First Draft

I’ve finally finished the first draft!

I bid a farewell to my lost last week of summer vacation as I stormed into the bus, stomping exaggeratedly on each stair. It wasn’t a yellow school bus that I was getting into, that sealed away my last 7 days of freedom, but a white church van; and the heavy weight on my shoulders was not due to a backpack crammed with textbooks and binders, but a duffle bag packed to the point of bursting with a week’s worth of clothes and other necessities. If you haven’t figured it out, I’m going to camp. No, not camp, I’m going to a Korean Christian Youth Retreat to “spiritually bond” with about 50 other kids ranging from ages 9-17 from my chruch. The cherry on this ruined week would be that most, if not all the kids there spoke Korean as would the chaperones and pastors while I could barely say “hello” without messing up the pronunciation.

The loud screeching of the brakes woke me from my unenthusiastic rants on this retreat. To my utter delight, I find we are at the retreat location. Note the sarcasm. The grounds were barely livable, even if it was for just a week. There was a recreation room, while large enough to hold the 50 kids and chaperones, was an open air room, meaning no walls to prevent bugs and other things from getting ‘in’, basically a giant patio with carpeting. Below the recreation room were two bathrooms, one for the boys and one for the girls, containing a total of two sinks, three bathrooms, and three showers. Mad morning rushes were to be expected. Next to the bathroom was a room for sermons and while this time it was a closed room, it could probably just barely fit them all. Outside in the back was a labyrinth of about 10 or so small tents set up side by side. Cabins were available, but not for use as tents were supposed to “bring them closer together”.

I let out an exasperated groan and crumpled to the dingy olive carpeted floor (I guessed it was probably a deep green at some point…) and glared up at the brightly colored banners hanging across the room reading “The Change”. They had to be kidding. I almost laughed out loud at the cliché theme. “The Change. Real cute,” a sarcastic voice echoed my thoughts and voiced my silent snickers. I glanced toward the voice and saw a long haired girl, about my age, 13, smirking up at the banners much like I was. She turned to me and grinned and introduced herself with a simple, “I’m Nina.” I found, like myself, Nina was forced to be here by her parents and was not enjoying the trip so far. Unlike myself, Nina did understand and speak Korean fluently. “My parents only speak Korean. Gotta know their language if I want to ask for a ride to the mall.”

We spent the next few days of the retreat complaining about the living conditions and food, which was all Korean soups and stuff; mouthing the overly peppy praise songs; ignoring the sermons, Nina even going as far to sleep during one, luckily unnoticed by the chaperones; mocking and barely participating in the lame activities; talking back to chaperones, though that was more Nina; and making fun of the “dorks who were actually having fun here”. The adults there seemed to expect Nina’s sass but were pretty surprised with me. I was surprised myself. While I wasn’t exactly joyous about the retreat, I knew without Nina, I would have probably followed along quietly participating as little as possible, but still following everyone else for the most part.

It was the language barrier that covered my guilt. I felt I had a right to do as I please since I couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying and no one seemed to bother to translate anything for me. The night that marked the halfway point of the week finally came. “Four more days to go!” Nina chirped cheerily, stretching out on her sleeping bag. The three other girls in our tent glared at her, and by association, glared at me as well. They also seemed to be giving us the silent treatment. “Here’s hoping those days go by quickly. G’night.” I replied, ignoring the death glowers from our tentmates.

The next morning a chaperone pulled us from the food line and asked to speak with us for a minute. From her tone we could tell she was about to lecture us and it looked like it would take much more than a minute. To my misfortune, she spoke English and I couldn’t block her out. Apparently, last night we were supposed to stay silent to ponder about the sermon. Our beloved tentmates had informed her we had spent the night chatting away. “Blabbermouths...” Nina muttered. I heated argued how I couldn’t understand instructions with them being only in Korean. “You could have asked Nina what was going on. And this was not the only time you two disregarded directions. This entire trip you haven’t even attempted to participate.” She went on for another 15 minutes, repeating the same things over and over, then threatened to send us home. She sent us to separate tents to decide whether we wanted to “take up a better attitude” or go home.

