New Zealand ranks worst in the developed world for death rates among teenagers and other issues of teen welfare, such as suicide and pregnancy rates, according to a recent United Nations report. The report came during the first week of a bicycle tour that aims to address the very issue of “at-risk” behavior among young people in the country. Since New Zealand is known for its world-quality cyclists, it’s no wonder eight cyclists from Seventh-day Adventist churches in the country fused the two agendas by participating in the 26-day, 2,2229-kilometer ride known as the Circle of Courage.
The cyclists began their journey on February 11 from Bluff in the south of New Zealand and plan to end at Cape Reinga. Along the way the riders will provide 23 towns with the Circle of Courage strategy to build resilience and self-esteem in young people.
“There is a simple premise to the Circle of Courage philosophy,” says Paul Rankin, tour coordinator and director of health ministries for the Adventist church’s New Zealand Pacific Union Conference (NZPUC). “It is about building relationships with young people and taking a sincere interest in their lives.” The “Circle of Courage” New Zealand cycle tour is organized by the Health Ministries department in the NZPUC.
“Studies have shown that if adults take the time to learn the names of the young people in their community and get to know them, it will build up their resilience and self-esteem. This will help prevent young people from getting into at-risk behavior,” says Jonathan Duffy, director of Health Ministries for the Adventist church in the South Pacific region and initiator of the Circle of Courage cycle tour both in Australia and New Zealand,
The Circle of Courage philosophy focuses on four main areas: belonging, mastery, independence and generosity. As they stop in at rotary club meetings and town meetings in the evenings, the cyclists are challenging others to embrace the “Circle of Courage”. They also leave behind reading materials, information packs, radio spots and newspaper articles and other resources for building better relationships with young people.
The message is also getting out through the newspaper and radio coverage the cyclists receive as they visit the communities.
“It’s a really good and simple concept,” says Maylene Jennings from Dunedin. “It’s sad though that knowing the children in the community and even in our own church is not a natural thing for us to do. The fact that someone has to tell us about it shows us how impersonal we’ve all become.”
“I really connect with the Circle of Courage philosophy,” says rider Doug McLeod, pastor of the Glen Innes Seventh-day Adventist Church in Auckland, as well as road captain and bike mechanic of the tour. “It’s exactly what I have been doing. I know all the children on my street by name and I have developed healthy relationships with them. So it’s something I identify with and have tried to implement personally.”
This is the second Circle of Courage cycle tour organized by the Adventist church’s health ministries department. Duffy rode from Perth to Sydney, covering almost 4500 km in 31 days with five other cyclists addressing at-risk issues in small towns across Australia in 2005.
The eight cyclists are Jonathan Duffy, Paul Rankin, Rebekah Rankin, Steve Kennelly, Neone Okesene, Jake Ormsby, Doug Mcleod and Norah West. They are supported on the tour by road crew Allen and Juleen Foote, and Rex and Elaine Jackson. The cyclists will continue on to Cape Reinga, where the journey is scheduled to be completed on March 8.
For more information see www.circleofcourage.org.nz.