If ever there was such a thing as a Neverland, a Narnia or a paradise, the Soul Survivor summer festivals would be mine. In and amongst the 10,000+ people worshipping their hearts out to their loving creator, there’s me – wanting to be nowhere else. I like to think I catch a glimpse of the glory of heaven in that crowd. One of the things I love about the Soul Survivor Church is that they value what God wants to do over what they have planned to do. That means if God wants to do something different with His people, the organisers step back and watch, rather than intervene. And God moves EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. What does this say to us as the collective church? Do we still spend too much time “babbling on like the pagans do” (Matt 6:7)? What if we just waited for Him more often? If this suggests anything, it suggests God is SO eager to meet with His children that whenever we give Him the opportunity, He comes running with both arms open – just like we are told in the parable of the prodigal son. In this – slightly longer – blog post, I want to recap my personal experiences of the final Soul Survivor festival ever.
Sat 17th – Day 1
Picking James up and packing his bags into the car to take him to his first and last SS filled me with a bubbling excitement from the moment I saw his expectant face. See, James has been a Christian for a little over a year, but has heard me ramble on about SS for nearly 5 years! Despite my efforts in this blog post, having been, he will now tell you that there is no way you can describe SS to someone that does it justice. It’s just indescribable! As we arrived at our Church offices, it was so nice to see everybody and there seemed to be an air of community straight off the bat – even though not everybody knew each other. We had 5 people (including Darrel and James) that had never been to a SS festival, 3 of them being new to the youth group too.
There wasn’t enough space for everybody to go on the minibus, so Henry and I joined Darrel in the van with all the equipment. It was here that Henry and I discovered we had a really similar taste in music… so you bet we belted our lungs out the entire trip! (poor Dazza…)
Prayers were answered as we arrived safely at the grounds. The rain stopped and the clouds parted, making way for a relatively warm and dry trip. We worked together to put up our communal marquee and group tents and had our first meal together as a youth group (Thank you, Jo. It was delicious!). Darrel also came up with a really good idea that helped us with our bonding. We called them prayer partners. It’s a bit like secret santa, except the name we drew would be someone we would look out for and pray for during the week instead of just buying a gift (although gifts were allowed). More on this later… Following that, we headed to the Big Top for the first main meeting. Mike Pilavachi, one of the pastors of SS, led. His talk felt very nostalgic as it was sort of a “back to the basics” of faith and reminded me of some of my first SS memories. I love the way he speaks because he never fails to capture the simplicity of God’s love for us, His children, and the sheer lengths God goes to for us. Relationship with Him above all else. 239 people gave their lives to Jesus on this first night. Oh, how we celebrated! But I would have loved to have seen heaven! That evening, I decided to spend some time with God by myself in late night worship – An acoustic, dimly-lit room with space to move around, lie down or worship however you feel at the time (there’s so many people in the Big Top that it’s difficult to worship this way). Here, I reencountered the freedom I have always felt worshiping at SS. This time, I planned to take this freedom home with me and in fact, I wondered why I hadn’t done so already. As I walked back to camp, I felt the life of the marquee increase as I got closer. The chatter of a growing family really puts a smile on your face! I went to bed very content and very aware that God was already moving.
Sun 18th – Day 2
James and I woke up quite early surprisingly! Feeling a little stiff-jointed, we got up and joined the 3 youngest of the group (already awake) in the marquee. It was here that they got to laugh their heads off at us looking fairly stupid. You see, it was my bright idea to try out some yoga to loosen us up – forgetting we both have terrible balance. But to be fair, we felt great and ready to face the day afterwards! James and I challenged ourselves to do this every morning, and over time one or two other lads joined in – four sleepy 18 year old boys failing at yoga first thing in the morning probably isn’t the prettiest sight though…
After having my standard breakfast and cuppa and getting ready, I headed over with James to my first seminar of the festival: Prayer ministry 101 with Ali Martin. For those who don’t know what prayer ministry is, it’s when we make space for God to move in us and our lives by praying and waiting on Him. What results from it, whether it be healing, direction or just simply peace, is nothing to do with anything the pray-er(s) or pray-ee are doing. The pray-ee is simply opening themselves up to the work of God’s Spirit, and the pray-er(s) are simply listening for anything God might want to say to that person. Why is the second or third person needed? – I hear you ask… Well I have often pondered this myself. In Ali’s seminar, she explained that we belong to God who wants to be intimately involved in our lives. He doesn’t need us to do anything (he’s God!) , but he likes to do things with His children (“come and join in with what I’m doing here son”). One of the most frequent and astonishing ways God moves, is when he lets a pray-er in on something that’s happening in the pray-ee’s life that would have been impossible to know otherwise. Those in the church know this as a ‘word of knowledge’. As this seminar was focussed around the role of the pray-er, Ali’s advise was to pray simple, short prayers and simply wait for one of two things: God to move in the pray-ee or God to speak to us.