I fumed in my tent. I never asked to be here; I never wanted to be here. I do admit I haven’t acted very christianly the past few days, but it wasn’t like I completely deserted Christianity. I wasn’t completely devoted to God, but I do have some faith and am somewhat interested in growing closer to God. This was a good opportunity to explore that part of me that wanted to at least attempt to know more, but how was I supposed to concentrate on taking in anything when I could only understand bits and pieces of the sermons and meanings of the activities? And why did it have to be during the week that should have been spent relaxing and getting some last minute playing in before the start of school? Even the environment was a questionable place to be learning about God. Stuffed into tents and rooms that could barely meet living requirements? Not the ideal site to be worshiping.

It sounded like I was making excuses, but they were true. So why didn’t I try expanding my knowledge of God before. If not now why not before? And if this chance passed, would I ever take the time to do anything to grow? Reputations of ‘extreme’ Christians, a.k.a. the bible thumpers, have always been associated with the lower part of the social ladder at school. Religion was a heavy topic and to talk about something like that at school was just weird.

My argument with myself was interrupted as the chaperone let Nina and I out for our answers. We both answered that we’d stay and behave, mainly because being sent home early would not rest well with our parents. We did still continue to mock the retreat, but only to each other in low whispers and I pushed my tent ruminations to the back of my mind.

The last night of the retreat was here and nothing seemed to be able to quench our happy glows. We were lead by the chaperones to the dark recreation room one last time. The room was lit only by candles and by their soft light I could make out two rows of chairs facing each other, so long the last chair seemed to disappear into the dark. Nina and sat across from each other, I, a little apprehensive at whatever was about to happen. Under our chairs was a small tub of water along with a towel. We were going to re-enacted the feet washing ritual Jesus had performed for his disciples. The act showed how close they had become to each other, how they had grown to love, respect, and accept each other to the point that they could wash each others feet to show how much they had bonded.

We washed each other’s feet and after formed a chain and hugged one another till every person had hugged everyone else. The directions were in Korean, but the one of the chaperones, the one that had threatened to send me home, translated. Even without the translation, I knew the story well enough to understand what we were doing. Her translations did help me understand the significance of the action. As some girls started to cry because they were so touched by the events of the night, I reach a moment of enlightenment. I actually understood everything that was going on a felt like I was a part of it, not some mute outsider I felt like the past week. I felt tears blurring my vision and turned to Nina to see how she was handling this.

We met eyes and through my cloudy vision I though she looked solemn for a moment. For a moment. Then her trademark smirk broke across her face and she rolled her eyes whispering to me, “Some girls are so emotional.” As if her words were a plug to my tears, I stopped crying, or almost crying, and like whenever religion came up at school and my friends scoffed at the over-expressive Christians, I agreed muttering a halfhearted, “Yeah.”

The next morning we drove back to the church where we were being picked up. The kids chattered among themselves shouting goodbyes and saying how much fun they had. One by one, the giant mass that was our retreat group diminished and I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of loss. Nina’s car pulled up and she tossed her bags into the trunk, and waved bye. “The retreat was almost bearable with you there. I’m glad you were there.” I hear Nina’s parents ask her how the retreat was and Nina answered with a heartfelt description on how the retreat “really changed herself and how she viewed the world.” The fakeness of her hollow words rang in my ears as her car pulled away from the church.

My parents came soon after and I, like Nina, tossed my Duffle into the trunk and go into the car. My parents also asked me how the retreat was. I thought about the trip. How I spend it fooling around and how I could have made it a better experience. True, there were a few complications, but I could see what the chaperone meant when she was lecturing us before. With a little effort, I could have overcome little complications. The sermons did have English translations that Nina and I were too lazy to read; the praise songs didn’t have to be sung exactly right for me to be able to praise God; and like the chaperone said, I could have asked for translations from Nina for the instructions. I regret not realizing this sooner, but I am glad I was able to get a worthwhile experience from the retreat. Even if it was just one night of spiritual growth, that one night enabled me to understand what it meant to show love and understanding, helped me find God in my heart, and form a bond with not only God but all the kids at the retreat.

“How was the retreat?” My parents repeated the questions breaking me from my thoughts. “Did you learn anything?” I smiled and answered with a simple, “Yeah.” It was the same answer I gave Nina last night yet completely different. It represented my individual thinking in a single word, expressed what I had been though at the retreat, and meant a so much more than a hundred of Nina’s fake sugar coated lies. I had changed.