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Feature Story

School Camping has seen an incredible time of growth and abundance with a tripling of ministry over the last three years. This outstanding flourishing follows sowing of energy, prayer and effort into the field. One of the tremendous success stories out of this time of plenty is the personal and leadership growth of our young interns-turned-fieldworkers.

John Francis, one of those experiencing this fast transition and development, shared some of his story with us.

“My faith has grown incredibly since starting as an intern, almost straight out of high school. Before I was an intern, I didn’t have much of a faith or purpose – then I joined SU and was given a lot of responsibility. It was unexpected, but through that, God has grown my confidence in Him.”

“Going from a space of just looking after myself to being responsible for looking after 80 kids on a camp was huge. My faith has grown incredibly, seeing God work on camp.”

John explains some inspiring insights into the background of the growth in School Camping ministry. “We have built up a relationship with the teachers, that now they say ‘We trust you with the children in our care”. After some powerful moments on camp, John says “Talking to a teacher long after camp he said a lot of the students had started to pursue a faith at school, started bible studies. Even those who hadn’t made a complete commitment had had a change in attitude toward other students and school in general.”

It is lasting impacts like these, instigated by God and shared in the work of our interns, field workers and volunteers, that has meant such resounding successes in recent times for School Camping.

The demand for School Camping has been high, meaning our new field workers like John can be away for 8 weeks at a time. John maintains the health of his own relationships and his relationship with God through considered structures. “When I return from back-to-back programs, I have a big catch up session with my family. It’s important just to heavily invest in spending time with them. On camp, we have focussed time for God, and I’ve started to model my life to be more like camps than the other way around. God has shown me [through camps] how He’s designed life to be.”

“I’m still figuring it out, but after camp I’ll get home Friday, have a Saturday of resting, where I get up whenever, don’t do anything, then leave for camp again Sunday. Physically camp is tiring, being hyper-aware all day… but spiritually I get charged.”

As we minister through SU, we all bring our life experiences with us, and God uses this to shape our impact. John graciously shared his personal story to explain how life’s experiences can help mould our leaders, and in turn, change the lives of young people.

“One thing I found really helpful is my own experience at home. My dad struggles with mental illness, and I’ve learned a lot of patience through living with him.”

“Having to walk students through situations and activities, I can link to experiences at home, especially when kids with mental health issues come on camp. When other leaders really don’t know how to handle a particular situation with a student, I can go ‘Don’t worry, you can focus on the other 42 students on camp!’ and I’m able to spend time with this one. Going on camps and having to be really attentive to the students I’ve found a bit easier than coming straight from a life of ‘I’m just looking after myself.’”

We are so thankful for John and our other young fieldworkers who are pouring their time and hearts into this ministry and we praise God for the momentum and development.

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Tell us about your family…
Married to Darryn for 26 years with two married children, Talitha married to Patrick and Levi married to Katie.

You have been on staff at SU before but where?
I worked for SU Qld in a paid capacity for 9.5 years, plus many years of volunteering with camps, kids clubs and youth work before that – so over 30 years involvement with SU Qld. I also worked as Regional Manager responsible for 5 Districts covering 178 Chaplains in 278 schools across the state. I liaised between SU Qld, Education Qld, various community groups and businesses overseeing the implementation of school chaplaincy, camping, training, recruitment and youth/ children’s programs in Southern Queensland.

What drew you to minister in the school chaplaincy realm?
I was at a Chaplaincy Fundraising dinner in 2008 when God just said to me “Now’s the time for you to be a Chaplain”. I became a school Chaplain at two schools in Brisbane in 2009. When we say a ‘No compromise, reckless ‘Yes’ to God’, He does the most amazing things through us – He opens doors, makes the paths straight and takes us on adventures we never thought possible. Not only have I been privileged to be a School Chaplain but I’ve also had the opportunity to train, develop and lead teams of School Chaplains, SU Qld Managers and staff.

What impact can a school chaplain have in a school?
I often say to people that schools are full of staff and volunteers who care about kids. Teachers, principals and auxiliary staff can and do have a wonderful impact on the lives of the children and families at their schools. However, time constraints, curriculum pressures and behavioural management so often means that staff who really care about kids do not have the time to give to their emotional needs. The beauty of a School Chaplain is that they are paid to care for kids, staff and families, they are paid to have the time to sit and listen, or run a group, or visit that family who have just lost a loved one…What an incredible privilege it is to journey with their school communities!

I am so passionate about School Chaplaincy!

What is your new role you’re coming West for?
I am coming to support SU WA in starting up as an AEA (Accredited Employing Authority) for School Chaplaincy through the NSCP (National School Chaplaincy Program). That will involve getting into local schools, communities and churches to build relationships and foundational supports for the SU WA School Chaplaincy program.

