By Kara Witherow, Editor
Two weeks ago, if you were to have walked onto the grounds of Camp Jekyll 4-H Center on Jekyll Island you would have seen more than 200 middle and high school students playing basketball and volleyball. You would have watched as they strolled through the surf, played ladderball on the beach, and sat at picnic tables and talked.
There was nary a cell phone in sight. Kids were being kids, playing, laughing, and connecting – with each other, with nature, and with God.
It was a welcome sight, said Suzanne Akins, the South Georgia Conference’s Director of Camping and Retreats.
“There were pockets of kids playing and hanging out all over the campus. It was so nice.”
On Jekyll Island for the Conference’s 2021 Encounter Youth Retreat, Pat McGlone’s students were thrilled to be at a fun retreat, together again, and away from their everyday routines.
“Our kids were excited about the opportunity to get back together again; they love to be around other churches and meet new people,” said McGlone, who serves as Nashville United Methodist Church’s director of student ministries. “They had been mourning those opportunities for the past year and a half.”
While Encounter was full of fun, friends, and frivolity, those weren’t the event’s focus.
McGlone returns year after year and attends event after event – he takes groups to KidzQuest and Confirmation, too – because at Conference events his students are immersed in settings that are focused on Christ and His love.
“My desire to bring kids to Encounter is for just that reason – to have an encounter,” he said. “They have a chance to get out of their usual schedules and into a different setting where they can hear the gospel and how much God loves them.”
Nancy Riley, who leads the youth group at Moultrie First United Methodist Church, echoes McGlone’s sentiments. Students need a break from their norms and the pressures of life – homework, chores, and school – she said, and Encounter gave them the opportunity to focus on what’s most important – their relationship with Christ.
“The whole time we’re here it’s about worship, it’s about growing in our faith, it’s about interacting with other Christian teens who are there for the same reason. We can focus on worshiping, digging into scripture, and having an encounter with God because that’s what we’re there to focus on.”
Riley and McGlone both praised the Valdosta State University Wesley Foundation’s worship band and speaker Ketric Newell for the enthusiastic, engaging ways they helped students enter into worship and the ways they presented the gospel message. The entire Camp Connect summer leadership team also returned to serve for the weekend.
“We all really loved the speaker, Ketric. He was funny and engaging and made some really important points that were relevant to the students,” McGlone said. “They loved the music. Suzanne puts on high quality, well put together events that fit the audience.”
Akins said the retreat helped reset and recharge students and adults alike.
“When you take away the noise, you open yourself up to more clearly hear God speaking,” she said.