We recently held our second annual YOBBERS retreat: a weekend gathering for our financial supporters and community members on Patreon. Several of our authors attended, and we discussed our time together — both the highs and lows — in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.
What were some of your thoughts and feelings going into this year’s YOBBERS retreat? Did you attend last year’s inaugural retreat, or was this your first time?
DEAN: This was my first retreat — couldn’t make it last year. My thoughts were pretty much consumed with meal logistics. I was so focused on what I had to do that I didn’t let myself think about feelings or expectations much. That ended up being a bad thing that had to be corrected in the long run.
TOM: We were all so grateful for your meal prep this year, Dean! I was also glad for your retreat presence this year beyond simply our meals.
EUGENE: I was excited going in. Last year I kept worrying: Will it be super awkward? Will there be drama? Will people walk away saying, “Meh, that sucked”?
But those negatives didn’t happen last year, so I was less nervous this year. I was very excited to see many old friends, close friends, and new faces.
This year, Tom commissioned me to make everyone’s name tags, along with other decor for the weekend. The weeks and days leading to the retreat were super hectic trying to get all that done.
KEVIN: Eugene, I loved the name tags (including the personalization on the back!).
MARSHALL: Eugene, I also loved your name tags! You put so much thought, effort, time, and love into each one. Mine had a lighthouse on the reverse. I greatly value the notion of obeying Christ’s command to let our light shine before men, as that picture symbolized.
I was at last year’s retreat, so I was very hopeful for many opportunities to give and receive much encouragement with different guys. I was not disappointed, but I was distracted by personal issues like buying a house, seeing my 90-year-old father’s health decline, and dealing with a heavy work schedule.
DANIEL: I also went to last year’s retreat. Besides expecting a higher airfare because of Brexit, my expectations this year didn’t really change.
I just wanted to know people and their stories. I wanted to know our commonalities, our differences, how others deal and have dealt with certain things in their lives — and also share my story. I was excited to catch up with the friends I made last year and make new ones this year.
KEVIN: I was also at the inaugural retreat. I think most of my expectations are similar to what has been said — wanting people to feel included, wanting to meet with God, and hearing others’ stories. My feelings headed into the weekend: tired from work and drained from some life drama.
RYAN: This was my second retreat, and I went into it more excited than the last one. I only knew a handful of people last year, but this year I knew a lot more — and had built relationships with many of them since the last retreat. I greatly looked forward to reconnecting with them.
TOM: This was my second go at organizing the YOBBERS retreat, so I had significantly less reservations this year compared to last: same location, roughly the same schedule, and a majority number of returnees.
My main concern was with our new attendees. Would they feel included? Would they be intimidated, or would they jump right into the madness?
My second, perhaps larger worry: could this year’s YOBBERS retreat possibly be as “good” as — nay, even “better” than — last year’s retreat?
You never want to fall into the comparison trap, but it’s hard to avoid that lingering shadow in the room. I certainly felt myself comparing as the retreat’s main organizer, and we all must have felt it on some level.
Last year was just so magical. I didn’t want this retreat to be a letdown for anyone.
On which of the five tribes (small groups) were you randomly placed, and how did you process the corresponding YOB value throughout your group discussions?
DEAN: I was on the Brotherhood Tribe. Initially, I wasn’t sure what I would get out of it. I mean, I felt pretty good about my grasp on what it meant to be a “brother.” However, I quickly realized that this didn’t mean I had grasped “brotherhood.”
My tribe helped me see my flawed thinking and started opening up my heart to something new — the opportunity to be invited into brotherhood by other men. Honestly, in some ways, I’ve always assumed I was the one inviting others into being my brothers.
But this idea of “brotherhood” — a bond that exists between me and the men around me, with no prerequisites — shocked me. These men wanted me to join their brotherhood.
I honestly didn’t know how to process it at first.
What had I done to deserve it? What right did I have to be invited? And the answer is: nothing. Because it wasn’t something I could earn or a right I could grasp. It was simply an invitation to be in brotherhood with these seven incredible men of God.
TOM: That’s beautiful, Dean. Such a metaphor for God’s grace.
