Great expectations as beach missions return

Beach mission leaders have great expectations as this year’s summer camps kick off in NSW, with hopes to reach 20,000 people with a clear presentation of the gospel, despite their third year of disruption.

After the crazy bushfire season of 2019-20, which cut short many camps on the NSW south coast, and the COVID-cancelled summer of 2020-21, when mission teams were told not to travel, this year’s tag line is “the mission is on!” but with COVID-safe guidelines.

“There are some teams who are very intentionally taking a smaller team, whether that’s to manage the fatigue levels that are around or because the caravan parks have allocated smaller spaces while they bring in more visitors – there are a few different reasons,” says Nathan Milham, missions chair at Scripture Union NSW.

“We still expect it to be a really powerful season but slightly smaller. Normally, we have 40 locations with 1800 volunteers; this year we have 25 locations with 950 volunteers, which is a shame for the places that are missing out, but maybe we can sort out the problems for next time.”

While some mission teams found ways of staying in touch with their communities last year, it was disappointing to have to tell SU NSW’s 70 or 80 directors and 1800 volunteers not to travel last year, he said.

“It was a really big thing to say to people who really desire to do mission – and our movement exists to do mission – for us to say, we’re not travelling. People really missed it and so what we’re seeing now in our volunteers is, even though people are tired, even though people can barely think a week ahead, we’re seeing overwhelming joy and excitement that something’s happening again,” he says.

“So even though teams have had to either change the physical location, or they’ve had to shorten the program, or they’ve had to come up with different ways of getting involved in the community, they’re excited to do that amid all the ambiguity, because they just love making the mission happen.”

“We’re very excited and mainly that’s relationally, just to see our beach mission friends in the park again.” – Adam Condie

One such leader is Adam Condie, who with his wife Georgia directs the SU beach mission at Huskisson on the state’s south coast.

“We’re very excited and mainly that’s relationally, just to see our beach mission friends in the park again,” he says.

However, he is also apprehensive because this year he is running a different style of camp. Instead of setting up big marquees, they will just set up their own small tents, and run a less structured program over a shorter timeframe.

“Our priority is going to be, first, airing out our very, very, very smoky tents [from 2020] and then just more relational evangelism, more going around the park, doing what the people are doing and just being, I guess, salt and light, rather than having quite a structured kids’ program,” he explained.

“We’ll run some events and we’ll still have some sort of open-air gospel talk, but Scripture Union’s done a very good job of explaining, if we’re running events in a particular way, then they need to be ticketed, so we’re leaning towards doing things a little bit less structured this year.”

Merry Beach Mission on the NSW south coast

Adam has only 30 team members confirmed compared with 80 in 2021, so he sees this year as a stepping stone, God willing, back to the full program next year.

“In some ways, I’m apprehensive in that we normally run a really tight ship, like, we’re very efficient, everyone knows their job, everyone performs their role for the good of the body [of Christ]. Yet, just because of the way we’re going this year, there aren’t all those structures in place and we’re really going to be depending on people to take initiative and to be proactive, and in some ways, that’s hard to plan for.

“So I have great confidence that the people that are coming, are going to be there for all the right reasons and it’s going to be great, but it won’t look the same. Part of that then means, will we still get to the end of the day and say, ‘Wow, wasn’t that great, thank God for all these things!’ I’m sure we will, but they won’t happen in the normal avenues.”

Adam, who has been a leader at the Huskisson beach missions since he was in Year 10 in 2007, says he is “eternally grateful” that his parents took their family camping holiday at beach mission.

“It’s just great having older Christians to look up to and see what it means to follow Jesus,” says Adam, a primary school teacher who is now studying at Moore College in Sydney.

He recalls that the “crazy” bushfire season began with a very big team including a satellite team of 15 that went each day to nearby Sussex Inlet.

“But halfway through the mission that road got totally burned out, so they couldn’t get there.”

And in what was a “real God thing” they changed their day off from New Year’s Day to a different date, which was the day they ended up having to bunker down in their tents because of a threatened bushfire.

“There was a guy in the caravan park that used to be very high up in the Fire Brigade. He came and he rolled out all of the hoses. One of our team members was volunteering for the RFS [Rural Fire Service] and she had special access to some people that she was contacting at headquarters saying, ‘Is it coming our way? What do we do?’ We had all that planned.

“Thankfully, we were all good. But the worst of it was the day that we’d already planned to not do anything. And the team did very well. They were very willing. Early on we advised asthmatics not to come, but the people that did come, who were feeling a little bit unsure, we sent them to a local Anglican minister’s house just to have air conditioning and clearer air.”

“We’re always surprised year to year by what God’s been doing in people’s hearts in the year. It’s very, very humbling in that respect.” – Adam Condie

Despite the poor air quality and the threat of fire, “we had more registrations in our first day than we did the year before because there was such a need for the kids to be doing positive things in the park. Slowly, people did go and we were asked to leave early, but we’re still very thankful for the time we did have there.”

