Cutting Spiritual Teeth in Byron Bay

By Heather Fletcher

Imagine you are a healthy 18 year-old with a thriving university career. Would you raise over $1000, travel thousands of kilometres and spend your precious holiday time learning to share the coherence of your faith in a hippie haven like Byron Bay?

That's what 20 Christian university students did for 2 weeks in their summer holidays. They put aside study, holiday jobs, and time with family and friends, just to focus on following Jesus and sharing his love with others in a spiritually alien landscape.

"This is one of the best places in the world for building your evangelistic repertoire," says campus missionary John Mayne. "Sharing your faith in Byron Bay makes you bring out the entire tool kit for sharing and interacting with people from the whole religious spectrum - new age to hard core atheism to Christian influences. Every spiritual and cultural background, you'll find in Byron Bay," John says. "You name the kooky, far out belief, and there are at least 3 old ladies and a dog who hold to it here in Byron Bay."

John describes Student Life's mission to Byron Bay as spiritual teeth cutting in preparation for campus ministry.

"It's a stretching place to share," John says, "Our students are thrown in the deep end here; later they can swim back to the shallow end." The "shallow" end is campus, where the academic culture is more conducive to clear thinking about matters of faith. This is strategic for sharing the gospel, as Jill discovered.

Jill is a PhD student in International Relations at UQ with 6 years of campus ministry experience with Student Life under her belt. Jill has always had a heart for evangelism, but without training, tended to share her faith in a confrontational, argumentative ways. When she got to uni, however, Student Life trained her in evangelism. During her degree, Jill says it seemed like everyone God brought across her path became a Christian! Yet her time in Byron Bay showed Jill that she still had more to learn...

In Byron Bay, Jill got into conversations with locals - Buddhists, Hindus and new agers. She had to learn how to guide conversations through syncretism or "hodgepodge religion" as she calls it, where people choose bits from contradictory religious beliefs and try to make a cohesive whole. Jill found that schoolies, by contrast, were surprisingly "switched on" and philosophical, and found their logical approach refreshing. This in turn sparked her enthusiasm for ministry on campus, where evangelism is comparatively easy.

John says that sending students on short term missions such as this one to Byron Bay, encourages students to make lifelong commitments to the Great Commission. John's trainee, Jimmy Lamont, agrees.

"Doing a summer mission trip was the main influence in me becoming a full time campus missionary," Jimmy reports. He now thrills to see students growing spiritually, just as he did. "When they see a community living out the Great Commission," Jimmy enthuses, "it transforms them!"