Travel - June 2010 - Sheila Johnson on Oak Hall

SHEILA JOHNSON and her family head for Greece with Oak Hall, 25 years after her husband’s first trip with the Kent-based Christian holiday firm

Oak Hall is a UK Christian-based team which includes optional prayer and worship meetings as part of its holiday package – and they celebrate 50 years of operation next year.

Expeditions began in 1961 with Ian Mayo taking 13 young people to Switzerland in an old London ambulance. In the early days the expeditions were run from Ian and Judy’s home, but nowadays the organisation has a new Christian base at Otford Manor in Kent.

Originally there were two particular types of holiday – either travelling by bus to various European campsites with all supplies taken from the UK, or conference centres in the more far-flung regions where budget food was purchased on arrival. The teams would always have at least one cook but all holidaymakers were encouraged to participate as well.

The expeditions appeal mostly to people in their twenties and thirties, although a wide spectrum of ages are catered for, with plenty of opportunities for friendship and occasionally romance.

Kevin and Barbara Parfitt met in Malaysia on Kevin’s 12th and Barbara’s first Oak Hall expedition. On one occasion they decided to break away from the group and explore the local town by trishaw (a rickshaw with a double front seat). This led to them keeping in touch and marrying just a year later.

Kevin said, “Oak Hall holidays are a great way of meeting up with lots of young people of a similar age. They are reasonably priced and a good way of seeing lots of different countries.”

Oak Hall later branched out to include winter ski breaks as well, and one customer commented: “We found the ski teaching far superior to some of the secular holiday equivalents because they were genuinely interested in our progress, rather than it just being their ‘job’ as such.”

Last summer our family had been looking for a holiday of around 10 days in a previously unvisited country, at an affordable price, with some sort of Christian content, when the Oak Hall brochure arrived and seemed to provide what we were after. The company manage to keep their prices down by including food, accommodation and excursions in the upfront price.

And so it was that 25 years on from his last Oak Hall expedition as a single, my husband Angus took me and our two teenage sons to Greece in the summer of 2009.

This time we stayed in a small family-run hotel just a short walk from the local town of Nea Makra and the beach. What we hadn’t bargained for was the forest fires near Athens at the time of our visit. However, the added drama only served to bring our party closer together in prayer and shared experience – our family balcony being the best viewing platform for the fires!

During our stay we were able to spend time on the beach, visit Athens, Corinth, one of the Greek islands and even borrow the hotelier’s bikes and go cycling along the coast.

Kathryn, our guide was very good at organising team-building activities such as evening walks or trips to the bar or ice cream parlour. On the final day most of the party joined together to participate in team water games.

Each morning we would meet for prayer before the start of the day’s activities and each evening, after worship led by various people, including our youngest son Luke, Andy, our Bible teacher, gave us insight into the different images of Jesus.

Since our return we have an established Greek holiday 2009 group on Facebook and there have been two unofficial reunion meals plus an official reunion at Otford Manor.

Angus said: “We all met slightly nervously at Stansted airport at the start of our holiday but on returning to the same spot ten days later there were many fond farewells, hugs and kisses and even a few tears, plus the promise of some new relationships for the future.”

Find out more at www.oakhall.co.uk


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