God's mission: Soul Survivor 2015
Soul Survivor regular Helen Hughes reports on this year's gathering
Having spent every summer since 2006 when I was 12 years old on an (exclusively) muddy campsite in Shepton Mallet, I could probably be classified as a Soul Survivor old timer. This year I donned my wellies and turned up to Bath and West Showground, host of Soul Survivor Weeks B and C, to serve on the Kids' Team - and I learned again that God is desperate to meet with his children, whatever their age.
Soul Survivor is a Christian youth festival which sees thousands of young people encounter God as never before. Having recently expanded, it now consists of Soul Survivor Scotland, Week A in Stafford, Weeks B and C in Shepton Mallet and Momentum, for 20-30s.
Nearing 30 of us from my home church, Albany Road Baptist Church in Cardiff, joined 9000 other young people at Week B this August, excited to unpack this year's theme: God's mission. The days were organised around two main services in the morning and evening, each with worship, teaching and ministry times.
Outside of the main meetings, there were various seminars available as well as cafes, stands and stores, and entertainment including a foam party, a silent disco and a bonfire. My church really valued these times to develop friendships, talk things through and in my case drink far too many hot chocolate mountains (the 'mountain' part signifies the copious volumes of whipped cream squirted on top - useful energy in coping with freezing cold evenings).
Hosting the main meetings were some of the key members of the Soul Survivor leadership team: Mike Pilavachi, Andy Croft and Ali Martin. Their gift for reaching young people meant that not only was the Bible made relevant to a generation where it is increasingly alien, but that the whole place was filled with laughter and a sense of safety and real community. Sitting in the big top with 9000 other young people, all worshipping God, engaging with the Bible, anticipating that the creator of the universe would have something to say to them - this was pretty surreal.
My role working on the Kids' Team was to help out in the sessions for the three-four year olds, who mostly came to Soul Survivor with other team members or youth workers.
The children were encouraged as part of the sessions to listen to God and share what he'd said to them. They sometimes came out with remarkable truths like, 'God said he loves it when we play,'; other times less so, as one child modestly whispered, 'God told me he...likes pie'.
I'll bet that God was just as happy to hear both of these answers, because at just three and four years old they were listening for his voice and proclaiming him unashamedly. This was a massive challenge for me and a picture of how God wants his church to be.
Through the week the evening meetings looked at who God is, what his mission looks like and how he equips us. The overall message from the speakers was summed up nicely by Patrick Regan, who spoke about his work with XLP, a charity working with inner city London gangs. He said that nothing qualifies him to do what he does, except that God simply broke his heart for what breaks his.
During the five days, over 500 people gave their lives to Christ. People wanting to become Christians were called to the front and often spilled into the aisles because of their sheer number. Mike would lead them in prayer, and then promptly invite us to join in with the angels in heaven who, he suspected, would be cracking open many a bottle of champagne at this salvation!
Although since coming home I am considerably cleaner and warmer, it can also be easy to feel dejected after such an event. But my experience this year has taught me two things which will be vital for the 'real world'.
He said that nothing qualifies him to do what he does, except that God simply broke his heart for what breaks his
The first is that to see God's mission fulfilled through us we need to trust him to be the good God and father that he is.
Nothing illustrated this more clearly for me than seeing hundreds of young people giving their life to Christ for the first time, many of whom with personal circumstances that had previously made them reject or feel rejected by God. These 500 new Christians must have had friends who trusted that God would meet with them - an incredible testament to their faith and a challenge for me to trust God with my friends as they have done.
The second is that God runs to meet his children. I saw this with the young children who were listening to God in the Kids' Teams and also in the first meeting which looked at God as father through the parable of the prodigal son.
Festivals such as this one are often considered 'mountain top moments' - but so that they might equip us for the real world. Our God is not locked up in a Big Top; he does not only show up for special performances. He is always with us - we just need to be like children and keep on listening and trusting in him.
Pictures: Soul Survivor
Helen Hughes is a member of Albany Road Baptist Church, Cardiff and an English student at the University of Southampton