This year’s Highland Banquet focused on the theme of “Building Bridges.” The main part of the evening’s program featured three Highland staff members who shared stories of significant relational bridges that have positively impacted Highland.
Guest group coordinator Ben Tyson spoke first, explaining that pastors are encouraged to take personal retreats in Highland’s cottages at no cost. These are opportunities for Highland to bless the pastors’ ministries. One pastor, James Rhee, has shared the blessing of pastoral retreats with other pastors he knows, often coming to Highland with another pastor from farther out of the area, or even from out of the country. Over 20 pastors, mostly Koreans from non-Mennonite backgrounds, have shared pastoral retreats with James Rhee, enjoying late night theological discussions as well as the peaceful natural setting. Ben noted that several of James Rhee’s friends have come back for additional stays, including one who spent two weeks on a personal retreat and several who have returned with larger church groups; the number of people who experience time at Highland continues to expand.
Facilities manager Gordie Shantz was the next speaker. He defined bridges as things that help us get over obstacles, and noted that good bridges are often taken for granted. He then described a specific obstacle at Highland: the 12 to 20 hours each week that are required for mowing Highland’s grounds. This used to be a definite challenge, even with scattered volunteers chipping in to help, but in recent years a good “bridge” has been built, in the form of a dedicated crew of volunteer mowers, led and organized by Jim Rush. Their willingness to help means that Gordie doesn’t have to worry about the mowing anymore. Gordie expressed the desire to not take this good bridge for granted.
Finally, summer camp director Dean Williams spoke about the Bless the Staff program, a bridge that enables young people to be part of Highland’s summer staff. Dean learned during Andrea Troyer’s interviews that financial concerns were the biggest roadblock for her. Dean knew she would be a wonderful, nurturing counselor, and that serving on staff would also be beneficial for her personal growth. The Bless the Staff program was what made it possible for her to step out in faith as a summer counselor. Andrea went to the people who had supported her for her whole life, and asked them to financially support her summer mission at Highland. As the summer progressed and the financial blessings came in, her excitement was clear. The people who donated through the Bless the Staff program built the bridge that let Andrea be an amazing counselor this summer.
People who share themselves with Highland in ways like these – bringing their friendships, their energy, or their resources as gifts to the ministry – become the bridges that enable Highland to be effective in its mission. The Highland Retreat staff are grateful for each one.