Adam said his excitement about beach mission comes from seeing God at work every year.

“We pray and we prepare our testimonies and we normally prepare talks, and we’re always surprised year to year by what God’s been doing in people’s hearts in the year. It’s very, very humbling in that respect,” he said.

“In some of my first years, there was a boy in Mini-Mites named Tom, and he’s been there every year, from being a five-year-old who I just played with at the beach to now he’s finished school and I’m pretty sure off the back of our relationships with him he’s involved with Christian Surfers in Melbourne. So it’s amazing…

“I heard someone say during lockdown last year, sometimes before the seed is scattered, the ground needs to be ploughed, so in many ways God has been ploughing the ground. A virus the size of the end of a pin seems to be king of the world, yet we know that there’s a sovereign God.”

Merry Beach mission, on the NSW south coast

Nathan Milham confirms that Scripture Union breaks down barriers with people because it’s not associated with the institutional church.

“What we find every year is that over the summer break, people are just open to conversations, and recently in Australia, people are really open to spiritual conversations now more than ever.

“We’re looking ahead to this summer with great expectation. You know, people are looking for good news, they’re open to spiritual conversations. We have the best news. So now’s the time to kind of embrace God’s call to mission and give it a go.

“Even if people have gone away from the institutional church, which is the trend we see in Australia, they haven’t gone away from a belief in a higher power or in a desire to pursue their own spirituality.

“And this is the space that Scripture Union really thrives in because we don’t have the image of the institutional church. We’re just average everyday Christians –  we’re the mums and dads and uni students who actually believe this, and we come together under a neutral banner to have spiritual conversations.”

Here’s a round-up of beach missions happening in other states.

ACT

Beach missions in the ACT are back again this year with a mix of the old and the new. Merry Beach Mission has been running for more than a quarter of a century, but this year’s mission marks only its second year as an SU Beach Mission.

“We’d been running this outreach independently for the past 25 years, and we’d seen many lives impacted over that time. But by running it on our own, it meant our resources were limited and so too was our network of volunteers. Being able to make this an SU Beach Mission, we’ve been able to grow this ministry and access training and resources for our volunteers,” says Merry Beach Mission Director, Rob Clements.

The team of volunteers undergo SU cross-cultural training and mentoring prior to the outreach each year, specifically in the context of working with local Indigenous communities in Mogo.

Now that SU movements across the nation have merged to become SU Australia, Rob is excited about the prospects of reaching even more communities in future years.

SU Australia in the ACT will again run a mission in Tomakin, after launching last January, which already has up to 35 volunteer team members of all ages involved, which is exciting, says SU Australia Camps & Schools Coordinator, Ali Boyce.

“There’s lots of excitement from people wanting to reach out and learn more about how to share God with those around them,” she says.

Victoria

Tidal River

SUFM didn’t run in 2020, but now is able to return.

“Last summer, we made the hard decision not to run Tidal River SUFM. But this summer, we’ll be back at the Prom, and we’re excited! The last few months, years really, have been such a rollercoaster. Getting back to doing something we know and love will be such a wonderful thing.

We are really looking forward to the community that comes through doing mission, both within the team and with the campers! It is so uniting when Jesus’s love is shared with all those who will hear! Many people have felt the weight of recent years, and Jesus brings a hope of everlasting life.

We are excitedly planning and continuously trusting in the Lord for his provisions of all that is needed to get us down there. We know God is faithful and we are so thankful to Him for all things!” says Matilda Sheeran, SUFM Director.

Port Campbell

The mission is reigniting after 18 years, with the help of a local church.

“There hasn’t been a summer mission at Port Campbell for around eighteen years, but this summer that will change! There are so many children, young people, and families in Port Campbell, especially over summer. So I reached out to SU and they found directors and built a team!” said Jo Moncrieff, Port Campbell church member

“SUFMs have such a fun and clear way of introducing God to kids and their families. Now that the area is opening up again, an SUFM is a great way for people to get together; a good way to connect the community, in a way that’s relevant to kids.

“It’s wonderful to see young people with such a passion for sharing God with young families. And the teams learn so much about themselves through it, too. Our church is small, with not many young people. SUFM is a chance for our youngsters to see that there are other young people around who are passionate about sharing their faith, especially with kids, and doing something different with our community.”

Rosebud

SUFM is doing a blend of online and in-person events so that everyone can belong.

“Our last mission looked very different from normal. Rather than camping in the caravan park, we took our program online and shared Bible stories through Zoom using sock puppets, Pokémon, and Minecraft! The activities were absolutely spectacular in keeping kids engaged and exploring their questions. We got amazing feedback – one kid was very disappointed we weren’t going to continue all year long!” says Amber Waard, SUFM Director

“This summer we’re building on what we learned. I think the opportunity to engage online is fantastic. Our focus this year is on belonging. We’re planning a week of in-person events, and a week of online engagement using Minecraft. Everyone on our team and everyone who attends, either in person or online, is part of our community – they belong.”

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