Jono Griffin was a PE teacher and dedicated surfer. Teaching in a secondary school in Manchester, he knew he wasn’t living God’s way. A real turn around came in his life when a retired surgeon came up to him in church and said, “You have a rare talent and it is being wasted as a PE teacher.”
Within six months, Jono was appointed as a youth pastor for North Dublin Methodist church in Clontarf. “When they hired me, I was scared to pray out loud and had never led a Bible study. I had to learn by doing,” Jono admitted. “The young people I was working with were not from a church background. My use of sport and my training as a teacher in coping with challenging behaviour stood me in good stead.”
“When I started youth ministry, I didn’t feel qualified. My pastor at the time said, ‘Jono, just be who you are. Kids will sniff a fake a mile away.’ If I didn’t understand things, I’d say, ‘I don’t know.’ Too often, young leaders think they have to have all answers.”
After a while, Jono noticed that a lot of Christian youth events were geared for Christians, rather than for those outside the church. “I began to ask, ‘How can I bridge the gap for those who are not yet Christians?’ I felt God was saying, ‘Use your surfing to serve me.’”
Jono asked the Methodist Youth Department to support him and when they held their first surf event, 80 teenagers showed up. “The format combined surf lessons with workshops and Bible teaching,” Jono explained. “Later we launched five-day summer camps.”
The programme begins with a morning “thought for the day” from the Bible followed by one or two surfing lessons depending on the weather. Jono is a qualified surf instructor and The Surf Project is accredited by the Irish Surf Association. In the evening, they run a “living life to the full” workshop.
“John 10:10 is our motto. We’re seeking to create a place and space for young people to encounter God.”
The team finds creative ways to engage with the young people. One night after they had been studying the story of Jesus calming the storm, they went down to the beach. The young people wrote their prayers on the sand where the tide would wash them away the next morning.
The main emphasis for Jono, his wife Beth and the young leaders working with them, is to come alongside the young people. “If faith is part of you, it comes out of you,” Jono said. “Ultimately, we want to release young people to take their place in the church.”
As The Surf Project developed, Jono created a small group programme for young people called “WAVES”.
“We are equipping and empowering young people to take ownership and responsibility for their faith. We have got to turn away from entertaining kids and instead encourage young people to own their faith for themselves.
“The young people come together in their “WAVE” group - a minimum of three and maximum of seven people. They ask questions about their life and faith. How is my life with God and how is my life with others? How am I serving and loving others? As the young people answer those questions honestly, they start to take ownership and responsibility for their faith.
“We have used the analogy of the waves in the ocean. They start with the blowing of the wind. A wave cannot happen without a move of the Holy Spirit.”
One teenager was attending a WAVE group in Dublin. When it came to the question, “Am I listening to God through His word?” he admitted, “If I’m honest I have not read my Bible for three months.” He was determined to make a change and when the group met a month later, this young man was reading the Bible a whole lot more.
Jono has developed a resource booklet for WAVES. “It is a model for multiplying. In larger groups, young people don’t have the same intimate opportunities to share. For that reason, if a “WAVE” gets larger than seven people, it has to split into two groups. At the heart of the ministry is discipleship. We are helping people to live life to the full every day.”
Sarah (16) and Sean (17) from Dublin along with Cathy (16) from Navan have been coming to surf camps with The Surf Project for a number of years. They told VOX about their experiences.
“I love that it is completely different to any other camp,” Sarah shared. “The leaders are really welcoming. My faith grows a lot stronger through this. I remember the teaching because it is done in such a good way. They are not rushed and you have your own time to talk to God. Everybody is very honest.”
Cathy added, “I’ve made some really close friends at the camps over the years. I come for the people. I never came for the surfing. At home, I have no friends who are Christians. This is how I meet with my Christian friends.”
“It is a good amalgamation of the faith and stuff like surfing,” Sean from Dublin explained. “I like that it is always the same message of living life to the full and how you can go about doing that. Back at home, we have a WAVE group and we try to meet once a month. It is a bit of a challenge because of geography and we have to rely on public transport.”
That same model applies to the internship programme in which young leaders learn by doing. “Matthew is a perfect example. He led a teaching session on Zacchaeus and it was amazing. He thanked us for the opportunity but it got me thinking, ‘Why is this the first time as an 18-year-old that he has been able to teach?’ He did a devotional on Psalm 139 and blew us away,” Jono explained.
Today, The Surf Project is working towards becoming sustainable as a ministry serving the wider church across the island of Ireland. “There is no blueprint for pioneer mission. We are kind of making it up as we go along,” Jono admits.
“We’ve begun to do one-day events with youth groups and schools and we’ll do custom-made events for churches. Sometimes we turn a church hall into a surf lounge - a nice and relaxed space for people to encounter God. We want to give God our excellence. In church, we can have a poverty mentality. We are serious about what we do.”
When they started out they had a €50,000 deficit in order to buy 100 wetsuits, 40 boards, gazebos and the purpose-built van. Within six months, God had provided all of that money! “That was a real confirmation. Once we stepped out in faith, the door opened,” Jono shared.
Face to Face with Matthew Hewston
Eighteen-year-old Matthew Hewston from Manorhamilton joined The Surf Project as a summer intern. In July, VOX editor Ruth Garvey-Williams met up with him on the north coast where he was helping to run a youth camp.
Tell us about yourself
I’m 18 and I just did my Leaving Cert in June. I attend Calry Church in Sligo.
Why did you join the Surf Project Internship?
I came to faith through the CEF camps and since then I’ve been looking to give God everything. I first heard about The Surf Project at CEF. It is a mobile surf ministry, which explores what it means to live life to the full through the sport and culture of surfing. I was really taken aback by the way they do ministry. They are so honest and professional but also very relational.
At the end of last year, I told God, “I want to give everything to you. I don’t want to hold back.” The internship was an answer to prayer - an opportunity to give. I felt the nudge from God that He wanted me to do this for the summer. I prayed about it, got the interview and here I am.
What does the internship involve?
I’m one of five summer interns. We do surf camps, day events and kids’ clubs along with the leaders. We’re involved in all aspects of the ministry from Bible teaching, organising games, preparing snacks, washing wetsuits and surfing. I believe when you are outside your comfort zone you grow the most. I’ve learnt more about myself and about who God is.
What has been one of the highlights for you?
It’s been a big summer for me. The internship encourages us to see where our gifting lies. One of the highlights was having the opportunity to do some teaching, to explore a Bible text and to think about the best way to communicate it to others. I was talking about Zacchaeus. When he met Jesus, he was radically changed. For us, it is easy to go to a Christian camp, but does it change us? I always try to make the teaching personal. I want to ground it in reality and keep it real. We don’t want to be fake or wearing a mask of religion.
What helps you stand strong for God?
In the 21st century in Ireland, people are pretty hostile to faith. It is hard in that regard and being one of the only Christians in school has been tough. For me, going to a youth group in Sligo and being part of the church has really helped a lot.
What comes next for you?
I started a small business in TY and won awards for it. I’m hoping to study Marketing Innovation and Technology at DCU – finding ways to take new ideas to the market and supporting creativity and innovation. I really want to be a Christian presence in the office.
What would you love to see happening in Ireland?
I want to see local churches that are welcoming and full of God’s love and places where people can learn what it means to live lives to the full.
To find out more or to book an event with The Surf Project contact them through their website on www.thesurfproject.org.