Charlene Delos Santos is the Director of Surrender co., an organisation calling followers of Jesus to the margins. Born in the Philippines, Charlene moved to Naarm (Melbourne) when she was six years old. Charlene is passionate about seeing the church flourish in cultural diversity. Starting with the simple desire to tell her friends about Jesus, Charlene shares how her understanding of mission has grown from lunchtime group at high school, to examining how the radical message of Jesus calls us to transform the very structures of our society.
This interview is a transcript of episode one of Mission Unplugged. You can listen to the interview on Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Transcription by Pidj Sorensen.
Elise: Tell me, where did mission start for you?
Charlene: I guess it would have been around when I was fifteen, sixteen years old, I think that was when I was Year 10, in terms of when I think about mission at that time in terms of sharing God's love to those around me. That's how I saw mission at that time.
Elise: And what did that look like for you?
Charlene: I guess at that time I had just taken my faith a bit more seriously and so it was—anyway, just a bit of background I guess, in terms of church upbringing and everything. I actually grew up in a church that was considered a cult at the time. [Laughs]
Charlene: And what that meant was that we actually saw ourselves as the one true church and that's it. Very much into keeping the laws—this is Old Testament laws, so all the festivals and all this stuff and you couldn't do this and you couldn't do that and you had to keep the Sabbath and all that stuff. So that was my upbringing. Which had positives and negatives as well. [Laughs] It was really strict and that kept us away from the rest of the Church, the wider Church. And so there was a massive doctrinal change in the 90s within the church itself which meant that we shifted from this framework of salvation from doing stuff, so earning our salvation, to grace. Which was amazing! And it meant that our denomination opened up to the rest of the wider Church. And that meant our youth group, a whole bunch of young people, then were exposed to this whole other world of church expression. One opportunity that came up was our youth group went to our first Youth Alive concert which was a massive shock to the system by the way! [Both laugh]
Elise: I can imagine!
Charlene: If you've grown up in kind of a really conservative church that was hymns and really long sermons and all this stuff.
Elise: Wasn't quite the dancing, hands up at the front.
Charlene: No, not quite. You know, the piano at the front and [Laughs] very much old-school. And then you go to this Christian thing that was with bands and a concert and I was like: 'What is this?' It was kinda blowing me away! But it was this amazing opportunity to be exposed to other forms of what it means to be Church and to follow Jesus. I guess from there I had lots of questions at that time, trying to figure out my life and my purpose and pathways because I was like Year 10 and you get all that pressure in Year 10: 'What are you going to do for the rest of your life?'
Elise: Yeah definitely.
Charlene: I don't know! [Both laugh] They had a altar call at that time. I went down for the altar call, this is after Tony Campolo was speaking at that one—which was an amazing opportunity, Tony!—but I kinda didn't know what I was going down for. It was one of those, 'Look, I feel like I want to do something with my life, God I don't know, here's one response for the moment to figure out what I'm doing.' And then at that event my youth leader won an Easter camp ticket, a Youth Alive Easter Camp ticket, a couple of tickets. So me and another friend got the opportunity to take that ticket, those two tickets. So we went and from there I had an amazing experience, this sense of God just surrounding me with his love, that's what happened at the camp. And from there it was like: 'Okay, I'm sold out!' [Laughs] And it was seriously just a matter of that, really being surround by God's love. And I wanted others to know about God's love for them. It was that simple at that time in Year 10 and wanting to share that with my classmates and with my friends, with whoever [Laughs] would listen! And tried to figure out how I could do that in my school setting.
Elise: So that change to coming to experience God as someone who was there and loving and actually close and the experience of grace lead you to that wanting to experience mission practically.
Charlene: Yeah! Pretty much. And just wanting people to know that for themselves too.
Elise: So what did it look like when you first went back with this passion to help people experience this love that you'd experienced?
Charlene: My first step was to try and find out who were the other Christians in my school, [Both laugh] in my high school, kinda hard to do. I can't remember how it spread, I think it was—
Elise: You dropped that, 'Oh, how was your Sunday?' [Both laugh]
Charlene: Yeah, 'What were you doing?' Yeah, I can't even remember how it was going around. I was trying to sus out who were these underground Christians. [Both laugh] And found a few and then found out one of my classmates was friends with some Scripture Union workers as well, and that's how I got connected to Scripture Union. So a couple of the Scripture Union workers, who I'm still friends with now, they were trying to help me find ways I could make some kind of difference in my school. So we were trying to figure out if we could run some lunchtime programs, using some of their resources, but it was really difficult at that time because I think there probably was a history in my school and there was kind of an anti-Christian sentiment probably. It was really difficult to run stuff and so we ended up doing a regular prayer group, just praying for our friends, praying for our school, we found out a Christian teacher who was willing to support us and open up one of the classrooms for us! It was a really good time to gather with other Christians and be praying for each other and our friends. And I guess for me it was just a matter of we were inviting people to come to Youth Alive Conferences, Youth Alive rallies and all that sort of stuff and what activities we could connect some of our friends too. So that's how it looked like in a school setting at that time.
