It all started with a competition that required kids to hold onto a boat, without talking, for as long as they could. Nine hours, as it happens, but don't worry; the boat was on land, and the children all regained their voices. And best of all, out of this madcap rivalry a small Bay of Islands church has birthed a programme for local youngsters.
Russell Baptist Church is one of five congregations in what was once notoriously known as the 'Hell Hole of the South Pacific'. Today, the seaside town of Russell is a safe and popular holiday destination for Kiwis and international visitors. However, apart from various sports clubs, there is little in the way of structured activities for its younger, permanent residents.
Seeing the need is one thing, but starting something to meet that need when you have just a handful of volunteers and few financial resources is another. However, fellow Northlanders encouraged Russell Baptist Church to step out in faith.
“One event we did at Rawhiti [a Maori settlement 30 kilometres to the east of Russell]. We cooked 160 burgers and they all disappeared. We had 'beach biscuits' and a 'banana', and had horses on the beach - lots of fun things for the kids, so they all had a ball. Luckily they had just had a tangi out there so they had left over hangi to feed the horde. There must have been at least 100 kids, and parents as well. It was a really great day,” says Miles.
Mostly non-churched children come to the events and activities, but Miles says adults in the community also get involved with what the church is doing.
“The adults are having as much fun as the kids. The youth nights and the Big Day Outs are actually creating community. We're quite blessed in that way anyway because it is a small town that is already community orientated . It is just bringing everyone together. That's what the Watoto Children's Choir did too. Out of the 800 people in town we had 300 people in the hall. So that's pretty cool.
“It is a really hard age, going from being a kid to becoming an adult. Whether it just be verbally helping them through that, or partnering with someone that would help them with career opportunities or something like that,” he ponders aloud, wistfully.
In the meantime, Miles, his wife Katrina, his 'right hand man' Darryl and their fantastic team at Russell Baptist, who they couldn't do it without, will continue its Russell Youth programme. It is something Miles never thought he would be doing.