Destin, Fl - While the idea of "global warming" usually carries with it a negative connotation for most people, for the youth group of New Hope Unity Fellowship of Destin, it means "fun in the sun." With winter temperatures being well above normal in the Florida panhandle area over the past few years, church youth groups from around the south have been taking advantage of the warmer temps to start their usual summer activities several months earlier.
"While it normally stays rather mild here during the winter, the past few years have been particularly warm" said New Hope's youth pastor, Chris Fountain. "We've been hitting temps in the mid to upper 80's even in January and December, and that makes for a really nice day at the beach for our kids."
So this year for their winter youth retreat, instead of heading to West Virginia for a ski trip, New Hope just headed down to the beach with their kids. The subject of this year's retreat, "Christian Modesty."
"We had a great week down there at the beach" said Fountain. "Covering a subject like modesty takes a lot of careful planning. We try to stress it amongst our teenagers, especially when we take trips to the beach. We require all of the girls' swimsuits to be at least modest two-piece outfits. The guys, of course, just wear swim trunks. And there can be no hand holding while on the beaches, that's important too."
Fountain's group rented a beach house for the week of their retreat. Each day was filled with a combination of Bible study and "fun" activities.
"I spent a lot of time talking just with the guys" said Fountain. "I told them 'Hey guys, I know it's hard, but just don't look. You got to just turn your head when those girls are out there running around in front of you on the beach.' I know it's tough for them, but I think they're getting it. I also told them that they need to talk with these girls. These girls need to know if they're doing anything to cause their brothers to stumble. And I was so proud of my guys. Later in the week I saw them really spending some time talking to the girls, especially out on the beach during the day. Here they were using up their free time to have some serious spiritual conversation with these girls and let them know how they felt."
So for now, "global warming" is a welcome development amongst the New Hope Youth Group. A number of the teens have expressed their enthusiasm about returning to the beach multiple times during 2008.
"Yeah, we really want to come back again for Spring Break" said 10th-grader Derek Coleman. "I really liked having those spiritual conversations on the beach. Yeah, that was fun."
"It's their call" said Fountain. "We can go other places if they want, but if they like staying right here around town then that's fine with me. I thought the time was really beneficial."