Elise: You said there were a lot of challenges, but how did you navigate as, I'm guessing, a sixteen, seventeen year old person trying to start up some type of mission program in a school where you know everyone? How did navigate hitting up against those challenges and also what was it like experiencing those wins when you did see God working there? Or did you, how did you feel about it?
Charlene: Yeah, I remember we couldn't even really get a time with the Principal to chat through what we wanted to do. Because I'm not a strongly assertive person in general [Both laugh] so at Year 10, you're like: 'Uh can I please see the Principal about an idea that we have?'. And the workers at Scripture Union were trying to help as well, but couldn't even get a time with the Principal either. And so we were just trying to do a few different things to see if we could get away with some stuff. I just remember being sad about one of the posters we put up about the different activities we were trying to run and I saw a teacher pull it down! It was disheartening as a Year 10 person. But I had a lot of good people around me. I remember times praying for encouragement one day when I was on the tram going back home and I was like: 'God I just need some encouragement' and I saw one of our youth leaders from church on the same tram! Just randomly, and we were like: 'let's chat,' and he was just encouraging me to keep going. So I felt God close at the same time and just pouring out my heart to God about some of the stuff I wanted to do. But a lot of good people around me I think, supporting me.
Elise: And it sounds like prayer was a big part of it as well, even if it wasn't an intentional thing, just that honest pouring out my heart to God: [Laughs] 'God this kinda sucks can you help me'.
Charlene: Oh yeah, totally, absolutely! And I think that's why I felt so close to God at the same time, even though you'd get discouraged and things aren't going the way you hope, but I think God just provided for what I needed at that time.
Elise: So then, as a young person what happened next after this initial enthusiasm for mission? How did you continue along from there?
Charlene: I got involved in youth ministry stuff in my church, volunteering and getting involved in whatever I could. Developing some of those leadership skills and running different activities and all that stuff. And from then I was questioning what next after high school. I wanted to be a youth pastor [Laughs] at that time and that's the stepping stone in lots of ways, you're involved in youth ministry. So there was lots of challenges in that sort of pathway in terms of wanting to go to Bible college and for me, being an Asian person, with a lot of expectations from Asian parents, Asian migrant parents, their idea of me going to Bible College was not a positive [Laughs] idea, even though they're Christian it was kind of one of those: 'Uhh I don't think that will be a great job'. [Laughs] So there was a lot of wrestling around cultural expectations. So there was a bit of a compromise then, so I was still friends with the Scripture Union workers at that time so they were helping me work out what are some pathways. And one of the worker is Asian himself, so he understands some of those expectations, so he was trying to help me figure out what would be a great pathway to still be able to serve in some way around youth ministry. And so I ended up studying at RMIT, doing a youth work course and that was kind of acceptable [Laughs]. So I didn't end up doing Bible College, which I actually was grateful, because I was seventeen at the time.
Charlene: Yeah, studying there and kept getting involved in Scripture Union and volunteering.
Elise: Looking through from our chatting before this interview, you took on quite a few internship or similar roles as a young person, I'm guessing probably between that, I'm guess seventeen to about nineteen, twenty, that'd be about right?
Charlene: Yeah, yeah.
Elise: What was the motivation to sign up? Because there was quite a few, it wasn't just one, it was two or three at the same time, wasn't it?
Charlene: Yeah, because there was multiple placement opportunities as well as part of my youth work course, I did one placement at Scripture Union at the time, I did a thing with Filipino Concerns Australia as well, and a placement with the Baptist Union as well around multicultural youth stuff. And so I got involved in a few different things, and still volunteering at church as well. Just a whole bunch of things, really just to give things a go and get to know people and network and try different things.
Elise: And what were those experiences like? Did they help shape your understanding of mission? What did you get out of those experiences?
