Staying Healthy At Soul Survivor

Soul Survivor is epic. Awesome. I love it! It’s not a ‘perfect’ camp, and has made some mistakes, but if it was perfect then I wouldn’t be allowed to go – and quite rightly. I’ve been leading groups to Soul Survivor for years now, and it consistently draws us together as a group, and deepens our collective and individual relationships with God. This will be my 9th or 10th trip leading… I forget.

One of the things I’ve learned the hard way is how to keep your group – and yourself – healthy! This is really important. I used to think ‘it’s only 5 days, and it’s camping anyway – let’s rough it!’ And there is ‘some’ truth to that. If you want your kids to have the fullest possible experience, however, there are some dangers to look out for.

Soul Survivor is a bit of a melting pot. Groups gathering from all over the country with all their local plagues in a field. And the ‘free hugs’ guy doesn’t help either! You mix cold, damp, lack-of-sleep, high-energy activity, emotional intensity and homesickness into that and you have a propagator for some real issues.

Bad health can also cloud and disrupt genuine experiences with God. God moves in powerful ways at Soul Survivor – but just a tiny bit of rational thinking will say ‘no wonder everyone’s crying in this emotional-physical-spiritual mass of bodies!’ God does move(!), but we should do all we can to keep people healthy so they can take stock and carry those God-experiences into the rest of their lives.

God always gives meaning and clarity to his experiences, but if all we remember is ‘the feeling’ without any content, then there was probably something else mixed in. Something easily preventable and solvable, that – as youth leaders – we can manage.

There are two ‘Ds’ that the medical tents deal with every year: Dehydration and Damp. I’m an experienced camper, climber and first-aider, and don’t exaggerate one bit when I say these two are the two biggest killers in the mountains.


This one sounds simple but gets really serious! Not getting enough fluid in – and loosing more through sweating (heat & activity) means your body’s natural mineral balance goes out of wack. The salts, sugars and natural joint lubrication deteriorate leaving your bodies immune system in overdrive.

This is often accompanied by vomiting… next to your cooking tent!

You know you’re dehydrated if you start getting dizzy or a bit lightheaded, tired at strange times, and are not peeing much – or when you do it’s a dark (and smelly) colour! Oh – and you might feel thirsty and dry too – but not necessarily.

So drink! Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! We don’t let any of our group leave our camp village without seeing their full bottle of water or squash. They get into the habit right away and keep it all week. They have a full drink with each of their meals and go to bed with a full bottle too.

Even if you – or they – don’t feel thirsty. Have a bottle and sip, especially on those long hot afternoons.


I once had a lad get his onesie soaked in the rain – and – leave his tent windows open all day. He crawled into his damp sleeping bag with his damp onesie in a damp tent. He spent the next few days very ill. Mixed fevers, a bad head cold, dizziness – and had to be bought back by the medic van twice.

Getting and staying wet is a nightmare! At least you’ll get a cold and be uncomfortable for the week – but you could be looking at maceration too – which is when the outer layer of skin (especially on your hands and feet) gets so saturated it separates, cracks and blisters.

So a few basics. If you get wet (you will), then go get dry! Take off and replace all your wet clothes and leave them somewhere outside your sleeping area to dry. If your tent leaks, take everything out, dry it fully with towels, let it vent and then put things back in (once they have dried).

Make sure you have a clothes line and pegs with you – or a gazebo to hang things up in the rain.

2 More things: Sleep and Food!

Make sure you have everything you need for a comfortable nights sleep! When we meet with parents before our trips we go through sleeping-bag ratings and what insulation (mats etc.) to use. We teach the young people how to set up and manage their tents and we do insist on our curfews.

And if you’re one of those groups that doesn’t impose a curfew, and your group is still running around the villages screaming at 4am while your snug up in your tent. Please don’t come. 🙂 Thank you!

Food wise, we make sure that they eat a good breakfast and a carbs-heavy, slow-release-energy meal in the afternoon. We watch them for overloading on sweets and make sure they are having some kind of actual meal from the cafes/trailers in the evening. Soul Survivor is not an excuse to eat crap, and by day three you’ll notice if you have! Proper diet means you have a group that stays positive and open, rather than cranky and surly.

Dear ‘Free Hugs’ Guy… please stop.

Why, oh why must you do it? You wait by the entrance to the main tent every year with your cute pseudo-homeless cardboard sign, not so much offering as demanding that people hug you. And if we don’t hug you, you act like we just blended your kitten, and everyone around looks at us like we work for Nazi Germany. Sometimes when we don’t hug you, you bar our way, and that one time we did hug you, you let out that strange little noise and held on just too long. It’s. Just. Creepy.

Some people don’t actually do well with physical contact from strangers, and feeling judged or ridiculed for this is really not helpful. Some young people that come to camp have a genuinely problematic history with physical contact, and trust has to be earned before you get that right. Some people (like me) are just not ‘huggy’ people. I enjoy a good cuddle with my wife, but that’s a context you don’t need to go anywhere near.

And how old are you? If you are an adult looking for a prolonged physical contact with as many young people you can find, then there are some other people that I’d like to call. If you are young person, it might be useful for you to know that you are safeguarding nightmare.

There’s nothing really wrong with a hug, but a pressurised hug with a stranger? And with young people and children that you know nothing about? It’s also a bit weird when you’re asking leaders who’ve been through Safeguarding and Child-Protection training and police checking to get huggy with unknown and possibly vulnerable young people.

I know – most likely – that you just want to spread a little love around. Great! Are there not two billion other ways which you could do that? Camps are always looking for volunteers: Work in the kitchens, do some setup, get on the prayer team and do something, y’know, that isn’t a risk assessment nightmare.

