The retreat experience enables youth leaders to develop leadership skills, deepen their faith, and drive upliftment in their communities.

10min read

Pouring into those who pour out to others–Tlotso Youth Leaders Retreat.

Picture it. A bunch of bright-eyed youngsters from rural communities in South Africa on a road trip to a four-day retreat at the Eastside Community Church in Hatfield, Pretoria. The excitement is tangible. For many, it’s the first time they’ve seen a tarred road, slept in a bed or eaten a wholesome meal. And it’s the first time they’ve been given the chance to deepen their faith and develop their leadership skills.


This is the Tlotso Youth Leaders Retreat, which aims to identify young people with potential, empower them personally and spiritually, and return these future leaders to their communities so they can serve and inspire others. We see this as pouring back into those who pour themselves out to others.

The meaning of Retreat



Abba’s Pride Aftercare Director Josh Brown conceives of the retreat as an act of ‘pulling out’ youth leaders from their everyday responsibilities and ‘pouring into’ them spiritually and pedagogically to enable them to go back into their communities and serve them more effectively.

It’s a happy coincidence that the word ‘tlotso’ means ‘anointed’ in the Setswana language – the pouring of oil to consecrate a sacred rite or select someone for a special honor. In the same way, these young people are immersed in a transformative spiritual experience and celebrated as leaders.

And so it was that over four days and three nights a group of excited Gr 9 to 11 teenagers embarked on a journey of spiritual transformation, grounded in collaborative activities, themed projects, faith-based talks, dedicated worship, group discussions, and individual reflection.

The space and time of Retreat

The retreat situates them in an intentional space – calm, nurturing and safe – in which they are free from the struggles and challenges of their daily lives.

 

One of the participants spoke of being:

…in a peaceful place, in a real church where we can experience the spiritual without any distractions, unlike in our churches – while we are praying, we hear chickens, cows and people making noise!”

– Thlotso participant

The retreat also affords them time to focus on their faith and understand how it can feed back into their daily lives. It teaches them new skills and will eventually lead to skills certification as the program broadens. And it sows within them the seeds of leadership and ministry.

 

The retreat is not a standalone event – it is linked to the rural aftercare ministry in three provinces in South Africa and, as such, forms part of a web of meaning in the life of each participant.


Finding faith through fun

Although the retreat involves lots of ‘fun’ activities, none of them is frivolous – each activity is geared towards personal and spiritual growth, and the children are exposed to new experiences and perspectives.

 

A trip to Bounce at Menlyn Main, for instance, was a first for the participants. The outing included trampoline games and high rope fun, but it also gave them two hours to build strong bonds and lasting memories together.

 

It’s small moments like these that highlight the impact of Retreat. The daily activities that we take for granted are transformed into life-altering experiences that open eyes, hearts, minds and spirits.

 

The Retreat helps to broaden horizons both physical and spiritual and sets these young leaders on a personal spiritual journey, enabling them to then contribute with confidence to ministry in their communities.  They come back changed.


The Retreat program and participants

Each year, Pastors at the participating churches, in consultation with the Abba’s Pride After-School Care Director, select youth leaders to attend the Retreat. Those who demonstrate leadership skills or potential and show commitment to their After-School Care programs are invited to attend, with the signed consent of their parents or guardians. This year was the first that participants went through an application process to be a part of the program.

 

Each year since inception, the Retreat has been structured around a particular theme: Identity, Purpose, and Community, for example.  All activities are tied to the annual theme and used to demonstrate or drive home particular learnings.

 

Under these broad themes, typical topics at the Retreat are:

1.      Turning from worldly things
2.     Walking like Jesus
3.     My identity in Christ
4.    Jesus and His circle of infuence
5.    Discipling versus discipline
6.    Gifts and talents

The beautiful gardens at Eastside Community Church offer our young souls quiet, alone time to explore these topics, to pray and meditate on daily bible readings and their application in their daily lives, and to think about decisions they make after listening to talks and small group discussions.

 

They engage in sporting activities that help them develop a strong sense of community, loyalty, and trust. They depend on team members for encouragement and support in various outdoor and indoor activities. Fun art and craft activities, like creating an After-School Care banner or designing an advertisement, give them a chance to show off their creativity. This year, they took a prayer walk through the Stations of the Cross and found it to be a moving and inspiring experience.

 

Through each of these activities, a sense of community and pride in their After-School centres is cemented. They bond with each other and discover that belonging to the community of faith matters to them.

Feeding bodies not just souls

The Retreat provides our young leaders with three healthy meals a day, and snacks in between mealtimes. This was different to what they were used to at home.

 

One participant revealed,

All my life I longed for this kind of food! Food that is full of nutrition and healthy.”

– Thlotso participant

The youngsters also received custom branded caps, T-shirts and bags, and their delight at receiving these items was remarkable to witness. They didn’t part with their bags for a single minute and carried them everywhere. These items gave them a sense of community and common identity.  They felt seen, loved, respected, and treated equally.

The power of prayer

Although most of our young leaders had been exposed to prayer, bible reading, singing, and preaching in their local churches, they had never seen these as something personal. These were external activities that they simply participated in. At the Retreat, however, they were invited to cultivate a personal prayer time each day by understanding what prayer is and how to do it.

 

One adult leader said that before the Retreat, she found it very difficult to pray and every time she was asked to pray, she listened to her pastor’s prayers and just repeated his words.

 

But at the Retreat she learned that prayer is talking directly to God. It was a small epiphany for her:

I can talk to God in my own words!”

– Thlotso participant

She prayed for the first time for someone in her group and they reciprocated. Not surprising, on the last day, she spoke about wanting to teach her After-School Care team how to pray!

After the Retreat

On the final day of the Retreat, our young leaders spoke about how the personal prayer time was valuable in that they could now talk to God about their needs. They pledged to continue with daily prayer at home and teach others in their After-School Care Centre to pray.

 

Each of them took something different away from the Retreat. Many pledged to continue with the learnings from the Retreat and reproduce these in their communities.

 

And so we were delighted to see this at work, months after the Retreat, at various After-School centres. One participant said he had come prepared to deliver a bible lesson to the group and chatted about the schedule he had drawn up for leaders, so they’d know in advance when they had to lead the group. He also invited the Abba’s Pride team to attend their planning meetings.

 

Another one of our Retreaters went out into a community where there was no after school care centre and invited fellow youth to meet. Together with five other youngsters, they took on the role of aftercare leaders, developing a program to teach bible lessons, support children with homework, and provide them with food and drink once a week. At their first meeting, 20 youngsters showed up. A new centre has been born through the initiative of one very inspired young man!

 

What we were witnessing, through the value of Retreat, was the pouring out of themselves into others, the continuation of God’s work in a glorious circle of giving to others. Glory to God!

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