03 June 2008

what's your coping mechanism?

Just the other day in Brisbane, we met with our wonderful friend Clayton Fergie, who we met at the sports ministry conference in Thailand with the International Sports Coalition (ISC). We were eager to reconnect & “process” our trip with Clayton, because he is very progressive & well experienced as the International Youth Coordinator for Scripture Union. Meanwhile, he was eager to meet with us, too, because he wanted to discuss the issues that we’ve seen are common to youth from the places we’ve visited around the world. Upon reflection, we touched on some of the same issues I wrote about in my last post: the void of contentment, the lack of foresight, the “escapism” found within youth culture. Clayton perceptively used the term “coping mechanisms” in reference to the many ways young people try to deal with the quickly changing world around them. I appreciate his observation.

We are on the cusp of a major turning point in history. With the invention of the printing press came the Enlightenment period, which carried individualism, free speech & modernization to the masses, among other things. I often wonder what this Information age will bring to the world or how the invention of the Internet will define it (or us, for that matter).

Young people today are dealing with a world that is changing at an extraordinary rate. Generations are changing within years, not decades (e.g. from the information sharing “web1” to the cyber communities of the “web2” culture). Young people from all corners of the earth are being fed the same information, often through the “western eyes” of “globalization”. The family nucleus is breaking down, in part due to the individualism & consumerism from the “western” world.

Youth are thirsty for community, and they’ll find it however they can: gangs, cyber networks, sexual relationships, etc. They want to have a sense of belonging in something… even if it’s illegal.

That’s why mere “programs” don’t work anymore. This generation is all about relationships. I’ve heard so many progressive leaders in the Body throughout Australia talk about “meeting people where there at.” This means getting out of church buildings and be intentionally engaged with the community around, for example through sports, the arts, schools, etc. Why is this so hard for the Church? Why do Christians stay in an isolated bubble or island away from the world? Jesus & the disciples engaged with people in the market place, in homes, around dinner tables, in the fields, and in the temples. Jesus could have become an Essene, who are characterized by isolated communities, but He didn’t.

Also just the other day, we met with a pastor of young adults (imagine that, I wish all churches had someone specifically serving young adults that way), and he pointed out the lack of discipleship within the Church. In fact, as we’ve been back in the “western” world, I’ve noticed that many other leaders share this opinion. We’re so focused on the conversion experience while we should be concerned about coming along side people as support in their “journey” or walk with the Lord. It’s not a matter of being “in” or “out” of the circle of Believers. Life is a journey of faith that’s not a straight line… it’s often diverging from the assumed direct path, looping around, going backwards at times, or even in circles… We just need to continue encouraging people to move towards Jesus, through our words and actions. That’s what mentoring is all about. Everyone needs to mentor, be mentored, or even better… both! That’s the best thing you can do for this young generation: walk along side someone, respectfully redirect them, consistently support them, carefully encourage them, and unconditionally love them.

As we go into our last month of this incredible journey of faith, we are leaving the “developed” or “western” world one more time to go to Fiji -- a beautiful part of Creation that is really struggling with a dichotomy of wealth and a tension between ethnicities. We look forward to our time there -- visiting with ISC friends, getting an authentic taste of Fijian culture, and hopefully taking a couple days to relax before we re-enter North America.

In these last few weeks, we have met so many incredible people of faith around the Brisbane & Sydney area. Terry Williams, another Scripture Union/ISC family member, greeted us at the airport & surprised us with unknown hosts for our first week in Brisbane: Owen & Gay Riley. The Riley’s are incredibly kind, hospitable & creative, and they are passionate about children’s education, particularly with Religious Education (RE), Child Safety & Kids Games. During our first week, we met up several amazing people. Sarah Coleman is a young, vibrant woman gifted in working with young people in various ways, most recently with the “Red Frog” project, as well as writing books including Single, Christian Female. We also spent an afternoon with the crew at YACMU (Youth and Children’s Ministry Unit): Paul Yarrow, Michael Jeffery, Tom Kerr, & Colleen Castray, not to mention the numerous “drop-in” visitors who added to our conversations. The discussion was very engaged and filled with pointed questions, intentional reflection, encouraged processing of our experiences, & their keen observations of Australian youth issues. We squeezed in a lunch with Paul Catchlove to gain perspective of the youth work happening in the Catholic Diocese in Brisbane.

Over the weekend, we joined Scripture Union for an all-day training for "Camp" Directors on Saturday. Camps in Australia are best described as conference/retreats like we have in the States. We were thankful to gain perspective to the holistic approach of Scripture Union in complementing camps with school chaplaincy & community outreach. Our first Sunday in Brisbane we worshiped with the Riley's at Logan Uniting Church, an engaging service with a strong community focus, and later that day with Colleen Castray & her family at the youth service held at The Redeemer Anglican School.

