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The Art of Lingering

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By Ann Martin*

The night is pure black. One lone bulb beams a welcome as our driver carefully turns towards it. Jay and I get out of the car; the surf pounds thunderously and the wind whips our clothes. The driver seems relieved to finally be able to deliver his charges. We don't speak his language nor he ours. In the distance we hear a familiar voice confirming that the six-hour drive from the airport has brought us to the right place.

The annual retreat is part of the yearly rhythms of a mission worker's life. Many years ago our children were young and we were the only ones in country with RMM. Doing ministry without much support was often intense and lonely. We began joining with other organizations for retreats taking place in various countries in the region. One year we travelled by bus through Syria to Jordan. Another year we joined the retreat in Egypt. Years later as workers joined our company we had retreats together in country, sometimes inviting guests for input.

Seen from afar, these retreats may seem like glorified vacations. What travel lust wanderer wouldn't dream of journeying like this? Yet those who have spent significant time in a country other than one’s own and have focused diligently at acclimating to the people and culture know how restorative retreating together can be.

"A retreat is a type of Sabbath; a too often minimized discipline in church circles.
At an RMM in-service I attended recently, Sabbath was defined as 'lingering together.'"
A retreat is a type of Sabbath; a too often minimized discipline in church circles. At an RMM in-service I attended recently, Sabbath was defined as "lingering together." Jesus is an example of this, as he withdrew to linger with God, even in the busyness of ministry life. When workers gather together, away from their homes and ministries, a space is created for them to be, to relax, and to linger. Hopefully everyone returns to their home holistically refreshed and renewed to press on in the work they are called to do.

Jay and I typically participate in two retreats in the Mediterranean region. Each retreat is flavored by those living in country. The retreat we participated in several weeks ago had nine children. Their happiness, energy, curiosity, crying, laughing, whining, giggling, talking and singing blessed each one of us present. As we dined together in a concrete room where sounds bounced everywhere, being Benedictine would have been impossible! "Let the children come to me,” says Jesus. I saw Jesus in those children.

We also had two REACH teams (eight REACHers) participating. Their love of children, serving hearts, and positive outlook were an incredible bonus for the retreat. The almost one-to one ratio with the children was reassuring for parents. The REACHers took the children to the ocean, made sandcastles, played pirates, did crafts, and shared stories. One REACH team was all males and the other team all females. The team of guys were experienced bakers, making unexpected yummy cakes and pies to share with the whole group. This may have been motivated to repay the bacon that was brought down from Spain for them by the girls’ team.

Some years ago when we began these retreats, we planned too much in the daily schedule. The feedback was let’s do "more with less," which is really a perfect ingredient for lingering. This year, while Jay and I were busy meeting with each family, the other workers walked along the beach to gather shells, enjoy the breezes and enjoy each other. In our days together one could rest or hang out with others. There was time to share stories and to pray for each other; time for worship and the Word. We had a gal and guy's night. The last night, we made s'mores and popcorn at a fire by the beach while cozying under blankets and enjoying the wonder of the starlit sky.

Although retreats are often renewing, restoring, and plain old fun, they are also not "heaven on earth." They often reveal the messiness of life. The travel to and from the retreat can be complex. Children may get sick or be fussier as they are out of their routine. People, who do not know each other, are together in some fairly intense relational times. The Holy Spirit is healing and caring. He is pleased.

For the last couple years a retreat highlight has been the good-night stories and songs by Pablo and Judi. Young and old crowd into their bedroom warmed and lulled by Pablo and Judi's wisdom, humor, and love. How beautiful to see grandparents lavishing love on grandchildren even while missing their own miles and miles away. It is a true picture of our retreats as an in-between place for the family of God to linger together. After the retreat, filled in heart, soul, and body all return to the holiness of daily living in their own towns and cities.

*Names changed for security reasons.