When God does Immeasurbaly More: the amazing ministry of Soul Survivor
Ruth Samuels, Director of 0-25's
For many years, one week in August has been the biggest highlight of the church year for the young people at our church - Soul Survivor. Each year, we would take along a group of teens, some knowing what an amazing experience it would be, and others not really having a clue. Each year, we would see members of our group bowled over as they worshipped with their peers on an epic scale, deepen friendships, push the boundaries of curfew, and experience the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit. For a number of those years, I had the privilege of helping out as a leader, being filled and blessed as I was brought along for the ride.
However, the lead up to 2019’s festival was different. Having joined the staff team at All Saints Peckham in October 2018, after being a member of the church for ten years, I was now the person responsible for organising this hugely significant event - and I felt the pressure. Well-meaning friends would ask if I was excited about Soul Survivor as the date for our departure got closer. “NO!”, I would say. “I’m far too stressed out with the organisation and the logistics!”. The bar had been set so high by my friends who had previously held the role, and I was feeling pretty daunted. Not only was I in charge of the largest group we had ever taken - which included young people and leaders from another local church in Camberwell and also from the West Midlands - but if I messed up, I could ruin the last experience of Soul Survivor the young people in my group would ever have! I had known that each successful year at Soul Survivor had taken masses of time, energy and meticulous planning but, when faced with the reality, was I up to the task?
Thankfully, despite all the voices of self-doubt, I was able to remember that God promised that His power is made perfect in my weakness. I remembered that He loved each individual in my group far more than I ever, ever could, and wanted to meet with them and provide for them during our time away. And I remembered that as long as I did everything in my power to organise a great trip, God would do everything in His power to make it so. And He didn’t disappoint.
One huge blessing was the fantastic team of volunteer leaders that I was provided with. Each of them made sure that our time aware was filled with lots of fun, delicious food, and friendly banter. Within our group, there was an incredible sense of togetherness and family, with older teens and younger children coming together to enjoy time with one another. A major bonding highlight was doing the electric slide with our whole group, from the youngest to the oldest, as we washed up after lunch!
There are so many things that have made every year at the Soul Survivor summer festival absolutely incredible. Across the span of over a quarter of a century, the team have clearly figured out how to do things well. From the logistical miracle of accommodating over 10,000 in campsites across the showground in Peterborough, to activities that keep a diverse group of young people engaged and entertained, as a leader you are made to feel that you are being held by a safe pair of hands. And just like that, I started to feel at peace.
Of course, the main meetings are the bread and butter of Soul Survivor. The sung worship is amazing, but this isn’t just down to fantastic worship leaders and musicians, new songs, and top-notch sound systems. It’s because everyone is absolutely going for it! In that Big Top, people are serious about praising Jesus like no one’s watching, and you can’t help but press in. Then there are the talks - wonderfully woven stories that sweep you along to discover truths about God’s character and work in the lives of His people, both 2,000 years ago and today. Soul Survivor leader Ali Martin has even developed video teaching resources to equip young leaders to prepare talks as engaging as the ones they were impacted by at the festival, which are free and easy to access and absorb (do search for the ‘Loud & Clear’ course on YouTube).
Something that I believe Soul Survivor (both the festival and the church in Watford) is particularly brilliant at is facilitating powerful and inclusive response times and ministry. By ‘ministry’ I mean led opportunities to directly encounter the Holy Spirit, be that through words or pictures called out from the front that people can respond to, prophecy, or just waiting on the Spirit to move in whatever way He chooses. Mike Pilavachi is an expert at demystifying these special - and often quite intense - times. For many young people, this will be the first time they have seen people laughing, crying, and even falling down as a result of what the Lord is doing. Mike is great at reassuring those who might think that they are being overlooked by God if they are not showing an outward physical response to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. A simple, “I’m not feeling anything. Andy are you feeling anything? Andy never feels anything!”, sets everyone at ease, and the response time continues.
It was so encouraging to see young people from our group responding to calls from the front, and praying for one another. I was hugely blessed by opportunities to pray with them, even sharing in their encounters with the Holy Spirit. It’s a long-held Soul Survivor tradition that on the last morning of the festival, all the youth leaders are prayed for by their respective groups. I genuinely cannot describe how beautiful a moment it was, being surrounded in prayer by my group as the love of God brought me, weeping, to my knees. It’s something I will never, ever forget.
I - like thousands of others - will really miss the incredible work of Soul Survivor’s summer festivals. I pray that the festivals that are being raised up in its place will be encouraged and supported to create an amazing annual opportunity for the expansion of young hearts and minds, in the way that Soul Survivor has done over the last 26 years, and I look forward to experiencing what they have to offer in 2020. Mike Pilavachi would always end each Soul Survivor with the sign off “it would have been boring without you”. Well, all I can say is ‘right back at you’.