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Soul Survivor 2016

Stafford County Showground. End of July. 18 staff, students, parents and children camping under the banner of St Peter's Academy. Over 6000 other people from all over the country (and several dozen from Europe, and further afield). 5 nights. 1 Jesus. This is Soul Survivor - Week A.

Day 1... It matters not that the rest of the world called it Wednesday. At Soul Survivor, days are numbers... which is bliss to me, a serious mathematician. We are at the second of four Soul Survivor weeks - ours is the medium sized one, Weeks B and C have over 10,000 people at each. We set up camp, pitched tents, erected a marquee, ate our bring-and-share tea and went to worship. It’s agreed that the worship is epic; when the band have 3 guitars, 3 backing singers, a keyboard, and a drum kit inside a huge see-through box, it's hard to disagree! And then the talk is entitled “Nerds rule the world”. Finally, I think, someone has recognised my calling. I wait in anticipation of the call to replace several heads of state – as it is only day 1, my phone still has charge! Alas, it never arrives.

Day 2... We woke up. I stagger out to the realisation that most of the camp have been up for hours and have spent ages queuing for a shower. It does not matter that it's still before 8am, the camp wanted to get clean. Breakfast, and lunch prep, are well underway. Some busy themselves getting ready for a 9:30am seminar, others plan which they're going to later in the day whilst all avoid doing the breakfast dishes. However, this year I’d learnt from my previous mistakes… the dishwashing rota was prepared in advance and everybody was on it, including my little children. Nobody could escape the Fairy liquid! At 11am we head to worship.

Before the main talk, we say goodbye to several hundred volunteers who are going on mission to Stafford. They are going to bake bread for the homeless, paint railings, run summer fun clubs and generally help to make Stafford a better place to be. We pray they will be a blessing and through that be blessed themselves. This week, the main talks are about a variety of topics: the gifts of the Holy Spirit, worry and anxiety, religion turned into relationship and going for God. We were also treated to a fabulous performance from the LIV choir, a group of South African orphans who were rescued from the streets and housed in a village on a mountain. There are millions of orphaned and vulnerable children in South Africa, mostly due to HIV/AIDS. LIV places these children into a family environment with a trained foster mother to love them, a school to educate them, and where all their needs are met. It’s fantastic to hear them sing to us all.

We return to camp for lunch beautifully prepared by Liz and the afternoon is spent peacefully relaxing (until I remember that I've bought 4 young children that need to be entertained!) whilst the other campers take in the various seminars and activities.

Following a delightful dinner, we headed back to worship. (Now, I hear your thoughts... Church, twice in a day??! And yes, we went to Church twice every day and it was awesome!) Afterwards, the variety of night time activities opened. Our campers went for chips, crepes, coffee, cake, dancing, late night worship (yes, more church, but just the singing), football, shopping, skateboarding, socialising and silently discoing. Silent disco… dancing to music that only you can hear through headphones… sounds strange but looks very funny! (Note to self: when 'throwing some shapes', tetrahedron does not visually appeal but the cuboid (cardboard box) is still socially acceptable). We end with hot chocolate, with optional marshmallows and squirty cream back at camp before everyone is in tents for lights out at midnight.

Days 3, 4 and 5... Our days followed a similar pattern but Colour Chaos had returned. An outdoor paint party. You stand in a field with loud music and throw sachets of powdered paint at each other. Is that fun?' I asked again (for this is a repeat of a previous year’s activities). 'Yes!' I'm told again. 'Oh', I say again. Even older, I now feel. We joined in with the mass Icelandic claps. We watched a Fun Run (an oxymoron in my dictionary) with Josh, Sam, Celeste and Kate all taking part.

We played lots of Uno. And I learnt how to “dab”, in context I might add. Highlight of the summer says my wife (note to self: arrange for us to do more fun things next year!). Squeals of “Sir’s just dabbed” were apparently heard throughout our camp! We had a Q&A with the Archbishop of Canterbury and communion on Day 5, a Sunday like in “normal” church but way bigger! Noah’s ark was the theme for Day 5’s fancy dress; my tiger onesie helped me to fit right in with our collection of animals and Sam as the ark, much to the amusement of the Keeling children. However, in all this activity, we were humbled to see the Holy Spirit drawing people to God and, in response, over 200 people in total including several of our group committing their lives to Jesus.

Lots of things were good and we are eternally grateful: the lovely bunch we took with us, the fantastic help we received, the weather, God, the communal area in our camp, the marquee (it was a local landmark – “twin peaks”!). We're going again next year - Friday 28th July to Wednesday 2nd August. Are you joining us?

Mr Keeling

Maths Teacher and member of the Worship Group

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