Reflecting on God’s Faithfulness
While most events have been cancelled recently, the Presbytery of the Alleghenies (POA) Youth enjoyed their first retreat in over a year! Much preparation took place to ensure that the retreat could happen, even in the midst of a pandemic: Will and Sarah McChesney, longtime POA Youth leaders, worked with coordinators, cooks (headed by Tania Thompson), parents, and students to ensure the safety of everyone involved in the event. Even with all the work and planning, it was only by God’s grace that the retreat was still able to take place.
The leaders and kids who attended were all very excited to be at Christ’s Castle, a retreat centre owned by Life Ministries in Franklin, Pennsylvania (USA), the long time location of past Sprinter retreats. Although the size of the student body was only half that of former Sprinter retreats, the energy and excitement made it seem full and engaging! The time and fellowship spent together at the retreat showed a true example of what it means to have real Christian joy throughout the weekend.
The Unfathomable Depths of God’s Faithfulness
Originally from Glasgow, Scotland, Ian Gillies, a current pastoral student at the Reformed Theological Seminary (RPTS) in Pittsburgh, agreed to speak at our retreat. He hopes to soon return to Scotland with his wife, Shelby, and minister there. Ian spoke on the topic of “God’s Faithfulness”, focusing on Psalm 126. He expounded on this theme in each of his talks entitled Rejoicing in God’s Faithfulness, Testifying to God’s Grace, Pleading for God’s Help, and Trusting in God’s Promises.
[The talks] Reminded me to delve into the depths of God’s faithfulness; a kind of faithfulness that is almost too amazing to believe (‘we were like those who dream’). I was reminded that the church absolutely does not need my pride. That it only needs my humility; for only then will his love and faithfulness shine through me.”Halle O’Neill
During his talks, Ian impressed certain points such as the importance of unashamedly being different from and representing Christ to the watching world, the beauty of genuine humility, and the true Christian joy that we will reap after sowing tears. Nolan Curran, a senior, said that out of everything he heard during the weekend, “the faithfulness of God really stuck with me. Especially during the really crazy times we’ve been going through, it was a wonderful reminder of how great God is.”
God clearly worked through Ian while he spoke and everyone was impressed by Ian’s words. His accent and unique sayings, such as “that’s a cracker of a question” (the kids’ favorite), also made the time together more enjoyable!
Digging in and Growing Together
As in past years, smaller discussion groups with counsellors break off after each talk and go more in-depth with the topics that the speaker brought up. This time proved helpful to ask questions and grow in understanding after a lecture. Each group also came up with a question to ask Ian concerning something specific they wanted to learn more about. Most were insightful and thoughtful, although some made Ian laugh and shake his head! Discussions continued late into the night as counsellors worked with their smaller groups of boys or girls to think more deeply and openly about their personal faith and devotions.
A few testimonies were given during the retreat that truly were a blessing to hear. Martin Monteith, a student at RPTS, talked about his early life outside the church and the wonderful story of his relatively recent conversion. He went on to speak of all the work done by God in his life, even when he didn’t have a relationship with the Lord.
On Lord’s Day morning, both Pastor and Mrs. Ed Blackwood came in to give their testimonies and stay for worship. They spoke on their conversions and growing up in Christian homes, and how God worked through Mrs. Blackwood’s illness to help them grow closer to each other in marriage and in their walks with God.
Bria McChesney, a senior, says, “Hearing personal testimonies gives us a chance to hear how God has worked in the lives of our elders, counsellors, etc. It’s a great chance to share the speaker’s joy as he tells us about the change God brought about in his life.”
These testimonies, although different, were meaningful to all who heard them; God made it obvious through Martin and the Blackwoods that no matter their life situation, he has a plan and he works it to completion.
Fun and Games
The Youth Leadership Team (a group of older students who still attend retreats and help the McChesneys and counsellors) planned several events in preparation of the retreat including group games. On Friday night, the team put together a large game to help release some built up energy!
This year included Zombies vs Survivors, an original game played in the dark with glow sticks. The survivors ran around trying to find glow stick-food while the zombies sought to tag the survivors and turn them into zombies. The first round, the survivors succeeded in finding twenty glow sticks; in the second, the zombies managed to tag everyone! Although there was not much to be seen in the dark, excited shouts and laughter echoed into the main room from all corners of the castle.
On Saturday, different team challenge games helped participants get to know one another. One game required the players to lower a long tent pole to the ground; however, they were only allowed to balance it with their pointer fingers and they couldn’t let go. Shouts and groans could be heard amidst the laughter when the pole tipped and fell from their fingers!
In another, the whole team had to flip a tarp while still standing on it. Taste and See was another original game where foods were eaten by blindfolded teammates and they had to guess what they were eating. Some of the foods included banana peppers, alfredo sauce, ginger candy, pork rinds, and dill pickle flavored sunflower seeds! Many funny faces were made as people gingerly placed the unknown foods in their mouths and were met with surprising tastes.
Other games took place during freetime including soccer, volleyball, spikeball, basketball, dodgeball, and trash can. Kids raced around the retreat center, hoping to catch a part of each game. Tournaments were also held all day!
On Saturday, many gathered around to watch as Nathan Degraaf and Dan Thoman won the spikeball tournament, Ryan Sheldon won box hockey, Mitchel Hall won pool, and Nathan also won for table tennis–all intense finales!
Several events took place with the goal of furthering relationships and fellowship. Each morning during the retreat, kids were encouraged to have their own devotional time. Sunday morning, each student received bookmarks with the acronym RREAP: Read, Review, Evaluate, Apply, and Prayer. Prayer and Praise also took place each morning as the earliest event; although a smaller group attended, the singing and prayer created a joyful environment.
Saturday night, the dozen or so Juniors and Seniors fellowshipped together in the prayer tower of the castle. They spent time singing (which sounded quite good!) and praying about the church, the country and the world, their futures and college choices, as well as personal requests.
“A huge takeaway from this retreat would be spending time in prayer together; praying for each other’s lives and other specific requests in the body of Christ. It was a very beautiful time.”Emma Reese
Reflecting on Sprinter 2021
Having a Sprinter retreat this March was a huge blessing; “After an entire year without a retreat of any kind, this year’s Sprinter retreat was a breath of fresh air” says Dan Porter.
Youth leaders are hopeful that a fall retreat can also take place later this year; Lord willing, they will see several familiar faces as well as some new ones. Now that students who attend retreats know how it feels to have them cancelled suddenly, they have a much greater appreciation of the privilege they have in these times of fellowship!
Katelyn Matthews, a sophomore, said that “Sprinter is always such a refreshing and encouraging time. It’s so special because in no other event do you have fellow christian teens, gathered together to grow in their faith and their relationships though lectures, games, and raw late night chats.” Hopefully students will value future retreats to the full extent that this past one demanded!
Audrey McMahan attends College Hill Reformed Church in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. She is a junior in high school (i.e., grade 11). She has attended every POA retreat since seventh grade and is currently part of the Leadership Team. Although she was greatly disappointed the past few retreats were cancelled, this Sprinter was one of the most meaningful retreats for Audrey. She greatly enjoys writing, especially when on the topic of things she is excited about.