Tag Archives: retreats

Great Glowstick Games: Human Pac-Man

An important thing to remember when running games is to work with what you’ve got. Use the unique characteristics of the environment you’re in.

For a few years, the Beijing Expat Youth camps were held at a conference centre in the far south of Beijing. The grounds of the centre had all sorts of odd fields. The most unusual feature was an abandoned maze. It was originally a water maze – cement walls enclosed waterways which little boats paddled along. Higher walls formed the maze, and trees grew all through. By the time we came along, there was no water – just a few half-rotten boats and a lot of leaf litter lying in the bottom of a cement maze. It was dingy and not a little dangerous. So, of course, we used it for night games!

The most famous game we ever ran in the abandoned maze was Human Pac-Man. We created it for our second camp there, with the maze in mind.

Human Pac-Man
4 teams
4 garbage bins
15 large balls
30 medium size balls
200+ little balls (we used pingpong balls)
8 sheets

The kids got a few glowsticks each to light themselves up with. When we arrived at the maze, they were divided into their teams, each of them gathering in a different corner of the maze. In each team’s corner was a plastic garbage bin, which they would use to collect their points.

When the whistle blew to start the game, the kids left their corners in search of balls – the bigger the ball, the more points it was worth. They were human pac-men, in search of delicious dots. Once they deposited the balls in their team garbage bin, they were “safe”. At the conclusion of the game, the contents of the bins were counted and the team with the most points won.

Of course, pac-man has a nemesis: the ghosts! 8 leaders were sent around the maze, each draped in a sheet of some kind. When caught by a ghost, kids had to drop any balls they’d collected and follow the ghost to the “prison” in a large open space at the centre of the maze. Kids were free to collect balls in any section of the maze, not just near their home base, but the farther they roamed, the higher the risk of getting caught.

The prison was run like many we’ve run before and since – kids were required to do all sorts of random things to get free and return to the action. Sometimes they had to sing silly songs, or do silly dances, or perhaps provide profuse flattery to the leader in charge!

And there you have it – a very simple game. Easy to set up, easy to teach, easy to run. No bizarre rules to explain (or get confused), no weird supplies to locate. Running it as a night game meant the balls weren’t too simple too find, and made the ghosts more ghostly.

So why was this game so popular? Why is it still remembered so fondly, 5 years after the fact?

I think there are two main reasons.

1) It captured imaginations

Most people have played the computer game Pac Man. It was easy to relate the simple elements of the game we were playing to the computer game they remembered – making the whole thing seem much more sophisticated than it actually was. We weren’t running around collecting balls and avoiding leaders – we were in a computer eating dots and fleeing from ghosts!

2) Location, location, location

This game only worked because we were running around an old maze. Without those walls, the idea of being in the computer game falls apart. By creating a game that worked with the unique location available to us, we were able to make the game more than a game. It was a special game, one that is forever associated in all our minds with that location.

So why tell you this? I assume it’s unlikely you’ll be running night games in your own abandoned maze any time soon. If you do have access to a maze for night games, keep Human Pac-Man in mind! For the rest of you, though, consider those two points when preparing games for your own events.

Capture Imaginations – instead of running complex games, use simple games with easily understood rules, and make them interesting with a great story.

Location – make the most of the location you have. Choose, or create, games that engage with the environment they’re played in.


Posted by on April 8, 2011 in Games


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Camp themes: some of my favourites and why they rock!

Most youth camps I’ve been involved in have had a specific “theme” for the event. A theme can be simple or complex, can apply just to the messages/games, or be integrated across all parts of the event.

There are many advantages to a theme:

A good theme can lead you to new and fun ideas you wouldn’t have thought on of otherwise. Maybe it started as a theme for the sessions/messages, but then naturally lead you to some great games or a fantastic t-shirt design. Maybe it just sounded like a fun idea for the kids to enjoy, but then you were able to pin a series of great messages to it. However you get started, having a firm theme idea can help guide leaders’ discussions and give you new ideas.

Learning Aide
A good theme can be used to help kids hang onto the messages presented. Themes give kids a picture to “hang” the content on. If you present three messages over a weekend and all three points can be tied in some way to the camp theme, kids will find it easier to remember the three points and refer back to them later on.

Memory Aide
A memorable theme will help kids (and leaders) latch onto memories of the event. If you hold annual events at the same location, having a clear theme for each year helps the experiences stand out, rather than running together into one big camp memory. Themes differentiate one camp from another – one learning experience from another.

It’s just fun!
And you know what? That’s a great thing! It’s wonderful to get together with a bunch of kids and have a blast. Themes can make an already fun weekend even more fun! New in-jokes are created, bonds are created and strengthened – and a theme to connect it all to makes it all the more fun.