Charlene: I guess lots of my missional experiences or ideas around mission came about more from my time with Scripture Union because I was doing a whole bunch of stuff with them. Even before, I'll just go back a bit, even before doing university I remember we did an end of Year 12 camp, like your Schoolies camp, called Plunge with Scripture Union. And I remember that was the first time where the Bible was really opened up in a different way for me. So no this really individualistic faith of salvation, I guess, but it opened up this whole other expression of what it means to follow Jesus and those workshops around social justice and I was like: 'What is this thing?' [Laughs] I had never heard about stuff around social justice stuff, in my church world, yes we're nice and give and all that stuff but in terms of social justice as a concept and as something God is passionate about? That was the first time I'd heard any of that. So that was a really turning point in how I engaged with the Bible and how I saw God at work in the world and what God's mission in the world is as something being quite bigger and looking at the bigger picture of things, of restoring all things, restoring all of creation together again. And so I think for me lots of those expressions kept coming out in my work at Scripture Union. I was involved initially in volunteering with at-risk Asian students in high schools, and that kind of opened up—because I'm a really sheltered person [Laughs]—so hearing stories from kids, from refugee backgrounds for the first time... like, even though I'm Filipino, we didn't really struggle in terms of escaping from anything or whatever, even though it had its own struggles, but hearing from other Asian, especially Vietnamese, young people about their experiences and struggles and their families was an eye‑opener for me. So just being able to sit and hear those things that they've struggled with was a really great experience for me to hear and open up my worldview as well.
Elise: Yeah, so it sounds like that was a big factor in shaping mission, because all of those things are quite profound things to be able to sit with as a young person, and understand that bigger picture of what God's doing in the world.
Charlene: Absolutely. And I think that when you're just so sheltered [Both laugh] and then being able to meet new people, it just totally opens up your mind and world.
Elise: Obviously currently you're working with Surrender, and we want to talk a little bit about your work with surrender, but before working with surrender you continued to work with SU for like ten years.
Charlene: Yeah, just over ten years.
Elise: Mainly in schools-based ministry?
Elise: Can you tell us a bit about what that was like? I know ten years is a long time to condense, but what was that like?
Charlene: As I mentioned, I started with working with particularly at-risk people in high schools. And I guess at that time, because there had been such a massive shift in schools ministry in general, what your Christian organisations can do and can't do, and so there was a big shift from our schools ministry framework at Scripture Union to looking at community development models: how do we contribute to the life of the school for them to flourish? I was doing small group development stuff with young people from Western suburbs Asian backgrounds and then there was a shift to how it links to camps, so camping ministry was involved. And then Scripture Union towards the end of my time, we decided to get into chaplaincy as well. So I was managing chaplains and thinking about how chaplains can play a role in more a community development role, in trying to encourage community engagement in your local school, how to encourage churches in thinking about being an asset, I guess, to the local school in strengthening young people and building resilience and all that stuff. So there was a lot of different things, I was doing stuff on the ground with young people to then shifting a little bit and managing chaplains and different youth workers and all that stuff. And I was also doing internship programs because it was modelled to me, this sort of internship process, me as an intern at Scripture Union myself, I was really passionate about making sure there was an internship program as well. Linking all that in with our schools ministry framework at that time too, and giving opportunities for young emerging leaders to give things a go and just making sure there's a space for them for them to develop as leaders and as followers of Jesus as well.
There was a whole bunch of stuff and from there I found myself, that I was actually attracting some leaders from some culturally diverse backgrounds for volunteers and interns and I think the same for me, when I met one of the Scripture Union workers who's Vietnamese. I felt like 'who are the other leaders from culturally-diverse backgrounds then? Is that why they need a person to debrief lots of the cultural identity stuff going on in their minds as well?' And that became a really important space I think for some of those young people, young leaders.
Elise: Yeah it sounds like it grew quite naturally but was that something that started to become a bit more intentional as you started to recognise those things through that work?
Charlene: Uh, hm, later on maybe but at that time people were just referring some other people for me to mentor. And people still do that now! [Laughs] Especially other young, Asian women leaders. I get a lot of people referring some of those leaders to me [Laughs] I think because they know they're going through a lot of their questions around culture and faith and vocation, as well. And I love being able to just sit there with other young emerging leaders from diverse cultural backgrounds. I don't think it was intentional it was kinda just people: 'Hey, you should chat to Charlene!' and then—
Elise: And that's started to build a trend.
Charlene: Yeah I think so! [Laughs]
Elise: And why are those internships or mentoring seems like a good fit here but you might have a better word for it, why are those spaces really important in your opinion?