Listening for God while praying for someone is important because Ali told us about something she liked to call God’s ‘secret plan B’. One time, Ali went for physical healing but during the prayer space, the pray-er had a word of knowledge which revealed something deeper in Ali that needed His attention – something else in her life she was struggling with. God’s priority is the deeper place. Sometimes He doesn’t restore surface issues because they allow Him to deal with deeper ones. Often what we find is the more time we wait in His presence, the more He does. Of course, God is always present. But in this scenario, what I mean by presence is the tangible recognition of His works.
Anyway, there is plenty more detail I could go into about this seminar but I feel I have shared the main points. MOVING ON!!
In the morning main meeting I had a chance to put what I’d heard at the seminar into practise. Did I take it? Not this time. There were 5 countable moments during the worship where I felt a name of someone in my youth group pop into my head. For each moment, I would look around for them and when they were in my sight I would look them up and down and think “nah they don’t look like they need prying for right now”. How mistaken I was! We got back to camp and over lunch Darrel asked us all if anyone felt that God was doing something with them. Only 5 people responded/shared. 5 people. One by one, the 5 people whose names popped into my head shared what God was doing with them (addressing an issue in their lives) in that service. I was speechless. What was God saying to me? He was telling me that I do hear Him. I am not needed, but if I am open to it, I can come and join in with what He is doing with people and share in their joy/pain. And that, ladies and gentlemen is foundational to relationship. This revelation encouraged me to take that leap of faith more often and pray for as many people as I could for the rest of the festival! I got to be involved in some pretty cool stuff!!
Later that day, I was privileged enough to meet up with a few of the peeps I will be spending the next season of my life with on Soul61. The four of us got together at a seminar and agreed to get Soul Survivor’s famous hot chocolate mountains afterwards. For some reason, I had been worried that I might not get on with the people I was going to meet on the course; but after this, there is no doubt in my mind that I am going to have a brilliant year with them. We’ve started a lil group chat and it’s non-stop laughs for me!
We ended this jam-packed day by going to the silent disco as a group and then heading over to late night worship to wind down.
Mon 19th – Day 3
In the morning service there was a great analogy concerning the Holy Spirit that has stuck with me. If you had a really nice and expensive car and you were going around town pushing it from behind, even though you had it, that’s not how it’s supposed to work – it’d be a pretty big waste! The way you drive a car is by getting in, pressing the ignition and letting it take you places. Imposing your will on the Holy Spirit is like pushing that car from behind. Saying “yes” to letting the Holy Spirit take you through life is like getting in and pressing the ignition. Let Him take you!! This analogy was described to us by the leader of one of three new festivals that will be starting in Soul Survivor’s place. Each morning we had a talk from the leader of each of them. I think Soul Survivor have passed the baton on so humbly and endorsed the next events as best they possibly could. They do sound and look brilliant, and depending on what Soul61 decide to do with me, I may end up helping out at one of them next summer.
During the ministry time, James had his first major God moment!! I won’t go into details because that kind of thing is personal to him, but I am so excited to see how God is going to use him here on in!! He has so many plans with God at heart now! That afternoon we had the first outbreak of Bum Slaps (for those who don’t know, this is just a very fun football game)! The group really bonded over this and Henry’s leadership really encouraged the younger ones to get involved too. This game became a regular occurrence throughout the rest of the festival. After another delicious meal, we headed to the evening service and listened to a mic-drop talk about identity and a visit from one of my favourite worship bands – Rend Collective! They even played their new song (which is AWESOME – check it out) ‘Your Name Is POWER’. It was truly fantastic.
Earlier this day, we were discussing how smart Edith seemed, and naturally this led to several challenges to games of chess! We had a little tournament planned. Darrel vs Edith. Winner vs me. Winner vs James. You see, this year there was a new cafe called ‘Shuffle and Shake’ (a genius name, may I add) that has board games available to play and serves milkshakes! Darrel won against Edith and I beat Darrel in 5 moves!! (Darrel, if you’re reading this – sorry!). James bailed out of fear (obviously) so I rematched Darrel and in a much longer game, he won. We have a tie breaker game planned for some time in the future. I’ll keep y’all posted ;). We all bought pizza to share afterwards – what a night!
The next day was Sarah(my sister)’s 15th birthday so Anastasia took her out of camp to distract her while we set up decorations and things to surprise her at midnight. As we heard the voices draw nearer, Henry got a guitar at the ready and…
Tue 20th – Day 4
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOUUUUU!!! May I say, we sang angelically! It was a great moment and Sarah was very surprised and happy about it all. The moment we finished singing however, there was a man in a high-vis jacket behind the marquee who – without missing a beat – said this: “yes, happy birthday Sarah, however we have just received a noise complaint”. We all fell about laughing. It was a combination of his tone of voice, the timing, and the idea that within the 30 seconds we may have been loud enough to disturb anyone, someone had leapt up out of their tent, found a member of the site team, complained to him, and he had made his way over to us to burst our celebratory bubble. Obviously not! But we respectfully apologised and tried to keep the noise down for the rest of the night.
