"You are a treasure."
This is a statement that boys and men of all ages often struggle to believe. It’s also the statement that set the stage for our All Boys Retreat this year. We started the week by watching "National Treasure", a movie about an American historian racing to find a treasure hidden by the founding fathers before a rival with less honorable motives finds it. At first glance, the film was simply a fun way to illustrate themes of courage, perseverance and friendship, but it functioned much more as a way to help these boys (ranging from grades 5 to 10) get on the same page to explore a greater concept of the riches of God's treasure as opposed to the treasures of this world.
Melissa began the week's teaching with a simple sentence that serves as an important reminder: "You have been set wholly apart by God. You are a cherished treasure." These boys are at a stage of life where everything can feel like a competition and being chosen last for a team can feel like the end of the world. Many of these boys, coming from broken families and/or broken friendships, feel abandoned and like they may never be chosen. And so this reminder of their chosenness...of their treasuredness truly can shore up a foundation that otherwise feels pretty shaky. Deuteronomy 7:6 states: “Do this because you are a people set apart as holy to God, your God. God, your God, chose you out of all the people on Earth for himself as a cherished personal treasure." “God didn't choose you because you're smart, athletic, funny or even because you're good. God chose you because he loves you,“ Melissa reminded the boys often over the course of the week.
Later in the week the boys, were given an opportunity to go into the small town of Hazel, Kentucky and do a modified version of one of our favorite Hopetown activities: Christmas. Typically, they are given three dollars to search through the antique stores for a gift for another camper. In this version, however, rather than choosing an object to illustrate what they saw in one of their friends, the boys were tasked with choosing an object that represented themselves and their personal story. Later that night the boys presented these objects and explained why they had chosen them. Items ranged from hammers to canes to vintage basketball cards representing the ways they tried to fix their families, help carry their friends or even things as simple and important as their love of sports that had gotten them through their struggles. Melissa then spoke about how each of the gifts represents the treasure we all hold within us. And that even though we are full of treasure, we often try to cover it up with things such as having a temper, irritability, manipulation, grasping for control, selfishness and apathy. Melissa told the boys that "Covering up treasure doesn't take it away or mean it's not there anymore. It simply hides it. Eventually, all of the hiding just leads to fear that you can’t keep up the control on your own." Without God, we would leave all of our gifts buried so deeply that we wouldn't be able to shine in the way God designed. Melissa finished this teaching with the reminder that "You are so valuable because the cost of you is the love of Jesus." When you are able to name and recognize the things you are using to cover up your treasure and bring them to God, he can help you uncover that treasure we all try so hard to bury.
Our treasure discussion then led us to Numbers 13, which speaks of the 12 spies Moses sent to scout out Canaan before the Israelites arrived. Upon returning to Moses, the spies spoke of how the land was filled with milk and honey, but the cities were well-fortified and guarded by giants. When Moses asked the spies to return to the cities, all but two of the spies refused, afraid of the giants and the strength of the cities. They were afraid they didn't have the strength to stand against them. Caleb and Joshua were the only two who did not share this fear saying instead "We can certainly do it." Melissa used this passage as a reminder that we all face giants in our lives-whether they be anxiety, divorce, bullying, or simply making friends. These giants are inevitable and how we face them illustrates the measure of the man we can be. Melissa emphasized the importance of the words "We can certainly do it.” Not "I can do it", but WE. We as humans cannot face our giants alone. We need friends and we need God. The true measure of a man is not being able to carry his burdens alone in silence, but being willing to say "God help me”. God longs for us to ask him to help shoulder the burden, whether it be the burden of making friends or the loss of a parent. God is always there ready and more than willing to help carry that weight.
It is worth mentioning, that alongside the burdens and the treasure talks, we had a lot of fun. We played on the lake, had a treasure hunt of our own, and even did a Hopetown version of an escape game. With all of the fun, the lasting impact on the boys, however, had much more to do with Melissa’s word on the journey these boys are taking to becoming men.
The week's teaching concluded with a time for the boys speak about what they saw in each other throughout the week. They were encouraged to choose one of four words to describe each other, including SPIRIT, BELIEVE, STRENGTH and COURAGE. These words were drawn from four different men in passages of the Bible who exemplified traits that Melissa considered important in these boys journey to becoming men.
SPIRIT: Caleb - Numbers 14:24
BELIEVE: Jeremiah - Jeremiah 1:7-8
STRENGTH: Gideon - Joshua 6:12
COURAGE: Joshua - Joshua 1:9
This final activity offered an opportunity for the boys to do one of the most important things in our journey of becoming men--having the courage and vulnerability to speak truth and encouragement into a friend's life and call them to a higher place. This week these boys moved further along the journey towards becoming courageous men of God...now imparted with the wisdom that none of us can do it alone, that we will need to rely on both our friends and our Lord if we are to be able to face the giants of being a man. It was an honor to have begun this walk alongside them and to observe the transformation happening in their courageous hearts.