Here it is then – as promised, the first episode of Bjorn for Youth Work, as originally serialised in Youthwork magazine before you were born. Before you dive in, you may want to read this background/disclaimer piece. Hope you like it – if enough people do / I don’t get trolled with accusations of inter-euro-racism, I’ll post the other 11 over the coming weeks!
1: In the first episode of a new series, wide-eyed Swedish health club assistant Bjorn Argen relays the story of his calling into British youth ministry to a friend back in his homeland.
Greetings from England! My first few weeks have been very eventful, but everything is good. I have settled in well in my brother’s flat, and working at his health club is fun, although hard work. Just as I promised, I have also found a local church to attend, but I shall tell you much more about that later.
The English people seem nice enough, although they are a little strange. When I tell them that I am from Sweden, every one of them without fail asks me if I know Sven Goran Eriksson – and they are very surprised and disappointed when I tell them that I do not. They also assume that I still listen to Abba, and that I must drive a Volvo. They are very fixed in their stereotypical views of the Swedish, and I think that this is unfair.
By the way, great news – I’ve found the biggest Ikea you’ve ever seen, just near where I live! Can’t wait until payday!
I hope things are going well with the youth group back home. I’m sure they won’t even miss me; you and the team will do an excellent job. Just make sure you don’t make the same mistakes as I did when I took over, so remember: a) don’t promote ‘Christian’ graffiti, b) some musical genres are not suitable for worship (e.g. death metal), and c) never stand inside an external-locking sauna when Hans Djergaard is around.
Anyway, as I was saying, I’ve found a church near to the flat, and started going along about three weeks ago. It’s an old, majestic building, probably the tallest in the area, with magnificent stained-glass windows and expansive gardens. Straight away though, I noticed two negatives about the place. First – there’s nowhere to park the Volvo; and second – there are no young people.
I don’t mean not many. I mean none. At 25, I’m the youngest person in the whole congregation by several years. And with that in mind, you would have thought that my arrival on the first Sunday would have prompted a mad scramble of enthusiastic welcomes. But no, just an old man who asked if I was the one who’d put a half-digested cough sweet on the collection plate, and a middle-aged woman who wanted to know if I was a natural blonde. The place is about as welcoming as a Transylvanian castle in a thunderstorm.
The second week, I did a proper check, just to make sure that I wasn’t missing a couple of very short children sitting at the front. But I had been right the first time – not a single young person. And sitting through these services, you can pretty much understand why; the readers go slower than the British trains, the songs are about three hundred years old – and only slightly shorter in length, and don’t even ask me about the vicar. Suffice to say, he makes Charlie Chaplin sound like a good orator. I know what you’re going to say of course – just find yourself another church. And that’s exactly what I would do, except that I think God wants me here. I’ll explain why:
I had a dream. I dreamt I was in the health club, cleaning up at the end of the day. The mirrors in the men’s changing room (yes, I know, they have separate ones here!) had fogged up with condensation from the showers. I went to clean them, but I couldn’t wipe it off. Then this strange writing began to emerge, and it said ‘Bjorn, if there is no youth group, you must start o.’ I think whoever it was, meant to say ‘start one’, but they just ran out of mirror.
I woke up the next morning in a cold sweat, and prayed to God that he would confirm that dream was a sign from him. Then I went downstairs, collected my brother’s mail, and noticed that I’d received my first piece of British junk mail. (It’s amazing – they can’t give me a bank account yet, but already they’re trying to sell me stuff.) It was a free sample of a new breakfast cereal – and do you know what it was called? ‘Start-O’! I’m sure this was the confirmation I had asked for.
So, a little reluctantly, on the third Sunday I approached the minister to talk about the youth:
‘Hello,’ I said, ‘I’m new here. But back in my homeland Sweden I was a full-time youth worker. I’ve noticed that you don’t have any young people here.’
‘No’ he replied, nearly flooring me with his intense cabbage breath. ‘We don’t really feel that they’re our principal ministry target.’ Then he smiled at a 97-year-old woman who couldn’t quite manage to return the favour.
‘But, if you don’t have any young people in your church, then won’t you die out in about 50 years?’ And I was being generous.
‘Well,’ he replied, and I think he was joking, ‘we won’t be around to worry about it then.’
‘Let me look after the young people,’ I said, grabbing his arm and probably scaring him a little. ‘Let me be your youth worker.’
‘We can’t pay you!’ he snapped, as if I was threatening to rob him.
‘That’s fine – I have a job. I’m volunteering to help.’
This both knocked the stuffing out of him, and produced the required smile and handshake.
The job is mine, and I start immediately. So I’ve been in England a month, and already I have a youth group of my own. Now all I need is some young people. I’ll let you know how I get on.
Give my best to everyone back home,
Bjorn Argen is a volunteer youth worker based in Harley Newtown, in the North Midlands.
Not really, obviously.