I got placed on the Courage Tribe, and I was initially thrilled for all the positive connotations associated with this tribe. Since the last retreat, I’ve heard ongoing stories from folks placed on that original Courage Tribe, including how they’ve best kept in touch out of all five inaugural tribes. So, I shallowly felt excited to be on this “good vibes tribe.”
KEVIN: Courage Tribe was a unique group last year, I’ll admit. Glad you were able to enjoy the great banner and tribe this year, Tom!
TOM: Indeed. Beyond that, though, I quickly realized that of all our values, “courage” is the one I’m leaning most into amid this current season of life. I’m living on the road for several weeks as I process my next steps, and more and more courage will be required of me as I determine what comes next.
I don’t think any easy decisions are on the horizon.
Another tribe member actually shared that he’d deemed “courage” as his word of the year and that he knew he’d be “randomly” placed on this tribe; sure enough, he was.
But nothing is random. I believe we were all placed on that tribe for a reason, as was everybody else respectively on theirs. I learned a ton from the diversity of stories, young and old, returning attendees and new, in our Courage Tribe.
EUGENE: I was on the Hope Tribe again, my same tribe from last year, though everyone else in my group was different this time. Tom joked that perhaps the few folks who ended up on the same tribe two years in a row needed more of that particular value in their lives?
I have to admit that might be true of me.
I have a lot of uncertainties for my future — career, for one — that it’s been hard for me to feel like there’s much to look forward to. My fellow tribe members expressed similar sentiments.
Some of the guys shared some very heartbreaking stories, and there were definitely some emotions bared and tears shed. It was quite moving.
KEVIN: I was on the Hope Tribe as well. We talked about the close connection between faith and hope.
Guys shared some of their life experiences and how Jesus needs to be where we place our hope, for He is the one who is certain. I definitely needed to be reminded of the beautiful Hope we have in Jesus.
DANIEL: Foot Tribe for me! AKA the Humility Tribe. The one thing that struck me most in our discussions was people’s defining humility as acts of service. Being “Side B,” or having a traditional belief on sexuality, I went into the tribe discussions thinking:
How much more humble can we get? We’re already surrendering our whole lives to God, giving up our own desires to honour God.
But then again, with Jesus as an example, He didn’t just come down, humble himself, and integrate with us. He also served the people around him, even the ones he knew would betray him.
Ultimately, he sacrificed himself for us.
I saw this same kind of humility throughout our three days together. People coming in and setting aside their busy schedules, their wounds, their hurts — all to speak life into other people’s situations, comforting and supporting them.
RYAN: I was also on the Humility Tribe! I agree with Daniel, and I will add that I loved the humility with which our tribe interacted with one another.
In particular, I felt like the men in our tribe all demonstrated admirable humility as we listened well to each other. Good listening is a mark of humility.
MARSHALL: I was on the Vulnerability Tribe this time. We all lived up to that name for sure! We spent most of our time telling our stories and not hiding our faults or pain.
Two guys married to women described how they decided to marry and all the challenges they’ve faced. Both told heartrending stories of disappointment, emotional abuse, and even betrayal. But also forgiveness and love.
The single guys talked about their awkwardness experienced among other men, shame, lack of connection, being marginalized in church, and sometimes even depression and suicidal thoughts, along with some unsuccessful personal attempts with reparative therapy.
What was the highlight of your YOBBERS retreat weekend?
RYAN: I think I’d start with the weather! I know it wasn’t difficult for us to beat the weather last year, but it was so amazingly perfect. Beyond that, I think my favorite part of the retreat was just looking around at all the men there and perceiving beauty — beauty in them individually, and beauty in their gathering. It led me into a unique place of worship. Expect a blog post about that soon!
TOM: Indeed, the weather was such a blessing. Although I kinda found myself missing last year’s maelstrom by the end. There’s something beautifully haunting in a thunderstorm. Especially in the middle of nowhere. It kept us indoors and forced all of us to interact more than we might have otherwise for our first gathering!
EUGENE: Our “speed dating,” or speed networking activity was once again my favorite thing this year. It was so great to talk with every single attendee for a few minutes each and just get the basics down. I loved this year’s added aspect of staring the other person in the eye for 5-7 seconds before even speaking a word.
It may have seemed awkward and weird at first, but I did love those few seconds of staring into someone’s soul and feeling that connection — then jumping and scaring them out of their skin. Hee hee.
