Having taken a little festive break, everybody’s favourite fictional volunteer Scandinavian youth worker is back. This is probably my favourite ever episode, because it was partly based on a true story (not the camel bit). Catch up on the previous instalment here, or start from the beginning here. This series first appeared in Youthwork magazine.
The last time I wrote to you, I was depressed. My new youth group had no building, the church I’m working in had no young people, and I was losing hope quicker than a man who’s just walked into a Glaswegian pub covered in red and white face paint. Things looked pretty bleak. Now they don’t look quite so bad.
Of course, before it got better, it got worse. Remember that I was trying to redecorate the scout hut at the back of the church? Well, it appears that before my bright idea to turn it into a youth centre, no-one had been in there for about 15 years, save for a very hungry and very extended family of woodworm. I was just trying to rip out a rotten old bench when the whole place just seemed to disintegrate around me. It was like standing on a giant bouncy castle when someone stabs it with a Concorde. Poor Agnes the church secretary had only come in to pray for me. With all the crashing, dust and debris, I think she thought it was the Last Day. Actually, for her it nearly was, but the good news is that she made it through surgery and the doctors say she’ll be back on her feet in no time.
Anyway, apart from some particularly long shifts at the health club, that seemed to be the bottom of the spiral. Since then, something very encouraging has happened.
I have a young person. This, I think you’ll agree, is pretty vital to anyone attempting youth work. Admittedly, I’m still at least one short of being able to call it a group, but did you know that Mount Everest, the Atlantic Ocean and the Fatty Arbuckles gut-buster steak have now all been conquered by individuals?
Seeing Dave for the first time very nearly gave me a heart attack. He’d wandered into our church, of all places. He plopped himself naively in the middle of the back row, in one of the no-go seats that everyone leaves well alone because of the rumours that there’s a ghost who lives there. He looked and was dressed, well, like a regular young person, and he seemed excited about the prospect of being in church. What on earth was he doing here?
Just before the service began, I knew I had to go and introduce myself. For a start, he looked a bit lonely back there in the ‘headless horseman’ pew, but more importantly, I knew something he didn’t. The vicar was just about to launch into a lengthy sermon on ‘Camels of the Old Testament’. And if that didn’t put him off, the elaborate visual aid which the Over 65s Fellowship had spent the week sewing together – two elderly flower-arrangers in a camel costume – certainly would. So I had to get in there early.
‘Hi,’ I said. ‘I’m Bjorn – I’m the youthworker here.’ I was patently aware of how thin the ice on which I was skating was with that phrase – a simple glance around the youth-free building would have sent me tumbling through it.
‘I’m Dave,’ said the trendy, well-groomed, good-looking lad, who looked about as inconspicuous as a Japanese fisherman at a Greenpeace rally.
I was about to ask him some awkward questions, and possibly suggest that he try somewhere else, when he said something that knocked me backwards.
‘I’ve just become a Christian,’ he said, straight-faced. ‘I read this book about Jesus, and it just all made sense. And at the end of the book, it said I should come to my local church on Sunday. It said that I’d find a vibrant community of fellow believers, eager to help me grow in my faith.’
Which nearly made me laugh out loud. This church really seems to help its older members, but the only thing a young person is likely to grow in their faith here is little clumps of fungus. Instead of saying that though, I responded thoughtfully:
‘I think it’s really great that you’ve come here today, but maybe we should go somewhere and talk about what’s just happened to you.’
A little confused, he agreed, and we slipped out of the church, just as two women waddled onto stage in a poorly stitched costume that looked like it had last seen action in a 1982 school production. As the two youngest members of the congregation made their excuses and left, I couldn’t help noticing that one of the humps seemed to sag with disappointment.
I don’t want to sound faithless here, but sometimes you become so desperate about a situation that you don’t expect your prayers to be answered. I’ve been praying that a miracle would come along, but a miracle in Armani jeans and a desire to learn about God was more than I could have hoped for.
Dave and I went for a coffee in the church office. He told me that he’d had this incredibly strange feeling in his innermost being as he’d prayed his first prayer the previous evening. He did mention the fact that he’d consumed a rather hot curry earlier that night, but was sure it wasn’t down to that. I explained that this feeling was the Holy Spirit. He said he was desperate to know more. And so the youth group began.
The way he spoke about spirituality, and finding God, just blew my mind. Not since I have been in this country have I encountered anyone so excited about Jesus – and yet this guy knows next to nothing about him. The conversation seemed to help Dave, and yet I think that it helped me much more. Since I felt the call into youth ministry, nothing’s been easy; nothing seems to have gone right – if I’m honest, God hasn’t even felt close by. In that conversation, he most certainly did. The air was thick with him. I didn’t want the moment to end. But it did.
A loud crash and some screaming elsewhere in the building signified that two more old ladies were going to be joining Agnes in the local hospital (and in that costume, they’d have some explaining to do). Without wanting to sound callous though, it didn’t dampen my excitement. Armani-jeans Dave had agreed to join, or rather become, the church youth group. And while we may not have a building, or multiple young people, at least we dress well, and that’s a start.
Thanks for your prayers – keep ‘em coming!
Bjorn Argen is a volunteer youth worker based in Harley Newtown, in the North Midlands. Not really.