What do Disney karaoke, theology seminars, laser tag, MU’s campus and 825 high schools students have in common? You guessed it: Spring Thaw. The weekend retreat, open to youth groups and individuals, will kick off this Friday at 7 p.m. Every year brings a unique theme, and 2014 is all about medieval knights, fairy tales and Disney.
Youth Ministries Department Chair Dr. Rob Hildebrand has been running the event since its debut five years ago. "MU was awarded a large grant so it could offer theological training to high school students," he says. For years, the University hosted a leadership program called CREDO, which benefited hundreds of high school students. But when CREDO began to decline, MU needed to reimagine the event. That's when Spring Thaw was born.
Although many other Christian universities offer retreats for high school students, Spring Thaw stands out. "Our event is more community-based because everyone who’s volunteering already lives here," says Hildebrand. More than 200 volunteers — composed of MU students and staff — plan, build and facilitate the retreat each year. A small group of students majoring in Youth Ministry take on larger leadership roles and serve as interns. "Our students do well at getting hired after they intern at this event," Hildebrand says. "A lot of people do ministry lazily, but I want our volunteers to develop a good work ethic. I want them to see that when you do hard work, you really can make things better."
Making Spring Thaw better is something Hildebrand is passionate about. "I love being innovative, and I try to make improvements every year," he says. He was ecstatic to secure Dr. Chap Clark as the main speaker. “In my book, he’s one of the top five youth ministry experts in the world," Hildebrand says. Besides the main sessions with Clark, the high school students will attend theology seminars led by MU faculty."This isn't a shallow, frivolous retreat," says Hildebrand. "I hope the seminars will help students see Christianity as it is and come to grips with who Christ is."
Hildebrand believes that students learn best when they're in a balanced environment, and he injects plenty of activities into the weekend, including comedy skits, a puppy room, bubble soccer, magic shows and a color run. "This really is a labor of love," he says. "Volunteers are going to be tired, it inconveniences staff and students in the dorms are giving up their space. But we’re doing this because we love these high school students. At MU, we're not all about MU — we're about serving and looking beyond ourselves. We care about the Church and the kingdom."
Registration is full, but visit the Spring Thaw website for more information about this retreat.