So…Every spring I load up 30 – 50 of my middle school students and head out for 3 days and 2 nights of crazy fun, awesome worship, and a time of being challenged to grow in their faith. Each year we travel to a great little campground outside of Clarksville, Tennessee called, Coldstream Christian Campground, complete with swinging bridge, canoes, a zip line into the pond, and a tactical grounds obstacle course. Since we go to the same place every year, I work hard to make each year unique for the students by switching up the theme and tailoring everything we do to match it. Typically, we divide into teams and spend the weekend competing in challenges that go along with what was preached and the given theme. Therefore, this year, we wanted to go BIG. We wanted to do something completely new and totally surprise our students so we decided to go, Behind Enemy Lines.
Behind Enemy Lines was the theme for the week and we decided to kick it off with a bang! When the students showed up at church, early on Saturday morning to load their gear something was missing….Me and my Co-Leader Ms. Kim! We had taken a bulk of our leaders and some High School students up to camp the night before to spend some quality time preparing for retreat and getting ready to “do battle” when the students arrived on Saturday. So… Here is the scene. All the kids have arrived and they have packed all their gear into the trailer. They have been corralled into the sanctuary where they await the welcome and pre-trip speech, but as they look around, they continue to wonder where I am and why I am not there. My lead pastor, also retreat speaker for the year, is stirring up this curiosity by continuing to ask students if they have seen me. Finally, when all have assembled in the sanctuary…the call comes in.
Pastor answers the phone (on speakerphone and standing by a mic so they could all hear), “Hello…Pastor Jeremy?….Byler where are you?….” Then I reply in a classic thriller movie trailer voice,”We have your leaders, and if you ever want to see them again, you’ll do exactly as I say”…Pastor responds, “Who are you? Where have you taken them?” I replied, “I think you know”. My pastor then switches his tone of voice to replicate that of Liam Neison in the “Taken” movie and says, “If its money you’re after, I have none. However, what I do have are 31 middle schoolers with a particular set of skills. Skills that we will use to hunt you down and get our leaders back”… “Good luck”… (CLICK)
It was game on! The senior pastor sent the troops to the vans and they were off. Seventy minutes later the students arrive at the campground. They are met by Ex-Military owner and operator of Gamez on Wheelz, Michael O’Keefe. He greets the crew, instructs them to unload and listen up, while holding a bad looking Tippmann paintball gun, which has been modified for Laser Tag! The crew is unloaded and debriefed on the situation at hand, The “Red Army” has taken the compound and is holding the leaders hostage, their mission: Defeat the Red Army, take the compound, and rescue Pastor Jeremy and Ms. Kim! The students are divided into units and issued matching bandanas in digital brown, digital green, and dark green camo. While this is happening the Red Army walks out onto the porch of the main hall, guns in hand, wearing read retreat shirts and red bandanas over their faces. They have Ms. Kim and I gagged with our hands behind our backs. They walk us out and make us kneel, while striking a fearsome pose. 100 yards across the field the students begin to react as they see the menacing red army posed up. Ms. Kim and I start trying to struggle and scream for help through the bandanas in our mouths. This only gets the students more and more fired up! The Red Army starts to taunt, and yell in unison, waving their guns, and then they grab us up, take us deep into camp, and “hide” us in a back cabin.
Wave by wave the units are sent in to do laser tag battle with the red army. The students are clearing cabins, looking through the dining hall and the bathhouse, trying to rescue us! (I was glad they cared enough to do battle, and didn’t decide to let us beJ ) We staged the battle so that when the last wave of students entered the battle, the red army began to cave, dying epic and theatrical deaths when their guns registered a hit. Finally, two my seventh graders came busting into the back cabin, guns blazing, and took out the guards to set us free!
This was the most EPIC kick off to a retreat that I have ever been a part of! When the smoke settled and we joined the main group we thanked them for their heroic efforts, welcomed them to camp, and then commenced with another hour or so of unit vs. unit laser tag. The students were pumped, and we were off to a great start!
During the rest of the retreat, we played some epic games of Infiltration at night where the Red Army served as the antagonist rangers, bonkers where the red army again sought to destroy the students, paint wars where they played as units and the red army played as well. The red army was a HOME RUN for this retreat. They were juniors in High School; four of the six had grown up in our M.S. ministry and been to this retreat a few times themselves. They were all eighth graders my first year. It was a special opportunity as students who benefited from this ministry and retreat got the chance to give back to it and make it great for the current students.
The preaching points of our service shifted on Sunday morning and evening from a focus on what the enemy has done or is doing to us and what the enemy “looks like” in our lives, to an understanding that the enemy is not person or group of people. We talked about how the enemy is powers of darkness and not the people that they show up in. We shifted from an understanding of how exist behind enemy lines from the perspective of avoiding the enemy or defeating the enemy, to living a life where we are trying to see our perceived enemies with the eyes of Christ. We want our students to live a life of love where we pursue those who oppose us in prayer and in love and try to win our enemies for Christ, instead of defeating them. We wanted our students to know that Jesus died for that person they considered an enemy, just as much as he died for them, and he loves them just as much. We spent Sunday night together, not trying to destroy any enemies, but working as units to build fires big enough to burn through a half-inch thick rope tied between two pieces of rebar. Yep…we let them play with fire and it was a huge success. We all enjoyed a great time together that night laughing and sharing life…and s’mores of course.
This message is just as real for our leaders and even us as pastors sometimes as we realize that Christ came for all who would respond to his love, and he does not withhold that from anyone….and neither should we. We live in a world where it seems so easy to point fingers at the “enemies” of the church, whether that is a loud mouth celebrity, the opposing political party, other churches, or even radical foreign governments. There must be a point at which we realize that we are not fighting against a flesh and blood enemy, but the powers and principalities of darkness that are at work in this world. We oppose an enemy that has already been defeated and ultimately laid under our feet if we will embrace the love of Jesus Christ and carry it to our world. We must learn to love our enemy and pray for those that persecute us, because Jesus loves them too.
Jeremy has also been a school bus driver for 11 years and writes parodies to modern pop songs about life as a bus driver. Check out his YouTube channel!