Our once annual retreat for YOBBERS (our awesome Patreon supporters) made a brave attempt last month to become a yearly gathering once again. Last year COVID-19 threw off societal rhythms around the world, and our community was no exception. While our digital community survived — in fact, we grew and met more often online — our two-year streak of annual retreats certainly took a hit.
We tried to gather the spring of 2020. Canceled.
We tried again at the same location the fall of 2020. Canceled.
And then for what we thought would surely be the third and final attempt, we tried once more this summer of 2021. You guessed it — canceled.
Between a pandemic and this particular camp’s ineffective scheduling software, it was a long, dark, if not comedic road to our eventual gathering at a completely different camp last month.
But we made it. We finally made it. Our 2021 YOBBERS retreat was finally a go; now, it’s a gone.
I dubbed this third retreat “the impossible retreat” because it did often feel it would never actually happen. Maybe ever again?
We had two phenomenal retreats in 2018 and 2019, but maybe we were done now? Maybe our community should just stay in the digital realm? We held a virtual retreat last year during the height of COVID-19; maybe those events were more suitable, more affordable and accessible, particularly for folks in our international community.
Plus, putting on an in-person retreat is just a lot of work. A lot, a lot of work. Without at least six or seven people helping, it’s just not feasible. Do we even have that many guys willing to pitch in each year?
Maybe gathering beyond a camp’s gates was forever a thing of the past; maybe not gathering under one roof anymore was more practical, if not for the best?
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People increasingly ask me what I do for a living or what this “YOB” acronym means — not necessarily the letters, but the purpose, the mission embedded within.
What do I do, yes, but what does YOB do? What exactly is Your Other Brothers all about?
As one of YOB’s cofounders, as well as the site editor and podcast host, I feel a mounting pressure to define YOB beyond our content: yes, we write blogs and publish podcasts, along with the occasional videos and social media postings . . . but aren’t we also a community? A legit people-group with its own nickname and culture and inside jokes?
After hundreds of patrons over the last five years, isn’t YOB more known for its community than its content? And not just a community of common struggles but one of common joys, common pursuits, a common Jesus?
And if YOB is a community . . . shouldn’t we see each other’s faces beyond Discord postings and little Zoom squares? If only once a year?
Don’t I owe it to these dozens of guys to bless them with at least a yearly gathering?
To be honest, my life would be a lot easier without a Facebook group and a Discord server and Zoom calls and especially retreats to manage. It’d be much easier to focus on creating blogs and podcasts and not also managing hundreds of humans.
Easier, perhaps, but far less fulfilling. And without this faithful community supporting not just the costs of the content but the content itself, this little website just may be . . . unsustainable.
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“Step in the circle if you experienced any level of anxiety coming here this weekend,” I announced to the circle of 41 men in our camp’s chapel. The vast majority stepped forward — myself included.
For weeks leading into this “impossible retreat,” eleventh hour change of location notwithstanding, I experienced a fair amount of anxiety. Would COVID-19 ruin things once again? Would we have to deny people attendance if they got sick before the retreat, or worse, kick someone off camp property if he started coughing by lunchtime the second day?
Of the 41 attendees, two-thirds were brand new to the concept of a YOBBERS retreat, up from half at our second retreat; only a handful this year had previously attended one. And so I was anxious our “vibe” would be too new, too foreign, too strange, and too uncomfortable for too many people.
Would the ratio just be off? Would our vibe be off after 27 months apart?
Beyond logistics and numbers, I felt anxious about the purpose of this retreat more than either of our previous ones. It all goes back to that nebulous definition of YOB: what are we here for?
Are we here to commiserate, are we here to laugh and joke, or are we here to follow Jesus? Not that following Jesus can’t also include shared commiseration and jolliness. But the Jesus part — discipleship. Are we a community who cares about discipleship? About growing not just in our faith, but also spurring others in theirs?
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The first night of our YOBBERS retreat, we tried something we’d never done before. I asked for brave souls to step forward if they needed prayer for any of our seven values:
Do you feel bereft of hope?
Lacking in humility?
Robbed of joy?
Frozen by vulnerability?
Adrift from kinship?
Apathetic about discipleship?
Truthfully, I didn’t know if one person would step forward for prayer; further, I didn’t know if anyone else would see a brother in need and respond to his aid after knowing him for just . . . five hours. I held my breath after putting the call out there.
And then after I exhaled, I looked up. One by one guys did step forward in vulnerability, in boldness.
And then other guys stepped toward their fellow man, stretching out hands to shoulders, praying for them, praying over them. Value after value, round after round, I witnessed my other brothers be brothers to one another in ways I’d never seen at our retreat.
Ways I felt myself when I also stepped forward.
It was risky and kinda bizarre, yet one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen — in this community or otherwise. I cried at the sight. It’s forever a snapshot of our community that can never be erased. One I hope grows from year to year. Retreat to retreat.
I’m excited for some of my other brothers to share their vantage points of our retreat in the weeks to come. What a wonderful weekend we had together. So worth the long pandemic-induced wait.
I just love this community. How we pray together, how we run after Jesus together. It’s what YOB is all about.