'Hold Da Boat!'

Linda Grigg for the LYN Network

30 March 2010

'Hold Da Boat!'


It all started with a competition that required kids to hold onto a boat, without talking, for as long as they could. Nine hours, as it happens, but don't worry; the boat was on land, and the children all regained their voices. And best of all, out of this madcap rivalry a small Bay of Islands church has birthed a programme for local youngsters.  

Russell Baptist Church is one of five congregations in what was once notoriously known as the 'Hell Hole of the South Pacific'. Today, the seaside town of Russell is a safe and popular holiday destination for Kiwis and international visitors. However, apart from various sports clubs, there is little in the way of structured activities for its younger, permanent residents.

russell1.jpg“There are lots of pubs and watering holes for adults, but there really isn't a place for the youths. What happens is the adults go to the pub and the kids hang around the town,” says Russell Baptist Church's pastor, Miles Frankum.

Seeing the need is one thing, but starting something to meet that need when you have just a handful of volunteers and few financial resources is another. However, fellow Northlanders encouraged Russell Baptist Church to step out in faith.
“Tornado Youth in Hikurangi came up and shared with us a few times and said we should start a youth project. They helped us do the 'Hold Da Boat' competition and said we should have a few youth nights beforehand, just to get people interested. And it just stemmed from there really,” says Miles.
Today Russell Youth, as it is called, holds monthly activity nights for two age groups, Year Seven, and Year Six and down. The church has no building, so uses the town hall. The hall's seating capacity makes it easy to host events like the visit of the Watoto Children's Choir held in 2009. However, the historical status of the building limits some activities; for example, no balls can be used inside. The church works around that, though, and in summer they take advantage of the beautiful great outdoors to hold 'Big Day Outs'.

russell3.jpg“One event we did at Rawhiti [a Maori settlement 30 kilometres to the east of Russell]. We cooked 160 burgers and they all disappeared. We had 'beach biscuits' and a 'banana', and had horses on the beach - lots of fun things for the kids, so they all had a ball. Luckily they had just had a tangi out there so they had left over hangi to feed the horde. There must have been at least 100 kids, and parents as well. It was a really great day,” says Miles.

Mostly non-churched children come to the events and activities, but Miles says adults in the community also get involved with what the church is doing.

“The adults are having as much fun as the kids. The youth nights and the Big Day Outs are actually creating community. We're quite blessed in that way anyway because it is a small town that is already community orientated . It is just bringing everyone together. That's what the Watoto Children's Choir did too. Out of the 800 people in town we had 300 people in the hall. So that's pretty cool.
russell2.jpg“These relationships, we pray as a church, will have a flow-on effect. The church has a small but strong team of active people and we enjoy rubbing shoulders with people in our community and making a difference. We are greatly encouraged by the positive feedback of appreciation from the community for what we are doing. As a church we are also greatly being blessed because we are growing. We have gone from a core group of three families and now have 20-30 attending on a Sunday.”
Miles dreams of Russell one day having a youth centre, and of the church being able to offer more help to local teenagers.

“It is a really hard age, going from being a kid to becoming an adult. Whether it just be verbally helping them through that, or partnering with someone that would help them with career opportunities or something like that,” he ponders aloud, wistfully.

In the meantime, Miles, his wife   Katrina, his 'right hand man' Darryl and their fantastic team at Russell Baptist, who they couldn't do it without, will continue its Russell Youth programme. It is something Miles never thought he would be doing.
“The Baptist church used to have a youth group about eight years ago when we first came here. It was sort of in a transition, where the people wanted to move out of it. Katrina and I were asked, 'Do you want to be involved in the youth?' and I didn't want to have a bar of it. It's really funny how things change around. It's just trying to please God rather than your own wants, and you end up seeing a bit of a harvest,” he says.