When I think back to all the camps I’ve done, I don’t think “Spring of 2006” – although I can work out the timing if I choose. What characterises each camp for me is its theme. So here’s a few great themes we’ve used in Beijing in the past 6 years:


Tanya at Mythbusters Camp in Beijing

About to get twenty pies to the face at the middle school Mythbusters camp.

This was planned around the idea of having an outreach camp. We encouraged kids to invite non-Christian friends to camp, knowing that while there would be worship times etc., the messages would be “seeker-friendly”. Kids had a chance to ask anonymous questions about the Christian faith and we planned teaching on apologetics. Clement, a student who designed (or worked with friends to design) all our camp shirts for several years, came up with a great design. The Mythbusters t-shirt said “God does not exist” which then had a “BUSTED” stamp over it. We also planned a big “mythbuster” event for the last day of camp – dropping mentos candy into coke to see if it would fizz/explode. We turned several big bottles of coke into fountains – a fun sight kids still remember!

While the theme of the camp’s content was “identity” the concept we wrapped it around was facebook and avatars. Each team had an “avatar” (a person-sized animal costume – bunny, lion, tiger, elephant, etc) and the team scores were shown as facebook pages with a number of “friends” instead of a number of points.

Uncharted Waters
We talked about life as new territory to explore, and there being no map explaining how our unique lives will play out – but God can guide us. Although our custom at the time was to keep camp themes a secret until the first session, we previewed this theme by showing a clip from “Pirates of the Caribbean” and invited kids to dress up as pirates for the first night of camp. We gave away prizes like eye-patches and plastic hand-hooks during the first session games, and the big outdoor game involved searching for and actually digging up buried treasure. We even kept a big “treasure chest” on the stage throughout the retreat.

This was my first camp in Beijing. As I said above, our custom was to keep the theme a secret til the first session of camp, at which point there’d be a big hype up and reveal – painting a vision for the weekend. At the “nothing” camp, we finished worship during the first session and the two youth pastors came up to the front to do the intro message. They hyped the kids up “do you want to know what the theme is??” for a minute or so, then said “Okay! The theme for this year’s camp IS…” – then stood there in silence for a minute or so. In the end they explained – we studied three “nothings” of faith, for example, nothing is impossible with God. The camp logo was just a circle with a line through it (like a street sign).

This was the theme of the first Beijing Youth Conference. The whole weekend was styled as a “flight”. As kids arrived and lined up for registration, several leaders used metal-detector style wands to “frisk” them, occasionally making certain kids do silly things before letting them through. Kids got water bottles we’d put our own “Go” labels on them, and stickers. During the first session the youth pastors got up and apologised that the flight had been delayed, but that we had some entertainment planned. When the session finished, they explained that the flight was delayed until tomorrow, so the “airline” had reserved places for them to stay (before bussing kids to host homes for the night). We provided leaders with DVDs which contained video devos and some other fun things – including a track of camp “rules”, set up like an airline safety video – complete with voiceover and a lovely “hostess” (youth leader) showing the “passenger” (another youth leader) what NOT to do. Another highlight was the “Deep Vein Thrombosis” video included for the morning – it was a crazy video with three guys in suits/ties doing insane exercises. It became a youth group cult classic! Kids were doing the DVT dance all day and it was an in-joke that kept up for over a year.

With an amazing double-cabin of girls at the GO09 conference in Beijing.

With an amazing double-cabin of girls at the GO09 conference in Beijing.

That’s just 5 examples from MANY camp themes.

What was the best themed event you’ve participated in?


Posted by on February 21, 2011 in Leading Youth, Youth Resources


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Great Glowstick Games: Building a fire

“Building a Fire” is a game that Joe Jackson, Matt Banker and I cooked up for the Beijing Fall Youth Camp 2010. We were using a Wilderness Survivor theme, and so we created games that would fit that. (We’ll probably write about some of the other games we did in another post – there were some good ones!)

The main reason I chose this for one of our first games posts is that a few months later, Christina and I used it for the Cross Culture 2011 retreat in Cambodia. It was a very different group in a very different location; we adapted it heavily and it worked wonderfully. I love games that are flexible and therefore easy to adapt! Flexibility is important for those of us running games in random places – the traditional models don’t always work, so we change games to fit us.

Building a Fire – original Beijing version

What we started with:

Four teams (total 100 people)
1,000 small red glowsticks
400 small yellow glowsticks
200 small blue glowsticks
Several hundred small green glowsticks for marking
Several large red glowsticks for marking (and some small red ones)
Several large blue glowsticks for “obstacles”

Object of the game

Build enough fires to keep your team warm (and alive). Instead of awarding points for games over the weekend, teams were fighting to survive! Each complete “fire” would keep 5 team members “alive” so teams of 25 people needed to make 5 fires. These “fires” are made by collecting enough of the right glowsticks in the right combination. Each team was required to calculate the number of fires they needed, then collect the right amount of glowsticks and return them to home base before the end of the allotted time.

