There’s something in the air. You can just tell that something good is happening tonight. There is something about hanging out with your friends on Friday night. But it’s even more exciting when you know you’re going to an event where you will meet with God, hear his gospel proclaimed and see lives changed.
And those feelings envelop you whilst on the train, heading to Strathfield where your leaders told you repeatedly to meet. At 4.20pm. You’re slightly anxious. What will the night hold? It will be different. Different to last year – it’s at the Australian Technology Park in near Redfern Station – and it’s on a Friday! You can’t ever remember RICE Rally being on a Friday night!
You smile to yourself. It’s a shame your best friend couldn’t make it. Maybe next year.
You arrive to see a small gathering huddled near the blue screens, which scroll through train stations and you see Josh tick off your name. He’s always organised, you think to your self. Minutes pass and slowly, people in navy blue CY hoodies arrive, some with friends, some without friends. An air of excitement floods the group. What will the night hold?
You hear voices slip out from another leader – one hundred and ten from CY – you hear. That’s a large group to be taking to Redfern.
There is a sudden movement of bodies up to Platform 4. It is cold. You wish you brought another jumper. But then again, you are in your school uniform. You’ve just come from school. There wasn’t enough time to head home, shower, eat and still get there on time. The platform heading into the city is free, with only several commuters scattered along the rest of the platform. You see more and more CYers emerge, as if from thin air, as if from nothing. The group expands along the platform in minutes, like a balloon. You can hear chatter and conversations, laughter and silence all mingled together.
A train appears and bodies inundate the insides of the metallic snake. You sit with your CY friends and catch up over the past week. It’s only a handful of minutes before you find yourself outside Redfern Station and walking the footpath to the Australian Technology Park.
Arriving at the Venue
There are masses of other youths standing around waiting. You don't like waiting, especially in the cold. The excitement is growing. You see various school groups. Other people in school uniform. Many Asian-looking people. Different people recognise each other and wave, or shout, or hug each other. You see several people from the year above you at school and you say hi. They’re with their youth group. Darkness overcomes the day and suddenly night-time has arrived.
Then there is the food. Everyone is eating BBQ Pork or Duck. The cold is like a wintry blade against your skin. People are huddled together in groups, or sitting along benches eating, talking, chatting, laughing, running around. Then it is close to six and the leaders are ushering you in. Friendly faces meet you in corridors just behind the entrance. The warmth of light meets with darkness and you are swallowed up in a mix of bodies pressing against each other lining up to find seats. You hear girls talking and laughing about boys and boys talking about girls and suddenly you realise the immaturity of some of the younger ones in CY. But then of course - it is a youth group.
The warmth is met with shadows and darkness. A wave of dustiness, and a metallic smell fills your lungs. Is this an old train station? An old warehouse? You ask yourself. Bodies press against bodies. The sea of bodies moves further and further in and suddenly emerge into a large open space. In the distance, several screens are lit up. Above is corrugated iron and the lingering smell of rust.
CY takes a seat, and several are scattered around the stage. You’re not too close. But it’s not too far. You can hear loud voices emerge. It’s the pre-entertainment. You aren’t paying too much attention. The excitement of the night is building. Voices echo within, reverberating around the space. Red washes over everyone. You still don’t know where you are. What is this place?
People from different regions - the tributes, representatives from the different RICE regional events – City, North, South and West are up on stage. You recall the RICE regional event from last term. At Gracepoint, Lidcombe. CY was a group from the West. It was a night to meet people from your region and to learn several things about RICE Rally 2014. And there stand the representatives from your region, undergoing several challenges at hand.
Who can put the most t-shirts on their teammate in a minute. An egg and spoon race? You can’t really tell. The red of the lights permeates every inch of the space, crawling along the faces of young and old, year 7s and year 12s, those who know the Gospel and those who have never heard about Jesus ever. Smiling faces. Faces which are ready. Ready to see God at work. To witness His Spirit move hearts and change lives.
The heavy beat of a song plays. You can’t really recognise the song at first. You’ve never really been good at identifying songs. Then you know it’s One Direction. But what is the name of that song? Oh – yes – One Thing. The lyrics lap at your ears. What are they singing about?
RICE RALLY Begins!
Suddenly there is a countdown. The lights dim. You can hear the eternal roar of youth. There is a burst on stage. Dancers vigorously dancing. Break dancers, hip-hopping away. Ballet dancers spinning. Eyes are glued to the stage. The thrill of the dancers, the excitement, the intensity of the movements, their commitment, you know they’ve been practicing hard. You feel the night will be awesome.
Then when the lights are turned off, and the bodies on the stage, you see the flicker of a cursor run along the screens.
Dear RICE 2014, what is love to you?
What do you make of it? A provocation? A question? A thought to be struggled with into the night. You think. What is love to you? You know it’s Jesus. But how much do you ‘know’ it?
