Confessions of a youth retreat chaperone

Published 9:32 am Wednesday, March 23, 2016

I joked with my daughter that I should title this column, “We be peelin.’” It would be a clever play on words, I explained, between what we actually did on her spring break (with potatoes) and what many others did on theirs (suffered from sunburn). The thought of such a grammatically incorrect headline, however, was too much for me.

But back to the potatoes.

There were 7,000 pounds of them at the Christian Food Mission on Chantilly Street in Laurel last week. On Friday, a group of youth and adults from my church peeled what was left of them. That was after one of the girls, an eighth-grader, made mention of the fact “she’d never done this” – as in peel a potato. Evidently staff member Greg Brown, who’s been dishing up meals at the mission for more than 20 years, has seen his fair share of inexperienced volunteers. He just handed our reluctant peeler a knife and let her learn.

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That was just one leg of the three-day youth retreat I helped chaperone at Maynor Creek in Wayne County last week, though. Other parts included rain, eating, rain, Bible study and rain. In between those major activities I was usually in the background wearing an apron and marveling at how things had changed since my youth group years. The “big hair” hot rollers of my memories were nowhere to be seen in the girl cabin where I stayed. Instead, it was straighteners, pulled from matching Vera Bradley luggage, that were plugged into every available outlet. Over in guy territory, ENOS (some kind of a hammock with attitude) hung from the porch rafters while heated and cooled space went unoccupied.

Trying to make some sort of connection with these kids, I decided to pull out a story from my past that I thought might forge a bridge. So I launched in, telling them about a summer mission trip I took when I was 15. My youth group decided to cross over into Mexico for a few hours when we passed through El Paso. While we were there, this teenager we’ll call Greg (there’s one in every youth group) decided to buy his mother an authentic Mexican blanket, one of those woven, scratchy ones with the southwestern look. He haggled at the market and finally made a deal, spending every last dime he had. This was about day two of the 12-day trip, which meant he’d be bumming money off everyone else for the remainder of his time away from home. But that wasn’t the worst part, I explained. No, the bad part was what happened just after we crossed back into Texas and stopped at a 7-Eleven. That’s where Greg went in and found the exact blanket for which he had just paid 70-something dollars. It was on sale for $4.98.

They smiled just enough to make me wonder if they got it.

But by the time we pulled out from Maynor Creek on Saturday, I decided chaperoning was fun, even if  someone had woken me up after midnight in her attempt to sneak oatmeal cookies from the kitchen. (I let her have them. I am soft.) And Monday I was still enjoying the afterglow that comes from such experiences when I learned that four Bible translators had been killed by militants in the Middle East. Wycliffe reported that terrorists raided the ministry’s office and immediately shot two of the translators, and two other workers eventually died as well from blows from the attackers. The militants went on to destroy everything they could find in the office – everything, that is, except computer hard drives containing the translation work for eight language projects. Wycliffe officials are thankful for that.

And while those deaths don’t exactly provide the hippity, hoppity Easter story we may prefer to read this week, they do preach the real Easter story, the one of man’s sin and our need for a sinless Savior who is risen – not was risen, but is risen. This is why linguists are willing to die in obscure Middle Eastern printing shops. It’s why a food mission serves 230 meals a day, five days a week.  Hopefully, it’s why we go on youth retreats, too.


Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at