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.