“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31 NIV).
What do we do if we want to get a special spiritual experience, if we want Christian fellowship, if we want to spend time in an uplifting environment? We go to the website of our local conference and look for a camp meeting in our area, a Bible conference, a women’s retreat or another event that fits our need and interest, and we sign up for it.
Unfortunately, this is not an option here in Benin. There might be one youth campout and one women’s retreat per year, but usually they are in the South, which makes it impossible for our people to attend because of the high travel costs. Every two or three years there is a national camp meeting. Conferences and seminars are usually for a specific group of people, and there are no children’s retreats or summer camps.
I believe that events like these are extremely important for spiritual growth. When I was growing up, I attended several Pathfinder or youth retreats per year and bonded with other Christians of the same age and interest. I’m pretty sure these events and the contacts I made there helped keep me in the church during a time when my peers in public school had very different priorities.
Sensing this need for our Otammari people, we have organized several retreats and special events for the Natitingou church in the past couple of years, such as vacation Bible schools, women’s retreats and kids’ days.
During the last Christmas break, Toussaint and I hosted a girls’ retreat with eight teenage girls. We had wished for more, but some of the girls’ parents aren’t Adventist, and they couldn’t get permission to join us. We had a full program with morning and evening worships done by the girls, teaching, a lot of singing, praying, Bible games and sports. The girls did their own cooking, which made for quite a bit of social time around the fire.
The teaching focused on how to live a pure life as a girl in this sinful world full of temptations. We studied the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy on how to avoid and resist temptation, and how and when to choose the right spouse. We discussed very openly, and I learned a lot about the dangers these girls face in their daily lives. In public schools here, it is common for teachers to offer better grades in exchange for physical pleasure. Also, many parents are willing to give away their daughters at a very young age. I was able to develop a much deeper relationship with some of the girls and am now able to pray for them in more specific ways.
When the girls told everybody about their great experience at the retreat, the boys asked for a retreat, too. So, during Easter break, it was their turn. Charles, our local evangelist, took charge of organizing the event and teaching, and Toussaint and I served as hosts. Naturally the 10 boys who participated spent less time in the kitchen and more time on the soccer field. But other than that, their program was very similar to the girls’. Charles focused his teaching on how to develop and maintain a deep personal relationship with Christ. On the last day, they went out into the neighborhood to visit people and hand out pamphlets. At the end of the retreat they all testified that they’d had a great spiritual experience. The following Sabbath, the smaller children asked when their retreat would be! Well, I don’t think I can handle a 3-day-long retreat with 20+ very active kids at our place, but we will schedule a kids’ day for them soon.
These events really meet a need, and I praise God for blessing us with property and facilities for hosting retreats and seminars. However, the organization and execution is tiring and time-consuming. My goal is to motivate others in the church to take the initiative and organize such events with my coaching. I would like to see many more retreats and seminars take place to strengthen and edify our members. Please pray with me that this will become a reality.