Charlene: Internships and mentorships provide opportunities to explore what you're passionate about, where God might be at work, your sense of vocation, they provide opportunities for just developing your leadership skills. You just get a whole bunch of different experiences, really. And I think being able to do that with a group of, I guess internship programs was good in terms of finding a group of people to journey with and reflect with so it's lots of your action reflection sort of stuff, giving things a go then reflecting it with people and going: 'oh, what's been meaningful and what's been helpful and how was God at work in my life?' and I love internships [laughs] because you just grow so much during those times with other people. And I think having that safe space to debrief as well, and bring your hard questions to the table is really important especially in your twenties when you're trying to figure out who you are and what's going on.
Elise: Yeah, I had someone explain—this was in relation to spiritual gifts but completely was such a changing thing. They just said that the best way to figure out which spiritual gifts is just to test it. Just give it a shot and see what happens and if God shows up, maybe you have that gift. And this idea of action and reflection, actually doing that stuff, figuring out by doing is super important.
Charlene: Oh, absolutely.
Elise: As a young person, I find that so important because I've taken every personality test under the sun to see which gift I had but the idea of actually going and doing it and seeing what God did in that space was foreign to a twenty-something.
Charlene: Yeah, absolutely. You just gotta give it a go.
Elise: [Laughs] So Surrender. You've been with them for a few years now but tell me how that all got started.
Charlene: So I did, as I mentioned, just over ten years with Scripture Union and I was looking back in that time going: 'Well God, how have you been at work in my life, what are some of the key threads that you've been weaving in my life?' And those things came up around culture being an important thing, an important space to explore, working with emerging young leaders was important to me and so I wanted to explore those things a bit more and I had a heart for what it looks like to follow Jesus in the margins. And so I took my sabbatical, took three months off not knowing what job I'd have at the end of it. [Laughs] I was just stepping out in faith feeling like it's the new chapter. I prayed really specifically to God at that time. I asked for three things: one was 'can I have an office in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne?' cause I was really sick of driving everywhere! [Laughs] I was driving a lot for my role at Scripture Union, I was just over it. Secondly, can someone just give me the right fitting job for me without having to go through the whole interview process, [Laughs] can someone just see what I've been good at and give me what would be great? And thirdly I was specific in going: 'God, I think the only spaces where culture was really celebrated'—that was another thing I really wanted, taking culture seriously—and so the only two Christian spaces I could think of in that time was Praxis, which was a Christian youthwork course at that time that's not running at the moment, and Surrender. Just gave that to God, very specific in what I wanted.
Elise: So you said: 'it would be great if it was Praxis or Surrender'?
Charlene: Yeah pretty much, because Praxis, the office space was in the Western-ish Suburbs and so was Surrender, I knew their office was in Footscray and then out of the blue one of the previous directors, Sam, who I'd met only a couple of times through my connections with Scripture Union as well and we both knew we were passionate about the Kingdom, about schools ministry, all this stuff. But he called out of the blue saying, 'Hey, let's chat.' [Laughs] 'Let's see, what are you up to?' At that time I didn't know that the operations director at that time, Anita, had already done ten years or so as well and was wanting to finish up and was wanting to pass on the baton herself and so just ended up having chats with both of them and what the role was, it was an operations director role so what that role would mean. And Sam had already seen me doing a whole bunch of the events, event-based stuff through Scripture Union and he knew I was organised enough to do all that [Laughs] and coordinate for things and use the networks that we were a part of. And from there it was a good fit! It was really hilarious.
Elise: So the three part prayer was pretty much completely answered!
Charlene: Yeah I was pretty specific with God. It was great! So I've been at Surrender now for five years. The first year, because there's so much to pick up, that's not written in documents, I spent the first year shadowing Anita in her operations director role and then ended up taking her role the following year. And then a year or maybe a couple years later, sharing the directorship role with Sam, we were co-directors. We're not a big staff team so [Laughs] so it's not like all-important, but functions of this organisation, but I think it was more around affirming that these two different roles help shape the direction of Surrender. So it was affirming the role that I already have a lot of decision making authority in the space and sharing that co-director role. And then Sam finished up over a year ago or so, nearly a year and a half ago, and so now I'm directing Surrender.
Elise: Yeah so obviously a big part of what is now Surrender Co is the conference, there's the one in Melbourne and now a couple of others, the ones in WA and South Australia, but can you give us a bit of an insight into what it takes to pull together Surrender Conference?
