An exciting few weeks for Bjorn for Youth Work. Not only has the readership rocketed into double figures; a movie version has now been discussed. Just between me and my wife, who thought it was a terrible idea. Anyway – we nearly at the end of the story. If you’re just joining us, start here.
Our summer mission was an incredible time. We saw the community united, we mobilised eight unconnected young people to work together, and we saw young people become Christians. Also, I passed out twice in an allotment.
Now, while those first three achievements were excellent, and combined to show me why I’d come here in the first place, the last one was slightly less encouraging. In fact, it led me to pay a visit to the local doctor. I told him about what had happened, and then he poked me with a few things.
‘Mr Argen,’ he said, ‘what does an average week involve for you?’
I explained that aside from my forty hours at the health club, the eight hours per week that I spent with my youth group; the church service, the home group, the mothers and toddlers morning and the Thursday night Salsa dancing group, an average week didn’t consist of very much. Oh, and there were my mentoring slots with Dave, but they often overlapped with Salsa, so I didn’t bother mentioning them.
‘It seems very clear to me,’ said the doc. ‘You’re exhausted, and if you don’t take a break immediately, you’re going to die.’
‘I’m going to die?’ I replied, mortified. ‘Really?’
‘No, not really,’ he chuckled. ‘But that old chestnut gets people every time!’
I resolved straight away to do two things. First, to take a break from work and youth work as soon as possible; and second, to find myself a new doctor.
A member of St Eric’s suggested that I travel north and spend a week by a lake somewhere. I left Dave in charge of the youth group (Tommy), and my brother in charge of the health club, and packed a bag. The vicar found me an old tent that was knocking about in the vestry, and grudgingly sent me on my way, moaning about how he never gets a holiday.
Less than 24 hours on from my appointment with Dr Chuckles, I found myself at the foot of a mountain. There was a babbling stream nearby, and on my arrival, a bird briefly settled on my shoulder. In many ways it was an idyllic and tranquil place; reminiscent somewhat of a scene from Bambi. Although in Disney films, the birds probably don’t leave small deposits behind when they settle on your shoulder. Anyway, that apart, this seemed like a pretty good place to pitch my tent, as there were less people around here than you’d find in the average Wimpy.
Now, as you know, putting together a simple tent should pose no difficulty for me, a Swede. For one thing, I come from the land that invented self-assembly, and for another, we Scandinavians have always been known for our outdoor pursuits. Of course, here in England, I wasn’t actually naked, but that shouldn’t really have changed anything. And yet, for some reason, putting up the vicar’s old tent suddenly became harder than a nightclub doorman with a big dog. I had poles, and there was a considerable amount of canvas (which may have been stored at some point in a railway toilet), and there were ropes too. But nothing seemed to fit with anything else. I needed Dave and Tommy here to help me with this. How were they, I wondered? Had they seen the girls who became Christians at Niceness in the Newtown™? My chest tightened. Where was the groundsheet? Should I have gone on holiday so soon after the mission? Was the health club okay without me? Had I packed a mallet?
Suddenly, I let out a great, involuntary scream. It echoed around the valley, scaring the surrounding wildlife and causing another little bird to leave a deposit on my other shoulder. It was then that I truly realised how stressed I’d become. My mind was so caught up in missions and saunas and Salsa dancing that I now lacked the mental capacity required to erect a simple tent.
I folded up the tent, and stashed it with my bag in some nearby bushes. Then I set off on a wander around the valley, with no particular route in mind. I just walked, and breathed, and took in the incredible nature around me. After about ten minutes of just walking and breathing, I started to speak. They were just fairly childish words, which explained how I was feeling and what I was stressed about. It was only about six or seven sentences in that I realised I was praying. And it was only at that point that I became conscious of the fact that I hadn’t done this for such a long time. I’d prayed with Dave and Tommy, sure, but not on my own – just my Father and me.
Immediately I felt a little of the stress lifting. I kept speaking, walking and breathing – it was like a tidal wave of words pouring out of me. I didn’t return to the foot of my mountain for several hours, and when I did, the tent almost seemed to assemble itself. It was then of course that I spotted the gigantic hole in one side, but fortunately it was a warm night.
I spent the next five days doing pretty much the same thing – walking and praying and getting covered in animal excrement. I got round to saying everything to God that I’d been planning to; and when I’d finished, he said a few things to me too. When I returned to Harley, I was like a new youth worker. It had been the best kind of holiday, and even the news that my youth group had substantially grown without me, and that the vicar was leaving St Eric’s, wasn’t enough to tighten my chest again – especially as I’d got back in time for Salsa club.
God bless you buddy,
Bjorn Argen is a volunteer youth worker based in Harley Newtown, in the North Midlands. Not really.