Why My Eleventh Schoolies Was My Best Yet

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At 6am this morning, on four hours sleep, some friends and I stepped out onto dewy lawns as magpies warbled and the sun rose, and we surveyed the carnage of empty cans, broken tents and scattered clothing while sore schoolies began to stir. In a few hours they’d be on their way back home from a very big weekend in Victor Harbor.

I’m not a toolie—just thought I should clear that up. I’m part of Green Team, a group of 550 volunteers from churches around South Australia who (lead by Encounter Youth) host SA’s schoolies festival, and partner with emergency services and other organisations to keep thousands of Year 12s safe.

“As the Green Team, we are absolutely unashamed in our witness for Jesus.”

On the one hand, SA’s schoolies event is widely recognised as the safest and most successful schoolies response in Australia—which is an amazing feat considering it’s the only one in the country that isn’t government led or funded. (This year for example, on the Saturday night—traditionally the biggest night of festivities—the police made zero arrests: the first time this has happened in the event’s history).

On the other hand, as the Green Team, we are absolutely unashamed in our witness for Jesus. We sell tickets, give high fives and smiles, hold vomit bags, man queues, dance, call ambulances, hand out pancakes and snags and hot donuts, and sit and chat with those who have lost their friends, or their phone, or both. And our motivation for all of it is to be a tangible witness of the love of God to every person we encounter—every one bearing his image—because he has first loved us.

“Eleven years is a long time to keep returning for long weekends of sleep deprivation, vomit dodging and a cacophony of depressing scenes.”

Like clockwork, within just hours of the festival starting, I have had schoolies ask me an identical question for eleven years, with the same grateful-but-puzzled expression on their face: “Why do guys do this for us?”

An open door for the gospel. On the back of this question I’ve shared my own story of faith, I’ve listened to students’ experiences of the church, I’ve explained grace, I’ve had apologetics debates and discussed world religions, I’ve prayed with people, and I’ve unpacked the message of the cross.

This year (last night in fact) a friend and I prayed for a schoolie with a fractured wrist which he could barely move. Instantly it was healed and in disbelief he was using it for one-armed push-ups and telling his drunk friends about the healing power of Jesus. An hour later he was entirely sober and committing his life to Christ. This morning we found him telling the security guards and a dozen of his mates about what had happened to him.

“Our motivation is to be a tangible witness of the love of God to every person, because he has first loved us.”

It’s stories like this that keep me coming back. Eleven years is a long time to keep returning for long weekends of sleep deprivation, vomit dodging and a cacophony of depressing scenes. I’m sometimes tempted to take a year off. But then I realise I’ve had 360 days off, and I remind myself of all the reasons I can’t stay away. Here they are.

Jesus is Encountered / Times without number, I’ve been thanked by a schoolie for saving their friend’s life, though they know full well that it was actually someone else on Green Team that I’ve probably never met. When I fix a girl’s deck chair with duct tape or give her a cheese toastie, the next Green Teamer she encounters is immediately her trusted ally and support.

“We are the body of Christ—the hands and feet of Jesus.”

This pattern repeats ad infinitum weekend long, and it has to be experienced to be truly understood. We are loved and appreciated by the schoolies as though we were all the same person. And that’s because we actually are. We are the body of Christ—the hands and feet of Jesus. And it is him that the schoolies have encountered.

Disciples are Made / As a pastor my single mission, given to me by Jesus himself, is to make disciples. I am on the hunt for vehicles to help me fulfil this calling. The greatest vehicle I have personally discovered is leading mission exposure trips to South-East Asia, where I have lived for several years. In three weeks, the unique challenges that young people face, the self-sacrifice that is required of them, and the deep worldview shifts they experience, accomplish what three years of involvement in a church program cannot.

But coming in an extremely close second to such trips is Green Team. I seek to muster as many from my church as I can every year, not because sixty people are needed to cook donuts, but because sixty people come out the other end of a schoolies weekend as battle-hardened disciples. They have fought in the trenches together, prayed and cried and laughed and seen miracles that have transformed the way they view themselves, the church, and God’s mission in the world.

“Eighteen years ago Green Team was born. I can’t think of another phenomenon that has been so powerful a force in reshaping the church’s understanding of itself in South Australia.”

Lives are Changed / Late last night I found myself laughing on the inside. We were standing in a circle: four schoolies and four of us from Green Team. An intoxicated teenager who’d just encountered the power of God told his mates how great God is and how much they needed him. The schoolies decided that we had to pray, so with everyone in the circle in agreement, we held hands, bowed our heads, and were lead in prayer by this stumbling, theologically rough-edged but sincere school-leaver.

All of this happened just hours after a different group of Year 12s, hungry to know more about God, had sat around with one of the guys from our team for an hour having a Bible study. And while a weekend isn’t enough to answer a schoolie’s every question or ensure their adherence to all of the beliefs we hold dear, it’s enough to see a saving work of God take place in their heart, and a foundation laid for them as a new disciple in Christ.

The Church is Renewed / Without fail, what sends shivers down my spine every year is beholding the church as it should be: unified in joy, purpose, love and a single, crystal clear mission. We are living in a post-Christian world. The church is no longer the moral police or the cultural curator. We have been so sidelined that all that remains is for us to become the prophetic voice of one crying in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” The sooner we get this, the sooner we can get on with God’s mission for us in this time.

“Sixty people aren’t needed to cook donuts, but sixty people come out the other end of a schoolies weekend as battle-hardened disciples.”

In the words of Timothy Keller, the church is to be a counter-culture for the common good. Eighteen years ago Green Team was born. I can’t think of another phenomenon that has been so powerful a force in reshaping the church’s understanding of itself in South Australia. For at least one weekend in November each year, we find ourselves. And we are reminded of what the church is supposed to look like every day of the week.