Early Tuesday morning we switched modes, saying goodbye to the Riley's then spending much of the day at the Scripture Union office north of the city. We squeezed in a bit of time with Wendy Strachan, SU's International Primary Coordinator, before she flew off to Europe & the U.S. to facilitate trainings. She generously lent us her car & apartment while she was gone! We also spent some valuable time with Brad Suosaari (Chaplaincy Manager) & Steve Forward (Chaplaincy Development Consultant) who have extensive experience with the chaplaincy program in Queensland and now lead this innovative program nation-wide. As an American involved in ministry with youth, I had to wipe my envious drool as I learned about this incredible opportunity: for the Church in Australia to minister to youth culture by placing Christians into public schools to facilitate RE and pastoral care for students of all ages! The next day at SU, we shared out testimonies at their weekly all-staff "Engage" meeting, and then Francis Kneebone & Malcolm Brown coaxed us into doing a podcast for their Youth Ministry Internship Scheme (YMIS) website... another empowering training program. On Friday, we had an informative lunch with Mick Cross, a YMIS graduate & gifted visionary, who had spearheaded some unique youth programs around the Brisbane area & now leads the Vetamorphus program which trains high-school-aged, Christian, youth leaders for vocational education credit in school.

We also connected with some incredibly innovative, incarnational, community-centered ministries/networks like Forge & Waiters Union. Through our New Zealand friend, Lloyd Martin, as well as our new friends at Scripture Union, we visited with an incredible family affiliated with Forge... Steve & Felicity Turner & "company". We are so thankful to have a couple days with these wonderfully receptive, hospitable, & encouraging folks up on the Sunshine Coast. Back in Brisbane, we joined members of the Waiters Union at Project Hope, Black Star Coffee, & then their unique "community fellowship". The founders of this amazing network, Dave & Angie Andrews, graciously met with us over a "cuppa" (hot tea), offering their humble perspectives on community development.

We took a quick trip down to the Gold Coast to visit the brother (Junior) & extended family of a new friend of ours from Auckland (originally Samoa), and to joyfully celebrate the beautiful baptism of their 8-month-old son. Our short time with their family was a very blessed preface to our Pacific Islander experience, because they shared their Samoan traditions, food & warm hospitality with us... Once back in Brisbane, we also connected with another Samoan (Josephine Aufai) and "shadowed" her as a SU school chaplain at Woodridge State High School -- an area known as "the Bronx" of Brisbane. Although this school was wonderfully diverse, it was much more equipped & immaculate than a school in the Bronx would be. After our time with Junior & Leah's family and then our engaging conversation with Josephine, we decided we definitely needed to visit Samoa on our next trip to the South Pacific.

Before leaving Brisbane, we managed to fit in a number of other fulfilling visits with folks. We joined Owen Riley to help him lead a Primary school class in (Christian) Religious Education. We spent a morning discussing international youth trends & issues with Clayton Fergie (mentioned above). We visited the community-focused YWAM-Go Centre where we gained incredible perspective from Director Dave Neibling & International YWAM staffer Jim Nightingale. Over this last week in Queensland, we were hosted by the wonderfully hospitable & extremely generous Terry & Marg Williams.

As you can notice, our time in Brisbane filled up so quickly, and we praise God for saturating us with His body of believers, who opened their supportive arms to embrace & encourage us. While there, we did schedule some time for seeing a few sights around Brisbane with Hope's exchange student friend, Cate, who took us to Mount Tamborine, the PowerHouse in New Farm, China Town & finally "the Valley" for a great funk show. We also joined our new friend Colleen & her wonderful kids for dessert up atop Mount Coottha to see the city by night.

We spent our last 5 days in Australia back in Sydney where we were graciously hosted by Sue & Aaron in Maroubra, Tara Toohill in Glebe, & by Pamela (Ivan's Rotary Colleague) in Black Town... all very different parts of Sydney! We also connected with the Baptist Youth Ministries' Pip Almond & Andrew Palmer, who facilitate an innovative "gap year" program called PLUNGE. We served at a fund-raising event for the Logosdor crew (including our ISC friends, Simon Hood & Ivan Kelly), which is producing some incredibly creative ministry tools available on-line for free! We attended the concert-like Hillsong evening youth service on Sunday. We met up with Peter Clarke, who has a wonderful perspective on youth culture within the Postmodern context (the young adults pastor mentioned above). We also managed to stroll along the coast at Coogee where we caught a glimpse of whales migrating north. We shared tapas with new & old friends in the city. We checked out the incredibly diverse Black Town festival & parade, and we spent a day on the Sydney Harbor with Ivan Kelly, his son & grandson. Finally, I reconnected with my former host sister, Shelly Dowling, who is part of our family of faith as well.

Our time around southeastern Australia was rich with so many relational experiences whether through reconnecting with old friends (from our Rotary exchange years, our affiliations through family, & our travels around the globe) or making new friends through ministry connections/families & friends of friends. It's funny how I began this blog entry focused on the need for relational ministries, and now I sum up our time in Australia as relational. I wonder how the Church would be perceived, if our focus shifted more toward relationships & community, rather than buildings & programs...

We are now in Fiji... it's wonderful to be back out of our comfort zones! Not long before we're home though... please keep our re-entry in your prayers.

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