I recently had the opportunity to connect with Paul Rowney who heads up Red Frogs Support Network South Africa, an initiative of Grace Family Church, uMhlanga.
Me: Paul, good to connect again.
Paul: Thanks Xav, glad for the opportunity.
Paul, I often hear from those involved with Red Frogs talking about ‘safeguarding a generation’. Would you say that defines the heart of Red Frogs and if so, what does it actually mean?
I think that the idea of safeguarding a generation is more the by-product of a generation of young people serving others, which is at the heart of Red Frogs. As we serve others, we are able to be in the right place, at the right time and in so doing safeguard young people. We really believe that by being a positive presence in these partying environments that we’ll see a change in culture.
What shape then does ‘being a positive presence’ take? I hear it involves pancakes.
Being a positive presence is at first simply about being present and then about serving. We really believe that serving and generosity fosters trust. Trust encourages relationship and that relationship gives a platform for possible life change. So all that we do, whether it be making free pancakes or handing out free coffee or bottles of water or handing out our famous Red Frog sweets, these are all a means of service and generosity, allowing us to be a positive presence and establish trust.
A recent post on ‘Stellies Confessions’ commented something along the lines of how ‘Frogs saved my life at Rocking the Daisies’. Clearly, Frogs has an impact at these type of events, what do you view as a successful event from a Frogs perspective?
For us, we are always looking at two primary things: building relationships and safeguarding. So if we know that our volunteers have had meaningful conversations with young people, who are at a volatile stage in their life and under huge societal pressures, then that is very positive. Then when we are ‘at the right place at the right time’, when boundaries are pushed, we can be a referral service to the professional services at the event.
My first encounter with Frogs was in 2008, with some Frog volunteers who were out from Australia to assist with ‘Beach Mission’. Nine years later Red Frogs has a presence at all the major music festivals, Varsity Orientation weeks and the Rage gatherings along all parts of the South African Coast. To what do you attribute this growth?
It’s a great question. There are probably four areas. The first one is simply the need. There is such an increase in binge drinking and drug exploration that event organisers and universities are really looking for people who can bring a positive influence. The second thing is that the local church is realising more and more that if we want to be effective we need to be present with authentic love. I think the third thing is that we’ve always had emerging leaders on our teams, leaders who we have come along side and nurtured. This has allowed us to launch new locations rapidly. Then I think that for many volunteers it provides a practical opportunity to express their faith. A real space to love others and learn about your character. Very revealing when you haven’t slept much!
As the National leader of Red Frogs, you have a very real insight into the party culture of this generation. Over the past few years, have you noticed any particular trends?
There has been a huge shift, which is partly due to the professionalisation of these events, which remain a kind of ‘rite of passage’ in a culture that has become void of such expressions of transition. There’s also been a move from beer to high percentage alcohol mixes and party substances. We’ve also seen an increase in incidents related to depression and anxiety.
And in view of these trends what would your encouragement be to those involved in working with this generation?
One of the critical things that I’ve learnt personally in this journey is the need to be present. If we want to understand how to meet the needs of a generation, we need to understand what those needs are. So as people who desire to have an influence, who have often stood on the ‘outside’ of cultures we perceive to be unhealthy and pointed at them saying, “That needs to change.” But true and effective change only happens from within and in the context of relationship. And so for me as Young Adult Pastor at Grace Family Church it’s critical to be with the people I’m trying to reach and understand, with the sole agenda to love authentically.
So, what next for Red Frogs? What does Frogs 2020 look like in your mind?
In the context of our country, we would want to see Red Frogs, and programmes like Red Frogs, serving this diverse generation in every environment possible.
Paul, school leavers are hitting the beaches as we speak. Let’s wrap up by leaving our readers with some of the numbers.
Number of Matrics.
We estimate that we’ll engage one on one with about 26 000 matrics.
Number of Frog volunteers.
220 this year.
Last year we made 420 000, so probably about 500 000.
Bottles of water.
Thirsti Water have sponsored us 7000 bottles.
3 and half tons of Cartoon Candy Red Frog sweets.
Thanks Paul for your time.