Adaptation: set the colour/number combinations according to the amount of glowsticks you have available. For our purposes, each complete fire required 10 blue, 20 yellow, and 50 red glowsticks. To fit the narrative, we called the blue “matches”, the yellow “kindling” and the red “logs” – or something like that ;)


Of course, no good game is complete without challenges to overcome. We assigned some leaders to be “Wind” and “Wild Animals” (lions and tigers and bears, oh my!); they were distinguished by holding large glowsticks.  If a kid was tagged by a “Wind” leader they were required to hand over any glowsticks they were carrying; the glowsticks were then redistributed by the leaders (so they could be collected again). “Redistributing” generally meant “randomly tossed over there somewhere”.

If a kid was tagged by a Lion, Tiger or Bear, not only were their glowsticks stolen, but they were mauled. Badly maimed, these kids were required to sit on the ground and not move (they could yell but that was all) until they were carried back to home base (dragged or piggyback or carried by four limbs – anything they came up with) at which point they were magically revived. Every “mauled” kid left out in the field at the end of the game was a life counted against the team’s total.

Setting up the field

The “field” was a wide area full of trees, walls, and low-ropes equipment. There were hills, piles of dead leaves, and random bits of metal. In short, it was rather a mess.

The green marker glowsticks were used to do several things:

  • to mark the trail into the game area (since the kids were making their way out there at night)
  • make the home bases (green circles near four corners of the playing area)
  • mark the boundaries of the play area (where there was no fence)
  • warn of any dangerous areas (i.e. KEEP OFF THE BROKEN METAL THINGS)

That last point is very important for night games – kids who are running around in the dark will often not see danger til it’s too late to avoid. Using a set apart glowstick colour to mark danger helps a lot!

A mix of small and large red glowsticks were used to mark a “safe zone” in the middle of the play areas where the first aid officer and some other available leaders remained throughout the game. When kids had any sort of problem (sprained ankle, clarification of rules) they could find someone to help.

The play glowsticks (blue, yellow and red) were distributed even-ish-ly throughout the playing area. (Some strategy was discussion and used – such as putting certain colours primarily in certain areas, so each team would have to travel away from home base to find them).

Game Play

All game rules were explained to the teams in the indoor meeting room. Kids were released to get cold-weather gear and met out at the playing field, where leaders were available to direct them to the home bases. After 5-10 minutes to strategise, the game was started with a siren. We gave them about 20 minutes to run around collecting, losing and re-collecting glowsticks. A 5 minute warning siren was given, and then a long final siren. (Having a loud, recognisable noise for marking time in night games helps a lot, especially when the group is spread out over a large area).

It sounds simple enough, but it really worked as a game! I was impressed by how it drew in the high school girls in my cabin. One or two were a bit sick, and others just didn’t want to play the game. I convinced them to at least come out and see the glowsticks (the lit up game field is always one of the best sights of camp) and said they could go back to the cabin soon after that. Once the game started, however, they got so involved they never asked to go back to the cabin – they engaged with the game and played the whole time. One big advantage of this game was that there were several different roles – kids could play the game the way they wanted.

  • Strategy – coming up with a way to play the game and instructing others
  • Glowstick collectors – running far away to get what was needed
  • Medics – going out and finding mauled kids then bringing them home
  • Counters – counting up the glowsticks brought home, working out what was still needed, and communicating this to the collectors

Cambodia Adaptation

When we played this at the Cross Culture retreat, we came up with a lot of major adaptations. The game still worked brilliantly.

We started with:

9 kids
4 leaders
20 blue glowsticks
5 pink/red glowsticks
30 yellow/green glowsticks

The kids played as a single team trying to beat the game. Each fire saved three people, and consisted of 5 blue, 7 red/pink and 10 yellow/green glowsticks. Several blue glowsticks were used to mark the “obstacle” leaders. There was one Wind leader and one Rabid Camel* leader patrolling the game field. The biggest change was omitting the home base. Mauled kids were not revived by being brought to base, but by having three team members come to them at the same time. Glowsticks were also not safe until a complete fire was presented to the “safe” leader. The kids were hiding glowsticks under jackets, in their pockets – anywhere they could find!  The play area included a swimming pool and a bunch of glowsticks ended in there (along with several fully clothed kids and leaders). It was mass chaos and thoroughly enjoyable!

*an in joke that was woven through the entire weekend!

I think “Building a fire” is a great glowstick game because it is so flexible! You could even re-story it to fit a different themed camp – have them building something different – not a fire but… <constructing a building/foundation><weaving a carpet><harvesting crops>. Sky’s the limit!


