TAKING IT TO THE STREETS – BEN’S REDEFINING CALL TO LOCAL MISSION
Ben Rowe is the founder of Streetlight Community, an outreach for young people in some of the lowest socio-economic areas of Adelaide.
Streetlight seeks to build relationships and develop trust with disadvantaged youth to help them achieve their full potential.
Every week Ben leads a team of volunteers from local churches, setting up a ‘hang out’ at Elizabeth Shopping Centre in Adelaide’s northern suburbs. More recently, Ben and his team have also been at local skate parks, creating a safe space and sense of community for more than 100 vulnerable young people.
Since the program began in 2016, locals have noticed a definite change.
Centre Manager, Rebecca, says: “The Centre has seen a reduction of incidents relating to youth theft and violence on Thursday nights since the program started.”
While pursuing numerous occupations (including finance, policing, fencing, and farming) Ben always had a sense of God’s call to be a missionary.
In 2013, Ben and his wife, Anni, set off on a journey to discover where God might be leading them. Visiting six different countries, it wasn’t until they returned home that they sensed God saying, ‘This is where I want you to be.’
Their initial response was, “God, that’s not how mission works … Little did we know, God was redefining our understanding of what mission looks like – not as a location we go to, but a lifestyle we lead.”
After a few years balancing work and study at Tabor, Ben accepted a call to ministry as a Youth Pastor in Elizabeth in 2014. Throughout his study at Tabor and ministry work in the northern suburbs of Adelaide, God was laying a foundation for the calling that was to come for Ben and his family:
“After running youth ministry at the church for about two years, I began to look more intently at how Jesus did ministry. I became challenged by Jesus’ activity not only in the religious institutions, but largely out in the community. I felt compelled by God to see how we could be out in the community in people’s brokenness … being where they are, not simply inviting them to where we were.”
“I was told if I could get more of these young people back to church they would be really grateful!” – Ben Rowe
“In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus says we are the light of the world and that we shouldn’t put our light under a bowl … I felt that God was asking, ‘Have the four walls of the church become your bowl?’
“Challenged, I began prayer-walking the streets, asking, ‘What are you doing? And how can I join in?’
“One night I saw security chasing a young shoplifter. I felt God impressing upon me, ‘This is where I am, and where I want you to join me.’
“I phoned the Centre Manager, explaining what I’d seen, that I was a local youth pastor, and asked if I could hang out with these young people. The response shocked me: I was told if I could get more of these young people back to church they would be really grateful!”
The ministry is now well established and a far cry from where it started. Ben tells of the early days when he and Anni arrived at the mall with a hacky sack, a bottle of nail polish and their two-month-old daughter in tow:
“We asked these young people if they wanted to play hacky or get their nails painted. Most of the time they replied with a four-letter word. We realised that we couldn’t expect them to trust us straight away. Thankfully, David Turnbull [Tabor Lecturer] had instilled in us the attitude of a learner. Through learning and listening, we gained the trust of the youth. Now we interact with many young people every week.”
Ben’s success in reaching out to the community saw him become a finalist for 2020 Young South Australian of the Year.
Streetlight was also awarded Community Group of the Year by Playford Council.
Many of the disadvantaged youth who connect with Streetlight don’t engage well with institutions such as schools, employment services and even churches. Streetlight steps into that gap and builds bridges to form community. Through music, games and other activities, volunteers create a safe and welcoming space in which initial conversations lead to deeper ongoing relationships, helping young people reach their God-given potential.
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