August 2021 — I had everything ready to attend my first YOB camp retreat when my elderly mother got life-threateningly ill. Thankfully, she recovered (as much as a nearly 90-year-old woman can). But I missed the retreat.
November 2022 — I would finally attend my first YOB camp retreat. And now that it’s over, it was truly a beautiful experience!
It was surreal meeting brothers who I know better than many of my closest friends. We went from Zoom calls and private messages to meeting and communicating in person for the first time. I’ve been on many Christian retreats, and I have to say this one was spent with the kindest men.
We shared a common experience as gay/SSA men, along with a real sense that each of us wanted to give all the other men a respite from the daily trials of life, if even for two days.
I felt this especially during our worship gathering the first night. So many other times I’ve sat in a worship service (or worse yet, led one) and thought: If these people only knew what thoughts go through my mind so many times a day, they would ask me to leave immediately.
But I had no such shameful thoughts the first night, because we all had those thoughts, as well as the complex convictions that often accompany them. Indeed, that was part of what was making our corporate praise such a beautiful incense to the Lord.
The following devotional was much deeper than what I generally experience in my weekly church meetings or my nightly quiet time. We were led into a Christ-centered, deep breathing exercise, and while I have participated in many similar group-led exercises, this was my first one completely focused on Jesus, and that truly made all the difference.
Going into the retreat I felt some spiritual dryness. I was excited to meet fellow YOBBERS and get a few days of R&R, but I also found myself thinking that I needed to be more focused on the Lord before going into such a retreat.
In the days following the retreat, however, I have found that I did indeed gain a renewal of my spirit, and perhaps this was the whole reason the Lord led me to attend this year.
After our first night’s gathering, we dismissed into our small groups (or tribes). I was truly blessed on my tribe among a group of mature godly men. Our tribe shared very similar goals of growing both in Christ and with each other.
As I think about it more, while growth in Christ is paramount to all believers, it is especially important to those of us in the Side B world in which the battle against the flesh feels as though it’s constantly one setback after another. I saw growth in these dear brothers in our brief 48 hours together, and I am sure I will see more in the Zoom calls and chats in these weeks and months to come.
After our first small group, we regathered as a large group for one of my favorite retreat activities, “Step in the Circle.” The moderator calls out various statements, and people step forward if the statement applies to them. It’s a very simple activity which can invoke some strong emotions.
As I stepped forward for many things called (for example, if you looked at porn in the last year), I could almost physically feel the emotional weights falling off my shoulders, if only for a few minutes, giving the phrase you are not alone all the more weight instead.
The following day we did a YOB favorite, “Speed Dating,” or as it was cloaked at this retreat — “Get to Know a Bro.” Within a few minutes, everyone got to interview one another as a means toward knowing one another. Personally, I wish this activity was longer but then it wouldn’t really be “speed” dating. I enjoyed this activity because it was a good way to start conversations that I would probably want to finish later in the retreat.
Due to the shortness of this exercise (we only spent about two minutes interviewing each other), it gave me a chance to see other community members the way Jesus does all the time — as one somebody. For those two minutes, that other person across from me is practically the only individual in the universe.
My time summarizing this wonderful YOB retreat is short, while the memories I made and brotherhood I felt will last a lifetime. To those other wonderful YOB brothers who were able to attend, I say the sincerest “thank you.” To those who could not attend for various reasons, I truly hope that the Lord in his providence allows our paths to cross someday soon.
No matter where or when I meet with you again, my fellow sparrows, I know it will truly be a time blessed by our Lord.
Have you ever been delayed by an encouraging experience only to experience it in full later? If you attended, what was your favorite block of the retreat?