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Young Adult Winter Retreat Returns

March 1, 2023
Photo courtesy of Ben Hamstra, Young Adult Winter Retreat

After a two-year pause, the Young Adult Winter Retreat (YAWR) again drew Ontario young people together at Maranatha Christian Reformed Church in Woodstock, Ont., for several days of fun and fellowship this year.

Many of the 55 young people (about 18-30 years old) who gathered at the church Jan. 20-22 were from across southern Ontario, with some coming from as far as Chatham and Ottawa, Ont.

The retreat began in 2013, running yearly until 2021. Participant numbers had been closer to 100 at YAWR events before the pandemic, but this year, despite the lower turnout, organizers said they were just happy to see the event return.

All of the previous planning team members had “retired” since the 2020 event, explained Ben Hamstra, one of the organizers of this year’s event. He had attended the event several times in previous years, he said, so he was familiar with what was usually offered at the retreat, but noted, “All of us on the team were very new to the actual planning of the retreat – but by God’s hand we pulled it together.”

The main speaker for the event was Ray Lyell, whom Hamstra described as a “former rock star turned pastor, speaker, and musician.” Lyell also led worship for the weekend event.

The theme for the 2023 event was “Comfort,” but this was no spa weekend, said the organizers. Lyell challenged participants to “live in discomfort so that when God calls on you, you are ready to be his hands and feet,” said Hamstra. Lyell reminded the young people attending that as Christians we are called to a good life rather than a comfortable one.

On Saturday afternoon, participants could choose to spend their time in workshops, volunteering, or in silent retreat and reflection. Jeff Neven of Indwellled one workshop, speaking about his work in this Christian organization that seeks to provide people with affordable, supported housing in community.

Ron deVries, a youth ministry catalyzer with the CRCNA and ThereforeGo Ministries, led another workshop, discussing what it means to be an elder or deacon and the importance of these roles in the church and community. He spoke of how young adults should be part of church leadership in these ways and be an active voice on their council, said Hamstra.

One participant shared, “I loved the elders and deacons workshop, and I know it has actively encouraged young people in my church that when they are on council, they have an active role and can make a difference.”

Those who volunteered served by either cleaning at local Indwell sites or sorting toy and clothing donations at Operation Sharing.

Organizers of this year’s YAWR see several purposes in the event, said Hamstra. He described it as “a place where young adults can find community with others while exploring their faith in Christ. . . . Everyone usually comes away feeling rejuvenated in their faith and has a few more friends.”

He noted that after high school it can become harder to meet Christian friends, adding, “It’s refreshing to have the space dedicated to God and friends.”

Social activities throughout the weekend included volleyball games in the church gym, small group discussions around the worship session themes, “Minute to Win It” style games, and a tower-building competition, as well as free time.

Another participant appreciated the connections they made, saying, “This was a good weekend to see and meet people. I had so many conversations about the hard times that people have been going through, and I was able to give support and be supported.”

Organizers said they would like to see the event numbers grow again, and they plan to start working this spring on the 2024 retreat, said Hamstra. “Hopefully the people who came this year will bring a friend [next year], and the retreat will grow in numbers. Maranatha has a 110-person capacity, and it would be amazing to see it be that full.”