In the morning, we made sure Sarah was enjoying her birthday but tried to run it as normally as possible in order to not raise her suspicions that we might have a second surprise. During the main morning meeting, I left “to go to the toilet” and found my parents who had bought a day pass to come and join in on Sarah’s celebrations for the day. We loved seeing them in the environment we love so much and we all went out for a family meal at the food vans afterwards – fancy, I know!
That afternoon I went with James to a seminar named ‘How to hear from God’. This is what I took away:
- Spend more time listening. The more personally you know someone, the quicker you are to recognise their voice. John 10:27 says “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me”.
- Be more still. People who are really interested in hearing from God must pay a price: they must discipline themselves to be still before God. You shout at your enemies. Whispers are intimate. God loves you and wants to have a relationship with you. Let Him into the silence where it’s just you and Him. Quality time.
- The Bible is the primary way we hear from God and if any other word contradicts it, it’s not a word (“word” in this instance, meaning something God has said). Other ways include pictures, dreams, visions, an audible voice, impressions (“rings true in/with our Spirit/the Holy Spirit – one I personally experience frequently), words through others, circumstances (I call them God-incidences), music, objects and CREATION!
Coming back from this seminar, everyone was acting really sketchy around camp… My Dad was sneaking around the back of tents, there were lots of different shaped containers being moved around and lots of people seemed to be on some sort of look-out. A few moments later, I notice Darrel coming back with Andrew after having coffee. Andrew suggests taking a picture of Darrel and Darrel agrees. 3… 2… 1. SPLASH!! Chaos! Darrel is soaked and while I had been gone, the others had planned a surprise water fight – ambushing an oblivious Darrel. I couldn’t resist joining in, so I grabbed a plastic jug and ran to the nearest water point. I ended up being one of the most soaked there – I must have picked up some enemies somewhere, or else I am just really bad at water fights! Loved it!
After another Spirit-filled evening at the Big Top and more food, friends and festivities, we rested our heads with an image God had given Henry. At the beginning of the week, our group was like our tents. All separate pieces, in different places scattered on the ground. Now, however, our group has bonded and come together to form this large, strong, tent like the Big Top that was full of warmth, love and family. And of course, in the presence of the LORD – a very biblical premise (in the Old Testament, God took residence in a tent for a time).
Wed 21st – Day 5
The last day of Soul Survivor had me feeling quite desperate to experience everything as fully as I could so I decided not to go to any seminars and just make the most of the environment I was in. We had an earlier start than usual, because in this morning service, we were to enjoy a shared communion at the Big Top. If I ever find myself wanting to be more present, I often turn to a sensory exercise where, one by one I spend time paying attention to each of my senses. I often wonder (and think probable) if God intended this with communion. Jesus asked us to remember the significance of what He did for us on the cross by thinking of the bread as His body and the wine as His blood. Praying through the events of the cross is one thing. Praying through the events while doing a sensory exercise during communion and worship, is another! The various tastes and textures of the bread and (surprisingly real, alcoholic) wine brought what was abstract thinking into the real, tangible world. Ingenious, LORD.
Later in the day, I decided to I wanted to buy myself a little gift to remember the year at Soul Survivor and something perhaps for my prayer partner. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything that fitted or took my fancy for myself. However, my sister later surprised me with a keyring of the secret fish symbol used by Christian’s to recognise one another and churches while being persecuted by the Roman Empire. I love it and it is currently on my keys if you ask to see it :). For my prayer partner, I bought and wrote a few things too!
After another game of Bum Slaps, we packed down the marquee, ready for leaving the following morning, and all got dinner from the vans before heading to the final service. Oh, I nearly forgot!! The last night is ALWAYS fancy dress. This year’s theme? FOOD! Coming into the Big Top, the costumes varied from 100s of banana people, to hot dogs, Dominos Pizza boxes and watermelons. As for our lot, James and I went as egg and bacon, our group leaders went as Subway workers, and my sister dressed stereotypically French and brought along a small frying pan (french-fry)! The service continued in it’s worship, talk, worship fashion.
We watched a video compilation of big Soul Survivor moments since it all started in 1993 and sang our hearts out (as hard as we could) until the very end. Afterwards, we were treated to fire pits, acrobatic performers with lights/fire and lots of music that made for a very special celebratory evening for all Soul Survivor have done for the youth of this country and beyond. As I watched the fireworks amongst the huddled members of my group, I silently thanked God deep from within, for all He had done for me through this festival and all the lives that have been touched, healed and met with, over the years. Soul Survivor, you have been so grace-filled in your approach, and humble in bowing-out. Thank you from all of us, you have been such good and faithful servants.
I am going to end this blog post here, as the rest of the story is about getting home – very boring and a little sad for me to write about. Instead, here is a song that was used a lot at this year’s festival. I believe it sums up what God has done with Soul Survivor, quite well.
Thank you for reading this much longer blog-post to the end! I hope it gave you a little idea of what I experienced. It’s been a while since I’ve posted but I will endeavour to keep blogging. I’ve been very busy with a packed summer and Soul61 preparations – but more on that in a future post.
Have a good week,