Movements on stage alert you to the fact you’re about to sing. Songs about God and his grace. His love and his justice. You vaguely recognise Candace and Ethan as part of the band. Their faces on screen confirm your slight confusion. When the singing ends, Steve Chong – the man who you know used to lead CY, the CY you now attend – is on stage filled to brim with excitement and energy and he prays. About the night and about doing business with God.
A game follows. What will it be this year? you ponder. It’s about finishing the lyrics to pop songs. You and most of the CYers are in Group two. How will this go down? People get in the groove. You notice so many people love singing and dancing. Some of the others around you are slightly getting into it. A representative who’s not from CY goes up on stage. And they do a good job. But Group 4 has won. But it doesn’t matter everyone has gotten into the mood.
Francis Chan is on stage. Dressed in stereotypical Chinese costume. Taekwondo outfit and a rice farmer’s conically shaped hat. You stifle a laugh. He looks a little silly. Then there’s a ping pong challenge that doesn’t go down too well. A ping pong machine emerges and Char Sui Bau - the number one Chinese player Char Sui Bau (who you recognise as Kelvin Choi – aka Kelpie – a past CY leader) warms up before competing against Francis Chan. And who wins? It turns out to be Francis Chan from too many unforced errors.
There’s a video and an honest testimony from a youth about how he gave his life to Christ. This is a testimony to the power of Christ and his grace in people’s lives.
And then - Francis is up on stage.
And he is asking you to question the mere fabric of existence. The grandness of the universe, the sheer brilliance of human experiences like loving. And laughing and eating. He asks someone to hand him something to eat. He mispronounces schnitzel several times. You ponder – it must be our accents. He continues questioning the implausibility of the universe being caused by chance. You suddenly come to appreciate God’s work in creation, the genius of his design, the complexity of everything tangible in the universe. The fact that life only exists on Earth because of the perfect distance from which the Earth revolves around the sun. Not too hot and not too cold. But perfect for human life. And again, you feel the enormity of what he is implying. God is the creator of all things. Something didn’t come out of nothing -ex nihilo – you suddenly remember. But no – God has orchestrated it all in love. The words of Romans 1 are uttered. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. This truth strikes you at the heart.
He moves to talking about Christ. God’s son. The perfect sacrifice for our sins. Out of love. And the need to be saved from our sins. His words – God’s words are tugging at your heart. What must have God gone through to give up his one and Only Son? He asks his fourteen-year-old daughter to get up on stage.
He uses her in an illustration. His great love for her. They hug on stage. The love a father might have for his daughter is made manifest before your eyes. She hugs him tightly and he questions you. How difficult it would be to give up his daughter. And yet. And yet and yet and yet… God - the very creator of the world, of your existence - gave up his own Son so that you could be reconciled to Him. You feel it hit you. You know his words are truth. God’s love. His ultimate, sacrificial and unconditional love warms you and almost frightens you. But calms you. You feel comfort in knowing you have been saved by grace through faith and have Christ at the centre of your life. But what of those who don’t? You suddenly think of all the non-Christians in the room and at what they are thinking? What are they thinking? You hope and pray they have been hit hard by the Gospel. That God is moving their hearts. You know God is at work.
Words you easily recognise from Romans 8 strike everyone seated. Paul’s powerful words.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
The talk is over. But God’s work isn’t. And Steve Chong prays.
You see people walking out the back. People who have accepted Christ for the first time. People whose lives will eternally be change. From death to life. Counsellor’s are waiting to speak to them. The sound of music sweeps you up and you feel the sudden joy of lives having been saved. There is rejoicing in small pockets across the crowds. People cheering for those who suddenly realise they too should walk out the door.
You notice Josh from year 11 in CY is up on stage praying with another girl. He says some good powerful words in his prayer about remaining strong in the faith. Some pertinent and passionate words.
Announcements about RICE and where it is heading flows towards the conclusion of the night. Steve Chong’s voice closes the event and the glowing of the screens and the metallic smell of the air glide over everyone.
And it is finished.
Or is it? you ask.
No. God is still working in your lives. Still working to completion the good work He began in us all.
The Trip Home
And the mass of bodies flow out into the darkness. Into the coldness of the Friday night. Up into Redfern Station. To Strathfield or Eastwood. You wait in the cold wintriness of the night for your parents. Some leaders remain to wait with other CYers. You leave elated and glad.
And you have been reminded of God’s goodness and His saving grace and His love yet again. Again- but you have never been tired of it. Never will. And you think, perhaps next year your friend will come to RICE 2015. Maybe you could ask him to CY next Friday night. Maybe you will speak to her about Jesus on Monday. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
Only God knows and you rest in that knowledge. Only God knows.
Professional Photos - Beth Joy
Professional Photos - Liz Hung
Credit: Elizabeth Hung
CY Photos - Dan Marr