By Benjamin De Garis
Over the summer of 2019 I took part in an annual Christian summer festival for young people on the county Staffordshire and Peterborough showground. The festivals are called ‘Soul Survivor’, and since 1993, the Soul Survivor Ministries have annually put on these week-long festivals in an attempt to engage young people with the Christian faith and the person of Jesus. The festivals hold in tandem a great spiritual integrity and devotion as well as a radical commitment to fun and normality. The festivals gather some 30,000 teenagers from around the country, many of whom come from more challenged and deprived backgrounds.
I was specifically involved in a team of ‘detached youth workers’ (called the Fringe Team) who sought to engage the more peripheral delegates on site with the life and fun of the festival. Along this journey, we met a number teenagers for whom life is a real struggle: be it struggling with the schooling system, occupants of abusive households, or simply struggling with the mental and emotional demands of life. I had the privilege of being a small encouragement to these teenagers, helping create a safe space for some extremely necessary disclosure at times, in order to notify the relevant social services for them back home. Amidst the more explicit cases, we had a more general responsibility to make the week a fun, welcoming and rewarding one. This looked as simple as making engaging conversation and tapping into their passions and dreams, to playing sport and creating activities which built a sense of family and community (which are primary values of Soul Survivor).
The St John’s Student Opportunities Fund supported my travel and living expenses, as well as enabling me to extend generosity to these young people who oftentimes are starved of love and affirmation. I want to thank them so much for their support.