Charlene: Yeah absolutely. So Surrender itself, the conferences, have been happening for sixteen years. We say that we are a collective of different organisations and individuals passionate about following Jesus in the margins. So it's for a bunch of partner organisations working together and it's one of the hardest events to pull off [Laughs]. So there's about forty different organisations involved at some level and then you've got lots of individual churches as well. It's about balancing a lot of those voices as well and what we prioritise and not losing this space of making sure we are amplifying the voices who are marginalised who we don't get to hear from very often. We call it, the imagery that I have when I think about Surrender Conference is the riverbed or the campfire, and so it's everyone coming together with their stories, with their strengths in lots of ways and bringing it to be shared with the rest of the community, the wider Church. And it's a beautiful thing, it's exhausting for me to run [Laughs] but beautiful at the same time in being able to see all these different communities and the amazing things they're doing and just listening and hearing from them. But it's crazy, if you're in event management stuff, and Elise you've seen, you've worked with me as well in the graphic design side. [Laughs]
Elise: [Laughs] We have worked together, I have some insight!
Charlene: The craziness of sending documents back and forth.
Elise: But, having said that, we, in Embody's role and just personally, have been to Surrender so many times and definitely being there and experiencing it isn't a stressful or like: 'wow this is such a crazy event to run', it all comes together incredibly well.
Charlene: Thanks! But it takes a long time, we pretty much start from mid-year listening to God together as a collective of organisations, what is God doing and wants to speak to us in this season? So we do a whole day together discerning and listening to each other. And then a few of us will come out of that and think about what are the key themes then and we land on a theme that we think God is speaking to us about and what the wider Church needs to hear and then a lot of collaboration and a lot of conversations in between for the next six, seven months and then try to implement it all!
Elise: [Joking sarcasm] Yeah just casually implement the whole thing! It's really interesting to hear that that all begins from a place of prayer and a place of reflection, that that's where it all flows from. And on that note, with your time with Surrender, how have you seen God at work in the Surrender Conference and the work of Surrender more broadly?
Charlene: I feel like we've been one piece of the puzzle of what God's been doing. Especially in Australia I think there's been a massive shift in the wider Church in terms of where justice fits into the big picture of God making things whole again and restoring relationships. And I think the narrative in churches has changed and now I'm hearing more and more people speaking about justice, what does that look like, and I think we've been one piece in that conversation, that shift. Particularly because we're really passionate about making sure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices are heard by the wider Church, and we've seen that shift as well in the Church, that people are really interested and wanting to listen. In the conferences itself we have a thing called the Yarning Circle Tent where we have a lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders facilitate workshops and Bible studies and I think I heard, the earlier days, that tent wouldn't be as full. But now it's the most packed! [Laughs] That they're overflowing to the rest of the space. So even that interest now to hear from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian leaders is amazing, it's a massive shift and people are waking up slowly to the issues that are affecting the communities and I think God has used Surrender in this space to have the compensations. And it's been amazing to see so I think continuing to make sure voices who we usually don't get to hear from are heard by the wider Church, and using the platform that Surrender does have to make sure those voices are heard is really important.
Elise: Yeah, because you mentioned, and I might be paraphrasing: Surrender's mission is about calling followers of Jesus to the margins and has a specific focus on lifting up the voices of the people in the margins, I they're the wording you used, can you tell us: what does that mean to you and to the Surrender team? And what does that look like in practice to achieve those things?
Charlene: So we say that what we want to do is motivate Christians to move from interest to action, to actually be personally involved in Christ's expression towards the poor and marginalised. And part of that is actually taking seriously what Jesus is on about! We read in the story of Jesus when he reads out his manifesto, his purpose I guess, for being on Earth in terms of bringing good news to the poor, releasing the oppressed, all these things, what does that actually look like in practice in our context now. Who are the poor and marginalised in our context now? So part of that in our conferences is looking at that and then not just looking but actually opening up the space, then, to hear from those who are marginalised. And so a massive thing is hearing from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, because there's not many spaces where you can do that. And not many spaces are the conferences that might provide that space and platform and being able to sit and listen to their stories. I think that's an important thing to actually be able to sit with people and to sit and lament in some of that pain, because of marginalisation.
