It starts with me and Elliot: a 40-year-old pastor and his 15-year-old son. We pull out of our driveway and head to the gas station to fuel up for the drive to our church’s men’s retreat. Before hitting the road, I cue up the stereo system of our Honda Odyssey to play Kermit the Frog’s “Rainbow Connection” — and then we’re on our way to start assembling our motley crew for the journey from Kent to Columbus.
Our first stop is to pick up Alex. He’s a professional designer in his mid-20s, soon to be a first-time father. He slides into the passenger seat as the song switches over to “Movin’ Right Along,” and then we move right along, over the river, across town to the campus of Kent State University.
At a residence hall on the east side of campus, we pick up two freshmen — Hunter and Josh. As we pull away, I explain to the group why I’ve chosen to play the soundtrack from “The Muppet Movie” (1979) on our way out of town. It’s a film about origins and ambitions. It starts with Kermit the Frog plucking his banjo in the swamps of Florida, when a Hollywood talent scout happens upon him — paddling a canoe through the bayou, as of course Hollywood talent scouts are wont to do. Kermit gets the idea from this agent to give show-business a try and sets out for Hollywood, picking up a bizarre collection of bears, pigs, hippie-musicians, and ‘whatever’s along the way. They all learn about each other and their inner selves along the way — and I wish for us to be able to do the same.
Our last stop in Kent is to pick up Nick, a college senior planning to go on staff with H2O following graduation in May. He settles into the backseat next to Elliot — though we still have one seat to be filled on the far side of Akron.
After 35 minutes of westward progress, Phil completes the set as our “Gonzo” with his goofy jokes, overly-affectionate manner, and general wackiness that can make him both endearing and exasperating. As we head south on Interstate Route 71, I tell the guys to each think of a song to program into our Spotify playlist, which is individually-appealing but unknown to everyone else in the car. As a result, we end up with a delightful mix of soul, country, hip-hop, pop, and acapella choral music.
We hit Mansfield around dinner time, so we detour slightly from the interstate to get dinner at a classic diner I know called Porky’s. Five minutes after our arrival, we’re joined by another car-ful of guys from H2O: Josh, Jake, Dylan, and Steven. We mostly order cheeseburgers, french fries, and milkshakes, though some also order more obscure items from the menu. It’s fun to eat and talk and gear up for the weekend.
When we finish our meal, we load back into our cars and drive the last hour and a half to New Albany (just outside of Columbus). There we haul sleeping bags and pillows and duffel bags from our cars into a sprawling Baptist church, where we’ll spend 24 hours with 350 men from 9 different churches in our network. Musical worship… Bible teaching… team-building activities… sports… games… workshops… meals… informal conversations… small group discussions… and even a little bit of sleep. We fit a lot into 24 hours.
I think it’s crazy that everything works together the way it does — but it does. It works.
It doesn’t matter if we’re high school sophomores, college freshmen, college seniors, young professionals, middle-aged pastors, or Muppets! We all have something to offer each other. Men are motivated and mobilized by spending time with other men. There are unique elements of affirmation, challenge, and life-transformation that happen in this setting more than in any other. I believe that the foundation for solid marriages and families are laid in weekends like this. I believe that missionaries are mobilized in this weekend. I believe that churches are planted out of weekends such as this. I believe that men are made — or at least catalyzed — at this annual event.
I’m so glad that we organize these “ManMaker” weekends. They take a good bit of time and energy (and so, so much food!)… But they’re worth it. To see the way God moves all these lovers, dreamers… And me.