Thousands of young Christians milling around a large showground in Somerset for 5 days in August can only mean one thing: Soul Survivor. For only the second time in my life, I was one of those teenagers, travelling with a group of fourteen other young people and leaders from the local parish. We practised perseverance and discipline in setting up camp through heavy showers, heroically constructing a marquee that was far too big for us, then putting our tents (of varying sizes) in a large semicircle around it. Our soundtrack for the week was quickly established as the mooing of the cows in the field behind our marquee, and we looked forward to what God was going to do in the days ahead.
Describing all that happened at Week C of Soul Survivor would take far too long. Instead, I’ll try to give you a sense of what it was like, and touch on some of the major points from the days I was there.
Every day, there are two main meetings in the enormous Big Top. Nearly everyone on the campsite attends these meetings, and they normally take the form of worship, followed by a talk, followed by ministry, followed by more worship (though this is subject to change). These meetings are unlike anything else that I’ve experienced as a Christian: they’re charged with passion and the atmosphere generated by several thousand young people is amazing. The talks are designed to be as relevant as possible to as many people as possible, so while they don’t necessarily plumb the theological depths of all aspects of Christianity, they do speak directly into the lives of a large number of people there, and this is reflected in the amount of people who came forward for prayer at the end of every talk. The space that the Soul Survivor team (headed up Mike Pilavachi) gives the Holy Spirit to work however he wants to is fantastic, and you didn’t need to hear the testimonies that were often read out during the week in order to see the results of people meeting with God all around you. People were set free every night from physical, emotional and spiritual pain as God came to them and healed them.
I have attended Soul Survivor twice and New Wine seven times (the latter being a similar camp, but for all age groups), and in the past I’ve received a lot of prayer and ministry for various things, including giving my life to God for the first time (as far as I can remember) when I first went to New Wine at 8 years old. This year, I didn’t go forward for prayer and I didn’t receive any dramatic healing or anything like that, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t meet with God. Throughout the week I was blessed with a sense of peace as I prayed for people and saw others being released and empowered. Even so, God spoke to me about things in my own life, addressing certain issues. When you have an event like this – a space in which you are completely free to meet with God in a safe, friendly environment – you’d be nuts to stand by and just watch. But as I discovered this week, that doesn’t mean that you have to meet with God in dramatic ways, you can simply wait on him, pray and let him speak to you.
As well as those main meetings, there were three seminar slots throughout each day, and in each of those slots, a variety of hour-long talks were run, allowing more specific topics to be addressed than could be dealt with in the main meeting. I attended two such seminars: ‘What is Faith?’ by Clement Wong (a pastor from Malaysia) and ‘Starting Uni Well’ by the Fusion team (a group of Christians that link university students to local churches). Both seminars were excellent for very different reasons. Wong spoke superbly on a difficult topic, and once I’ve pinched some of the notes off one of my friends who went to it with me I intend to write a post on what I learned there, so bear with me on that one. The other seminar was less theological and more obviously practical, with an informative talk on the pressures of being a Christian at university and ways in which you can deal with that. I was particularly impressed with the way the speaker acknowledged throughout that even as Christians, we’ll react differently to different things, and gave good advice for a variety of situations. Well, I say it’s good advice now, but I’ll re-evaluate that in a few weeks’ time!
Another thing that struck me this week, more potently than when I’ve been before, was the purpose of going to a conference like Soul Survivor. However much you enjoy going, it’s pointless to say things like ‘I wish I could live there’, because the whole point is that it equips you to be a Christian in a secular society. The times of ministry, the talks, the experiences are all there so that we can go out and share with people what has happened. One thing was really driven home to me: all this is for God’s glory, not ours. If we’re healed by God, then we need to tell people about it, to proclaim what he’s done. If we experience God in another way, then what’s the point in keeping it to ourselves? Many people around the campsite wore t-shirts saying ‘I refuse to believe that this is a lost generation’. If we truly refuse to believe that, then we’ll go out into the world and give people the knowledge that we have: the knowledge that they need if they’re going to come to know God.
You might be reading this thinking that I’m crazy, that Soul Survivor is nuts, based on hyper-charged emotions and trendy worship music. You’re welcome to think that, but this week I saw God bringing joy to people who had been wrapped in chains moments before, I watched healing coming to the broken and I saw hope coming to the hopeless. That’s something to go crazy about.
Now it’s time to tell the world.