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3 Reasons Why I’m Learning Welsh as a Youthworker

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S’mae. Bore Da. Tim Dw i. Dw i dysgy Cymraeg. Dw i ofnadwy!
Y’alright? Good morning. I’m Tim. I’m learning Welsh. I’m pants!

Why am I learning Welsh? Here’s three reasons:

There are schools and areas that are first language Welsh.

Although most, if not all Welsh speakers will also speak English, this will not be the natural, native first language. It can be more difficult to find a word in English than Welsh. Some of these schools will not let you in unless you are at least reasonably bilingual. You are after all in a different country.

Welsh is the heart language of Wales.

People by nature respond better when you communicate to them in the language that is near, dear and natural to their heart. This is making a cultural effort that is always responded to well.

It gives me an immediate common learning experience with every young person in Wales.

Bar very few, every young person in Wales is learning Welsh. This means I have an immediate point of connection, of humour, of learning and of conversation. Sometimes I will start a conversation with the young person in Welsh when I meet them for the first time because you can almost guarantee you will be laughing with each other within a minute. This also means I come from an area of less knowledge and they are able to teach me. It’s humble and it’s fun.

 

If you’re interested in learning Welsh there are many great courses. I’m taking Bangor Universitie’s Cwrs Wlpan (details here) which is always very highly rated and recommended.

I’ve written two posts about ministry in Wales as distinct and different to English ministry too:

Ministry in Wales… some observations

Youthwork in Wales… some thoughts

 

Lidl’s new language policy is further evidence of giving into a culture of fear and intolerance.

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The supermarket chain Lidl, announced a new policy yesterday saying that their staff would only speak English to customers irrespective of their native language.

A spokesperson for the chain said “this is for the benefit of all our customers as well as our staff to ensure a comfortable environment where all feel included.”

This is causing something of a stir, especially here in Wales where the native language is considered to be both a birth right a national treasure. Jamie Bevan, chairman of Cymdeithas yr Laith (The Welsh Language Society) responded to the announcement by saying “since the Welsh language bill was passed four years ago, it is illegal to stop staff from speaking to customers in Welsh”.

Legality aside, Lidl’s assertion that ironing out the language differences to create value and inclusion is desperately misguided and it will tragically backfire.

This is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the word ‘tolerance’ that’s regularly used in public media in the UK masked under the newer catch-phrase ‘inclusion.’

Tolerance by definition implies differences, intolerance seeks to abdicate differences and iron us all out to generic mediocrity.

Webster’s ‘WordNet’ Dictionary defines tolerance as the “willingness to recognise and respect the beliefs and practices of others,” and intolerance as the “unwillingness to recognise and respect differences in opinions or beliefs.” Which does Lidl’s new policy sound like?

Tolerance by definition implies differences, intolerance seeks to abdicate differences and iron us all out to generic mediocrity. The way the UK media and lawmakers speak about tolerance since 9-11 has been soaked in intolerance. We are now simply too afraid of different opinions, different cultures, different languages and especially different religious practises and beliefs to be tolerant.

Fear is naturally intolerant and seeks to remove others that don’t live within constantly narrowing perimeters.

Fear is a great leveller. In this case it levels people in the public sphere to act and think alike, and to not express difference. Fear is naturally intolerant and seeks to remove others that don’t live within constantly narrowing perimeters. The massive online surge of support for Britain First is a great example of this.

I, like most people in the UK am afraid of terrorism. I, like most people in the UK also want to stick it to terrorists. The very best way to live from the former is to hide all differences. The very best way to do the latter is to magnify and celebrate them.

It’s our tolerance that terrorists hate so much. It’s our diversity and unity that they fear so greatly. We accept more than one view. That is the freedom we have.

Dear Lidl. Don’t value people by devaluing their natural and native differences. Celebrate and expound those differences.

Dear UK. Be tolerant! Accept and delight in diversity and difference. Don’t iron people out. Don’t give into fear.

Dear Terrorist. Stop killing others, then yourselves, in the wrong order.

Youthwork in Wales… some thoughts

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After just 3 and a half years working in Wales I’m anything but an expert! I am, however, a learner, and I’ve put together these quick thoughts as a result of my own growing observation and conversation in the Welsh-ministry world. I would of course heartily welcome any feedback from experienced Welsh pastors and youth workers in order to grow and adapt these thoughts. I am holding them very loosely and (I hope) with an open hand.

Most of my experience is in North Wales… creeping into Mid Wales, with very little in South Wales (other than some epic holidays and knowing some amazing people). So really, I guess I’m mostly talking about the North. I’m an Englishman living in Wales; my ancestry is Welsh, I became a Christian in the town which I now work and I am in love with the culture here (never felt more at home!), but I’m definitely English (watching the World Cup proved that!) – so take my observations lightly.

