Now in its fifth year, Next Gen Arise (NGA) continues to support young people from all nations in the church to develop leadership, build networks and corporately worship Jesus. Emma Nicholls meets with NGA’s Project Officer Va Tuilovoni to see what her team and their wide network of supporters have planned for the initiative in 2020.
Next Gen Arise has been on a journey of growth and transformation since the Queensland Synod started the initiative in 2016 with development work provided by the Multi-Cross Cultural Reference Group (MCCRG). Now overseen by Trinity College Queensland, the group runs four worship gatherings a year, as well as regular disciple making workshops and other social activities.
For MCCRG Chairperson Rev Louisa Yu, the evolution of NGA’s focus from supporting and equipping youth and young adults from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds to broadening their attention to young people of all backgrounds is a positive move for the church’s broader commitments to being a multicultural church. The MCCRG is committed to supporting NGA and its core leadership team in fulfilling the church’s stated calling to be a truly multicultural church.
“NGA was first initiated by the MCCRG to provide a safe space for second and third generation migrant youth and young adults from a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) background to grow their faith, to be empowered to lead, worship God together and thrive in Christian community,” says Louisa. “The NGA team has since developed this vision to welcome young people of all backgrounds which is what true multiculturalism is all about—we are One in Christ, not them and us!”
“The role of the MCCRG is to support and empower Va and her core team to fulfil the Next Gen Arise vision. They are the ones on the ground as young people and they have the passion and leadership skills to make it happen.”
In 2019 NGA became an initiative of Trinity College Queensland, a move which Acting Principal Simon Gomersall embraced with open arms: “I was enormously excited when NGA approached us to be the section within the Synod’s services to support and offer accountability to their community,” says Simon.
“It seems a natural fit. A number of NGA leaders have participated in our Activate program, and our faculty have also had the privilege to speak at numerous NGA events; the NGA community is genuinely inspiring and Trinity is keen to offer them whatever support we can.”
A leadership pipeline in action
When former NGA Project Officer Rev Noah Kim moved into ordained ministry at Paradise Point Uniting Church, his position as NGA project officer became vacant.
One of the founding team members of the group, Va Tuilovoni, took up the leadership position and is now balancing a dual degree in Psychology and Justice at the Queensland University of Technology with her commitments to NGA. In addition to her study and work with NGA, Va is a passionate and gifted singer and worship leader at Kangaroo Point Uniting Church.
“Everything that Va has experienced in her life so far affirms that she understands cross-cultural ministry,” explains Noah. “Her love for all people, the church, and her humble character make her a natural leader for NGA. Rather than in her cultural or national identity, she has come to draw her sense of worth, identity and purpose first in Christ. This is what she has to share with people of all backgrounds, and it’s exciting to see her to keep broadening the NGA vision.”
The transition from NGA core member to leader may have been daunting for some people but Va is ready to step up and provide leadership for the future.
“I wanted to be a part of what God was already doing, and I was seeing the fruits of what Noah started,” says Va. “In my leadership I want to keep pushing that forward. If it’s about bringing more young people to Jesus, I’m like, ‘Yep, let’s do it.’”
Va works with a core team of young, culturally diverse leaders, including herself, Germaine Kaskol, Lauren Murray, George Panoa, Ana Tuilovoni, Will Nguyen and Julia Munkas. They meet fortnightly to share devotional and prayer time, as well as plan events.
While the group have shifted their focus from second and third generation migrant youth and young adults to young people of all backgrounds, Va is keen to point out that NGA’s values of championing intercultural connections and honouring Australia’s First Peoples remains at the core of its mission.
“We want to be inclusive, to draw everyone in together and counteract the isolation that young people of all cultural backgrounds can often feel. Every culture is a gift, and the more we get to know each other and value the gift each person and culture brings, the better we become.”
If feedback from participants is anything to go by the group is having a positive impact on the lives of those who are choosing to “arise” with Next Gen.
Holly Koregai (Kangaroo Point Uniting Church) may have held fears that she didn’t know enough about the Bible but by joining NGA workshops she found a welcoming group of people where every person had something different to share.
“It’s exciting to be surrounded by other Christians and knowing we are all supporting one another,” says Holly. “It has been a great boost in my confidence in sharing my faith and God’s Word.”
Sarah Stubbings (Indooroopilly Uniting Church) has seen her faith grow throughout the year as she attends NGA events and as her faith grew so did her confidence. Meanwhile Robbie Dixon (Chapel Hill Uniting Church) speaks highly of the worship and camaraderie at NGA: “NGA creates an environment you can be comfortable to worship in just how you want to, and get to know other like-minded people of the same age bracket.”
Unravelling the issues facing youth
With new leadership and a new year ahead, Va is clear to point out that the future of the group will be driven by the issues that really matter to their young people.
“We reflected on 2019 and we recognised that those coming along are mainly young people who are already familiar with the church context or have grown up in this setting,” says Va. “There’s a sense that we know about the Word and we know about God, but do we really know him on an intimate and personal level?”
It was this question that drove the NGA team to develop their 2020 theme—“The Unravelling”—to address the need for young people to strip away the things that stop them from taking ownership of the faith they hear about from parents, pastors and ministers, and go deeper into a real and relevant relationship with God.
“We thought “The Unravelling” captures how we see our need for growth,” Va explains. “We understand that there can be so many barriers, especially as young people, that hinder our walk with the Lord, layers that form over our hearts, and prevent us from truly knowing God on an intimate level.”
While NGA ha gained so much from engaging a variety of adult guest speakers previously, Va is excited about having everyday young people share their faith on the stage this year. The team is also working on ways to increase engagement with workshop events, possibly through online platforms.
Hope for the future
Va’s most urgent hope for young Christians is for them to grow deeper in their relationship with God and see church as an essential part of their weekly lives.
“When young people truly understand the beauty in having a deep and passionate relationship with God, through getting on their own feet and being bold about their faith, God will move them to where they need to be according to his will,” says Va. “From my own experience, we don’t know what true life is until we are actually connected to God. This relationship is going to be the best thing you’ll ever enter into, when you truly know him.”
The sense of optimism and vision for Next Gen Arise is being fuelled by a team that not only understands the longings of the diverse youth and young adults in our churches, but want to walk together with them, in collaboration with the wider Uniting Church, towards a future where they are equipped for lifelong discipleship through genuine relationship with God. This future certainly looks bright.
Emma Nicholls is the Activate (Gap Year Program) Project Officer at Trinity College Queensland.