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Encounters on the footpaths

Nolan Hill
Nolan Hill is the leader of ‘nite church’, a Salvation Army student fellowship in Dunedin.

Each day, I’m reminded of the fragility and pace of life.

I’m also reminded of the desperate need for positive adult figures who are actively involved in the lives of our youth.

It was the same over 13 years ago when I sat at work in an architectural office, thinking, ‘There are all these young people out there not knowing who they are, not confident to step into a fresh reality, into their dreams and passions … and here I am drawing houses!’ That same sense of ‘What can I do?’ is still with me today.

Dunedin’s North East Valley is where you’ll find me on an average day. Here I am rubbing shoulders with some of the coolest people around. We chop wood together, go on adventures together, run, garden, drink coffee and worship together. We live life together.

At the end of such a day, as I walk back to the office or home, up to three young people will ambush me as they drift home from school. In these moments, I’m reminded of two things. Firstly, when I read how Jesus moved around, it seems he ‘came upon’ people a lot. This makes sense, seeing as how people walked most places in those days.

My encounters on the footpaths of North Dunedin remind and challenge me about the rhythms of my life. Jesus was present in the moment for such one-off encounters. He valued them and took the time to minister to others through them. So, how are my daily rhythms?

Secondly, as I stand talking to these young people, I have a great sense of ‘Yes, this is me; and these people are who I’m created to journey with.’ The importance of travelling long term with these young men nags at me, urging me to build lasting connections and deep relationships.

Youth work has changed over the years, but some things remain the same. A decade or more ago, it was about the crazy activities, the mess and the big events. Today, I suspect, it is more about constant availability, respect, reassurance and bringing hope. Working in smaller groups—deeper and for longer.

Societal pressures have increased for today’s younger generations. A mixed bag of neglect, abuse or absent role models threatens to hijack our young people in towns and cities across New Zealand.

Youth work is more than ever about providing stable adult figures to young people who have lost connection with the ‘grandstand of adults’ that is supposed to cheer them on, put an arm around their shoulders (a sideways hug) when things go wrong, and invite them to choose healthy options in life.

I have felt this ‘call’—this ‘God of my guts’ urging. Jesus is calling me to a deep and lasting relationship with him, which I believe is the best model for the youth work he’s given me such passion for.

By Nolan Hill (abridged from War Cry, 06 October 2012, p9)