This last weekend was our annual Altar Retreat at Youthfront South. The theme was "Break the Chains." Sally Rymer, who is a Junior in High School and an associate Youthfront staff member, led the retreat. Sally pulled together a team of teenagers, most who are Youthfront summer teen staffers, to plan and lead this retreat. Youthfront staff member Jamie Roach coached the team of students. These students have launched a initiative called Clapham Sect Phase II. The theme verse for The Altar was Isaiah 58:6, "I'll tell you what it really means to worship the LORD. Remove the chains of prisoners who are chained unjustly. Free those who are abused! (CEV)."
Andrea Saccoccio, the Director of Student Ministries from International Justice Mission (IJM) was with us for the weekend. Throughout the weekend we examined the lives of three young people (Kumar, Madesh and Salilah) who have been victims of slave labor and sex trafficking.
The first night brought us to a place of disorientation. We watched video stories of these three young people and the abuse they have lived with. The teen staff then led everyone to three stations to experience the reality of the 27 million people who are living currently in slavery.
The first station was quite alarming. A blackened room contained a broken window in the corner. When you looked through the window you could see undercover video of girls, 10 to 12 years old who were sitting together in a brothel waiting room as men came in to pick which girl they would buy. Even though you could only see these girls in the waiting room it was still so sickening to think about what was actually happening to them.
The second station was an example of a sweat shop featuring two teenagers. One was dressed in the latest fashion and the other in the clothes of a sweat shop worker. A video showed what a day in the life of these two teenagers looked like.
The third station was a reenactment of hard labor in a rock quarry. Very disturbing.
Compline that night was a cry for justice. Nothing seemed hopeful or resolved. The next morning Sally and the students began to talk about how we can make a difference and bring hope. The prayers written for this weekend were amazing and deeply theological.
Late in the morning we went on a burden walk. We were instructed to pick up a large rock representing the burdens of the three teenagers from the video. We all wrote the name of one of the teenaged victims on our rocks. We walked a mile together in silence to the Altar field where we laid the rocks at the foot of the cross. One youth worker who picked a huge rock stuggled to make it all the way to the cross. Sweating profusely, he dropped it on the pile of rocks. He walked to the circle to join everyone else but then walked beyond the circle and dropped into the tall prairie grass and sobbed uncontrollably. The mood was very somber. The Holy Spirit was at work. The last persons to finish the walk was a teenager who is confined to a wheelchair. He slowly manuevered his electric chair through the field. His youth pastor walked slowly beside him. As he pulled up to the cross he stuggled to get the rock out of his lap. His youth pastor stepped forward and together they dropped the last burden. I was a mess... We lingered in this learning and transformational moment for a long time. On the Altar Field, youth pastor Ethan Bryan preached a powerful message reminding us of the story of our heritage - one of slavery and deliverence (Egypt), exile and longing for restoration...
The Daily Offices of Prayer were profound. The space created for this weekend was challenging but also allowed time to contemplate and prayer. Several youth pastors shared with me amazing stuff that came out during their individual youth group sharing time around bonfires. On Sunday morning Sally spoke. She is truly and amazing and Godly young woman who has chosen to pick up the cross Jesus has called her to carry.