DEAN: Raise your hands if you felt personally victimized by Eugene’s scare tactics in speed dating. *raises both hands and feet in the air*
TOM: Oh man, I forgot all about that! Much credit, Eugene. I love a good scare, although the psychologist in me wants to explore why you always felt the need to be the first to break the silence. Hmm?
KEVIN: No surprise, I have trouble picking favorites. But I can narrow it down to two. My expected favorite was the kitchen: I love being able to serve people for whom I care deeply, and helping with meals gave me time to connect in smaller settings.
My unexpected favorite, as an introvert, was the speed dating. Getting to meet all the new guys was awesome. And the people who already knew me helped me start chipping away at some tough walls that I’d built over the past year.
DEAN: Our second night of tribal time was amazing. Each of us shared our story, or at least the major points. We cried together, comforted each other, encouraged one another, challenged ourselves, and loved on each other. I was blown away by the incredible work God had done in each of their lives.
When we all finished sharing, we got up, without any prompting, and gave every other guy in the group a massive hug, affirming him as a man of God. I honestly could not have asked for a more incredible time at the retreat.
TOM: I couldn’t help eyeing you Brotherhood guys from the opposite end of the pavilion that night. I’m so glad your story share time was that solid.
DEAN: I saw the glancing eyes, Tom. I actually thought it was because we were too close to you or too loud/distracting. Glad it wasn’t anything like that.
TOM: Not at all. I felt like a proud father watching his kids really love each other. Or like maybe a proud older brother if that’s a less weird metaphor.
MARSHALL: The best time for me was our second night of worship.
At one point I found myself crying as I felt the impact of God’s forgiveness of all my sin because of Jesus’ sacrifice. I felt gratitude and wonder at God’s deep love and compassion toward us!
One of my friends nearby then hugged me and held on for a long time!
TOM: Oh, the worship. My favorite moments this year, like last year, were our nightly worship gatherings, or “YOBWE” (“Your Other Brothers Worship Experience”). In particular, singing “Tremble” together during our first night of YOBWE.
This song has become my personal anthem over the last year, a year fraught with darkness, and I can never hear or sing or proclaim it again without the lens of now having sung it alongside 43 dear brothers.
Indeed, the darkness trembles where two or more gather in Jesus’ name.
DANIEL: You know that meme that says “Only highlight important parts” with a picture of a page with everything highlighted? Literally everything was a highlight for me.
From my 8-hour flight (plus 3-hour delay) where I got a lot of time to reflect. To my 8-hour drive with Marshall where we got to catch up. To the opening of the retreat where we did activities that made us realise our differences and the things we have in common, reinforcing the understanding that we are not alone.
To trying to make people laugh during the stare-off portion of speed dating. To hearing 44 men praising God, singing in harmony without any previous practice!
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Then we’ll be a choir— not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!
Romans 15:3-6 MSG This was taken during the YOBWE – Your Other Brothers Worship Experience portion of the retreat. Men singing in harmony without any previous takes or practice! Can you believe? Still processing what happened last weekend. 44 gay/SSA/whateveryouwannacallit men in one place purposely worshiping God. Sharing their testimonies. Putting aside their hurts, their wounds, to lift up and encourage others. There’s only one explaination on how something like this could happen. Jesus. #YobbersRetreat2019 #faithfullyLGBT #LGBTQinChrist #gaychristian #christian #christianblog #samesexattraction
And to hearing Tom’s closing benediction. Stories upon stories upon stories. Aaaand most importantly, making people cry.
TOM: Gosh, I love making people cry. I honestly really truly do. If that makes me sadistic or just sad, so be it. Helping men feel their feelings brings me legitimate joy.
What was the most challenging aspect of your YOBBERS retreat weekend?
TOM: Our first day was fraught with hiccups and mishaps, starting with my arrival that morning to set up the camp — only to find another group still occupying our lodge. Some miscommunication with the camp folks set us back with camp setup, especially stocking all of our food for the weekend. Our epic tribal banners kept falling apart, and we discovered the camp’s keyboard cord was missing right as we were supposed to start YOBWE!
KEVIN: Those freaking banners, that wind . . .
