Loving people and loving God: beach mission review

Over the New Year’s break and into January, groups of Christians have gathered in camping grounds all around Australia, singing songs, getting to know people, and sharing the love of God with campers and residents. There are 43 missions in NSW, 4 in Queensland and 5 South Australia, 8 in Western Australia, 27 in Victoria, and 2 in Tasmania.

These are some of their stories.

Lakes Entrance Theos Beach Mission (Victoria)

For the fourth year running, a team of Christian people have set up camp at Lakes Entrance, Victoria, with the explicit purpose of reaching out to the young people on the South Gippsland coast.

The team operates out of two old sheds, known to the locals as The Slipway. There is a pool table, table tennis, Nintendo, music, and plenty of food flowing each night from around 5.30pm.

Core team member Miriam Dale says, “Within all that, we’re just trying to have lots of conversations about God. Whenever it comes up, we’re working on listening to people’s stories.

“The first few days is groundwork and building relationships. People trust us after then.

“The last few years there were a few prominent youth who refused to come because they didn’t trust us. But this year they came and joined us,” says Miriam.

“The other day while we were sitting getting henna tattoos the conversation somehow turned to God and suffering. It was a really hard one, but also really good. It was doubly good ‘cos it was hard to answer. Team members were able to talk through their own experience of God and suffering.

“We want to be there for them; we want to listen to them,” says Miriam.

Eden Beach Mission (NSW South Coast)

Emma Payne is heading up a team of 30 adults and 12 kids at Eden, on the NSW South Coast. It’s not a traditional beach mission with tight programs and activities every evening.

“We don’t rely on program time to share the gospel with people, we rely on ‘intentional time’, where team members are encouraged to go and spend time with people, getting to know the people around us, doing life together,” says Emma.

“It’s a low intensity program – with only one 90 minute sessions for the kids each morning – but a highly relational environment”.

One of the women the team has met confessed to having grown up a Christian but then walking away from Christianity. After a long conversation with one of the team mums she said, “I just feel like this summer God wants me to come back to him”.

Emma says, “We met a Swiss girl who was backpacking around Australia, and you could just tell she hadn’t had a real conversation with anyone in a long time. She hung out with us for an evening, and we were able to be a friend to her, to care for her, and to pray for her. We were able to show her what Christian community looks like.”

Emma is full of stories about how God is opening doors for deep conversations with people about spiritual things.

“One night, we were singing songs to God and a man camping close by questioned what we were doing. One of the team went over to talk with him and ended up staying over an hour. She explained that we were worshipping and praying to God. It turns out he occasionally prayed, and when the thing he hoped for actually happened he just thought it was a coincidence. After that conversation he wondered if maybe it wasn’t a coincidence.”

It’s an unusual approach to beach mission, but Emma says, “It’s absolutely working in the same way that normal beach missions are working!”

Image: Brian Yap on Flickr, used under CC License.