i’m moving to the country. or perhaps to one the youthfront camps. my best running and praying of the year is almost always done within a couple miles of camp, and last saturday was no exception.

(outside of this parenthesis, i’ll pretend i never stopped blogging regularly. sorry.)

a week ago, rene and i were blessed to engage in a weekend “pilgrimage” to youthfront south with the jacob’s well community. different from a retreat, the intent of pilgrimage is to intentionally disrupt our routines and, as a community, to journey together with Jesus as our travel companion. unlike so many activity-frenzied retreats in the past, it was an extraordinary time of refreshment. other than meals and fixed-hour prayer times, there really was no expectation of participating in any particular activity. if we wanted to take a walk, take a nap, read, or just hang out and talk, we had grace-filled freedom. but the true blessing came in stepping beyond our comfort zone and talking to people we didn’t know yet.

speed limit 15it was also so relaxing to have zero responsibilities for planning or leading activities, although we both hung out with the kids community for a bit on saturday morning. it was a little surreal to be so close to the youth group, yet virtually unknown by them. after talking with parents and just being observant, i know most of the names, but it isn’t until this sunday that we finally step back into weekly volunteer roles. (more on that in the very near future. i promise.)

however conducive each of the youthfront camps is to prayer and communion with God, it is always when i engage in the dual disciplines of solitude and physical exercise that i most feel His presence. normally, i run outside 3-4 times a week around the kansas city area, but it’s always with headphones and plenty of company on the roads. my loops from camp bring me into contact with virtually no other humans, and i watch the rural world wake up. and oh! the prayer times are amazing.

keep rightas i reentered camp with its awakening band of pilgrims, and being not nearly as steamy as i figured i’d be on such a chilly morning, i literally slowed down and took notice of the various road signs posted around the property. it occurred to me, in a moment of divinely sparked imagination, that i’ve been missing too many signs in my hurried attempts to get to whatever is my destination.

the signs posted along the camp roads were placed there by humans, because they knew something more about the path than others with less experience might know. so it is with our life in community. some call them spiritual guides. others refer to 360° discipleship or point to 2 timothy 2:2. however you frame it, other people have perspective that we, in our limited experience, cannot see. sometimes it’s the long road of wisdom that enables another to speak into our lives. but – and i’m enjoying every moment of this space – it is the awe and wonder of someone younger or newer to the path that gives them an amazing vantage point that we can only gain by being near. either way, we need others.

do not entersome signs were not put in place by people. or if they were, it was only at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. i speak of revelation, both natural and specific as contained in scripture. the fact that there is a tree directly ahead of me is a great opportunity to not run smack into it. but, as was pointed out later in a wonderful time of outdoor worship, the trees themselves all have their “arms” constantly pointed upwards in praise, and join the constant chorus of cicadas in singing to our glorious God.

if you’ve ever traveled with a history buff, you know it’s a completely different experience to hear the stories behind the weathered buildings and timeworn landmarks. they see what you would otherwise miss, and they bring it to life. so it is with the scriptures. each of us brings our own stories, knowledge, hurts, joys, and insight when we open the common book. and so we must remember to heed the signs left not only in the pages of holy writ, but also by the “vast cloud of witnesses,” and we must interact with the story of God as a living story, in community.

i also picked up a resource that i might have otherwise missed. among the wristbands and ultimate discs, there was a stack of copies of presence-centered youth ministry: guiding students into spiritual formation by mike king. although it’s been published for several years, it wasn’t until this week that i finally took in his transformative story of engaging in spiritual practices both personally and in community that focus ministry not on programs and numbers but on seeking the continual presence of God. i will continue to explore and engage for many years, i am sure.

i’ll share more soon about my our return to active youth ministry, as well as giving some quick updates on the transitions in our lives. blessings to you all.

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About andrew burden

andrew blogs about being a volunteer youth leader, teacher, video editor, husband, friend, child of God
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