Over the Easter weekend, the 15th to the 17th of April 2022, the Jos, Nigeria cottage hosted a retreat for youth in their area, including orphans, displaced children, and some from under-privileged homes. They wanted to get teenagers together in an atmosphere where, cottage leader Fatima explained, they would feel free to “express themselves without being judged, impress the truth of the gospel in their hearts, and encourage them to be better people.” She went on to describe some of what she has observed: “In our society today, there are very few good role models. A lot of teenagers join street gangs and have started smoking, drinking, and taking hard drugs. It just breaks my heart that many teens don’t have the attention of their parents. Some even consider suicide, go through abortions and all that without having anyone to talk to.”
Fatima and her cottage saw a need in their community and wanted to help. She reached out to her sister cottage leader, Nikki in Houston, Texas, USA to see if they could work together to make a retreat happen. Nikki explained that Fatima reached out originally in December, but that didn’t work out so it was moved to April. Fatima asked Nikki to speak to the youth and Nikki also suggested having some youth from her area join for that part.
In all, there were about 110 teenagers who attended the retreat in Nigeria. Some were sponsored by fundraising efforts of the Houston, TX cottage and other Big Ocean Women member donations, some were sponsored by private individuals, and some were able to pay for themselves. The cost was $15 USD for the three days of events and food. There were also students on extension at the school where the camp was held who were able to join in most of the events at no cost. One of the truths espoused by Big Ocean Women is that it is important to build interdependent relationships with men. This can start at a young age by helping the young men in our communities as well as the young women.
Fatima shared some feelings about her experience: “It was quite a privilege to have been a blessing especially to the orphans and displaced persons who don’t get these kinds of opportunities to be in a camp and just feel free to mix with their peers and enjoy time alone. Because we didn’t know how the funding will eventually turn out, we couldn’t invite many in good time but the few we reached out to were absolutely grateful and even presented special numbers.” She also was thankful for the funding raised by the Texas Cottage and other member donations because she was able to include the other children she hadn’t originally expected to.
The activities at the retreat included an opening meeting and introductions, a Zoom meeting with the Texas cottage, sports and games, life skills, a session on what the truth in Christ means and practical application with modern times and group discussions, a variety night where the children were able to display their talents, a dance, some friendly competitions, a praise night, a talk on the importance of befriending parents and keeping in touch with them, a worship service and a closing ceremony. They also enjoyed seven meals together. For the Zoom meeting with the Texas cottage, Nikki read a story with pictures and discussed how our worth comes from God. Then they discussed the story and youth on both ends were able to freely share how they understood the story and the message and how they could apply it in their lives. Then they discussed how they could focus on God’s love and resist the temptation to try to fuel their worth by other influences and by turning to truths from the Bible. The youth were given handouts with over 100 Bible verses, and they were able to pick out and share verses that they felt particularly spoke to them. Nikki said, “It was absolutely beautiful and touching to be a part of helping them turn to the right sources.” She also shared that the youth with her in Texas thought it was a wonderful experience. She explained that they had had no idea what to expect, but that it was heartwarming to watch them connect as the youth in Nigeria and the youth in Texas both shared their thoughts. Nikki also said, “I left wanting to do more! I would love to be a part of future efforts in any way I can. I’m hoping to talk with Fatima soon. She is amazing and I love her! She is inspired by God and acts with faith. It is beautiful to be a part of it!”