From April 9 to 11, 450 middle schoolers and their youth pastors packed into the campground of Hidden Acres in Dayton, Iowa to experience God in a new way at Middle School Retreat.
Led by the RCA Synod of the Heartland and their Office of Youth Ministries, MSR has been an April tradition for many years. What separates this event from others put on by the Synod office is that MSR partners specifically with Northwestern College for its volunteer staff and worship team.
In the fall before each retreat, two NW students are chosen as leaders and coordinators of the retreat. The baton is passed from the previous two leaders to the next along with a long list of tasks and planning to take place over the next eight months.
MSR 2021 was headed by seniors Shonna Ritz and Chris Jelken. They collaborated with events coordinator Kelsey Wielenga and events director Bob Cleveringa at the Synod office to put together schedules, teams, information guides and more.
This year’s theme was centered around Psalm 34: “Magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together!” The “magnify” theme encouraged participants to focus on not how they see themselves but on how God views them.
The weekend started on Friday at 5 p.m. with buses and vans rolling in amidst shouts of greeting from the welcome crew. Then the night tumbled into the first main session where the speaker, Bradley Rees, and the NW worship team drew the students and their youth leaders into a space of vulnerability and Christ-like love.
Celeina Hernandez, one of the NW worship leaders, said, “They sounded like a beautiful choir that I bet the Lord loved listening to.”
Then came the fun: after-hours. For the last two hours of Friday and Saturday, the students had the opportunity to play hard and snack up. There was glow-in-the-dark 9 Square, glow dodgeball, a pool, a bonfire, board games and the snack shack.
After very little sleep, Saturday brought another main session before the afternoon event nicknamed “The Big Game.” This year’s Big Game was Eagle’s Nest—a combination of capture the flag, dodgeball and hide-and-seek. Two hours of weaving and swiping had the kids hyped up and ready for another main session.
Saturday evening’s main session was a deviation from the common thread. The MSR staff set up a canvas that each student could paint on as they came up to confess, question or comment on their faith with God as they used art to express themselves.