Posted by on February 14, 2011 in Games


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4 perspectives on 1 youth retreat

The annual Cross Culture retreat was held in Sihanoukville on January 7-9, 2011 (Cross Culture is a TCK youth group in Phnom Penh, Cambodia). Attending the retreat were 5 leaders, 9 high schoolers, and the speaker, his wife and three kids. A great time was had by all! Camp always means different things to different people, and so we’ve put together the perspectives of different people who were at the camp….

Most of the Cross Culture retreat participants playing games at the beach...

Most of the Cross Culture retreat participants playing games at the beach...


Nathaniel Cheung – Sydney, Australia

The Cross-Culture weekend away down at Sihanoukville was an amazing experience for both the leaders and the youth. It was filled with crazy games, singing, great talks from the book of Matthew, and time just hanging out together. The weekend gave me a look into youth ministry in a MK/TCK context and the differences and similarities that it entails. Perhaps the most significant thing that I took away from the weekend was the conversations and relationships that continued on afterwards with the other youth leaders. There was a real unity in vision and passion despite the differing personalities, perspectives and styles present. Indeed this proved to be even more valuable in providing a fresh perspective and sparking new ideas as we all continued to talk post-camp. I am certain that God used that weekend to bring us together and to create a real sense of what He wants to do in our lives and in the lives of the youth we minister to. I will greatly miss the time spent with Christina, Tanya and Hannah. But I know that God has much in store for all of us as we each go back and deepen our own understanding, sense and outworking of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and seek to faithfully minister to the youth that God has placed in our lives.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10

Hannah Pollock – currently in Phnom Penh, most recently from Christchurch, New Zealand

Where do I start? Rabid camels, amazing worship team, blessed speaker, giggles, girly chats, coffee addictions, sing-a-longs and of course, CHUCK IT!!! To sum up the Cross Culture retreat in one word: refreshing.  I had only been in Cambodia for 2 months and yet I needed refreshing. Spending time with awesome young people who are on fire for God was such a pleasure. It reminded me that our father is constantly working in each of our lives. Hearing new and different stories created in me a fresh awe of God. I loved the theme of camp; only Christina and Tanya could centre a retreat around rabid camels in Australia (you really had to be there, don’t miss out next time!) We dealt with how we include God in our lives: the desert times and the times we try to do it alone. Facing these issues is never fun, but God used our time together to challenge us.

Tanya Crossman – Beijing, China (originally from Canberra, Australia)

This was my second Cross Culture retreat. I love doing camps with the Phnom Penh kids. I love that they are at the same time both very similar to and very different from my kids in Beijing; there are TCK similarities, but every youth group has its own unique culture. The Youth in Asia vision is always stirred so strongly in me when I spend time with TCKs outside Beijing – I am reminded that there are so many groups with the need for quality youth leaders. Spending time with Nathaniel and Hannah (and Christina, as always) contributed greatly to this vision-painting and passion-stirring. At this camp, I was inspired by the concept of adapting and – how the same games can be adapted to fit different situations. I was also blown away by the power of a well integrated theme, with games and messages that connect to a central idea. The narrative of the weekend was a clear connection between all the different elements of the camp. In Beijing we’ve talked many times about creating “hooks” that messages hang on, things that anchor them in the minds and memories of the youth we minister to. The well integrated theme of the Cross Culture retreat provided a constant source of hooks – where games illustrated life lessons, and games/skits made for easier recollection of the message itself.

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. – 2 Peter 1:12-15

Christina Valenti – Phnom Penh, Cambodia (originally from Massachusetts, USA)

Camp for me was amazing! Pretty amazing to think I’ve been involved with camp with Tanya Crossman for six years in two different countries. Each time she comes to Cambodia (this was her third time) it reminds me of God’s faithfulness, and that life is  a journey. His perspective is so much bigger than ours, and sometimes (times like this past camp) we catch a glimpse of what he seems to be moving towards.  Having Nathaniel (visiting from Sydney)  and Hannah (who moved here this past October) be part of camp and the shared sense that we were together to do this now, and would take away an appreciation of God’s heart and the importance of youth ministry in our own groups and each others – reminds me I serve a God at work in the world.

I loved watching my students bond during crazy games and beach time. I loved the late night opportunity for good chats, and memories that LOOOOONNG bus rides provide.  I loved hearing John’s solid teaching and his creative, crazy challenges to respond and watching my youth rise to the challenge  in a memorable way each time!  I know Tanya and Nathaniel were appreciated as they led us in worship times. And nobody will forget the rabid camel hunt on the beach . . or the antidote the next morning.  Creative, memorable, fun, crazy, community all these words sum up camp for me; in other words as the FB statuses stated days after camp . .   EPIC. . . now to do it even better next year  =)

Christina, Hannah, Tanya, Nathaniel

Christina, Hannah, Tanya, Nathaniel


Posted by on January 31, 2011 in Leading Youth, Special Events, TCKs


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