What do teenage girls need in order to grow into mature, thriving, Christian women? I think that’s the question that many of us who work in youth ministry, education, youth work or counselling ask weekly, if not daily. It’s certainly the question asked when fraught parents and caregivers watch on as their teens navigate their way through friendship difficulties, lack of confidence, risky choices, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, stress and intimate relationships. How can we help? What have we missed? How can we help a young person to find and grow their relationship with Jesus while they are overwhelmed with everything life is throwing at them? What about the great faith chasm that seems to open up for many as they finish high school? Why are so many of our young people saying goodbye to Jesus when they say goodbye to childhood?
For young men, Scripture Union in South Australia has been addressing similar, but contextually appropriate, questions through the annual GENTS camp for the past eight years. In 2021 we thought, what better time to kick off a new offering for girls than in the midst of a pandemic? While there were a few touch-and-go moments that had us wondering if a whole year’s worth of work would go to waste, the inaugural SQUAD Camp, by the grace of God, was able to go ahead over the October long weekend in the beautiful Adelaide Hills.
I challenge us all to take the time to really see every young person and invest in helping them to discover how God is shaping them to serve him.
SQUAD Camp is so named because part of its goal is to create a space of belonging with purpose. In the context of team sport, a squad is a group who have a shared goal (perhaps winning the premiership), who are working together to reach it (training, honing skills, developing strategies) and who each have unique roles (striker, goalie, bowler, base, flyer, ruck, guard, etc.). Biblically, this aligns with the image of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12. We are each uniquely gifted by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of worshipping God, making him known and serving him and his people in love. We want the girls who come to SQUAD Camp to have the opportunity to explore the gifts God has given them in a safe and supportive environment. There is so much power in being acknowledged, “seen” and spurred on in your gifts. At camp, we ran workshops to give the girls a taste of what it might look like to use their gifts for God’s kingdom. Over the course of the weekend, we explored evangelism and sharing our story, social justice, art, dance, songwriting, poetry and spoken word, and looked at God’s creation to be able to share his story creatively. As leaders, it was a joy to watch as God worked in and through the campers, revealing the gifts that he is stirring up within them. These are the moments we can speak words of life and encouragement! In fact, this wasn’t even limited to the workshop setting. After watching a young person weave together an engaging and hilarious story in a game of ‘Mafia’, we were able to encourage her in what is a clear gift for storytelling and captivating an audience. Perhaps the beginnings of an evangelistic gift!
In response to the findings of their 2020 Youth Survey Report, Mission Australia advised that as young people step into independence they need to be “developing and achieving” and “be able to participate as valued members of society”. One way that we can be helping our young people transition from childhood into adulthood within our churches is to be invested in giving them opportunities to explore and use their gifts in a meaningful way within our communities. I encourage us all to think more broadly than just having young people on our music teams or helping in kids’ ministry as “extra bodies”. Consider how well you know your young people. There are always going to be obvious leaders, but I challenge us all to take the time to really see every young person and invest in helping them to discover how God is shaping them to serve him.
The Mission Australia Youth 2020 Youth Survey also reported that the top three concerns for girls aged 15 to 19 were coping with stress, mental health and body image. SQUAD Camp is designed to take campers on a journey from Year 7 all the way through to a ‘rite of passage’ experience in Year 11 or 12, providing them with a toolkit to combat these concerns. Each year level has a specific focus targeted to the issues that girls face as they move through adolescence. Topics are looked at from a biblical perspective, and the girls work through these issues with their leaders, gaining practical skills for life. On camp, our Year 7s looked at friendship and empathy, Year 8s at comparison, Year 9s at confidence and Year 10s explored risk-taking. Sadly, we did not have any campers who were old enough to undertake our rite of passage this year, but we look forward to having some 2022 campers join us for this transformational experience.
When it comes to the rite of passage, we are seeing in society that young people are struggling to make the transition from childhood to adulthood in a positive way. Stats from the Mission Australia Youth Surveys show that the percentage of young people involved in religious groups has dropped by around 6 per cent in the past five years. Census data also backs up the trend that shows young adults are leaving the church. The outcome of having a young person go through a rite of passage experience is that they come out the other side with a greater sense of belonging and links to the community. If we can create an experience that provides these bonds to a Christian community, we have a far better chance of seeing our young adults stay within our churches and growing in their faith.
2021 SQUAD Camp was just the first step in providing the teenage girls of South Australia a safe space to belong, to explore what it means to believe in Jesus and to actively work towards becoming the woman God is calling them to be. With daily talks from the ever-engaging Kelly Beames (Director, One50 Dance) our campers were not only reminded that they are God’s children, chosen by him and empowered to serve him but they also learned some important dance moves to ward off drop-bears! The success of this camp was thanks to the amazing bunch of leaders who poured their hearts and gifts into encouraging and discipling the 30 young women who came along. Great thanks to Anglican Deaconess Ministries for providing funding (through their Annual Funding Event) towards this camp, which will enable us to continue to promote it for 2022 and beyond. Here’s a final quote from one of our campers when reflecting on their camp experience: “We can’t do what God calls us to do by ourselves, but with his help and the Holy Spirit, we can.”
Alaina Frost is a camp coordinator for Scripture Union Australia. For more information about SQUAD Camp, contact Scripture Union Australia.