Retreats Make a Big Impact on Teens

Sometimes change can happen just by changing your point of view. Shelterwood’s Jeremy Stanley understands the power of shifting your perspective. He has seen it play out in his life, and he has watched it work in the lives of teens. He plans retreats and mission trips designed to help Shelterwood’s teens see themselves and the world in new ways.

As a young man, Jeremy decided to dedicate his life to God. But he didn’t want to do it halfway. “I decided I wasn’t going to be a hypocritical Christian,” Jeremy says. “It was either all in or all out. I was all in.”

Jeremy enrolled in a discipleship program that set him on a radically different life path than most of his peers. He spent the next several years traveling around the country and the world, serving with different missions, expanding his worldview and learning to listen to a higher calling.

This way of life eventually led him to Shelterwood. Jeremy met CEO Jim Subers at the same time as Jim was moving to Kansas City to begin work with Shelterwood. Jim invited Jeremy to visit Shelterwood and consider applying. He did.

Jeremy says the realness of what Shelterwood was doing attracted him to the organization. “They were like, ‘Look, we’re just broken people working with broken kids and loving them to Jesus.’ Jeremy shares. “That perspective and attitude is what I was drawn to.’”  

Soon, Jeremy found his own purpose at Shelterwood: planning and leading transformational retreats and mission trips. Shelterwood tries to conduct these intensive retreats three times a year. The voluntary, offsite experiences are designed to help teens examine their core beliefs about themselves.

“The retreats are geared to help the kids recognize lies in their lives that they believe about themselves and the roles they take in their lives based on those lies,” Jeremy explains.

Maybe they see themselves as the hero who has to solve everyone’s problems. Or the mascot who uses jokes to smooth things over. Or the scapegoat who deserves bad treatment. The retreat begins by helping teens uncover those roles, but more than that, the time away aims to replace those lies with deeper truths.

“It really confronts the lies in their lives with Scripture and allows them to hear this is what God says about you, this is how God sees you, this is what God believes about you, “ Jeremy says, “versus the lies you’ve adapted in your life through what other people might have done or said.”

The retreats use a reflective prayer model to help teens develop the habit of recognizing harmful self-beliefs—common ones include “I’m rejected,” “I’m responsible for bad things happening to my family,” and “I’m alone.”—and replacing them with truth. When teens go back to daily life at Shelterwood, their counselors integrate this model into their treatment.

“It’s not just about ignoring the lie,” Jeremy continues. “You take that lie, give it to God, then replace it with the truths God has spoken over us and things God has done.”

While the retreats help teens shift their inner perspective, mission trips also help them see the external world in brand new ways.

“A lot of teenagers have a very self-centered perspective on life. They have a very small worldview; they see everything through that filter,” Jeremy says. “Traveling itself opens up a different perspective on life. When you see new places and meet new people, your perspective is always changing.”

Jeremy has taken teams of teens to help with homeless ministries in Texas and Missouri, disaster relief in Arkansas, low-income communities in Iowa, immigrant and housing projects in St. Louis, and more. Shelterwood teams also serve orphans in Haiti once a year.

“They get a different perspective on life physically and a different perspective outside of themselves.” Jeremy says. “When you go to Haiti, they are seeing poverty in a way they don’t in America. They get to see it first-hand.”

This exposure to completely different ways of living helps kids reframe their own circumstances. Jeremy says they always carve out time for reflection, when kids are encouraged to communicate what they are learning with God.

“That time tends to have a heavy impact on the kids,” Jeremy shares. “The spiritual aspect of the trips creates a whole new perspective. The kids get in touch with God on a level that we couldn’t manufacture…There’s just some pretty phenomenal stuff that comes out of these trips.”

Learn more about Life at Shelterwood.

Posted in Change Process, Identity, School Activities