And then not just sitting there but what does it mean for me then as a follower of Jesus to take action, what does it mean for me to speak up when I see oppression, what systems and structures might be continuing to oppress people and how can I be part of shaping things and changing things and challenging things. And so our conferences and gatherings try to model what that might look like for the Church. And even the name 'Surrender' is huge in terms of if you think about who has power? Who has the resources and the power to decide lots of how things are structured and all these stuff that actually affect people? What does it mean for the Church, then, to surrender and relinquish power? I think that's in the model of Jesus. I think we like to have lots of control but what does it mean to give up your life? It's huge! And I think what we're doing in Surrender is posing that question, do we take Jesus seriously enough in our life? And it is costly to follow Christ, to look at your life, to examine your life and to take up the cross and follow Jesus. I mean [laughs] Jesus' life wasn't that great in the end, was it?
Elise: Maybe not full of comfort and kind words or things like that!
Charlene: When you start challenging the systems and structures that have oppressed, when I think of some of the stories of some of the religious rulers and what they did so that people couldn't access God and couldn't access healing and couldn't access things, and Jesus spoke out and they wanted to kill him.
Elise: It always sticks with me that it's always very interesting that when we read the Bible sometimes the people that are Jesus calls to account most are the Church, and that always sticks with me as something to remember that being a part of the Church, there's still a big journey of learning for us.
Elise: Through Jesus' example.
Charlene: Oh, absolutely. And I think that's the call: 'look at Jesus' life!' How does that speak then to how you live out your discipleship in your space, it's not all comfortable.
Elise: Yeah definitely. So you talked about Surrender trying to model what this could look like to the wider Church—this is very broad, as much or as little detail as you'd like—who do you think the voices that are missing from the Australian churches are?
Charlene: One of the things is, I don't think they're missing, I think we are not listening. [laughs] I think even now, I'll mention it now I guess, with the stuff that's happening around Black Lives Matter, all these things that people have been speaking out about injustice for a long time but it's whether the church is willing to listen because it's uncomfortable, it requires people to do something and be part of changing things. And so I think of some of the voices, even within the Surrender conferences, I mentioned our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian leaders, we have a strong group that comes from L'Arche, who have a commitment to living with people with disabilities, CBM community who are committed to people with disabilities and making sure their voices are heard as well, people from culturally diverse backgrounds, refugee backgrounds, all these voices can easily be drowned out. And I think it's interesting what it means to model it in a conference setting means that things will take longer to happen. Sometimes time management [laughs] at a conference changes because we've decided that: 'oh there's this elder or leader that wants to speak in that space, yeah let's change it on the sport'. We've had to do that and be flexible.
Even stuff like accessibility, and it's tricky in our venue as well, what does it mean to make spaces, actual, physical space, accessible? Just thinking about who you put up on the platform, on the main stage, who are the people we actually see. Even from things like who are the keynote speakers, who do we put up on our graphics, our flyers, all these things because for me, as a Person of Colour, I look at that stuff and go: 'who is the speakers and workshop presenters and all this stuff, is it representative of me? Am I welcomed into this space?' I think making sure people are represented is important. And I think there's lots of practical, simple steps for churches and other conference organisers which you can do to make sure that it is reflective of our Christian Church and that there is a diverse bunch of voices having a say. I think because it's actually a gift to the Church, this diversity, being able to hear from especially voices that continue to be marginalised because the thing I've loved from being a part of Surrender is learning from their experiences and being able to sit there. It's another way of looking at Christ and what it means to hang onto Jesus when sometimes you don't have anything else. I think that's what I've seen a lot of the time, when I sit with and listen to people's stories, their deep relationship with Christ and how important that is and that's a reminder for me and the wider Church instead of holding on to other things that are sometimes fluff. [laughs]
Elise: I think it was a very true challenge and how you corrected the wording of the question, because even to place it as 'what is missing from the Church' rather than 'who are we not listening to, who are already a part of the Church' is a really strong reminder. And when we don't listen to those diverse voices, when we don't check who we don't listen to, what do you think we lose?
Charlene: I think we lose different perspectives and different ways of seeing God. Different ways of reading the Bible together. A whole other way of looking at things in another light, I think we all need to be involved in listening to each other's stories. Because the things is that sometimes we box God into our own image, into our own way of seeing God, and so if we don't listen to people who are different to us, who have a different life experience, then our view of God becomes so narrow. But God is so big! [laughs] I think that's what we forget: God is amazing and bigger than what we can imagine. Even looking at creation, how diverse everything is. And I think it's the same looking at people and how diverse people are is an amazing blessing to the Church and I think we need to remember that it's a gift to the Church to be able to listen to different perspectives and being challenged to see a different way of seeing things and being reminded of stuff that maybe God needs to remind us of. We lose it if we're just in our own little bubble.
