Picture this: It’s a 2015 Deanery Youth Trivia night and I’m sitting at a table with Steph, the Darra-Jindalee Youth Coordinator, her husband and a few friends. We are all laughing and getting into the spirit of the night, enjoying the games and doing our best to mime a New Testament story (about a sheep I think) when Steph turns to me and says: “Hey Francis, would you be interested in coming along to Life Teen?” While I was quick to say “yeah sure!”, it wasn’t until this years Life Teen camp that I realised just how much being a Core Crew leader means to me.
I often find myself looking forward to Life Teen camp. You would have to call it the ultimate Life Teen experience particularly this years, as the theme was “I Dare You To Move”, answering Pope Francis’ challenge to not be boring couch potatoes, but to make our mark on the world. This year I spoke about St Paul starting from his past as the feared and Christian-hating Saul of Taursus to his conversion to become Paul. St Paul answered the call to get off the couch after acknowledging his sins and seeking forgiveness before going on to convert the masses to Jesus Christ and spread the Good News. Although his initial conversion was an extreme one, St Paul is known to have experienced conversion daily, acknowledging his sinful ways often in his numerous letters and willing others to do the same. His life is an amazing example of faith and how we, too, should seek to experience conversion daily by acknowledging our sins and seeking forgiveness through reconciliation.
Researching my talk gave me a chance to reflect on my Life Teen experiences so far. Why was I so quick to say “yes” to become a Core Crew leader? Darra-Jindalee Life Teen brings our young people together and inspires them to become the next generation of fire-starters, filled with the Holy Spirit to champion the word of God to those around them through faith and love. It provides a safe and joyful place for young people to speak openly about their faith and life experiences; and teach them what we, as Catholics, believe. This makes being a Core Crew leader worthwhile but actually, it’s not why I said “yes” during trivia to a Youth Coordinator I hardly knew.
As a young kid, my heroes were always the ones on T.V. fighting bad guys and saving the day. While I looked up to my parents, I never had someone personable to look up to, as a scared and awkward teenage boy, who was trying to live out his life in a society that rejects the idea of a loving God. So after falling on hard times myself and getting through it, I made a promise to myself that if I could be of help: I would work with young people and help them on their faith journey. Clearly God heard me make that promise to myself and promptly provided me with an opportunity to make good on it. As it turns out saying “yes” to being a Core Crew leader was actually me saying “yes” to God just like St. Paul did on the road to Damascus. I almost saw Life Teen as an opportunity to meet my younger self through other young people facing similar social and personal pressures, and reassure them not to be afraid, because Jesus is always with you.
As a leader on the recent camp I realized something that I wasn’t quite prepared for: While I had planned to lead the young people closer to Christ, it was they who are helping me get there too. There are some spectacular young people out there! It was quite special for example to listen to Alex, a Year 11 student, give witness to how his faith remains strong even as others judge him, and to read Nick’s blog post, about how much this years camp and the friendships he’s made through Life Teen means to him. What was truly a marvel to me was seeing how young people like Alex and Nick can display such maturity beyond their years to challenge me not to be afraid of proclaiming my faith.
It has been a real honour working with the Life Teen Core Crew and building great friendships with these young people. You can be certain that the Catholic Church is in safe hands when it is finally their turn to lead and light up the world.
By Francis Hoang