At the beginning of each term, a group of Christian girls at Presbyterian Ladies College Sydney hand out “grace packs” of free goodies, such as stationery, water and chocolate, to the rest of the school community.
It’s an easy way of demonstrating the idea of grace as a free gift of God, not something you can earn.
“We get a lot of happy people – they are really surprised that they don’t have to pay for these items,” says Stephanie Chu, chaplaincy captain for 2018, who leads the school’s Christian group, Fuel.
“Grace Week” is the brainchild of PLC chaplain Edwina Soh, and is designed to present the gospel in a way that will attract non-Christians to Fuel’s lunchtime sessions. And in that it’s been really successful.
“I would say that the largest intake we’ve had has been is from this year, where quite a lot more non-Christians than Christians have been interested in coming, which is really good because they’re not afraid to ask their questions,” says Stephanie. “That way we get a lot of people who are exploring Christianity to come into Fuel instead of just having it as somewhere where people see it as exclusively for Christians.”
“We get a lot of people who are exploring Christianity to come into Fuel.”- Stephanie Chu
As chaplaincy captain, Stephanie has been working closely with her good friend Rebekah Kang, who is this year’s PLC school captain.
“It’s been an incredible opportunity for us to really work as a partnership and work together in, I guess, serving the girls at Fuel but also the girls in the wider school community and particularly in our year group,” says Rebekah.
She adds: “Earlier in the year we had the opportunity to talk to our year group in a chapel session and we shared our testimonies in front of our year groups together.” There was a lot less fear involved in doing it with a friend, she explains. “Afterwards I had a lot of my friends coming up and telling me that it was great to hear my story from a Christian perspective – and these were friends who weren’t Christians as well.”
“I’ve really reminded myself continually that it’s not myself working in this position but God working through me.” Rebekah Kang
One of the aims of Fuel is to encourage Christian students to be bold in being openly Christian in the school context. Rebekah says she was quite apprehensive about making her faith known to the people around her before she started coming to Fuel in Year 9.
“But I have found that, in my leadership role, it’s really given me an anchor and I’ve really reminded myself continually that it’s not myself working in this position but God working through me; and so, it’s really helped me and I think it’s also definitely encouraged some of the other girls who are Christians at school as well, girls who are in Fuel and aren’t in Fuel.”
As the incoming chaplaincy captain for 2019, Year 11 student Taylor Chan also found it hard to be outspoken about her faith among her peers, even though she came from a Christian family and attended a Christian school.
“I was really quite hesitant to start coming to Fuel just because of that environment,” Taylor says.
“But I found that, once I started coming, it was really so encouraging just to see other girls living for Jesus at school and really quite inspiring to see how open they are to the non-Christian girls as well and how they can air their questions.
“It was really so encouraging just to see other girls living for Jesus at school.” – Taylor Chan
“So even though we have so many other initiatives at Fuel, I really think our weekly mission at Fuel, meeting up here together with the Christian and the non-Christian girls, I find that most encourages me and I hope to continue that.”
Taylor says she is now much more open about her faith with her friends. “I don’t try to hide it anymore – it’s very much a part of me and how I live, not just in school but in every aspect of my life.”
As a self-described “music head” who plays the violin and sings, Taylor recently helped stage an outreach activity called Fuel Unplugged, where a band played Christian songs in the Fuel room and everyone joined in the singing.
“You could just see people’s hearts open up a bit more when there’s song.” – Taylor Chan
“Anyone was welcome, and you could really feel a sense of community that we’re building here,” Taylor says. “It was really inspiring to lead that session with the other girls because you could just see people’s hearts open up a bit more when there’s song.”
In leading Fuel next year, Taylor says she wants every girl to feel she can come to Fuel and ask all her questions about Jesus and the Christian faith.
This spirit of intellectual inquiry is what attracted Michelle Smith, who is now on the leadership team at Fuel.
“Basically, I really like asking questions,” she says. “In Years 9 and 10, I did a course on philosophy and belief, and I actually just got back from Canada doing a summer course on theology, and so basically my faith is really based on asking questions and having doubts and learning to sit with the doubts and knowing that my faith really holds up to all these questions.”
“My faith is really based on asking questions and having doubts and learning to sit with the doubts.” – Michelle Smith
Michelle found it exciting to be able to give a speech at Fuel at the end of last term about why she became a Christian and share the basis of her faith. She now feels able to talk to her friends about faith and spread the word of God to people she wouldn’t usually meet.
“I get to lead groups at Fuel on Wednesday lunchtime and talk to younger girls and form connections that way. It means that I get a better understanding of what God us doing and the meaning behind all of that and why it’s so important in my life,” she says.
“It’s great to have a sense of community and have other people who are also following God and to just be able to talk to them about your doubts and see what their perspectives are.”
Though they only started attending Fuel this year, Sophie LoRusso and Iris Gou have thrown themselves into outreach, helping to lead a primary school Christian camp, KCentral, for the local community in the winter holidays.
“I think it was a really good programme to let them know about Jesus and hear stories from the Bible with lots of fun activities,” says Iris.
Sophie adds: “We got their attention through cooking and craft, things like that, and we also sang songs which they really engaged in, and then we did little Bible sessions … I really enjoyed that and I also learned a lot from the kids because they have different perspectives. It was just really interesting knowing that what they learn is what we learn. We could just talk about it and learn together.
“I had the best week, I honestly enjoyed it so much. And when they’d ask you questions you’d be like ‘I never even thought of that, I’ll go and formulate an answer and then get back to you and let you know and we’ll work it out together.’”
“It was so enjoyable for me as I got to relive the joy of being a child touched by faith.” – Miriam Ly
Year 10 student Miriam Ly was also involved in KCentral, which was for children not only from PLC but also from the local area and two local churches.
“It was really valuable because I got to know so many of the kids at PLC who are coming up next year to Fuel, so I was able to create so many long lasting relationships throughout the whole week; and it was so enjoyable for me as I got to relive the joy of being a child touched by faith and they were all so excited to hear the Christian message, which was really beautiful,” she says.
“Before I came to Fuel I was really quite nervous about being a Christian because I didn’t know any other Christians in my year group and I felt really kind of isolated, but once I started going to Fuel I met so many Christians in my year but also in the years above and was able to be really mentored by the senior girls and they’ve really cared for me as one of the young girls at fuel. But also just, like, loved me and just reminded me of God’s love and my confidence as a Christian at school.”