I’m sure I look like a killjoy, but unlike you I’ve spent years pouring into the lives of young people with varied difficulties, carefully cultivating a healthy, trusting relationship with them. I know them. I know that these small gestures that makes them feel violated or judged does not help! Your pop-psychology googleomics class not withstanding, these things stick and they linger and they undo good work.

I’m sure in most cases the ‘free hugs’ thing is fine – but how many hugged and unhugged people did you let go by without a second thought for the real issues that you may have, inadvertently, and absentmindedly stoked.

If you really need that many hugs – go to your group or your family. Or – in all love – find some real help. And if you are that creepy adult… please stay away from my group.

Yours sincerely

A career youth leader with vulnerable young people.


Youth Work Hacks at Soul Survivor – Want to connect?

Hi folks!

Leaving for Soul Survivor, Week A in Stafford today. I’m bringing a good group from Wales and will be with them most of the time, but if you want to connect up to discuss the blog, training or anything youth work related then drop me a message.

Or connect on the facebook group.

Have an amazing week!


I Kissed Dating Goodbye – a personal response

Joshua Harris has bravely asked for feedback and stories to aid his understanding of the difficulty some have had with his first book ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’ which was a best seller when he was 21 years old. You can add to this yourself here.

Here is the story / feedback I left:

I’d first like to say that I’m humbled and impressed by the bravery, teachability and vulnerability expressed here. Thank you. I’ve been a youthworker for over ten years, and I’ve always wanted to sit down with 18 year-old Joshua Harris in my youth group. I’ve wanted to talk with him about dating and the beauty of grace that I feel was sadly missing from his worldview.

I first read IKDG when I was in my first year of Bible College. I was young and very impressionable, and as such was impacted by its message and found easy applications in its method. It effectively gave me a way of approaching dating that didn’t require the mess or organic growth. I could skip those steps. In their place it gave me measurable checks and balances. Just what a lonely, hormonal and legalistically-bent young theology student needed!

The book also gave me license to be ‘in control’ of my godliness, in a way that totally disregarded the responsibilities and mutual partnerships of those around me, especially women. It also subtly  took my dependence away from the mercies of God and placed purity back into my hands: The worst possible play for it.

As a result of reading this book (in two short sittings), and immediately after reading the sequel ‘Boy Meets Girl’ and the now renamed ‘Not Even A Hint’, I split up with my long time girlfriend. This was a bad breakup. Unexpected, and incredibly hurtful for her – while feeling uncomfortably victorious and proud for me.

These books made me feel – in equal measure – hopeful about a magical and yet strangely attainable wife; and dirty and sinful in a way that could not be saved by grace, but would need to be tamed by hard work and determination.

In the year following my breakup (which wasn’t handled well), I effectively withdrew from all my female friendships. I wouldn’t talk to girls on the phone, email them individually, add them as Facebook friends, or spend any time alone with them anywhere. As someone who naturally gets on better with girls, I became increasingly dis-balanced as a person and isolated. I was moody and lonely.

At the end of the year I watched a movie with a female exchange student and went on a walk with her. Nothing romantic, but really friendly. That was the last evening before she – and her classmates – would get on a plane and leave. I remember the piercing feeling of lament at how stupid I had been and the painful sense of what I had lost that year.

Re-reading the book again years later it was easier for me to notice the simple theological errors which leave the reader with legalism. It was also easier for me to see the power of suggestion sewn into it’s stories.

IKDG is not necessarily a legalistic book. Not intentionally. It’s a story book written as teaching material from someone who did not have the experience or responsible burden of a teacher. It subtly suggests legalism in the fallacious and simplistic ways it compares the dating and non-dating worldviews. Neither of which are properly explored, or put into clear Biblically relevant context.

It’s so close to the truth! So close. It made me long to be like Jesus – but it did not make me long for Jesus.

I recognise young Joshua Harris’ heart in those pages, however. A beautiful and stunning longing for purity from a wise young lad. But it unfortunately clutches at simplicity rather than relational grace. With some guidance and mentoring, it could have been stunning! It could have been a story of life and triumph – rather than a pseudo self-help book that left me seeking some form of Christ-likeness rather than seeking Jesus.

And therein lies its fatal flaw.

I remember a few years later listening to a Joshua Harris talk on good deeds as the assurance of salvation – which was unpacked in a very Jonathan Edwards like way. Brilliant and well communicated, but with the same misdirected theology. Just like Edwards, Harris had misunderstood the purpose of good works, and was using them as demonstrations of salvation almost to the point of creating it. This theology litters the pages of IKDG.

I would not recommend the book IKDG to any of my students or young people. However, I would commend the purity and passion of Joshua’s heart and wisdom to everybody.

In love.

Tim Gough


Where Have You Been YouthWorkHacks?!?

Have you missed us? Sorry. It’s been a crazy month of post-it-notes, cardboard boxes, A3 paper and cheap marker pens. Life is starting to slow down again though! We’ve been doing a few things like a podcast for The Longer Haul, writing a Grove Booklet, working alongside facilitating training, and running some big events.

So what can you expect now we’re back?

  • New comics by Chloe – coming soon!
  • A video-cast training series made with some epic friends on public speaking & clear communication.
  • Some interviews with fab people throughout summer. Just you wait!
  • A ‘how to’ guide on running RE Conferences that schools love!
  • Some brainiac round table commentary on Christian ministry with really smart people.
  • A bunch of wacky posts on games, activities and culture-creating ideas.

So stick around, subscribe and enjoy!