Some people may think it is a waste of time and money to cancel academic classes and to move our whole staff team (over 90 people now) to a retreat center outside of Bogota the first weekend of September. This staff retreat tradition has been a part of ECA for most of its existence, though the details and logistics have changed some. But after coming back from our two nights in San Francisco, Cundinamarca, where we had shared worship, challenging sessions, group discussions, recreation and time to connect with others on our team, I am as convinced as ever that our staff retreats are an integral part of helping our staff serve our ECA community well.
Part of our tradition the last few years has included focusing on our theme of the year. ECA has five core values (love, integrity, respect, responsibility and service). We recycle through the core values every five years, and we spend an entire school year digging deeper into one. This year our focus is SERVICE, and our verse for the year is Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
Our special speaker was a missionary in Mexico for many years and then a Baptist pastor in Texas. He and his daughter helped us look at service from different angles in the various sessions. We were challenged to serve with transparency and humility, with compassion and faithfulness, in little ways and sacrificially.
Our last session together was a foot-washing ceremony, where for the first time as a team we experienced this symbolic ritual and had the opportunity to reflect on what it really means to serve one another. Only as we serve each other will we truly be able to help our students understand and see what service looks like on a daily basis.
A more recent, historically speaking, aspect of our staff retreats is that we go with our entire staff team…maintenance, office, teachers, and administrators. As we share these 48 hours together, we have time to interact with those on our own work teams, but we also cross cultural and language boundaries, work circles and age differences, positions and authority hierarchies. We talk with roommates, table mates, small group participants and hiking partners in ways that never happen during the pressured workdays. We laugh during crazy games and ice breakers, and we make memories together in the pool, at the river, or cheering for Colombia’s soccer team. We have the chance to be in awe together over brilliant sunset colors, amazing hummingbird antics and incredible views over the valley below our mountain refuge.
These few days help us learn not only names, but more about families, challenges and joys that are part of the reasons why our co-workers act and react the way they do. There is time to ask for and offer forgiveness, time to pray and even cry, and time to be alone. We hear life stories and understand more about the context in which each of us lives. This time together with Colombians and North Americans (and our token Swede, Venezuelan, and Ecuadorian team members), is an integral part of helping us serve our ECA community better, as we learn to know and serve one another in a deeper and more Christ-like way.
We as a staff team are grateful to our Board for keeping this tradition a priority!