 

Big, Whopping Preliminary Thought:

– Wales really is a whole other country! Let’s treat it that way. I have another post on this topic here.

 

What We Have

– Wales is beautiful! I have a friend who has been working in Wales for a long time who once said ‘when God made the Earth He started with Wales.’ I’m pretty well convinced my friend was right! Wales is gorgeous, rich, and diverse – and perfect geographically for outdoor pursuits! There is lots available (mountaineering, canoeing, climbing, surfing) within easy driving reach of each other and easy reach of town bases. This is one of the key reasons that Welsh Youth Camps are so successful.

– Legacy. There is a proud and varied Church and missionary history in Wales. There are many countries (such as India and South Korea) that still view Wales as their spiritual home. Don’t forget the epic Welsh revival just over a century ago, and the founding of charities like Scripture Union and the Beach Mission. This gives people huge pride in and openness to ministry, particularly with a view to mission.

– Unity. Another friend I’ve made here settled in Wales after working for years globally with people like Billy Graham. He told me just last week that he hasn’t seen such an unprecedented level of churches and charities working together anywhere else in the entire world… Go Wales! There are disagreements and factions of course, but when it comes to mission there is a huge willingness to pool resources and march forward. I spoke at a camp last week that had people involved from Young Life, Urban Saints, and YFC and was attended by a huge range of denominations. There was no ‘look at us’ and a whole load of ‘look at JESUS!’

– Multicultural… but not like what you’re thinking. Wales’s as a culture is split several ways, but what you really notice is the incredible Celtic heritage bleeding through the older Welsh communities, particularly from the West Coast. This heritage is hugely spiritually aware, open and ready to hear about the mysteries of God in a unique way. The Welsh language(s) also are incredibly rich and broad and add a whole host of considerations for ministry.

– Community driven. Much of North Wales still feels village-esque. This bleeds through into Church and School culture and makes community projects and particularly events that cross the age spectrum work really well.

– Love of creative arts. Wales has an ancient history with art and creativity, and this forms many of the foundational building blocks of its culture. Art galleries, poetry, folk music, architecture, sculpture and theater are mainstays of just about every Welsh settlement – and should be taken seriously for Welsh ministry.

– The highest poverty in the UK. Almost a quarter, 23% against England’s 22% and Scotland’s 18%. When you consider population sizes that’s huge! About 700,000 people in Wales living under the breadline. Further, the cuts have damaged the Welsh working poor more than the rest of the UK. By 2015-16 tax payers in Wales will be paying £900 million a year for benefit reforms.

– Highest Child Poverty in the UK. About 15% live in what’s described as severe poverty in Wales. Read more about poverty in Wales here and here.

 

What We Don’t Have

– Clinical resources and support groups. There are, for instance, no clearly advertised (or any) self harm support networks across the whole of North Wales. Waiting lists for NHS counsellors are huge, and there are few local competitive free-lancers. There are a lot of emotional needs that go unaddressed in North Wales because of the lack of support.

– Up-to-date First Language Welsh Resources. There are groups like SU who are working hard to remedy this, but much of the Welsh resources for young people are ollllddd! Google Translate and Babblefish do – not – work! There is a huge need for properly translated modern songs, Bible translation and youth resources. A need – but not a huge market, so good luck trying to convince the publishers.

– Crowds. North Wales has the same population as Sheffield… just for some perspective. I once tried to run a crowd event just for Christian young people in a certain town in North Wales… I had 20 or so show up which was really disappointing until I realised that those 20 constituted about 80% of the Christian youth in that town! If you want to run crowd events across a larger area though, you are plagued by geography – we need something other than standard crowd events to build wider community here.

– Large school districts. The largest areas of North Wales only have a couple of Schools serving them, and in some cases these school populations have been coached in from miles away. Cross-school based projects are going to struggle, as is any group or project that depends on multiple feeder schools.

– Cities. OK so we’ve got a couple… 6 of them. In the North we’ve got two: Bangor (population 17,575) and St. Asaph (population 3,491). Both of them are 20 minutes away from my base in Llandudno (population 20,710 – almost bigger than both cities put together.) Considering that there are 51 cities in England (average size about 200,000), it should become instantly clear that this is a totally different world! City ministry models in England are not going to help us much here.

– Motorways. So this sounds like a small thing, but in order to get from North Wales to South Wales the quickest, easiest way is to leave the country, travel down the M6 then come back in… Yeah. The lack of mobility infrastructure (& the fact that mid Wales is incredibly sparsely populated) really makes Wales two countries.

 

What We Don’t Need

English City Driven Youth Strategies. Even in the few years I’ve been here I’ve seen several English City youth workers come to the area, try to start a big event, see it pop and fizzle and then move away. And hey – I’ve come from 7 years working in London and I’m saying it! We don’t have feeder schools, we don’t have several key massive youth groups, we don’t have mainstay youth projects and we don’t have the resources available to English cities. Please think contextually. Think about Wales.

