Glorious weather has helped boost seaside visitors this year, but how many people will be met on the beach with the Bible?
Across the UK, as well as continental Europe, UK-based churches and Christian organisations have been running Bible camps, beach missions and outreach at popular holiday destinations.
One local mission is the Emmanuel Beach Mission (EBM), which runs for three weeks in Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire.
Each week teams are on the beach (or in a local school if wet) for a presentation on Saturday and Sunday, then a three-hour programme from Monday to Friday. This usually begins with building a giant sand sculpture, followed by games and a gospel presentation, including songs, Bible stories, drama, quizzes, team-member testimonies and memory verses.
On Sunday to Thursday evening, EMB runs an evening event for all the family from 7.00-9.00pm, which might be a sandcastle-building or ‘It’s a knockout’ competition. This is followed by a gospel presentation, focused on a slightly older age group.
Other events are more wide-scale. For example, United Beach Missions (UBM) has 84 missions running this summer: 44 in the UK, 17 in the Republic of Ireland, seven in continental Europe and a variety of other mission events.
Contagious is holding a series of youth camps across England and Scotland, for 11-13 year olds and for 14-19 year olds. During July and August, young people at these camps will be learning about the reason for the Reformation, and studying the five truths clarified by the Reformation.
But to carry out beach missions or camps, volunteers are needed, whether for small or large events. And numbers seem to have dwindled over the past decades.
Tim Howlett, executive officer for UBM, said while numbers of volunteers have risen slightly over the past couple of years, there is nowhere near the numbers of workers in the early 1990s.
He says, ‘Last year we had 834 and the year before we had 782, but we would like to reach 900. As at 30 May we had 670 applicants. Going back to the early 1990s, we would have had around 1100-1200 workers’.
Yet God is at work to bring workers to the harvest fields. Dan Brett, EBM co-ordinator, told Evangelical Times: ‘EBM is now in its 61st year, so over the years we’ve seen teams fluctuate in size.
‘We aim to have 12 on a team, but recently we’ve seen teams as small as six. However, for the last two years, team sizes have been on the rise, mainly as a result of a partnership God brought about between our church and a big church youth group in Westminster.
‘This year we have 30 volunteers and two under-16 volunteers coming with their parents as helpers. We are thankful to the Lord for his provision!’
Both Mr Howlett and Mr Brett believe that, in addition to the need to recruit volunteers, societal changes present new challenges, not least that more admin is required around child protection, risk assessments and health and safety.
Additionally, Mr Howlett commented: ‘Non-Christians are much further back in their understanding of the gospel. People’s default position now is, “I’m an atheist”, even though often they are not, whereas before it was, “I’m a Christian”, even though they usually weren’t’.
Similarly, Mr Brett said, ‘We’ve noticed a biblical illiteracy in kids who have never heard of Jesus before, ever. This is hugely saddening, but an amazing opportunity to speak the gospel to people who have no preconceived ideas about Christianity’.
Cultural changes too present hurdles. Mr Howlett said, ‘We require more wisdom in dealing with people who might be out to trap us on such subjects as homosexuality or transgenderism’.
Mr Brett added: ‘The biggest challenge has always been to make beach missions culturally relevant without compromising what Scripture says. The challenges have changed, because we live in a very different world now than when Emmanuel “Sunshine Centre” Beach Mission began. But the transforming power of Christ remains the same today’.
Some opportunities have already been blessed. One volunteer, Antonia Sheldrake, went to Bologna, Italy, with a team of eight from Christchurch Durham, to support Forte Torre Chiesa Evangelica with their two summer camps, ‘Torricine’ (‘little towers’) and ‘[email protected]’.
She said: ‘We were teaching English, running games and serving, so those who spoke Italian could preach the gospel. Torricine, for those aged 5-10, told the story of Jacob, and [email protected] devoted two messages a day to expounding Jesus’ parables in Luke’s Gospel, with follow-up discussions.
‘After Torricine, three families from the camp were represented at the church, with one child coming alone after showing a deep spiritual hunger during the camp.
‘When [email protected] ended, four girls said they had prayed a prayer of commitment at the end of camp. One showed signs of being “good soil” by taking herself to church the next Sunday, and one boy agreed to read the Bible with one of the male leaders over the year’.
Christ told his disciples, ‘The fields are white unto the harvest, yet the workers are few’. This is a key prayer point for all churches and missions. Mr Howlett has also asked, ‘obviously, for conversions!’
Mr Brett added: ‘Please pray for the unity we have in Christ to be expressed in a visible way. Pray for open hearts to the gospel among holidaymakers and locals. Please pray also for protection, both physically and spiritually’.