Hi, in case you’ve forgotten who I am…I’m lex… remember me??
I realise it has been an absurdly long time since I last posted… well over three months!! And as always, all I can say is that it’s been because of time and the lack of it that I haven’t been updating. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to blog about, because God has continued to challenge, stretch and teach me over the last few months as much as he ever has done…but I’ve just been so busy as we have entered this summer term that stopping to reflect on what I have been learning and writing it all down for you has proved impossible.
What I though I’d share with you all today though, and I feel its appropriate, is my end of year review that I completed for Careforce recently. It sums up my thoughts and feelings about this year, which I’d have done on here anyway, but this way I can save a little bit of time and use the same thing twice!!
What have been some of the highlights of your year?
Some of the biggest highlights this year have been the variety of trips that I have been able to accompany the young people on. These trips are fantastic because it’s a real chance to build relationships with the children in a really fun and relaxed way, while doing some amazing things; and also it’s great to be able to take the young people out of Weston (which can become quite oppressive to them) and give them the chance to see other parts of the country. Another highlight for me has been the opportunity to preach on three occasions at the all age services on a Sunday. This has given me a massive confidence boost and will also come in a lot of use for the future. It has also been a lot of fun too, to try my hand at something new and find out that I’m not too bad at it!!
Tell us about one person you have met this year who has been a real encouragement or inspiration to you.
The person who has encouraged and inspired me the most this year is Libbi Beckwith, who is one of the other full time youthworkers at the project. We are very similar and get on very well, so it has been awesome to develop quite a close friendship with her over the year; and so in times of homesickness and loneliness she’s been a great encouragement to me, and it’s been lovely to have someone who I see a lot that is so close to me. But other than being good friends we also work really well together as colleagues in a team. She has also inspired me because she is so passionate about youthwork and so loves what she does, that on those bad days when work is tough and you don’t really feel like you want to work with yet another child she’s there with unwavering enthusiasm and energy that is contagious, and before you know it you’re as excited as she is again to be working with such amazing kids.
What have been some of the most difficult things you have faced during your year?
Moving away from a very large, very lively church with a lot of young people in it; to a church which has about 50 people on a good day was very hard to start with and that probably above everything else took the most getting used to. Also moving from a place where I had done a lot of work with young people who were very churched, who had a very good level of biblical understanding; to a project where the children I work with have no church background and no basic understanding was hard. It was a very steep learning curve to understand how to pitch my teaching and conversations at the right level for them. Also homesickness and loneliness was more of an issue sometimes than I thought it would be. I have always been very self sufficient and someone who quite likes their own company; in spite of that though I found that being completely separated from everyone back home, moving to a new place where I knew no one and had to make completely new friends hard.
Describe how God has brought you through such times.
How has God been changing you during your time as a volunteer?
I feel like I have grown up a lot over this year, when I first moved to Weston I was not only naive in my outlook on life but on the way I conducted my youthwork. I thought that as much as someone didn’t know about God all they needed was to play some silly games with a friendly youthworker, be told that God loved them and hear the gospel message in a simple way and that would be it. But that isn’t true, there are some people, some young people, that are just not ready yet and you can play your games and tell them the gospel until you’re blue in the face and they still won’t be ready to take that step. And that’s a hard lesson to learn, but it’s a vital lesson to learn in youthwork or you will totally drive yourself in to the ground after six months! God has changed the way I view my work as well, he has moved my perspectives from focusing on what I am doing, what I can do in my strength and ultimately where I am going wrong to look at it from a more outward perspective. That it’s about what I can do In God’s strength, how God can do works through me and how if people don’t respond to something that I deliver it isn’t about me and where I’m failing and what I haven’t done, it may just be the case that those people aren’t ready yet. God has done immeasurable work on my confidence this year, so much so that the way I prepare things, teach and deliver and generally interact with young people is almost unrecognisable from ten months ago.
What new interests, gifts or skills have you discovered this year?
I have discovered a passion and emerging gift for preaching (it’s nearly there, I need a few more practices and a lot more prayer and I won’t be half bad) and I’m so glad that I have been given the opportunity to explore this gift and passion this year. I have also learnt that I am much more arty than I ever thought before. I have always had a bit of artistic flair, but this year with the responsibility of organising craft for all the groups I have learnt so much more, been able to experiment much more and found a real love and passion that I never knew was there!
Please comment on the support you received locally, from Careforce and from home.
I have had a lot of support from home. Coming from a church where many people go out on mission and various things, it wasn’t a surprise to people back home when they found out that I was going on a short term mission. So I was and have been covered in prayer by my home church and people constantly are letting me know that they are thinking of me and keeping me and the work I am doing in prayer. Many people from my home church have kept up to date with my blog too and have enjoyed reading what God has been doing in my life this year. I have found Careforce very supportive as well. Thankfully, while there were no problems this year, I know that if there had been I could have confidently got in contact with any of the Careforce staff and things would have been sorted out really quickly. While I only made it to one of the conferences, the one I did attend was amazing and invaluable to the year. The conference is also such a different idea to any other gap years I know about, it’s a really good thing. Also the idea of area groups is a really good one; although mine didn’t really work this year because of us being so far way from each other, me being the only one that drove and having different days off to everyone else; I’m sure it is a real support to loads of volunteers.
What advice would you give to next year’s volunteers about prayer, time off, friendships etc.?
Before I moved to Weston having quiet time and putting time aside to read my bible and pray was always an issue, but when I moved down here it started to happen without me even noticing it because it became a necessity to my work, for me to be close in my relationship with God and not to be running on empty spiritually. So my advice would be; if you have quiet times already then great, carry them on! If you don’t set time aside everyday and it doesn’t come naturally when you start then strive to have that time because it is so vital to your year! When I moved down to Weston someone very wise said to me “guard your days off” and basically that is my advice to volunteers next year too! It’s easy to feel guilty on a day off if you feel like you’re not going out and doing things and making the most of that time off, but I learnt very quickly that if my mind and body needed it then literally doing nothing all day was nothing to feel guilty about. You work hard on your year and having a day just to crash and regroup is really important, time off needs to be kept completely as time for you and time about what you need. If there’s any advice that I can give to next year’s volunteers is that friendships are really important!! Don’t be scared to get friendly with people just because you’re in your placement for a year. Friendships and relationships both working and personally are really important to making sure you’re not falling apart and feeling totally isolated. So my advice would be to take any opportunity you are given to meet new people or to socialise with people from your placement, because only then are friendships really going to form and deepen.
In a couple of sentences how would you sum up your Careforce experience?
One thing that springs to mind above everything else is “too short”!! It is amazing how quickly the time goes and it’s quite sad when you get to this point and realise how fleeting the year has been. When I look back over this year I can see that God had been completely preparing this place for me before I got here and it’s amazing to see how things have worked out this year. If I was told I would spend my gap year here in Weston a few years ago I wouldn’t believe it because it is completely the opposite of a place that I thought I’d want to spend this year; but now at the end of this year I can see that this has been 100% the right place for me and I have had the best year of my life and wouldn’t change it for anything!
So there we go! That, at the moment, is some of my thoughts and feelings about the amazing year I have had!! I will most certainly post some more before i officialy leave Weston as I’m sure I will have some more things to say between now and the end of July.
(oh and I promise to never leave it more than three months between posts again!!)