Queensland street preacher arrested and charged, facing trial

Street preaching group Operation 513 are crowd-funding for the trial costs of one of their preachers, George Youssef, after he was arrested on the Gold Coast while preaching in December 2015.

On the night of December 4 2015, a street preaching team of ten people from Operation 513 assembled in the Surfers Paradise Cavill Mall on Queensland’s Gold Coast for what team leader Ryan Hemelaar called their “usual outreach” in the mall every Friday night.

FamilyVoice, who have taken up the case and are helping to fundraise, says despite having permission to be in the Mall, a female sergeant asked the Operation 513 team to move on. The request came after Youssef mentioned a list of sins in the Bible, which included adultery, slander, theft, greed, swindling and homosexual conduct (like in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Youssef has been preaching with Operation 513 for about 18 months.

Hemelaar says the night’s disruption started when a drunk man approached the group and started yelling at Youssef, “calling him names and swearing.”

FamilyVoice reports that the female sergeant then asked the group to leave, suggesting the preaching was offending members of the public. When Youssef refused to leave, he was arrested and charged with disobeying a police direction.

“Ultimately, we won’t know the full results of our street preaching – only when we get to heaven. But our goal is to remain faithful and preach the word.”

Hemelaar says Operation 513 believe the police direction was illegal, as the group had permission to be there under the Peaceful Assembly Act 1992.

“We send notifications to police and council months in advance letting them know that we’d be there and at which times,” Hemelaar told Eternity. “They haven’t refused our notifications, so we’re protected from move-on directions [by the police].”

A similar case occurred in 2013, when a group of three men, also led by Hemelaar, were arrested in Nambour’s CBD on the Sunshine Coast while handing out Bible tracts and charged with the same offence. Charges were dropped a day before the trial, and the group maintained their right to preach on the street under the Peaceful Assembly Act.

Hemelaar, aged 26, has been a street preacher for ten years. He goes out almost every night to different public places around Brisbane and the Gold Coast. He runs his own IT business during the day which allows him enough flexibility to be able to commit his life to sharing the gospel on the street.

“Most people you see on the street will never turn up at church. It’s why I think it’s important for the church to go out to the world with the gospel,” says Hemelaar.

“And God shows the fruit of this ministry. In Brisbane City, where we have a regular Saturday night outreach, a man came up to me and said, ‘Hey, do you remember me?’ I didn’t really remember his face, but he said ‘You chatted to me last year at the Gold Coast and I’m now a Christian and go to a church near here.’ That’s really encouraging. Ultimately, we won’t know the full results of our street preaching – only when we get to heaven. But our goal is to remain faithful and preach the word.”

“The offence should be the gospel itself, because the gospel is offensive.”

In Adelaide, another group of street preachers from Street Church were banned from the CBD’s Rundle Mall after its preaching caused public anger. The ABC called the group “fire and brimstone” preachers, and showed film of the group with loudspeakers and placards and attracting protestors opposed to their views. The case was taken to the High Court, with the preachers arguing that by-laws that allowed the council to ban them from the area limited freedom of speech. The High Court found that the by-laws did not impact on freedom of speech and upheld the Council’s right to make by-laws on the proper use of roadways, including a requirement that persons seek permits to preach.

Hemelaar says Operation 513 are not “fire and brimstone preachers,” and seek to communicate the gospel in a “loving manner and not to cause unnecessary offence.”

“The offence should be the gospel itself, because the gospel is offensive. We do talk about heaven and hell, because we want people to understand the consequence of sin, but that’s not our focus. We want to give people a well-rounded message of Christianity and I think it’s important we do that in a gracious way.”

Operation 513 street preaching groups often use a sketchboard and paint while preaching to illustrate their message. “It attracts people’s attention and draws a good-sized crowd,” says Hemelaar.

George Youssef’s trial is scheduled for May 16, 2016 at Southport Magistrates Court. https://ozcrowd.com/campaign/77