The 17 youth about to arrive for a retreat sponsored by the Presbytery of Northern New England and the Presbytery of Boston were in for big surprise.  

“It was in the woods, it wasn't a hotel,” said high school senior Maame Anane, who came to the United States from Ghana when she was 12. “There was no wifi, cell service or outlets for our phones!” 

The youth, including 16 from new immigrant parents, had come to Geneva Point Center in New Hampshire for a youth leadership training event to help them explore God’s path for their lives.

“Pathways — a Pentecost Offering program — is an interactive leader development experience,” said Gina Yeager-Buckley, the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s associate for youth ministry. “Youth, adult youth leaders, instructors, educators, and creative leaders come together to learn about sharing faith, and what it means to be a Christian leader and faith and justice.”

Yeager-Buckley and the Pathways team sensed how shocked the youth were at their surroundings, at their hesitancy of being in the woods.

So they began making adjustments, ditching an entire workshop that didn’t seem relevant for the group.

They worked to use the setting to help the youth think about the realities of leadership and the unexpected and to come up with the perfect mix of time spent on development, discipleship, recreation and worship.

“The Pathways retreat changed my experience of how I view God,” said Yefta (Daniel) Albert.

Albert came to the States from Indonesia with his parents when he was 2 years old. Being that far out in the woods was “a bit daunting” at first, he said. Then the youth all began to get to know each other.

“We had prayer exercises as we walked together at night on a dark long trail,” he said. “Just listening to the others, to the sounds, to quiet, was new to me.”

As youth from all over the world (represented by dots on map) got to know each other the world felt less scary to them. —Andrew Yeager-Buckley

Within 48 hours the youth went from feeling shock to being in awe of what happened to them in these surroundings.

“As the retreat was ending, the kids were angry,” said Cindy Kohlmann, Northern New England’s resource presbyter. “They wanted to know, ‘Why can’t it be longer?’”

The youth were reacting to the connections they’d just made through the church.

“We had a bunch dots spread out on a map,” Albert said.  “We were from all over the world — all Presbyterian, coming together in this place.”

“By getting to know others in a deeper way, I learned the world is not just about our phones,” Anane said. “I realize I’m not as alone, the world doesn’t seem as scary.”