Considering a very mild winter in the months of December and January, some have wondered whether this year's Winter Youth Retreat at Shalom by the Lake in Algonquin Highlands, Ontario would merit to be called a "winter" retreat. What we got for the Family Day long weekend, February 12-15, 2016, was more than we could have asked for. Cold arctic air mass that moved into the Northern and Southern Ontario brought down fresh snow but also made the temperature dip to nearly record lows - Saturday morning to -32°C and Sunday morning to -39°C!
The extremely cold weather did not deter our eager youth and their dedicated parents from travelling about three hours north of Toronto to a lovely Christian retreat nestled on the shores of Halls Lake. Children, youth and adults this time had come in record numbers: On the Sabbath day more than 100 people attended the church services and over 80 individuals stayed at the retreat almost until the end - from Friday evening until Sunday evening. What did take place at Shalom by the Lake during those three days will remain in the blessed memory of all those who attended this lovely, highly informative and spiritually uplifting youth retreat.
Bro. George Schiopu, the Bible worker from Ottawa, opened the official program and welcomed the Sabbath day. In a short presentation entitled "God's Helping Hand," Bro. George shared with those in attendance very insightful and inspiring thoughts about our children and youth as God's helping hand. By their devotion and zeal for the cause of God the young people are able to quickly spread the Good News and hasten the second coming of the Lord.
For the Sabbath morning services more than 100 people filled the main hall of the retreat centre. In the Worship Hour Bro. Adrian Finaru, the Director of the GC Department for Literature Evangelism and the keynote speaker at this event, delivered a powerful and highly motivating message directed primarily to the parents and church leaders. The message entitled "Know the State of Thy Flocks" highlighted the sacred duty of parents and all those in the position of authority to know the condition of the younger ones and all those entrusted to their care. That duty, however, goes beyond the mere knowledge of the condition of the flock; it includes a positive command to lead those who are young and inexperienced to the embrace of the loving Saviour. That is exactly what Jesus asked Peter to do - to feed His lambs.
The main theme of the retreat was "You Are My Witnesses." Therefore, the Young People's Meeting on the Sabbath afternoon focused on the theme of witnessing. Large number of our children and youth recited Bible verses, sang and played lovely hymns, while several of our youth presented short but highly interesting speeches on witnessing to nobility, to our neighbors, and witnessing without words. One of the high musical points in the afternoon program was the choir performance of the hymn "Be Strong in the Lord" under the direction of Sr. Vera Schiopu.
Sunday morning Bro. Milan Lasica delivered a PowerPoint lecture entitled "Our Daily Bread." Bro. Milan stressed the importance of the nutritional value of our daily bread and the way we eat it. This presentation had a practical part in which Bro. Milan not only informed the audience about the most valuable flour but also provided instruction on how to obtain most benefits from the bread made of the freshly milled whole wheat flour. We all had a chance to taste healthy and delicious bread which was served for the lunch.
Bro. Adrian then presented his first seminar "Dare To Be a Canvasser." He was followed by his daughter and a well-trained instructor-canvasser, Sr. Klara Finaru. Sr. Klara impressed our young people and adults alike with a presentation on how a colporteur needs to conduct himself or herself, how to talk, and how to act in difficult situations when he or she is doing canvassing. In the afternoon Bro. Adrian made another presentation under the title "Canvassing Is Not For Me". Sr. Julie Lombard supplemented Bro. Adrian's instructions by sharing with us information on how to meet the objections by the prospective buyers, how to set and disclose book prices, and also how to close a canvassing session.
During these presentations, some of the young people were invited to practice canvassing, or to demonstrate how they would offer books for sale. Doing this delicate task the first time was not an easy job, but after a few trials our children and youth were doing quite well. All of them were encouraged and inspired to start canvassing in the near future.
Sunday evening we enjoyed some indoor activities. This part of the program was called "Talents Night". The youth divided in three groups. Group One was the stage station, Group Two was the table station and the Group Three was the kitchen station. In each of the groups the youth were supposed to use their talents and abilities. The table station was given the assignment to paint on glass-like cups the images after their own liking assuming the cup would be used by a Pharaoh. The kitchen station was expected to make some cookies of different shapes and forms, and then to bake them. The first group was given a task to sing some songs and to guess a melody. Overall the youth and children were very excited about the activities and it was truly a talent night.
Monday was our last day at the camp. The last session presented by Bro. Adrian Finaru, "How to Be a Canvasser?" drew on the example of the Master Teacher and His approach to the Samaritan woman. Several of our children and youth had another privilege to practice the sales strategies with the prospective buyers and also to develop a skill how to close a book sale.
On Monday we finally got milder outdoor temperature. The change in temperature from almost -40°C to about -10°C felt like we entered into the spring time! Many of the children, youth and adults went outdoors and enjoyed a wonderful exercise in tobogganing, ice skating, or simple walking the scenic trail on the lakeshore.
Last but not least, we need to mention the food at the retreat which was delightful. We express many thanks to Sr. Tatjana (Tanja) Lukic and to her able associates and helpers for the excellent menu they put together. These sisters (and some brothers) made sure that we were fed on time with the choicest, highly nutritious and tasty food items.
It has been a great delight to see so many children and youth attending this event. All our visitors that joined us at this retreat were greatly blessed by the words that were spoken both publicly and privately in an informal but warm Christian fellowship. We all came to our homes and local churches spiritually and physically refreshed, eager to enthusiastically witness about the soon coming of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ and his glorious kingdom!
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