Opening up the Truth for young people
Published: 4 November 2012
By: Selina Venier
Passionate advocate: Executive director of National Evangelisation Teams (NET) Shanelle Bennett
SHANELLE Bennett is so much more than executive director of National Evangelisation Teams (NET).
As the ministry approaches its 25th year in Australia there's time to reflect on the spiritual and emotional motherhood she's offered to more than 600 young people, sent forth to proclaim the Gospel as "NETTERS".
"I love the fact we've trained so many ... (but) I don't often think about it," purposeful Shanelle said from her office at the Emmaus Centre for Renewal and Evangelisation, Paddington.
The mother of three and grandmother to five - with another "on the way" - said God allowed her "to see some of the fruits" of the outreach at the September Ignite Conference, run by Emmanuel Community.
"They called up anybody who has ever done NET," she said.
"Hundreds of kids came up on the stage.
"There were some from New Zealand ... (and) another from Uganda who was there because he's now an MGL (Missionaries of God's Love).
"A lot of them are still involved in the Church in all different ministries.
"I turned around to (husband) Shayne and said, 'We trained all of them'.
"That was only an eighth of them and was incredible."
Shanelle, who first was a NET counsellor, said she "can't remember life without NET training" - six weeks at the start of each year, mid-year and an end-of-year "debrief".
"It's a huge process," she said.
"I do remember life with training through different stages ... like taking my kids there, bringing them back in the last week to go to school and leaving Shayne to finish.
"My kids don't remember not being on training either."
The Bennetts are a self-confessed "NET family".
Danielle, their eldest, is married to Robert Schroeders, who works in the pioneering NET university ministry in Brisbane, and the couple is expecting their second child.
Mark, who works for the archdiocese and has led NET Ireland, met and married Caitlyn who came from America to serve NET. They have two children.
Renee, the youngest of the Bennett children, is married to Mark Doyle, who served on NET Canada. They have two sons.
Of those unions Shanelle said, "It's such a blessing they know God in their lives and met partners who know God."
Shayne, who grew up in Balmoral, and Shanelle, a northsider, met at a prayer meeting in Bardon.
She was 14 and he was 17 and they were close from the outset.
"I would never have thought of marrying him," Shanelle said.
"He was my best friend."
Together they began "running youth camps and Life in the Spirit weekends" for up to 100 young people.
Then, "as a core group of 40 youth" they decided to join Emmanuel (then called Emman-uel Covenant Community).
Realising their God-given destiny the couple married in Corpus Christi Church, Nundah, in 1976 and have remained in Emmanuel for 37 years.
Another member came across the NET model in America and spurred Shayne to witness it first-hand.
He returned, "having loved it" and soon enough all the Bennetts were headed to America.
"In a nutshell Shayne and I have felt from the beginning that our lives were called to youth ministry," Shanelle said.
"When we went to America we went to the training, met all the NETTERS and got on so well with the staff.
"Back in Australia we had a connection to lean on."
In 1988 and into 1989 the first group of Australian NETTERS went to America for training and 15 months of ministry here and abroad.
1990 saw the first group trained in Australia and national "travelling teams" followed.
Shanelle said the then Archbishop of Brisbane Francis Rush "opened the doors" and Shayne, NET's original executive director, set up a board of directors and all the necessary Church and government protocols.
With three small children she was "helping out" as best she could and completed her counselling degree.
Shanelle admitted she "came from a rough background" and this too encouraged her passion for youth outreach.
"I've done a lot of ministry with abused children," she said.
"Counselling is my basic giftedness but I've also had a lot of difficult experiences in my background.
"I was this kid who was lost and then God found me and cared for me.
"My relationship with Him changed immensely - I really experienced a personal relationship with Jesus Christ."
The first parish-based NETTERS landed in Redcliffe, north of Brisbane, in 1995 and while she couldn't recall how many teams there have been every year since then, in 2012 there are nine, plus the university outreach.
Shanelle remembers people more than teams and is particularly animated when talking about the amount of marriages among former team members.
"I often say to the NETTERS you are joining a very big family," she said.
"The beautiful thing is that people stay in touch and tell you about their children or about going through trials.
"We can say to them, 'We know you, we remember you, we love you and we are praying for you'."
When Shayne approached his wife about taking over the reigns in 2005, Shanelle laughed at the thought.
"I was working as a parole officer at the time and Shayne said, 'Why don't you come and work with us?'
"I remember saying, 'I don't really do board meetings or fundraising'."
In a prayer time just prior Shanelle said she felt God telling her she'd be "sent from the front line of battle into the castle".
"It stayed with me," she said, "This sense of being called to be the captain ... I kept praying about it and realised all those things I couldn't do, apparently I can.
"It was a huge learning curve."
Shanelle said while she's Charismatic, her preferred prayer times are spent in quiet contemplation.
At lunch time she "puts the 'do not disturb' sign up, reads the scriptures and sits with God", adding, "He looks at me and I look at Him ... there's union and peace."
With an otherwise frantic schedule, Shanelle took some time for prayer in St Stephen's Cathedral when going through a period of self-doubt.
"One day I was questioning whether I had given enough to God," she said.
"I'd helped the poor, the abused, the marginalised, had been to Africa ... but I still wondered.
"I remember opening my eyes and unbeknownst to me, a group of NETTERS were in town and walked into the cathedral.
"The Lord said, 'Look at that' and in my heart I felt Him say, 'Everything you do for me, anything anybody does for me, counts'.
"I felt Him say, 'You just have to be faithful to what I put in front of you and that's what you've done'.
"It was a real encouragement."
The sky's the limit with Shanelle's passion for reaching young people about the truth of Jesus Christ, the promises of salvation and "life to the fullest".
"The Lord has given me a mission among young people, to speak to them about the truth in a world that dishes them up so much garbage," she said.
"It's a privilege to open up the truth for them ... I can help bring them to the water and the Lord can help them drink.
"I hope I'm doing that to the day I die."