Elise: That's been something that I've personally appreciated so much about Surrender, that it is a space to go and listen constantly and God always speaks to me in ways I couldn't imagine at surrender when I sit and listen to someone who's had a different experience than me. That's a really great reminder that, while we might gain comfort from pushing God into our own little box, we lose out so much of the breadth or who God is.
Elise: These experiences with Surrender, have they shaped your understanding of mission from where you started?
Charlene: A lot of it for me has been particularly becoming friends with lots of Aboriginal Christian leaders. I think it's just been a blessing for me to sit and listen at the systemic stuff that continues to oppress and dehumanise their people. I think for me the call is what action do I continue taking in my life? It's pretty personal in lots of ways. As you get to know more people and knowing the challenges they face, it requires me to respond personally. For me it's been becoming more aware of what issues are happening in this world because I think before I wouldn't have been that aware of some of the issues. For me I think it's more a personal, what do I put my energy into, what's my response. It's an ongoing thing, I think! [laughs] When I think of mission now in terms of God making things right again, what's my role in that? There's been a shift from the start of this interview me sharing about 'I just wanna know about God's love!' I thought that's what mission is, and of course that's part of mission, God loves you.
But as you come to know Christ, come to know Christ's heart for the marginalised and joining in this: 'what does it mean to bring good new to the poor?', practically, what does it mean to give your life to this purpose? I think it's a lot of reviewing your whole life, really, and where you've put your money, where you've put your energy, how you spend your time, how do you work towards systems that will help in flourishing the most vulnerable and the most marginalised? All these things are choices and decisions we can all be part of in thinking through and therefore being part of God's Kingdom come here on earth and seeing shalom, seeing the flourishing of all creation. I hope that kind of helps a little bit! [laughs]
Elise: Yeah, yeah! Even just having this podcast around what is mission and what does it mean to be involved in mission as a young person is incredibly broad. You can simplify it down but it's really great to see that realistically mission and the way we approach it changes over our lifetime and the things we experience with God also change and where we are at 15 may not be where we are at 35 and that's okay! That's good! But to see that there are some things that don't change and that reliance on God and the prayerful beginnings, all of that is still reflected in, or at least, I can see in reflected in the way you talk about your journey with Surrender. But it's that process of growing as well.
Charlene: Yeah, absolutely.
Elise: So to wrap us all off, what advice would you have for young people who are wanting to get involved in mission, particularly for missional expressions like Surrender? What would be your advice to getting started?
Charlene: Like I was mentioning before, there's lots of opportunities to getting involved in different things, giving things a go. And I know there's a million internships that you're probably getting involved in [laughs] these days! I was thinking about what would have been helpful for me as well, and I think for me it would have been helpful to start even having spiritual direction at the beginning, and I know there's people with mentors and all that stuff, but being able to spend the time to listen intentionally to God with someone else debriefing how God is at work in my life. And also, then, because I think we do a lot of action [laughs] there's a lot of stuff you can do, so where are the spaces where you are actually developing contemplative prayer practices? Because you can easily burn yourself out doing a whole bunch of stuff but what are the practices that are going to help you sustain your faith long term? I think putting those things in place early, learning some of the contemplative practices and prayer and learning what discernment looks like, there's all these ancient practices that I feel like we sometimes have missed out on or don't emphasise as much because we like to do stuff, lots of doing, lots of going on mission and all this stuff. But I think the balance of that is where do you find refreshment, where do you find the time to dive deeper into your relationship with God. Putting those contemplative practices early is what I'd put next in mission. [laughs] Going hand in hand with reflective practices.
Elise: Yeah, that's great. What have been some helpful contemplative practices or some of those rhythms that you wish you could have put in a bit earlier into the piece?
Charlene: Now I'm doing a lot of regular stuff around spiritual direction and—I'm actually doing it weekly at the moment! [laughs]—but there's a lot of stuff around monthly catchups with someone to reflect on where God is at work, daily stuff around the Examen prayer at the end of the day, which is really simple, 15 minute reflection times, sitting there and just looking back being aware. 'Where has God been at work during the day? What were some of the things going on that I need to keep thinking about? Or what flags were there?' You know, maybe God was whispering about something! There's just these really simple, daily practices that I think we can put in place. So that's what I've been doing as well, as end of the day stuff. And I was a big journal-er, [laughs] since I was young as well. So lots of journaling. I got lots of diaries! [laughs] And part of that is just reflective practices. I think that's helped me a lot and I think lots of those practices could help young people.
