We recently celebrated our faithful Patreon community — our YOBBERS — with an inaugural retreat. 47 guys from literally all over the world united for a weekend in the mountains, and we had a fantastic time together: hilarious yet illuminating icebreakers, delicious home-cooked meals, small group (“tribe”) discussions, large group activities, late-night campfires, worship sessions, and torrential rains from another realm.
Several of our core authors attended the YOBBERS retreat, and we recently debriefed our weekend together. Enjoy our conversation below and stay tuned later this week for our next podcast episode, recorded at the YOBBERS retreat — our first podcast with a “live studio audience.” It was a fun time!
But first, let’s unpack the weekend that was . . .
1. What were your general hopes and expectations going into our YOBBERS retreat weekend? Any fears or anxieties?
EUGENE: I was generally very excited. I knew a lot of great people were going to be there, and I couldn’t wait to meet them as well as reunite with old friends. On the other hand, I was nervous too. Some YOBBERS I talked to beforehand expressed apprehension about it saying, “Oh I don’t know, it’ll probably be really awkward, everyone will be cliquish, there will probably be drama, etc.” I had worries about the same thing.
TOM: Yeah, my greatest anxiety was also the fear of cliquey behavior and the ensuing disconnect others would feel. Many guys attending had already met each other, and several entered the retreat never having met another YOBBER. It was hard to predict what would happen when you throw all those dynamics under one roof.
MARSHALL: I was looking forward to meeting and hugging several YOBBERS whom I had only talked to online. Like some of you other guys, I was also concerned there would be cliquey behavior and drama. Another different issue was that many of my straight friends were worried about 50 SSA guys together in the woods with no straight chaperones.
TOM: Straight chaperones? What is this, gay prom in the woods?
RYAN: I was coming off of a busy week, just starting at a new job, so I didn’t have a whole lot of energy for hopes and expectations — I was just trying to make it to my bed each night! I had some fear and anxiety about not having the energy to connect with new people like I wanted to. I’m not in the YOBBERS Facebook group, so I felt like everyone had a head start with each other.
JACOB: Since I was coming off my most stressful work week of 2018, I was nervous about my ability to be fully present and invested at the retreat. On top of that, taking a lead role with the weekend’s meals also meant that I was anxious about having enough food for everyone. Most positively, I was hoping to form connections with YOBBERS who I’d never interacted with or only interacted with in an online context — and the retreat did not disappoint in that regard.
2. What was your biggest surprise from the YOBBERS retreat?
EUGENE: I didn’t think the small groups would be as impactful as they were. I was like, “Okay, small groups, discussion, cool, whatever.” I didn’t realize that we would get into such deep and meaningful discussions.
RYAN: I thought I was going to hate the speed dating/networking exercise. I can’t stand professional networking, and I suspect I’d hate dating too if I was dating — and let’s be honest, I’m not super into doing anything quickly. But this was actually my favorite activity from the weekend! I was really struggling to form new connections with people out of thin air; turns out all I needed was a little structure and a little coffee! It was quite the chitchat marathon, but today I would feel comfortable striking up a conversation with any of those other 46 guys, which wouldn’t have been the case otherwise.
TOM: Little do you realize that our elaborate “speed dating” exercise was just a setup to prepare you for your very own eHarmony profile. I’ve got your login info whenever you’re ready, Ryan. But yes. I loved that activity, too. If nothing else, everybody got to have at least three minutes with every other person there. Such an inclusive, unique facet of our weekend.
RYAN: I felt a strange energy after the speed dating. After a solid three hours of talking to men who were attracted to men, looking deep into their eyes, I began to feel . . . things. Things I was not immediately willing to accept. It was electrifying. I’m facing things I’ve shoved down, repressed. I have occasionally suspected something about myself, but now it’s time to face the truth: I think . . . guys, I think I might be extroverted.
EUGENE: It’s okay, Ryan, this doesn’t change anything and we still love you.
MARSHALL: My biggest surprise was that there was serious unity at the retreat. I was concerned the younger guys would isolate themselves from the older guys, and so on with other groupings. There really was a kind of unity and acceptance that crossed typical dividing lines. That made me happy!
JACOB: To really echo what Marshall said, I was incredibly surprised by the unity and harmony that permeated the weekend. I was totally expecting there to be a little more awkwardness, drama, or conflict, but everyone seemed to have such a gracious, easy-going spirit which made it such an enjoyable experience to be a part of.
3. What was your biggest takeaway from your tribal breakout times?
TOM: It just astounds me that nine people from various generations and upbringings and parts of the world can come together in a circle to hold hands and pray. Even sing. I was on Tribe Brotherhood, and as we prayed we heard Tribe Courage singing on the other side of the pavilion. We started singing with them, too, and that picture of us first praying and then singing across tribes will stay with me for a long, long time.
MARSHALL: I was on Tribe Humility, and that was actually a very heavy subject. There were noticeable times of silence and contemplation. Many of the guys in our group, including me, struggle with a type of destructive, false humility that makes us feel “less than” other guys. We definitely had to talk about the difference between true and false humility.
EUGENE: I was amazed that the people in my Hope Tribe just got so into answering the questions and going deep with their discussions. It wasn’t like a boring college class or something. They might be the deepest group conversations I’ve ever had with other “Side B” men.
RYAN: I was also in the Hope Tribe, and I think my biggest takeaway was that the source of our hope is Jesus, and all of our other hope flows from Him.
JACOB: As another Hope Tribe member, I say “amen” to what Eugene and Ryan shared as well as adding how hope is not only something we have for ourselves but also one of the most precious gifts we can offer others. Guys in our group were beautifully honest about their struggles with hope, and it was very powerful to witness how through our own stories we were able to share hope with each other.
