Teenagers chilling on the beach during the Schoolies period are surprisingly open to diving into deep discussions on life and love, says Frances Hopkins.
The founding director of Sydney-based The Culture Project Australia will take her team of missionaries to the Gold Coast in the first week of December to spread a message of human dignity and authentic love—a message she says has literally saved lives.
“Our first year at Schoolies was four years ago, and I remember thinking maybe young people on Schoolies don’t want to hear this message about authentic love,” says Frances.
“There were these two boys smoking on the beach and some girls sitting near them, and I decided I’d talk to the girls, but I got no one [interested], so I sat down beside the boys.”
Five hours later, she had talked the 16 and 17-year-olds out of a suicide pact, and still keeps in touch with one of them.
“They had had tough lives, they knew suffering. I got a handwritten letter when the 16-year-old turned 18, saying ‘You saved my life that day’.
“I would have walked right past him because I thought he wouldn’t want to hear our message. That was really transforming for me, to know that every heart is made for this message.”
The Culture Project, an offshoot of the Culture Project International, was established by Frances with Chris Da Silva in 2015 to cut through to young people with a message of human dignity and sexual integrity.
“Our language is very ninja,” says Frances. “We’re able to encounter young people where their hearts are at.
“Ultimately we tell them that we believe in a world where the only way to treat ourselves and other people is with love, and where we will not be used or use others.
“We invite them to stay in touch and join us in this new revolution to change the world to one where all relationships are based on authentic love.”
Young women tend to be very receptive to the call.
“Some of them will be in tears, and [at Schoolies] girls will call their boyfriends and say ‘Come down here you have to hear this’,” Frances says.
Last year the registered charity reached 15,000 young people in schools, conferences and youth groups across Australia, through interactive presentations and reflection days.
“The highlight for me is encountering young people in the classroom and especially affirming young women in their self-worth,” said team director Katherine Turnbull.
“It’s also been great to be part of the growing of this really exciting young missionary organisation, being part of the formation of the team members and creating a space in community for us all to grow in virtue.”
Peter O’Donovan, a lawyer, quit his job at a Sydney firm to join the team along with Benedict Slee, Laurence Klein and Bridie Hall, who all came on board last month.
“I could see that young people were being given counterfeit answers to their questions on life and love, from my own experience and from what I could see of the experience of young people around my age, and there was a lot of brokenness and suffering as a result of that,” said Peter.
“I joined The Culture Project to encourage young people to step out and scratch a bit deeper on issues that are important to who we really are. In my short time it’s really affirmed for me the need that is there.”
Frances said while the focus so far has been on putting down home roots in Sydney, her dream is to have satellite teams in the major cities throughout the country.