Once again in 2016, I caught a glimpse of this—my biggest glimpse of it to date.

This is why my eleventh year at schoolies was my best yet.

How Jesus Shaped the West: Equality

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Despite its many faults, Western civilisation has lead the world for centuries in technology, education, science, liberty, and more. Why? Lots of reasons. But the greatest force that shaped us, overlooked by many, is a humble carpenter from Nazareth. // Read this series from the beginning, or start here for how Jesus shaped Equality.

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Last year, two young women aged 15 and 23 were gang raped in a rural town and paraded naked through the main street. This was the “punishment” handed to them by an all-male, unelected village council. Their crime? Their brother eloped with a neighbouring girl who came from a higher caste than theirs.

Violence against women is a global epidemic, not just limited to India’s untouchables. The statistics are gut-wrenching.

One in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence. 98% of those trafficked for sex are female. Worldwide, 200 million women and girls are demographically “missing”—they’ve been murdered or have died through mistreatment, and their story has been lost.

“In the West, equality is part of the air we breathe.”

This is all part of a bigger picture of inequality. Across the globe, people are being abused and marginalised based purely on their culture, ethnicity, beliefs, political allegiance, gender or sexual expression. It’s enough to overwhelm us.

Aren’t we all for equality? Don’t we all stand for universal human rights?

The sobering, even shocking, answer to these questions is actually no.

In the West, equality is part of the air we breathe. We yearn for it, our civilisation sets the pace for it, and when we as westerners are treated unfairly, we appeal to equality as a fixed, universal axiom. But strange as this may sound, the idea that every human being has equal and inherent value is entirely foreign to many we share the planet with.

“If karma rules the cosmos, minorities deserve whatever misery they’re suffering.”

The village justice described above is a case in point. While Ghandi fought for reform of the caste system, ancient Hindu beliefs don’t disappear overnight.

Much of Indian society is still built on the conviction that people have been created precisely unequal, and that your caste was determined by your actions in a previous life. Untouchables are so inferior to the other five castes, says Hindu tradition, that cows, monkeys and rats have greater dignity.

To us this is unthinkable, and must be challenged. But for many in Indian society, to challenge this or to dream otherwise is to rebel against karma. In fact, even to help the poor is to curse them further by preventing them from paying off their karmic debt.

“Inequality has been the norm in most cultures for most of history.”

Such inequality isn’t unique to India. The epicentre of child marriage, death penalties for homosexuals, and forced female genital mutilation is the Middle-East and North Africa—the heartland of Islam.

If your blood has started to boil, I trust that it’s because of the injustices I’ve described, not my geographical honesty. Don’t shoot the messenger.

Am I promoting inequality by making these observations? In fact I am—if we’re discussing the equality of worldviews. Let me be clear: not all beliefs are created equal.

But all people are created equal. And it is exactly this conviction that compels me. I must blow the whistle on any worldview that denies basic human equality and thereby fosters oppression.

The simple reality is that inequality has been the norm in most cultures for most of history. Mesopotamian creation myths held that the king was created in the image of the primary god, while the poor and the slaves were created in the image of an inferior god.

The ancient Greco-Roman world knew nothing of equality. Infanticide was commonplace. Plato had extremely elitist—even fascist—political views. Aristotle believed in natural slaves. In fact in the ancient world it was slaves that enabled the elite to pursue philosophy at all.

“If the world’s ‘races’ are descended from ape-like ancestors then we are by definition unequal.”

Equality is a modern idea that came to us through the Renaissance. And while Renaissance writers are famous for quoting ancient Greeks and Romans, there was only one place they could go to establish a high view of humanity. And that place was Jesus.

From his parable of the ninety-nine sheep abandoned while one was searched for, to his teachings about the Creator knowing the number of hairs on our heads, to his charge for costly, practical love to “the least of these,” this peasant carpenter from Galilee stubbornly insisted that every life matters.

Jesus inspired his fanatic disciple Paul to write that “there is no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male now female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” To Paul, even a priest-class that’s closer to God must be a defunct concept if “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace.”

“Equality is a thoroughly Christian conviction—one so ingrained in the Western psyche that we’ve forgotten where it came from.”

If the world’s “races” are variously descended from ape-like ancestors then we are by definition unequal. If karma rules the cosmos, minorities deserve whatever misery they’re suffering. If truth is relative, then tomorrow some of us might wake up more equal than others.

But if God created human beings—male and female—in his own image, then we possess non-negotiable dignity and perfectly equal standing in the universe. In fact if God became one of us, far from violating his majesty (as Islam teaches) the incarnation would be the ultimate affirmation of our value and worth as humans.

The second sentence of the U.S. Declaration of Independence reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

But this is not true. All people are created equal—yes! But this is not a self-evident truth, if we take historical and contemporary facts seriously. Equality is a thoroughly Christian conviction—one so ingrained in the Western psyche that we’ve forgotten where it came from.

“If God created human beings—male and female—in his own image, then we possess non-negotiable dignity and perfectly equal standing in the universe.”

It came from Jesus. This conviction that each of us possess inherent worth, share equal value, and deserve unprejudiced treatment has birthed the human rights movement, shaped national constitutions, and utterly transformed Western ethics.

Long may it drive us to keep fighting for equality where it does not yet exist. God knows, around the world there is much still to be done. But may we never forget or disdain its origin. After all, there is no ground more level than at the foot of the cross.

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Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Morality.

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REASON / TECHNOLOGY / LANGUAGES / HEROISM / EDUCATION / SCIENCE / MEDICINE / LIBERTY / EQUALITY / MORALITY

 

In this series of blogs, I’m indebted to Indian Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilisation.