Every summer in June, Desire Street Ministries offers a retreat for our ministry partners and their families. I was asked once if the name “retreat” was appropriate, and if it would be better to call it a leadership conference, gathering, or something else that would make it sound more purposeful. That made me ponder not only on what the name should be, but the purpose of why we offer this event in the first place.
Trying to be relevant with the times, I pulled up Dictionary.com instead of rummaging through my stacks of books to find my trusty paperback dictionary. The definition of retreat, according to this website is “the act of withdrawing, as into safety or privacy; retirement; seclusion” and “a place of refuge, seclusion, or privacy.”
In reading these definitions, I realized how appropriate the word retreat really is, for a number of reasons. First, our partners are faced with challenging situations on a daily basis that they cannot “leave at the office”, but instead choose to open the door to when a neighbor knocks. They open their doors to need, brokenness, injustice, violence, and despair. They also open their doors to joy, hope, encouragement, and dignity. Regardless of what they open their doors to, however, they are constantly opening them.
The annual Partner Retreat at Wind River Ranch provides them what the definition states – a place of refuge and seclusion so that they may withdraw into safety or privacy. This act of withdrawing is biblical. Jesus modeled retreating when he would withdraw from the crowds to pray after performing many miracles and acts of healing (Mark 1:29-37). Jesus modeled rest to us in the boat as the storm was brewing (Luke 8:22-25). Even today, He still beckons us to come to him, all who are weary and burdened, and he will give us rest (Matthew 11:28-30).
I had the fortunate opportunity this weekend to go to a “retreat” that focused on solitude, silence, stillness, and prayer. The weekend was facilitated by a couple who started the retreat center, which promotes the concept of Contemplative Activism. In other words, they help people who are doing God’s work in the world find ways to be silent and still through prayer. This inevitably helps them live out their active vocation better. The interesting thing is that the founding couple of this Center had spent the past 20 years as missionaries in the poorest and most oppressed areas of the world, bringing light and hope to those they were called to serve. The reason why they began to focus on this concept of silence and solitude is because they, along with many others like them, suffered greatly from burnout. Their burnout led to the degradation of their health, relationships, and ultimately their work. During this past weekend’s retreat, the retreat facilitator described it very poignantly, stating “focusing on God’s presence is the hardest thing you will ever do. But it can transform the world more powerfully than anything else.”
This is why we “retreat” with our partners once a year. To give them a chance to breathe and ground themselves in the stillness of the mountains and away from their daily struggles. We “retreat” so that the Lord can advance towards our hearts, give us rest, and help us continue on the journey we are called to live. It is our prayer that when our partners come off of that mountain and into their streets, they are better able to discern God’s presence in the very lives they are called to serve.