4. What was the most meaningful moment of your YOBBERS retreat experience?
TOM: Toward the end of our second tribal breakout, one of my fellow Brotherhood members simply got up from his seat and walked over to wrap his arms around me. It was totally unexpected and unprovoked, and I can’t even remember what was said prior to that moment. I just closed my eyes and embraced his arms around me. It felt like such a “spiritual equalizer.” Yes, I accept that I’m a leader in this community — but in that moment, I was no different than my brother hugging me or anyone else in our tribe or this community at large. I’m also a struggler and an other brother just as much in need of support and brotherhood as the rest. How I need to be reminded and encouraged of this often.
EUGENE: Ugh, too many moments to count! I just had so much pride seeing all the guys of this community having fun, interacting with each other, and forming friendships. In my Hope Tribe, we split into pairings of two to pray with each other. I partnered with Ryan, and we held each other as we prayed for each other. It was a moving experience.
MARSHALL: There were many meaningful moments for me: hugs, conversations, worship. If I have to choose just one, it was when a guy pulled me aside to ask me for friendship advice. I consider this guy a very strong and confident Christian who has many longtime friends he can talk to. I was honored that he would trust me on that level. I hope I gave my brother at least a little of the support he needed.
RYAN: I guess if I picked one thing, it would be worshipping together on Saturday night. I was comfortable enough with everyone at that point to really get into it, and it was beautiful to hear all our voices praising in unity.
TOM: Ugh, we all sounded so good together. Like seriously. What angelic dudes we are. Our two nights of singing were some of the most powerful worship gatherings I’ve ever been part of.
JACOB: My biggest highlight was our “closing ceremonies” where Tom gave us a closing benediction and we all stood in a circle holding hands on a basketball court. It was a beautiful picture of the unity and connection that were experienced throughout the weekend, made even more meaningful by the fact that no one had directed us to start holding hands. We did it on our own. That circle was made up of guys of various ages, marital statuses, nationalities, upbringings, and unique wrestlings with SSA. And yet our shared identity in Christ united us as brothers.
EUGENE: It was literally like the grand finale of a great event. So many guys were sniffling and tearing up, it was hard not to be moved.
5. Is there anything you wish had been added or modified from the YOBBERS retreat?
EUGENE: I just wish it could’ve been longer. Of course, I understand the logistical problems with doing that. There were just so many guys I wanted to meet and connect with (it was raaaaainin’ Side B mennn, hallelujah!) that I wish I could’ve had more time to do that.
MARSHALL: Me too. I would have loved to have been there longer! Also, I hope in the future we can have even more times of singing and worship. Those times were amazing!
JACOB: I agree with the other guys that another day would have been really nice. Having more time with our tribes would have been great as well.
RYAN: Longer also. I felt like I had just begun to scratch the surface getting to know everyone. I think I would have enjoyed more structured time dedicated to praying together. That’s one of my favorite things. Also, I looked all over the place but couldn’t find the hot tub . . . ?
TOM: It was right behind the mud wrestling pit. I can’t believe you missed it, Ryan. Having a longer retreat was our biggest piece of constructive feedback. Even a few extra hours or an extra night to break the ice would have gone a long way. Maybe next time . . . ?
6. Do you feel inspired toward any sort of new action coming home from the YOBBERS retreat?
EUGENE: Well, right when I got home I immediately set to work on some new blogs and got two done in a matter of hours. (Coming soon!)
TOM: “Initiative” is the word that keeps coming up, again and again. I heard it often among others, and I feel it still strongly thumping in my chest. I need to take more initiative with others. Others in our YOBBERS community and others in my day-to-day life. I tend to spiral into myself if I’m not clearly taking initiative with other people — other brothers — every single day. Even a quick “hey, thinking of you” goes such a long way to get me out of myself as well as encourage another person in the process. I want to get out of myself more. We have a phenomenal brotherhood here. I saw it firsthand last weekend, and I was moved to tears multiple times. It’s borderline ridiculous not to take advantage of this brotherhood in the healthiest sense of the phrase.
JACOB: I totally resonate with this whole idea of initiative. This retreat has reinvigorated my passion for YOB and reminded me what a unique privilege it is to be a part of this community. The things we write, the ways we keep in touch with people, the hope we offer is impacting people’s lives in powerful and eternal ways, and it’s more than worth the effort.
MARSHALL: As a result of several conversations with some older YOBBERS, I have determined to put extra effort into reaching out to older SSA guys. Many are in serious, even dangerous, need of friendship.
RYAN: One thing I admired about many of my fellow YOBBERS over the course of the weekend was how free they were with showing healthy love and affection to one another in a variety of ways. I think I tend to repress that because I get nervous about how it will be received. It’s something I’d like to get better at — something I’d like to get used to doing without anxiety or fear.
Also, I’m reminded of something Richard Rohr wrote in From Wild Man To Wise Man:
“For every retreat in your life there should also be at least one ‘confront.'”
That is, the whole point of retreats is to become more equipped to advance. Coming out of the retreat, I’m asking myself questions like, “What has this retreat prepared me to advance in my hometown? In what ways has this retreat prepared me to advance the Kingdom until the next retreat?”
It takes energy and discipline, but the retreat has shown me a compelling glimpse of what life in the Kingdom is like, and my job is not to keep it to myself but to share it with others.
Did you attend the YOBBERS retreat? How would you answer these questions and debrief our weekend? Got any questions if you didn’t attend? Ask below in the comments! Maybe we’ll see you at the next one?