Each year, Redeemer’s Grade 9 students attend an overnight retreat at Providence Point Retreat Centre in Lanark during the first few weeks of school. “I think the weekend gave the students an excellent way to connect outside of the school environment,” said Eric VanDenBroek, a veteran parent chaperone who has accompanied each of his four children on this retreat. “No social media allowed students time to converse and connect with each other during meals and activities.”
New parent, Natasha Gajraj, noted “the games chosen by the staff and senior students promoted interaction. For the meals, students were sent randomly to sit at different tables. This gave everyone the opportunity to meet someone new. Teachers also split students into different groups which helped foster closer collaboration and encouragement while doing the obstacle course or capture the flag.”
Gajraj praised the teachers for “their focus on community building via personal responsibility in living the Christian virtues each day and each moment.” She noted the advice given was both practical and spiritually demanding. Students were challenged to get out of their comfort zones and reach out to others, to be inclusive and to not pre-judge motives or actions. Students were reminded that we have an obligation to make a difference and to learn to dialogue respectfully. “One teacher gave his own powerful testimony of how careful we need to use that little organ called the tongue, and how much he makes his life’s decisions each day on the Bible,” Gajraj recalled.
Both parent chaperones were impressed with the five senior students who shared their testimonies. They were “profound and meaningful” recounted VanDenBroek. Gajraj highlighted key points of the testimonies:
faith is not feeling
we need to work on our relationship – our friendship – with God by taking time with Him each day
we each need to decide to respond to God’s call
it is good to have a mentor for our spiritual life
life is not perfect – we make mistakes, do things we regret, but we keep working at it
we keep going with God’s grace
if we think we’re scared, others are too, it’s not a reason to not try
keeping a journal can help us to give over the challenges to God
choose friends well
choose friends who can pull you up, spur you on
Older students sharing with the younger students of their experiences of a new school, new people and new schedules, as well as about their faith journey and growth in their walk with God have a “huge positive impact,” said VanDenBroek.