TOM: From setup to worship, that entire first day just felt off. I had to walk outside and take some literal deep breaths and pray and remind myself that everything was okay. We were all here. We were all together. “Worst case” scenario, we could sing a cappella that night without a keyboard if we absolutely had to.
Ultimately, I just didn’t want this second retreat to be “worse” than last year’s. In any way. Especially as changes have rocked our landscape in the last year. All my anxieties about being a good retreat organizer and a good leader at large, needing this retreat to be “better,” had to take a backseat to simply being present.
And what was present was beautiful.
This retreat, unlike last year’s, was drenched in prayer. Physical, tangible, collaborative prayer. I’m grateful for my brothers who prayed alongside me with arms on shoulders that first night — and lo and behold, the missing keyboard cord appeared. And like the parable of the lost coin, there was great rejoicing.
DANIEL: Waooo, I didn’t even notice the hiccups though! #AllThingsWorkTogetherForTheGood. Can you believe?
DEAN: Praise God the hiccups seemed to go unnoticed! Once again, a reminder that they are most likely bigger deals to us than they should be.
Besides the wax paper sticking to the pizza . . . I was my own biggest challenge. I kept getting in my own way.
Fears of being seen as an imposter, being mocked for my inability to manage the meals, being less than what people hoped or expected I be, or being a disappointment in some other way.
I had to keep wrestling with these fears all weekend, especially that first evening. My Brotherhood Tribe and a few other brothers helped me overcome this, though. Every time the fears started to creep up, I just went to one of them and literally chatted for a minute. Their natural joy was all I needed to quell the fears and get over myself.
KEVIN: I’ll share more in a coming blog post, but the retreat ended up being a wake-up call for me. The first night, I realized just how spiritually empty I was and how many lies had clouded my vision. It was a tough way to start the weekend.
TOM: I can’t wait to hear more, Kevin.
EUGENE: One thing I have such a hard time with just about anywhere I go is large groups of people chatting and socializing. I walked into the common area many times where just about all the attendees were gathered together, chatting loudly in their clusters. As an introvert, it’s an intimidating sight and often made me flee the other direction, pretending I’d forgotten something in the bedroom.
Usually in those scenarios, I end up the lonely guy in the corner where one person pities me and comes up to me like, “Oh, honey, are you okay?” Which UGH only makes things worse.
Anyway, I digress. Just an insecurity rant. It’s tough as an introvert who likes smaller groups. It’s something I’m trying to work on with my socializing skills.
DANIEL: The most challenging part for me was staying intentional with everything I did. My greatest regret from last year’s retreat, influenced by my living in British culture, was that I did a lot of small talk. By midday of that third and final day, there was no more time for real talk! Coming from the other side of the world, each moment I had with the guys and gays is precious!
MARSHALL: My biggest challenge was hearing other guys’ stories of pain and isolation, feeling helpless to stop their suffering. I am certainly motivated to try to help!
RYAN: That one also hits me hard, Marshall. I think the other big challenge for me was finding the right balance between alone time and relational time. I felt more comfortable going off on my own to pray or reflect this year, which was a good thing, but that also meant I had to decide how much of that alone time to forego lest I miss a unique opportunity to connect with my other brothers.
Do you have any hopes for future YOBBERS retreats — indeed, the future of YOB?
DANIEL: EUROPEAN RETREAT! Not just that actually — I also want an Asian retreat, African one, Australian one. Let’s do all the continents, hey!
One thing I noticed about this retreat is that it was very American. People’s experiences had a lot to do with American masculinity and faith expressions relating to different American denominations — politics even. I wonder how different the stories would be in a different cultural setting? That would be very interesting! The future is global!
KEVIN: Daniel, I would love to see more diversity as well. We love having our non-American brothers around!
I think one of the dilemmas for future retreats is wanting more people to experience it, but selfishly enjoying a small enough community to feel like we get to know each other. Speed dating doesn’t fit into a weekend with 100 guys. So I want it to grow, but also remain close?
TOM: I feel that tension, Kevin. We currently have over 150 guys supporting YOB on Patreon (amazing), but having that many people together in one place feels impractical, even counterproductive for such a relational retreat like ours. At least right now at this leg of the journey.
Maybe somewhere down the line, though, 150+ attendees is no big deal? Oh, this journey . . .
