Have you ever worked yourself into exhaustion where your work seems so ineffective, and no amount of sleep can fix it? It’s fatigue from deep within your soul. Exhaustion is but one aspect of burnout. Burnout is far too common in every mission field around the world. With the added struggles of long nights and isolation from essential resources and fellow believers, Alaska is no different. The challenges of ministry are why Arctic Barnabas Ministries (ABM) conducts the annual Ministry Family Retreat (MFR).
At MFR, held in the breathtaking nature of Victory Bible Camp, ABM’s goal is to provide a safe space for ministry families to be still in the presence of God with a family of like-minded believers. From multiple daily sessions focused on fellowship, worship, and spiritual feeding, to testimonies and personal prayer times, to the children’s program designed to follow the same passage and teaching of the adult sessions, to merely being another believer to talk with, laugh with, cry with, and pray with, we do everything in our ability to pour into these ministry families with the very heart of Christ. Just as Jesus fed the people with loaves and fishes while providing the Bread of Life, so we seek also to fill their physical needs. We do this is by bringing in incredible volunteer teams to provide dental care at no cost and providing haircuts, family portraits, and a date night for the parents while the kids have a pizza party. Afternoons allow time for activities like horse rides, hiking, fishing, glacier tours, board games, or time to sit, chat, or take a nap. The entire week is about creating an environment of fellowship, restoration, and rest for the ministry families.
Personally, my favorite at MFR is watching the faces of the ministry families transform from exhausted and beaten down to shining eyes and giant smiles. While speaking with one man, his wife came bounding up to him, all bubbly with the biggest shining smile on her face, just to say hi and continue on her way. We asked him laughingly, “Does your wife always do that?” He replied, “Only by the end of MFR each year.”
Ministry family children’s spiritual health concerns us much, and we always have specially trained volunteers to oversee the children’s program. At the end of the week and before the children’s volunteers left, one couple asked about all the songs from the children’s program. Their kids loved to listen to and sing those songs all year round. They’ve even taught some of the songs with motions to their parents. Several months after last year’s MFR, we received a letter from a ministry family with this story: their family was going through a messy and challenging situation, when suddenly their kids exclaimed, “I know what to do!” and ran into their bedrooms. They returned with the booklets they made during MFR and shared the heart of God and a believer’s response to such a situation. The parents were so amazed that their children had not only retained the lesson but that they had remembered it months later and applied it to their lives.
All these stories, and many, many more, are why we continue to do MFR every year. There is power in the work of Christ, and there is power in resting in Christ. We seek to provide Christ’s rest for people who only know the former. Here at ABM, we could try to brag about the accomplishments of MFR–it’s our signature event–but we know the truth is, all of us working together, are only the hands and feet of what only God can achieve. One ministry family summed it up perfectly when they said, “MFR is more like a Family Reunion then a retreat.”