Youth Event Connects Dordt Students and Middle Schoolers
The 13th annual Minn-I-Kota Youth Network retreat Apr. 21-23 in Iowa brought together students in middle school and volunteers from Dordt University.
Students in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades from Minnesota, South Dakota, and Iowa gathered at Inspiration Hills Camp and Retreat Center in Inwood, Iowa, for the weekend event, and they represented three CRC classes in the area – Minnkota, Iakota, and Heartland – as well as some other local churches. They were joined by retreat organizer Lee De Groot; her husband, Rev. Doug De Groot; and 26 Dordt University students, who served in various ways with drama, speaking, technology, games, and praise and worship. In addition, the Dordt students led the middle schoolers in small groups, connecting and discussing the themes of the retreat.
“It amazes me every year that God puts this team together, and by the time the retreat happens, every position is filled with the talent needed,” said Lee De Groot, who has coordinated the event since its inception 13 years ago.
It’s a busy time of year for students, said Peter Van Nieuwenhuyzen, a Dordt student volunteer, “but in my opinion a fun weekend spending time in the Word and worshiping in community like this can actually help me become less distracted when doing my schoolwork, because it is something to look forward to.”
Dordt senior Dillan De Jong, who has volunteered three times at the annual retreat, said, “I keep coming back because I love getting to know the middle schoolers and spending a weekend with them in worship, focusing on a Scripture-centered theme, playing games, and doing service projects. Even though it's a busy season, seeing God work in these middle schoolers is so rewarding and worth the effort.”
Kira Ouwinga, a junior at Dordt, agreed: “As a middle schooler in 7th grade, I was a part of this retreat and remember what an impact it made on my life – and I wanted to be able to serve the youth in the same way that others did for me all those years ago.” She added, “I also am going into youth ministry, and I absolutely love the energy and passion students have!”
In a service project for the weekend, the middle schoolers went door to door asking for donations for a food pantry in Sioux Center, Iowa. One 8th-grade participant shared, “I came for new opportunities, something different from normal. I didn't expect to do a service project but thought it was fun.”
Another student in 8th grade commented on being impressed at “seeing how many people were willing to donate food and help us out with the service project.”
Other activities included games, praise and worship sessions, and time spent listening to speakers, including some Dordt students. Several volunteers from Dordt noted the impact of the discussion groups.
Emmaline Baas, a Dordt junior, said, “I loved watching the kids develop friendships with one another quickly and open up about their faith throughout the weekend. Watching the kids take the discussions to heart and be eager to learn more was one of my highlights of this weekend.”
A parent of a middle school student reported to De Groot that his 6th-grade son came home and shared, “I have the big brother that I never had before, and I am a million percent going next year!”
A 7th-grade girl said she appreciated the clear focus on faith, adding, “This is the most Christian retreat that I have ever been to. [Some] retreats/camps barely look at the Bible and pray, but this weekend I did a lot of that.”
Several middle school students said they had come to the retreat because a friend was going, or because they had hoped to make new friends. A boy in 7th grade shared, “I knew this would be a good place [to meet new friends] because it would be a place with God.” Another participant said he is already making plans to volunteer when he’s a Dordt student.
“This place is filled with love,” said another 7th-grade girl.
While noting that the annual retreat takes a lot of planning and can mean some late nights keeping up with the young people during the event, De Groot added, “This is one of my favorite events of the year!”