Events, projects and physical resources that are crowd-drawing, resource-draining, and lacking follow-up are created without a proper understanding of the context and are not going to make disciples here… they’ll only make more church debt! It’s just bad stewardship.

 

What We Really DO Need

Methods and praxis for developing mission strategy in schools and a mechanism for rolling that out widely.

More resources in terms of cash and people to invest incarnationally and intentionally in the area – particularly in para-church projects.

Welsh speakers working alongside veteran youth workers to come up with innovative, fresh and culturally relevant youth work resources and Bible translations.

Churches, cities and towns to pray for us intentionally as a country.

Churches and charities to step up with their resources and take risks by setting up counselling and support networks for emotional and mental health.

To maximize the use of our pre-existing, well established camps and to work them into our church youth strategies.

To keep working in partnership and unity with various other groups and to pool our resources – it’s about the name of Jesus after all!

Ministry in Wales… some observations

I’m a ‘big picture person’. This is slang talk for keep me away from the admin! I don’t handle details all that well and I thrive under the festering mold of the chaos theory.

I really am a big picture person though. I’ve got a knack for seeing a path through the mire, even if I haven’t a clue what the mire is.

Big picture – so what? Well, I now work in a completely different country and a totally unique culture. I work in North Wales. I’ve been here for almost four years (after seven in London), and it doesn’t take a genius to know the big picture here is incredibly different to the rest of the UK.

Wales is a real gem. It’s an incredibly beautiful place full of wonderfully unique people.

I’ve taken some notes, talked to some Welsh-ministry sages, learned some Cymraeg and eaten a fair wack of Bara Brith. I love it too (well not the Bara Brith, that tastes like snot). Wales is a real gem. It’s an incredibly beautiful place full of wonderfully unique people.

I love Wales. So much so that I became a Christian here when I was 11 (in the town I’m now working in). I also gave my life to Youthwork here when I was 12 at a Roy Crowne talk. My second name is even Welsh! Gough means ‘the red one’ and if you knew me, you’d understand the subtext to that and why I have a black and white avatar.

I’m not Welsh, however – even if my second name is. I lived in England until I was 24. I love Wales but I could be totally wrong in all my observations. To some degree, I will always be an outsider.

In no particular order here are some of my observations of the unique big picture difference between Wales and the rest of the UK, specifically England.

  • North and South Wales are in many ways different countries. Both are incredibly beautiful, organic, and artistic – but the lack of a Motorway really makes a significant difference to the connectivity of these two areas. They probably should be treated distinctly.
  • Wales and England are really different countries. Culture, values, education, agriculture, politics, statistics, food, transport, history, tourism, poverty and local communities all contain significant differences. Wales is not England’s little sister.
  • The history, culture, and attitudes behind the Welsh language(s) are complex, really important, and should not be taken for granted! Don’t forget that around 42% of the people in Wales have at least a highschool understanding of it.
  • The history and ancient cultural distinctions in Wales are really, really valuable and should be honoured. Much of this can be traced back to the very earliest cultures in Europe. Remember that Wales was totally distinct from England until just less than 500 yeas ago.
  • Ministry geography in England tends to cluster around cities and towns. Ministry geography in Wales is connected through valleys and corridors.
  • There is an incredible mix of feelings lingering from the Welsh Revival a century ago. In some areas its a banner flying high, in others an incredibly sad monument to yesteryear. Everywhere however, has a longing expectation for the next one!
  • Much of Wales is driven by the pursuit of the organic, the outdoor, the flexible, the growing, the artistic, the natural, the unique, the hand-crafted, the home-made, and the vocational – not in the post-modern liberal arts style, but the ancient space-&-community-creating style.
  • There is a real disconnect (in North Wales at least) from much of the popular Christian culture in England. This is not just because of the larger rural-urban ratio here. Distance, accessibility, local resources, and a deeply knitted sense of community makes it less appealing.
  • Ecumenical ministries and charity partnerships are not only very welcome in North Wales but are absolutely required to have any sort of real effect past isolated local ministries.
  • There is much less obvious distinction between social classes in Wales than in England. Put another way, class is simply less of an issue!
  • The alleged ‘anti-English’ discrimination the Welsh have is, in my opinion, nothing compared to the tongue-in-cheek, derogatory discrimination the other way around. Wales has a proud heritage and a besieged history. Of course they will fight to defend this and absolutely should. Much of the anti-Welsh humour is incredibly embarrassing and completely baseless.
  • Oh, and of course the Welsh prefer rugby, and are flippin good at it!

I’m going to post separately on church behavior and denomination differences. So watch this space.