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Fran’s Experience

Friday 30th October 2015

Andrew Johnston, Chief Executive met up with and interviewed BB ex-member Fran Hawley about her experience of The Boys’ Brigade and here’s what Fran had to say…

Fran tell us about your BB experience – how did you get involved and what was your highlight?

When I was about 16 my best friend at school, Anna, invited me to a Friday night youth club at her church. It turned out to be a youth group run by Belle Vue Baptist Church’s BB Company (22nd Southend-on-Sea). On my first night I absolutely loved it – it was a mixed bunch of teenagers, girls and boys, with warm, friendly leaders who seemed to be really…normal!! I had such a great time that I kept coming back the following few weeks and within no time I had been invited to the BB camp that summer. Glen Johnson was the BB captain then and he taught me so much over my teenage years and twenties. Throughout my uni years I progressed into leadership roles, and apart from learning about Jesus and making such lifelong friends, my highlight has to be meeting my best friend growing up – David O’ Rourke, who still runs much of the BB work at the Company today. So the BB was central to my life as a teenager and continues to be influential to this day.

What is it that you are doing now?

I’m a Public Relations & External Affairs Manager for another Christian charity called Mission Aviation Fellowship which flies light aircraft to a wide range of isolated communities in developing countries. It’s a great charity in that it has reached hundreds of remote people groups across Africa, Asia and Latin America with physical supplies like food and medical treatment, but also with news about Jesus who brings spiritual healing and salvation. It’s a total privilege to be involved in something that’s so loving and so pioneering, with God at the centre. Outside work I’m really into creative filmmaking, youth work and making sure that as the church we are being salt and light in our local communities through initiatives like Street Pastors. There’s seriously no point in preaching the gospel to people who know nothing about Jesus and not trying to express that same gospel in practical ways!

How did you become a Christian and what changes happened in your life because of that?

I became a Christian at BB summer camp in Swanage! In a particular field on a Thursday night in July 2000, one of the BB leaders (Daniel Strange, now a theology lecturer at Oak Hill College), gave a mesmerising talk about Jesus. He asked that if God could see every moment of my life played out on a huge film screen, then how would he feel about my life? Even though I was probably pretty good as a teenager by your average mum’s standards, I knew I wasn’t perfect and could think immediately of tons of things I’d done wrong, things I’d felt or said that weren’t ‘nice’. I just knew almost instantly that I needed forgiveness from Jesus and everything in me screamed out that this was where I could get that forgiveness. I already believed in God from about the age of 8, and had prayed intermittently between age 8 and 16 – so I saw that night in a muddy field in Swanage as the answer to my prayers to God saying “show yourself to me if you’re real”! He had done that beautifully and clearly that night.

It wasn’t just Daniel giving this message that convinced me that Christian faith was the real deal, it was Bible study groups I had been to, and also the love and acceptance of the other BB leaders. I couldn’t really get my head around the level of giving and serving these leaders were capable of. I knew they weren’t getting paid for it so I could see really early on how deeply devoted they were to me and to all the other young people who were part of the BB. My life changed because I had great friends at varying stages of Christian faith, or hadn’t decided to make a commitment at that point. The fact we were all friends and we were exploring life and faith together in the BB on an equal footing just meant we could be as honest as possible about that journey. I went off to Uni and I was in a pretty optimistic frame of mind about my life ahead!

What do you say to people who would say “BB should only be for boys and young men?”

I’m a pretty bad example if that’s the case!! My experience with BB was that it was a great place to meet friends, get introduced to the Christian faith, and feel something of the love of a Christian community without the obligation of having to ‘opt-in’ to Christianity. Why should that be restricted to just boys? The fact I loved it and wasn’t pressured into anything at all probably helped a huge amount. School for me was great but I couldn’t get the same experiences in school that I got at BB. I soon became a youth leader in the older girls’ section of BB, not only did that help my faith but being trusted like that also helped me to take responsibility and develop leadership skills. When I look back on it, if BB hadn’t offered me that as a girl, I would have lost out massively.

As a communications expert, what do you think BB could do to make itself more well known in the UK and Ireland?

I think the BB has a reputation for being a little bit ‘old school’, fairly or unfairly. This isn’t bad in itself, ‘heritage’ is no bad thing when it comes to charity communications. But I do wonder what the future holds for BB with that kind of reputation. Modern youth work is so diverse, there’s a real need to discern God’s leading whichever Christian youth organisation you work for. It does fascinate me to see how BB developed the earliest model of uniformed youth work, well before the Scouts, for example. It’s good to know that the BB at its foundation had some quite pioneering approaches to youth work, blending Christian teaching with fresh activities that young people could really gain lots of fun and friendship from. For charities with some heritage behind them, it’s a case of understanding how you can refresh your image while staying true to your core values.

The BB’s work is still so relevant today that there’s every reason to believe the best is yet to come. What the BB does for young people works, I am evidence of that. While some in society are shying away from connections to Christianity, the BB can be upfront and stay true to its Christian roots with confidence.

If you were in my shoes what would be my top priority for BB?

I think just ensuring that the BB knows its purpose for the 21st century and is united behind that purpose! If that sounds a bit highbrow it doesn’t need to – I’m just talking about focusing on what the BB is great at and making sure that everyone knows that’s what the BB offers right now, and why that’s exciting. Being simple and clear about your core purpose is what gets through in the din of the charity marketplace in this day and age. That and passion for what you do. Expressing passion is one of the most powerful things you can do as a leader in my opinion! It shows people that this isn’t ‘just another nice cause’ but something that is making a real impact on young people’s lives, as well as on the lives of volunteers.

Are you still involved in BB? How could BB stay in touch with people who like you have had some BB connection but are not currently involved?

I’m still hugely fond of the BB and hear lots of news from friends still serving in the 22nd Southend. To encourage word-of-mouth news through friendships is one good way of keeping in touch. Church BBQs are another thing I’ve seen work really well in a BB context to reach out to families and friends of those in the group – that could be extended at a local level to invite BBers past and present. I receive newsletters from one or two other Christian organisations that keep me up to date with their plans in a personal way that reflects and acknowledges my past commitment to them. I really love that, it makes me feel valued and part of what they’re doing now, even if I can’t be heavily involved. I think keeping in touch with young people throughout uni can be crucial too. It’s a challenge for many churches to do that but if a young person was part of a BB group, it would be a natural follow-on to keep in touch about BB news and to continue to demonstrate care for that young person.

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