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Surf's up as GSA rides wave of success to the Sunshine Coast

Surf's up as GSA rides wave of success to the Sunshine Coast

Surf's up as GSA rides wave of success to the Sunshine Coast

18 January 2021

Not much has changed in 10 years. God’s Sports Arena continues to love, encourage and not judge the people who attended its services. For its founder, Bill Hunter, there may be a few more grey hairs but the passion and drive to see non-church people won for the Kingdom still is the same as when the ministry took to the field.   

By Darryl Whitecross

The Salvation Army’s God's Sports Arena (GSA) church continues to kick goals, score tries, hit sixes, slam dunks and hit home runs.

Whatever your sports analogy, the Brisbane-based ministry initiative – that offers an informal approach to church incorporating sport themes – is delivering on its mission to touch lives for God ... and keeping recovery, community and salvation from the sin bin.

Queensland Divisional Envoy Bill Hunter, an accomplished sportsman in his own right and son of a self-confessed cricket tragic, started GSA a tick over 10 years ago in a small church building in the shadow of Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium [also known as Lang Park]. It has since established a loyal fan base, having even expanded internationally with a GSA dugout having opened in Papua New Guinea in January 2019. GSA Brisbane now runs out of the Brisbane City Temple complex.

With expansion always on the agenda, GSA is set to kick off in seaside Caloundra, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, about 90km up the Bruce Highway from Brisbane.

A meeting was held in a Caloundra coffee shop on 14 January to unveil the vision and invite people interested in helping out and coordinating with the new ministry. About 10 people attended, including members of the Caloundra Corps congregation and those who attend GSA and the Streetlevel ministry in Brisbane.

It was announced at that meeting that GSA Sunshine Coast would hold its first service in the multi-purpose facility at Caloundra Corps on Sunday 7 February at 4.30pm – and be held on the first Sunday of each month until it becomes established. Already a speaker “with a powerful transformation story” was on the team sheet for the inaugural service.

Bill said it was hoped the new Queensland Divisional Commanders, Majors Gavin and Wendy Watts, could attend the first service along with Area Officers Majors Neil and Sharon Clanfield – but not in their formal Army uniforms!

It would not be the first time a Divisional Commander (DC) had been sin-binned for a similar ‘onfield’ indiscretion: A former DC, Commissioner Mark Campbell (now the New Zealand Fiji, Tonga and Samoa Territorial Commander), was instantly sent to ‘the bin’ when he turned up in formal uniform – tie and all – to a GSA service!

Many of the GSA congregation in Brisbane are part of the programs at Moonyah recovery services facility, Pindari homeless persons centre and the Streetlevel centre, which also works to meet the needs of those many people working through life issues.

While the region did not have a similar rehabilitation centre for people recovering from addictions, the Sunshine Coast Council’s Community Development Officer, Cindi Coinix, said there was an element of homelessness, unemployment and a community of people “sleeping rough” who needed support. Some of the people who attended GSA meetings and Streetlevel in Brisbane live on the Sunshine Coast. It was expected these people would be part of the new ministry.

Flashback: Queensland Divisional Envoy Bill Hunter when GSA opened in Brisbane in the tiny church in the shadows of Lang Park.

Bill said that GSA services followed a sporting theme with a whistle being blown to start the service and “swapping sides after half-time oranges”.

It’s a casual-style service incorporating contemporary worship, an encouragement segment, testimonies and ends with a ‘Sportsman’s Prayer’, which was written by Bill’s father, Major Keith Hunter, who passed away not long after GSA got out of the blocks.

The PNG GSA has also been run on a smaller scale at Boroko Corps on the grounds of Territorial Headquarters in Port Moresby.

Bill maintains the same level of passion and enthusiasm for the ministry as when he first pitched the idea to the Army hierarchy more than 10 years ago and has been bowled over with its success.

At the time, he had a long sporting and health resume, having been a physical training officer in the Queensland Police Service for 21 years, run marathons and supported athletes with disabilities, in Australia and overseas, and was chaplain to the Brisbane Broncos rugby league team for 20 years.

Bill said back then that God inspired him to start GSA through a post-it note he found in his Bible, which had two words written on it: “history maker”.

“I was really searching God’s will at the time and I knew he wanted me to do something big in sports ministry so he challenged me to be a ‘history maker’ for him and that led to starting GSA.”

Despite being in the thick of GSA coordinating and planning, he continues to manage a family business in first-aid training and juggles that with his GSA commitments and, of course, running – despite a recent hip replacement.

Bill said GSA was designed to reach “non-church people”; those not comfortable attending regular services. These included recovering addicts, the homeless and vulnerable in the community. “It doesn’t matter if you’re single, divorced, married, in recovery, been a prisoner or anything. You are welcome at GSA,” Bill said.

GSA exists to love, encourage and not judge the people who attended its services and Bill said that would continue to be the foundation of GSA Sunshine Coast and anyone not prepared to live by that would be red-carded!

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