One of the sacred elements of the SST structure is the final retreat in which students regather from their service locations for a final time together of rest and reflection before returning home. In Ecuador, our retreat location has been housed at El Refugio “The Refuge”, a retreat center just north of Quito, nestled in a 300-acre property that spans up the mountain into forests of eucalyptus and unique vegetation in this transitional zone between the Andean highlands and the cloud forest.
It is indeed a place of refuge away from the hustle and bustle of Quito, surrounded by tranquility on all sides. Crafting a retreat that promotes reflection on such a significant experience is indeed a complex challenge, but one that is deeply satisfying. These final few days together are truly just the beginning of a lifetime of reflection on this unique experience known as SST. This past weekend we shared in meals, a high ropes course, hiking, and even an Easter service high on the mountain. We exchanged stories of joy, wonder, and pain, recounting the ways in which we overcame unique challenges in these past three months together.
In our final afternoon, students each shared a uniquely personal story from the past three months, centered around incredibly diverse poignant moments of humans helping humans and humans hurting humans. As we gathered around a bonfire on the students’ final night in Ecuador, I encouraged them to seek out ways in the weeks, months, and years ahead to share in the most foundational of human connections, love. When we witness this unique human connection, something stirs inside us. We want to soak in it, to bathe in its warmth.
As our time together came to an end, mixed emotions were present, and we tried to envision where our next steps will lead us. Regardless of what those next steps are for both students and leaders, these special memories we made together will remain a part of us forever.