The calling to become part of the facilitating team for  Beginning Experience's Young Adult program actually began in 2010 when James, John, and Thomas were able to spend some time with Beginning Experience's founder, Sister Josephine Stewart, who encouraged them to trust God to open opportunities to share their gifts with others in need. <br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->(Bluff Country Reader photo by Mary Whalen)
The calling to become part of the facilitating team for  Beginning Experience's Young Adult program actually began in 2010 when James, John, and Thomas were able to spend some time with Beginning Experience's founder, Sister Josephine Stewart, who encouraged them to trust God to open opportunities to share their gifts with others in need.

(Bluff Country Reader photo by Mary Whalen)
The trauma youth and young adults experience when they have lost a parent through death, divorce or separation can lead to feelings of loneliness, abandonment, guilt, pain, depression and fear.

An international organization, Beginning Experience (BE), is focused on helping to heal this brokenness. Founded in 1973 by Sister Josephine Stewart and her friend, Jo Lamia, Beginning Experience's mission statement explains this ministry facilitates the grief resolution process for adults and children who have suffered a loss through death, divorce or separation. This program, which has spread throughout United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Great Britain and Ireland, enables participants to once again love themselves, others and God.

In March, a member of the Beginning Experience International Board of Directors, Yvonne Stoops, asked James, John and Thomas Engesser from Spring Valley to help lead a three-day retreat in California.

"Children need to grieve as much, if not more, than adults. The loss of a parent is seldom something a child has anything to do with, and yet the child often feels that somehow he or she is to blame," Stoops explained. "Those who have lost a parent through divorce or separation find themselves caught in the middle and feel disloyal to one parent if they enjoy the other. Children in situations of divorce, separation and death all share the fact that they have little control over the 'aftermath' of their loss and are in need of safe places and healthy ways to express their feelings."

The calling to become part of the facilitating team for Beginning Experience's Young Adult program actually began in 2010 when these brothers spent a weekend in the St. Cloud area attending a weekend themselves. During that July retreat, James, John and Thomas were able to spend some time with Beginning Experience's founder, Sister Josephine. As an artist herself, this family counselor from Forth Worth, Texas, appreciated the creative expressions the Engesser young men exhibited and encouraged them to trust God to open opportunities to share their gifts with others in need.

Sister Josephine has always been concerned about the children during times of grief. In her book entitled, "Letting Go: The Way into Abundance," She states, "Grief doesn't just go away. It must be gone through and dealt with."

She added, "....another essential part of Beginning Experience: namely that letting go and forgiving opens one to God's power of new life."

In James' journal from his 2010 weekend, Sister Josephine wrote, "I ask God to bless you with hope."

Hope is an essential element of regaining one's life after trauma. There are currently two places in North America offering hope in the form of BE retreats for young adults - Wichita, Kansas, and Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

Young Adult Beginning Experience (YABE) of Winnipeg states, "The loss of a parent through death or a changed parental relationship through separation or divorce is a traumatic experience for children of all ages. For young adults, ages 16 and up, the normal stresses of becoming their own person, peer pressure and feeling that they lack someone to talk to adds to the confusion, pain and anger of the loss itself. The Beginning Experience Weekend for Young Adults is designed to help overcome these feelings."

Stoops and BE International President Kathleen Murphy presented training and certified six young adult facilitators and several adult leaders for the weekend retreat in California.

With training complete and work schedules adjusted, the Engessers embarked on a journey that included a lengthy plane ride, a mix-up with the car rental, a pleasant night in the airport and fingerprinting.

Finally, the weekend began at Kamp Kuper, which is situated in an avocado grove near Escondido, Calif.

Once at the camp, James' first impression showed tentativeness, "I was a little apprehensive, yet excited about meeting new people and coordinating with them to bring about a successful weekend," he said. "Those on the team came from Connecticut, Louisiana, Arizona, Kansas, California, New Zealand and Minnesota. We seemed to connect really well even though we were from so many different places."

Early in the weekend it became apparent that this three-day journey would be filled with moments ranging from emotional strife to lighthearted laughter.

The main group allowed everyone to come together and listen as the facilitators presented their written talks or participate in various activities. A clearly defined schedule kept everyone moving at the same pace, and helped them to stay with the program as they went through the weekend.

"Even though the large group talks are effective in presenting the emotional turmoil that many people have gone through, the small group sessions are where the healing becomes personalized to meet the individual needs of the participants," said John. "The setting of security that these small groups create can help you take an honest look at yourself and share your insights openly with others. Everything said in the small group sessions is confidential and is not to be shared with anyone outside of the group unless the proper permission is granted."

These small group sessions are led by three facilitators, who help their group through this healing process. It is by no mistake that these facilitators are named "Wounded Healers." All of the facilitators have been through the BE program that they are leading, and most have dealt with many of the same issues concerning the participants.

"The time spent on these weekends often feels insufficient when compared to the depth of emotions that have been expressed," John continued. "And while the program only takes a weekend, the healing can take a lifetime. It is hard to leave after the weekend has come to its conclusion, but knowing that the weekend was real, that the friends you made are true friends, and that the healing will last, is comforting as you leave."

This uninterrupted weekend created by the team members, provides a safe, nurturing environment conducive to private reflection, journaling, prayer and small group sharing which allows time for the individual process of healing to begin.

"This weekend is more than a healing program of Beginning Experience because the people who you meet (those who you help and those who help you) can become friends that will last a lifetime," said John. "In this way, the weekend is more than just a program where you go through the motions. It is an environment that can nurture to your specific needs. This weekend is about getting in touch with yourself. When you are in a safe place, you can decide how much you are willing to share with others. This weekend is about your personal growth, gained through mutual sharing of experience."

Thomas added that the food was wonderful, appealing to the eye as well as the taste buds.

"In California, they had avocado, orange and grapefruit trees like we have apple trees in Minnesota, so we had avocados at every meal," he shared. "Then, after the opening ceremony, we even got to serve root beer floats, so my training with Mark and Kathy at the A&W sure came in handy!"

After the retreat was finished, James, John, Thomas and Philip addressed the BE International Convention using song and personal reflections to stress the importance of adults paying attention to the ways young people suffer when their family is shattered by death, divorce or separation.

After singing a rendition of the song "Numb" by Linkin Park, James said, "The song we just sang is a perfect example of how most young people feel. When tension is high and hope is low, numb is a common response. The feeling of numb is a hollow feeling of living every day as an outcast. It is suppressing your emotions to the point where you don't feel them anymore."

Next, Philip compared BE to music saying "Music is a way of expressing yourself without feeling embarrassed or weak, plus, you can take music with you almost anywhere and it still sounds just as powerful and enjoyable. BE can be that music for teens."

"Not only does the young adults program help deal with loss through death or divorce, but it also helps us grow closer to God," Thomas concluded.

For more information on the 2013 YABE weekend retreat scheduled for Wichita, Kan., in March or July, call (620) 896-7664 or (316) 640-2649 and for Winnipeg in May, call (204) 757-4858 or visit the Beginning Experience website for more information

Presently there is no retreat weekend for young adults in southern Minnesota or northern Iowa, however, BE Rochester is offering a weekend retreat for adults suffering from the loss of a love relationship through death, divorce or separation at Assisi Heights Oct. 12 to 14. A young adults retreat may be scheduled if enough interest is shown. For more information visit, email or leave a message at (507) 261-8248.