What would you like the SU WA family to pray for in the SU school chaplaincy realm you now find yourself in?
I would love the SU WA family to pray for “Open hearts, open minds and open schools.” I firmly believe that God has gone before and already prepared the way. He is just so amazing and He never does things the way we expect Him to; “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”, Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV.

I am just resting in His purpose for what SU WA School Chaplaincy looks like.

Darryn and I are thrilled be journeying with the SU WA team, we are looking forward to walking in the promises of God.

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Leavers Ningaloo is proving to be the best way to spend the end of 12 years of school. Year after year over 100 school leavers join the migration up to the pristine Ningaloo reef to enjoy a week of celebrations camping under the stars. You might say that Leavers Ningaloo is the ‘safer’ way to celebrate the end of schooling, compared to Dunsborough or Bali. And yes it provides an environment where young people aren’t affected by the influence of alcohol, drugs and risk-taking behaviour.

Our Leavers camps actually have more adventure and challenge than you’d get at the popular leavers’ destinations. With a choice of more than 8 different activities each day from surfing to sandboarding, hiking the gorges, visiting Exmouth town for iced coffees, snorkelling from the glass bottom boat or sea kayaking with turtles you’d never get bored.

Don’t forget all the fun to be had at night with a pool party, fancy dinner, bush dance, sports night and if you still don’t want to go to bed, you can hang-out at the All-Night Zone (AKA the Bank). But more than all this activity is hanging out with friends and making new ones. It’s enjoying experiences that you’ll remember for years. It’s having great Christian leaders who journey with you and take the time to listen as you move into the next stage in your life. It’s having the chance to ask those big questions about life and faith. Leavers Ningaloo is a winning mixture of structure and freedom that creates spaces for young people to celebrate the end of school as they forge a path into adulthood.

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Summer Mission teams are gearing up to share life and the love of Jesus with campers from Cheynes Beach and Bremer Bay in the Southeast right up to Cervantes and Jurien Bay in the north.

Earlier this year, at a number of the caravan parks, the clear message received from parents and other campers was that the presence of our team at the site was such a blessing to them. Many said that the atmosphere of the park was noticeably improved by us being there.

Much of what we do with the adults is around a conversation with those camping alongside us. Our conversations delve into matters of faith, raising children, dealing with teenagers, and all of life. With the children and teenagers, we are often able to take the opportunity to dig much deeper into matters of faith.

One teenager was able to build on his relationship with one of our team members from the previous year. Coming to our teen night, and quite enthusiastically he thanked the SU team (on behalf of other teens) for the significant role that we play in their lives.

Paul Edwards

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It’s a huge time in our SU movement. Not least, we are fast approaching the time for celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus – such a pivotal and exciting time in our faith. I pray that it is a wonderful & blessed time for all of us as we draw close to Jesus.

SU’s summer camps were one of the hottest tickets in town this year with some filling in an hour and many in a day! We’re excited about the opportunity to build community and share Jesus with so many young people. It’s been a joy this year to have tools in place to evaluate our ministry and it’s such an encouragement to know that nearly 85% of campers encounter Jesus and move significantly closer to Him through camp. How great to see that happen again this summer. We’ll be gathering information from summer missions this year too and look forward to sharing it with you.

It’s full steam ahead in November on Leavers camps and camps with schools too, so more great ministry happening with Christians sharing their lives and faith with young people. We’ll have 7 camps with schools in term 4 and overall the ministry has grown 300% in the last 3 years. Schools ministry is winding down, but it has been a great time of beginning the Reel Change ministry. Over 2019, around 700 Christians from over 250 churches made Jesus known and were grown in their leadership through SU. Thank you for being part of it with time, financial support and prayer.

The national journey continues to progress with a number of state movements making the shift in legal status that will enable a merger, including us at the recent AGM. The deep hope is that this process will result in more effective and broader ministry opportunities across the country. We will be sharing more about this at the Info Night on the 28th of November. Members will vote on joining a national SU in mid 2020.

At the AGM we also welcomed Emily Fernandez and Emily Dickinson onto the SU WA Board; Tony Pine, Emma Shaw, Belinda Hotchkin, Bethany Cunningham and Dave Stephens were re-elected and Chris Dallin has replaced Phillipa Boldy as the Chair of SU WA. Thank you Philippa for your contribution and thanks to all those mentioned above for their service – I look forward to continuing working with you all.

In October, SU WA was added to the panel of school chaplaincy providers in WA. This came after a long period of prayer and discernment and a sense that God wanted to open up SU ministry opportunities amongst children and young people in WA. It’s an exciting and daunting opportunity and we want to build this through partnership and local vision with churches and across the SU network.

Like Paul in Ephesians, I continue to give thanks for all of you who serve and support the work of God through SU and will remember you in my prayers this Christmas.

Kent Morgan, State Director

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