Hearing God’s Voice

Thanks to the Diocesan Services Appeal, more than 540 youth have encountered the Lord through the biannual Outpouring Confirmation Retreat. And as their testimonies show, it’s a powerful step in equipping young people with the truth.

"It began a few years ago, very organically,” says Jay Jong, who leads a team of youth ministers to develop the event. “We have always just partnered with other parishes when hosting various retreats. As a former youth minister, I knew the diocese has always had an issue with things like, ‘Oh, we had a parish reach out saying their kid couldn't make our confirmation retreat’ or ‘Can you recommend a good retreat for our teens?" And there just wasn't anything that was available.”

Ultimately, the Diocese of Lansing approached Jay to see if his team would create a biannual confirmation retreat that was available to everyone. With the support of DSA funds, the Outpouring Confirmation Retreat was created to fill that gap and has assisted 540 youth since 2019. 

“I would say at its core, the retreat is very charismatic,” Jay says. “We are re-presenting the Gospel message, but each step along the way, we are purposely trying to make it applicable and relational. Many of the students that come on the retreats are familiar intellectually with this knowledge base of who God is. But what we've tried to do is then make it experiential. We give them something to test, to live out, to try.”

Jay uses the term activation when describing how the retreat connects with teens.

“You can hear God's voice, but it can be awkward for young people,” Jay says. “It’s about taking risks, but at the same time our teens are looking at each other, thinking about their own social issues, and wanting to remain in their own comfort zones. So we have to begin by tearing down any obstacles, blocks, challenges, so that when they have an opportunity for adoration, that it's really just as unfiltered and as pure as possible.”

Each Outpouring Retreat weekend includes music, Mass, confession, eucharistic adoration and presentations geared toward building up young people in their identities as children of God. 

These events have become so powerful and well-known that during the most recent retreat in January 2023, there was a sold-out venue.

“We are encouraging confirmands to be as honest and genuine as they can be in front of the Lord,” Jay says. “We have a wonderful team of people who work with the students, praying, leading, mentoring and supporting.”

Jay notes that no two retreats are the same.

“Each group comes with its own characteristics,” he says. “I happen to lead worship, and I have people that help me with music, and that actually gives us a good barometer for how open and willing they are to enter into that. Because young people don't generally like to sing and wave their hands.”

After the retreat leaders get a sense for the group’s dynamics, they begin to offer what Jay calls “a continuous invitation.”

“Let me just ask you to take the baby step of maybe try opening your hands or, again, try this prayer,” he says. “We’re giving them back their own agency, so they can begin to process thoughts and feelings for their own sake, instead of doing things because someone told them to.”

Testimonies are offered throughout the weekend, with teens being invited to share as they are comfortable.

“At the January retreat, we had so many young people that just kept coming over and over again and just sharing. I think for them, it's just a huge breakthrough,” he says. “We also offer prayer ministry, and we see some signs of healing on a physical, emotional and spiritual level every single time. That’s success for us.”

The most encouraging feedback Jay’s organization has received suggests that participants leave the retreat feeling loved and cared for.

“That’s a strong demonstration of God's work,” he notes. “But that’s not all. Many say they now have knowledge of how to pray and speak together with God. And I think that is really what's so important more than any intellectual information we can provide.”

Next year, Jay’s group has four Outpouring retreats on the calendar across the diocese.

“I’m excited,” he says. “I feel like we're catching them at a time as they're really stepping into making decisions for themselves about a lot of things. And to arm them with as much as we can, especially going into confirmation and helping them know what confirmation can really be.”