loosened up students for more engaged conversation, discussing relational and academic struggles. High school is a tough place to navigate. The long process of identity formation weighs on our students but the mentor relationship is uniquely positioned to show reliance on God to overcome the challenges of this life.
The next day, we set out to the battleground on foot. We knew it would be fierce and we may leave with scars but what 15-year-old guy doesn’t want to shoot his best friends with paintballs? This was the perfect opportunity to loosen up and just have fun. After winning several rounds, tearing up my body with bruises and running low on ammo, we decided to move on.
Gathering around the fireplace, we began the Bible study directly addressing our own weak faith. After a short lull, mentors and students alike opened up. As men, we often like to bear our own burdens. We think the buck stops with us; that if we don’t act, everything will go kaput. The life of Gideon in Judges 6 exposes this weak sauce faith. I tend to overthink work, especially Bible studies. Probably because I rely on myself too much. In spite of this, God always seems to work.
Seeing ourselves in Gideon
Diving into Scripture is exciting, and though some were quiet, others were compelled to speak. Some shared doubts and insightful questions on God’s workings. We must wonder, does God work even when we cannot see Him? Moving through the story, we see Gideon’s demand for signs while being gripped by doubt. As the weakest member of the lowest clan, Gideon does not see himself as God’s appointed leader. Looking back, we see the same naturalistic doubt expressed in Biblical leaders. Moses recognizes God’s call but still wonders if God will send a helper. God simply sends his Presence (Exodus 33:14). With this in mind, we can know God is for us regardless of the circumstances. Even if we do not sense Him or feel far from Him, He is there.
Psalm 88 especially stands out. The God we know who saves (v. 1) also feels the most distant (v. 18). Even in the midst of the confusion of suffering, the psalmist remains directed towards the LORD. We serve a God who values the heart. He values presence and our disposition towards Him. God bears our burdens though our perception is tainted. For some of the STRIVE students and mentors, this is a time of mourning and heaviness. School, work and family duties can weigh heavily. The need for God’s work and rest is all the more realized. Our time during the retreat exposed many of these burdens. God is strong enough to bear them. In this time, we must pray that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).