Two years ago, I went to Brooklyn, NY to help out with a children’s summer program. We worked alongside high school youth and somewhat less so with older middle school youth, who were the primary workers for that seven-week period (a new outside team comes every week to help them out). Though most of our team was not able to spend as much time with the youth as we would have liked, we still enjoyed working with them and hanging out with them. That was the first time our church went to their “Summer Splash,” and our church sent another team last summer which I was not a part of. Our English pastor in particular has developed a bond with the youth there, so this year, we tried something new: A youth retreat of sorts.
Our church sent a team of four to run this conference/retreat which was primarily aimed at the youth, though there were a couple of kids who were younger. It is spring break for them, but spring break in Texas tends to be in March; it came at an awkward time because this is when school kind of picks up with papers and assignments (I had to do one while I was there). Still, it was a great blessing to come, teach, and get to know these youth more.
The retreat was run through a ministry called Dorcas Ministries, which is led by a passionate woman named Grace Mo and her husband Wilson, and it is located in the Chinatown of Brooklyn and has served the children in the area for many years, being a haven for them to come, have fun, and be taken care of both spiritually and physically. The event was held at Dorcas’ building (which is fairly nice and has a story of its own), where the team was also housed. We got in on Saturday, and the retreat went from Sunday evening to Wednesday evening. Grace gave us these topics beforehand that she wanted us to cover: How the Bible came to be and how to read/approach it, relationships, purity, growing in Christ, gender identity and following the Bible on moral issues, the problem of evil, and spiritual disciplines. I was… lucky enough to be chosen to tackle the complicated issues of gender identity and evil, and it was a challenge to present them in an accessible manner in one hour sessions. However, the kids were very attentive and thoughtful.
Speaking of attentiveness, it was refreshing to see how eager the youth were to learn. They clearly desired biblical teaching and spiritual advice from older people. Not only did they listen during sessions, they enjoyed listening to the advice and wisdom from our pastor and my roommate/coworker (who also entertained them with singing and rapping). Many of the girls also bonded with the only female we brought, who did a great job leading worship and doing logistical things like creating the retreat booklet. God used each member of the team to reach out to these kids, and through that we were also blessed. We got to see spiritual growth, the creation or strengthening of friendships, and one young man accept Christ as his Savior after many years of hearing the Gospel but not quite accepting it. We also may have seen the genesis of a new small group or accountability group as my roommate led them through that process. And yet another young man, who has desires to be an accountant, expressed to us that he felt a calling to ministry during the retreat, possibly following my path of getting an accounting degree and yet becoming poor by going into ministry instead 😉 (I did tell him that working in business first is fine). It was amazing to see God work.
The retreat took a lot of energy; many of us took naps during our break between the morning and evening sessions, but it was all worth it. The people at Dorcas were incredibly hospitable, the youth were fun to hang out with and great listeners, and the Spirit definitely moved. We all have things to go back to at home, but it was still sad to leave them. However, another team is going this July for that. I probably will be a part of that one too, so it won’t be too long before I see them again. I look forward to it and seeing how God will work some more in Brooklyn.