MARSHALL: I have hopes and dreams for YOB to grow and to start helping guys meet their need for brotherhood on a daily basis, not just once a year!
DEAN: First hope: a far better process for meals at future retreats.
Second hope: I am so excited to see this group of guys again at a retreat like this. I will, of course, see many of these brothers between now and then. But there is something special and powerful about the YOBBERS retreat. Being there with all of them for this purpose is truly life-altering and I cannot wait for it again.
My hope for YOB? I simply want to hear more stories from more brothers who have been chosen for us. Tom shared a benediction at the end of our weekend that wrecked me. It wrecked me because it was the same benediction from our very first friends’ retreat, before YOB even existed.
I think to those brothers — some of whom I don’t really talk to anymore — and I remember the excitement we all had about our stories. This idea that God had brought us together to share our stories and hear stories from others like us drove us to create YOB in 2015.
Now, we get to hear stories in response. We are the ones blessed by story after story of men and women drawing near to Christ as they navigate faith, sexuality, and identity.
So my hope is simply that God continues to bring stories to us. I pray He continues writing stories in our lives, writing stories in your lives, and writing stories in the lives of those we have yet to meet.
After all, we have not chosen each other, but God has chosen us for one another.
EUGENE: Next year I hope to see us all together as an even stronger family with plenty of new members added along the way. It makes me feel good seeing so many of these guys connect and meet with each other in one place and become friends.
It wasn’t just awkward, superficial stuff either; it was real, genuine connection. Makes my heart warm.
My hope for the future of YOB is that we find more lost sparrows looking for home. I know there are hundreds if not thousands of lonely, hurting men out there struggling to reconcile their faith with their sexuality.
Just like I was once. I hope we can connect with more of them and help them find community, brotherhood, and love. The YOBBERS retreat definitely gave me hope that we can do that.
RYAN: This year felt like a reunion, not just a retreat. It was a welcome reminder that the rest of my kin is still out there, that the world is so big — it’s easy to forget how big it is and how many kindred spirits are out there.
I think there’s great value in that tangible reminder, even if it only comes once a year. I need it!
Some of you have talked about how to scale the retreat as YOB grows. That’s a tough question! Many other communities run into the same issue. One of the pastors at my church always used to say this:
“The bigger we get, the smaller we have to become.”
It takes constant effort to make a large community personal. And the work to “become smaller” may take some sacrifice that we may not initially be excited about.
For example, if we grow a lot and decide to have regional retreats (East, West, and Europe??), I may not get to do a retreat with my YOB West and YOB Euro friends. But the flip side is that YOB East can stay small enough that it can still serve our vision.
TOM: Ooh, I do love the literal sound of “YOB Euro.” How it rolls.
RYAN: I’m not saying this is something we’ll do, or even that we’ll ever get that big. But it’s never too soon to think about how the structure of YOB can serve our vision instead of limiting our vision to fit a community structure we’ve grown comfortable with.
TOM: Y’all have totally nailed my main hope-tied-with-concern for the future of this community and ministry: continued growth but also continued connection.
Connection to God first and foremost. And then connection with each other. And also connection to the Church.
How do we stay as connected if our Patreon community of 150 members one day grows to 1,500? Or 15,000?
I flash back to before YOB started: ten guys in a cabin in Tennessee. If you’d told me then that we’d gain a Patreon community of 150+ or even organize a retreat for 44 people, I’d have been so overwhelmed.
Shackled with fear with how to take even a single step that direction.
And yet God rarely shows us what’s 37 steps ahead. Just the current step. The journey is incremental, and I believe we’ve learned a lot through our gradual growth these last 3 1/2 years. Who knows where we’ll be 3 1/2 years later?
Regardless the numbers. With Christ the center, I’m confident of more good things to come to YOB.
We had a great retreat last year, and we had another great one this year. Some things were better last year, and some things were far better this year.
Nonetheless, this year’s YOBBERS retreat takes what began at the last retreat and continues what I believe to be a divinely orchestrated process. Another step in this journey. This climb.
We are striving after Christ with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
And I don’t know about y’all. But I’m excited for what lies ahead.
Did you attend this year’s YOBBERS retreat? What were your highlights and personal challenges? Have any questions about the YOBBERS retreat if you didn’t attend?