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Andrew Collins (left) smiles with fellow Men of St. Joseph Outback retreat coach Joanne Donaghey during a recent retreat.

"My advertisement for Outback: Sign up. It will bring your family closer together." ~Andrew Collins


When thinking back to the most impactful memories of my Men of St. Joseph Outback retreat experience, one theme rings true. It was neither the joy-filled high experiences nor the tearful low moments that captured my heart. Rather, my fondest memories are simple and ordinary.

This characteristic is true for the entirety of the retreat. Incredible activities are planned over the course of the weekend: sacraments, high ropes course, great food, etc. However, each of these pales in comparison to the impact of the simple, boring and ordinary moments that occur between retreat partners.

What are these ordinary moments that define Outback? Encounters.

Outback creates, facilitates and enables the opportunity for encounter. Pairs of parents and children, husbands and wives, arrive at Camp Grace unsure of what to expect.

Over the course of the weekend, parents encounter their children. Husbands encounter their wives. Retreatant pairs relearn to Simple moments turn into fond memories communicate, to understand and to love one another. These are the moments that continue to bring me back to this retreat. In and through these encounters, God our Father descends down from the heavens and draws near to us. He inspires us to know Him and to recognize Him.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to participate as an Outback coach/small group leader. I have witnessed conversion of heart, joy-filled smiles and an abundance of tears. But the stories I desire to share, are nothing of that sort:

One: Father and son arrive at the retreat. Father is filled with a great deal of “man pride,”because he is missing his beloved football game. The son on the other hand, obviously desires and longs for the attention of his father. I seem to remember seeing them together on the last day. In the midst of a conversation on the big green space, father and son sit together in complete comfort. They have found peace in the presence of one another.

Two: Mother and son arrive at Camp Grace. Neither partner can look at the other in the eye. They hardly speak, and try to sit next to strangers at the dinner table rather than each other.This remains unchanged for the majority of the retreat. On the last day, pairs have the opportunity to pray over one another. They refuse. Yet, something has changed. The air around them is lighter, a bit more joy-filled.

Finally, I come to realize their eyes have met and at some point during the weekend they have gained the ability to look upon, to recognize and to understand one another. Praise God for a gift as beautiful as that.

The Outback retreat is designed for families.The weekend awakens, propels and gives life to the family. Fathers are raised up as spiritual leaders. Families learn to pray together, to understand one another and are made strong. My advertisement for Outback: Sign up. It will bring your family closer together.

Andrew Collins

Auburn Graduate

FOCUS Missionary

University of South Alabama

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