A memorable trip to Epworth and a trip back in time
It was a near-perfect trip. The weather could not have been much better. The food was hot and plentiful. Everyone got along well.
There were sun-splashed afternoons on the beach, games in the pool, visits to historic sites, long bike rides, walks on the pier, and time for prayer, sharing and devotion.
Taking a youth group to Epworth By The Sea on St. Simons Island is a special event. It was an annual tradition for us when my wife and I were serving as youth leaders at Hillside UMC in Woodstock. We have hours of videotape and a treasure trove of great memories from the many years we made the trip.
The youth we took each year have grown up. Most are gotten married with children. It had been 18 years since I had been to Epworth with a youth group.
Until this month.
The first-ever Ebenezer UMC-Roswell youth group, eight teens with three adult leaders, hopped into a borrowed 16-passenger van (thanks to Hillside UMC) on June 16 and headed for the Georgia coast. My son, Drew, who made his first visit to Epworth before he could walk, is a 23-year-old school teacher and accomplished guitar player. He came along for musical support.
The five-day visit was a blessing from the start. Two of the youth with us had never before been to the beach. One other teen had only been once previously.
Epworth is much the same as I remember it 18 years ago, with some thoughtful improvements, a couple nice new buildings, and better coffee. We stayed in a youth cabin, bunk beds on two sides with a small room for adult leaders in the middle.
To make the most of our time together we prohibited all electronic devices. No iPods, video games, television or cellphones. They not only agreed to the ban but adjusted quickly to being cut off from texting and social media.
Working with youth is often a roller-coaster ride. At times, there seems to be remarkable spiritual maturity, understanding and depth. The next moment, well, not so much. It is not easy discussing deep theological issues while being pummeled with a bright orange swimming pool noodle.
But, in the broader picture, it is easy to see how God is working.
We know how self-centered teenagers can be. For that matter, we know how self-centered we all can be. It is easy to be spoiled when you are visiting a little slice of paradise, with all your meals being prepared, surrounded by various leisure options and in the company of friends.
So, what was the ultimate favorite part of the trip for the Ebenezer youth? The beach visits? Bike tour? Games played outside the cabin? Devotion time? Singing together?
Their consensus choice: On Tuesday afternoon the group served lunch to 170 needy people at Manna House in Brunswick. Not all of the guests were grateful or polite, but all were served lunch and treated with respect.
“That was awesome,” one teen said. “I want to do this again next year.”
Don’t we all.