Elise: So finally, what's coming up next for Surrender and for yourself?
Charlene: So we did have our Surrender conference cancelled this year, which was disappointing!
Elise: It was so disappointing.
Charlene: [laughs] The week before! Due to Covid. But we hope that it will run again next year, if all land in due place. We recognise that the conferences, amazing as they are, it's just one aspect. And so what we want to do is develop deeper engagement and deeper learning around some of the things that we've talked about. And so we've just started a racial justice collective, a learning community. And that's just online at the moment, just on Facebook. And from there we're hoping to run a bunch of different anti-racism workshops, and what that looks like to reflecting on your own cultural tales. So we're hoping to run a bunch of different things for people to keep diving deeper into racial justice, in particular. We're hopefully going to run a bunch of different collectives and webinars around different things. Because it's all up in the air, with different in-persona activities at the moment, so we're trying to be creative as well with how we do things online. But that's a big area that I'm personally passionate about, racial justice stuff and what it means to continue hearing from diverse voices in the wider Church. Look us up on Facebook!
Elise: Yeah, I was just about to ask, if there are young people who think that: 'well maybe the voices I'm hearing aren't as diverse as I thought they were' or 'I want to have a go and listen and see what this is like', what can they do to connect in with Surrender, or some great places to listen?
Charlene: Yeah, if you're on Facebook, there should be a link there around the Racial Justice Collective already. So look us up, Surrender on Facebook. And there's a whole bunch of other resources on our website, surrender.org.au, if you want to hear from a whole bunch of different keynote speakers from overseas and here, there's a whole bunch of resources there. There's some Bible studies as well that can help you think about engaging in your local neighbourhood. We're hoping we'll develop more resources as well to help people think about what it means to follow Jesus in the margins. At the moment, the website and the Facebook group, there's lots of good discussion happening on the Racial Justice Collective Facebook group at the moment. So if you want to be challenged and sit there and listen and it's been great!
Elise: Is it right that a few of the speakers and contributors that were planned to be at this year's conference have got online resources, you'd put together online resources that would have been at the conference this year, as well?
Charlene: Yeah, and we've just made that available. We did some webinars, so we've recorded them and there's some available online. It's just on the website, and there's some links around that already if you wanted to check out some speakers there.
Elise: Outside of the Surrender conferences, what other initiatives are Surrender co. involved in?
Charlene: We are trying to support emerging leaders from culturally diverse backgrounds as well. So we currently have a worker, Ben, who is coaching some emerging leaders, one-on-one coaching to support them in their own context, which has been great! We've done that for a year and hoping to continue that as an opportunity for them to be supported and resources. And we have a thing called Campfire, which is trying to intentionally provide spaces for Indigenous and non-Indigenous emerging leaders to get to know each other. We've partnered with dhiiyaan, up in Brisbane, and they've got an amazing property in Dalby. We've run Campfire space there and just the retreat space to provide for emerging leaders to get to know each other as well. We're trying to, I guess on the ground, support these emerging leaders coming up as well and providing a safe space for them to debrief things because sometimes they don't have those spaces. Trying to support them while we also think about systemic change in the broader Church, which is where our conferences fit in a bit more.
Elise: Yeah, and it kind of taps into that importance of those mentorship relationships, not only one-on-one but that space to reflect. Great! Can you just let people know where to find you, on social media, your tag in the website, again?
Charlene: Yeah! So on Facebook it's @SurrenderAustralia, is the tag, and on Instagram it's @Surrenderco. So that's our main two channels but you can also sign up for our eNews, via our website, surrender.org.au and then you should be able to type in your email if you wanna be updated on different things that we're doing!
Elise: And the up-coming conferences, Covid-safety providing, hopefully we'll be back at a Surrender conference soon.
Elise: Do you just want to talk us through the different conferences for locations?
Charlene: Yeah so we have been Surrender Adelaide for the last seven years, and Surrender Melbourne has been the biggest one, which is kind of our national one, and then we started Surrender Perth last year. But we don't know if they're running this year! [laughs]
Elise: Well yeah, all of the conferences are up in the air.
Charlene: But probably the next one—
Elise: —sign up to the eNews! [laughs]
Charlene: Yeah yeah, then you'll get updated on what's happening. But we're hoping that the next definitely, that the March one next year will run. Hopefully!
Elise: Yeah, fingers crossed, that would be great. We were so sad when it was cancelled! But, got to be safe.