A Weekend in the Mountains — Part 3 (New Experiences and Truths)
Try to put yourself in these guys’ shoes. For the most part, (with the partial exception of the two guys who came on this retreat last year), everything about the weekend would be a new experience for them. Have you ever been completely out of your comfort zone like them?
Here were 5 teenage black guys who had never seen so many white people in one place at one time, especially when the population was 96% Caucasian. They’ve never been to the mountains. They’ve never been to a church event like this (two of the guys hadn’t even been to church in over a year).
Despite my best efforts to encourage them, can you image how difficult and uncomfortable this was for them?
After three hours in my minivan, we arrived at the Pelham Road campus of Grace Church for check-in. My guys were welcomed warmly by many students and leaders. Then, after another 90 minutes in the car, we arrived at the retreat center in Black Mountain, NC.
The session started off with a funny skit by some guys I know that had been doing funny skits for years (for elementary kids). But the guys with me just stared at the stage; they didn’t know what to make of these white guys wearing camo pants, tank tops, and one boxing glove. (But the next day, these skit guys just hung out with my guys, just talking sports. It helped theme realize that they were just ordinary guys, who happen to be very entertaining.)
The teaching for the weekend was on the Trinity. Over and over, the leaders preached the gospel, and reminded us of God’s great love for us. I had to explain some basic truths to them. For example, we sang a song that said something about “God’s love at Calvary.” I leaned over and whispered to the guy next to me, “Do you know what Calvary is?” No. “It’s where Jesus died.”
I even had a couple of minor “incidences” with a few of the guys that night. Honestly, I was mad for a bit, but then I had to remember how difficult this weekend was for them, the strangeness of it all. Yes, I wanted to set high expectations for them, but I also needed to recognize where they were coming from.
I privately shared what happened with one of the lead student pastors, and he said, “I’m OK with what happened. I’m just glad they’re here.” I couldn’t have agreed more.
A couple of thoughts dominated my prayers for the Allendale guys:
- They would see their need for Jesus
- They would want to know God more,
- They would connect with others as friends
They seemed to be having a good morning. They were laughing at breakfast. More students and leaders were reaching out. One of our guys who kept introducing himself by a fake name finally started using his real one.
After the teaching and worship sessions, we would get together as a small group and talk about what was taught. The leaders encouraged us to “be real” — this was a good word for my guys. I wanted them to be able to share without fear of ridicule or rejection.
Here are some things that came up in our small group discussions:
- At least three of the five guys were spiritually lost and confused, by their own admission.
- For the most part, they have no frame of reference of the Father’s love, since they all being raised by single moms. (One boy even admitted, “I’m a bastard.”)
- One of my favorite things said in small group: “I need to get saved.”
- I explained Romans 10:9-10, that being saved is not about any works, but about confessing and believing that Jesus was sent by God, He died, and He was risen to life.
- Following this, one of the boys asked, “Why would God send Jesus?” I praised him for asking such a great question! And this led us to read and discuss John 3:16.
- Later, I specifically asked one guy (privately), “What’s keeping you from believing in and following Jesus?” His response, “I know I’m still going to get in trouble.” This gave me a chance to reaffirm how much God loves us, no matter what.
By this point, these guys were still pretty reserved around others (besides one outgoing guy who knew Grace Church students from last year’s retreat and mission trips). But free time really helped break the ice.
Two guys came on an 85 minute hike with me, where we got to see some great views. The other 3 played basketball the entire time. For the first time in the 20 hours they had been there, they relaxed. They had been shocked and overwhelmed by the welcoming people (don’t get me wrong, that was a good thing), and now they could connect through sports.
After the evening session, there was a bonfire. Music was playing, but the Allendale guys just hung out by the fire. A couple of them had female students help them make S’mores (for most of them, it was their first time trying this snack). Girls and food – two key things that will make just about any teenage boy have a great time.
After an hour, I asked them if they were ready to leave the bonfire, but they all wanted to stay. Praise God! We had turned a corner. They felt like they belonged in this group, to this community.
The last morning was much of the same. Good food, saying good-bye, group picture. In our last small group session, I made all the guys pray. At the least, they had to thank God for something over the weekend, or to ask His help for something. Yeah, it was a little uncomfortable for most of them, but praying out loud in a group might have been another first time experience for some of them.
I could write more about their weekend. But when we returned to Allendale, I saw one final thing that confirmed that they had a good time: at least two of them wore their new t-shirts on Monday, and one wore it on Tuesday (he couldn’t find his gray shoes on Monday. You’ve got to match, you know).
I asked one of them if anyone asked him about what the three lines meant. “Yeah, some friends.” What did you say? “The Trinity.”
What a great weekend for them!
- A Weekend in the Mountains — Part 1 (Reasons), Part 2 (On the Road), Part 4 (A Message for Me)
- Lessons from Football Camp