Jesus with Skin On
Jesus with Skin On

Jesus with Skin On

a My Dunrovin Story by Ann Sullivan Nelson

During the 1980s, I began coming to Dunrovin when Jim Franzen [founder of Getaway Youth Retreats] brought kids from Our Lady of Victory Church. The word spread that the kids were having meaningful, fun retreats. The Dunrovin facility offered so much – especially space for quiet time, space to be alone with God.

For kids to be impacted by a retreat, they ultimately have to encounter Jesus – this begins with real prayer with God. The kids on Getaway Retreats hear that they can talk to God right where they are at. This is where God meets them. We create an affirming atmosphere, and the kids can be goofy and authentic without being on guard like they do in many families, schools, or jobs. As kids are free to ask questions about their faith, the journey begins – the faith journey, their connection to God.

I love to lead Vespers evening prayer. It is a restful time of quiet, remembering that we are in the presence of God. We write a Scripture passage on the whiteboard and the kids use their Bibles to slowly read it over and over. We sing worship songs, light candles, listen for prayer requests. We offer a sign of peace, typically a hug, but not everyone wants a hug and we are respectful of that. During Vespers on the final evening, as the kids have opened up on retreat, they are invited to make a personal response to Christ. “There is no pressure, but if you want to say ‘yes’ to Christ in this way, take a candle” or a little shaker of salt or whatever physical item can symbolize the theme for the weekend. Kids are challenged to think about their responses.

And slowly, quietly they go up and take a candle that means “Yes, I want to keep growing with God.” Vespers is very powerful.

Every part of the retreat is important – talks, small group discussions, skits. Even kids who say that free time is their favorite part – maybe their life is very stressful and they can relax here. Maybe Dunrovin is their safe place.

Why do I, as an adult professional nurse in the busyness of life, keep coming back to Getaway Retreats? I connect again with Jesus in a very personal way. Here my biggest passion is to be a prayer warrior for each kid throughout each retreat. Even if I cannot be present physically on the retreat weekend, I get a list of the names of the kids and pray for them. Here I sense Christ’s spirit in community – in the people who come – this sense of refuge in God’s peace and presence. When we all attempt to be together in God’s love, it feels like home. It feels good. Another way to put it is, though people might not know it, it feels likes Jesus with skin on.

I want others to experience this encounter with the Living God; that’s why I keep coming back.

Ann ministers to hospice patients, being tender hands as they leave this world to go to The Next. She enjoys singing with her patients to give them comfort.