I missed the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (AFES) Recovery Camp in my first year of uni. It’s an end of year getaway with great Bible talks, water sports, general relaxing, and good mates; celebrating a year of uni done.
I might’ve missed the camp, but I heard all the stories! I really missed out! So in my second year of uni, I was really looking forward to going.
As the middle of that year rolled around, we began to think about the end of year festivities. AFES staff worker Frank Ahlin gathered a group of uni Christian workers and leaders together and said something along the lines of “we’re cancelling Recovery Camp this year; there’s a local mission opportunity that really needs us to step in and do something.” He then went on to lay out a vision for serving school leavers and the people of Victor Harbor by being a Gospel presence through, what was then called, ‘Schoolies Week’.
I was not immediately enthused. My relaxing end of year had been replaced by what sounded like a lot of hard work (and it was). But as Schoolies Week approached and the plans developed, I began to see what Frank and others already knew; this was going to be a great opportunity for the Gospel.
There were around 40 of us on team that first year in 1999. Unlike the sea of green you may have seen in recent years, it was tough to find another volunteer among the 15,000 partiers (and back then there were so… so many toolies)! We had a few small tents to keep the bands and sound gear out of the weather, but otherwise it was pretty ad hoc; visiting some of the many house parties, cleaning up some of the many incidents of vandalism, supporting victims of abuse and those abandoned by their friends, cleaning up copious amounts of rubbish, and the vomit… so much vomit.
Like that first year, the next nearly two decades have shown the power of Jesus in the Churches of South Australia working together, rallying under the person and work of Christ in His work in the world and walking in those good works He has prepared for us:
- Thousands of (mostly) young Christians have given up their time, their money, their energy, effort, and even to a certain extent their individuality (becoming the diverse yet homogenous ‘Encounter Youth Green Team’); representing Christ to tens of thousands of reveling school leavers, enabling the Church to embody the Gospel, put the love of Christ on display, and to communicate that same love as they go about His work.
- The unity among the Green Team is rare… I wish it wasn’t, but it’s uniquely diverse in participant’s backgrounds, denominations and networks, theological distinctives, age, gender, and nationality, yet so single minded in it’s goal of glorifying God.
- The Schoolies Festival™ has become an incredibly well run operation with professionalism at every turn! Completely unrecognisable from those first few years of stringing it all together (that’s not to put down the amazing job the team did back in the day, only to show the contrast of how excellent it is now).
- The Encounter Youth staff have developed into a proficient and accomplished team (winning awards all over the place!). From the top down, each role is filled with capable leaders who are great in their area of expertise, and with much hard work and dedication make the whole operation look seamless.
- The Party Safe Education™ Program was initiated, and has grown to be a significant influence for good in schools across the state, and more recently, across the country.
- The Hindley Street Program began (I was a part of the pilot program, and all involved immediately recognised its potential, as hundreds of revelers shouted to us variations of “Hey GREEN TEAM!! We LOVE you! You saved my life at Schoolies!” in-between helping passed out party-goers and deserted friends), and is now a continuous force for putting the love of Christ on display in one of the most unloving parts of the Adelaide CBD every single Saturday night.
One of the reasons I continue to join in every year is my love of the Church. Seeing her at work is a thing of beauty. Obviously, my love for Jesus, and wanting to show and tell of His love is a key factor! Modelling mission for others in my local church, and the wider body is also important; as is learning from others – young and old – in their faith in and knowledge of God, their love for people, their burden for the lost, their passion to serve, and their reliance on prayer and seeing the Holy Spirit at work in and through them.
I think I’ll volunteer as long as they’ll have me… or at least contribute in some way behind the scenes in seeing younger folks developed and sent. It’s too good an opportunity to pass up. It’s too rare an example of Church unity to not be a part of it. It’s too simple a task to embody and communicate the love God has for those school leavers. And there just isn’t anything else like it.
One more thing…
Last year Jack* was baptised at my church. At the previous year’s Schoolies Operation, Jack walked into the CityLight Accommodation Zone marquee at Port Elliot Caravan Park, and saw one of our volunteers on break reading his Bible. Jack had been in the marquee the night before, as the we were attening to one of his friends who needed our help, and asked if he could sit and chat. That chat turned into a great conversation about life and faith, and Jack ended up being invited to church. Over the next few weeks Jack came to church and came to acknowledge Jesus as his Saviour; becoming a part of the community of Christ. On top of all the good Green Team does, and on top of all the glory God receives from His people living as He made them, we get to see people meet Jesus… and that’s something worth our every effort.
Blessings, & see you at Schoolies Operation!
*Jack IS his real name 😀