Jason Ballard and Ben Woodman are the two presenters of the brand new re-imagined Alpha Youth Series (AYS). We caught up with them to find out more about the project.
When did you first come across Alpha?
I was in grade 11 or 12, but I think 11. My buddy Jared and I were hanging out. He didn’t go to church or anything like that…We just ended up having lots of conversations about God and faith and life. I remember my church was running Alpha for people mostly older than us. There weren’t any other high school students there and I said, “Hey, dude. You should come check this out.”
So I’d heard of Alpha before this, but this was the first time I actually went through and experienced it. It was just such a great experience because all of a sudden, Jared and I were having more of these meaningful conversations. We learnt, grew and drank lots and lots of coffee. We weren’t big coffee drinkers up until that point.
How did you get involved with the Alpha Youth Series?
I was doing tons of youth ministry in Canada primarily. I remember starting to have conversations with Alpha, saying: “Hey, what would it look like to do something that’s totally Alpha but works for high school students? How would it look different? Would it be shorter? Would the questions be in the middle? Would it be more upbeat?” All of a sudden, we put a team together over the course of a few months, and then over the two years that followed, after a couple of months of design and about a year of production, we got to release the first one in 2013.
The way I got involved in the Alpha Youth Series was through friendship. Jason and I have known each other for about 15 years and we’d been doing a lot of ministry together especially around helping young people serve their friends and their schools and have conversations about their faith. After Jason started working with Alpha, he asked me to come and help on the project. So that was back in 2011 and we started dreaming about putting Alpha on video for youth.
So you released the first one in 2013, why did you decide to re-film it? What’s the vision behind it?
The plan was always to re-film it. The first one was the experiment, where we asked ourselves – does this work? I think what we discovered is that it worked even more than we expected.
The big thing is we improved the script. We improved the questions. We improved the production quality. We engaged more voices, made it more dynamic, and added more stories, and we think it’s more fun and more interesting and more global. At the end of the day, we think this is going to be something that really does in a lot of ways the same thing the first one did, which is effectively engage high school students in these conversations, but in a more compelling, gripping and dynamic way.
Like Jason said we decided to produce the series again because we’re trying to do everything we can to help Christian youth and youth leaders invite their friends to hear about Jesus, to have conversations about the meaning of life and ultimately to encounter Jesus for themselves. There was a great response to the first series and we wanted to do what we could to make it a little bit better.
What was your favourite episode to shoot?
I think my favourite episode to film was the episode on healing. We had this idea for the episode that at the beginning we would enter a rundown warehouse type space and then throughout the episode we’re turning the space into an art gallery. I think what I love about it, is that while it’s happening we don’t really talk about, it’s just happening the whole time in the background. I think it’s a great picture of what God does in our lives; he redeems and restores and he can bring beauty out of the parts of our lives that don’t feel beautiful.
What was your most embarrassing moment on set?
The most embarrassing moment for me had to be when I tried to catch one of the drones and I hurt myself and almost broke the drone. We caught it on video so you can watch it on our behind-the-scenes videos. We were on the back of a moving boat and everything was going well until I went to grab it the wrong way. It felt like my fingers got slammed in a car door. Thankfully the drone fell into the boat and not into the water and thankfully the drone blades weren’t too expensive to replace.
What was your favourite location to film in?
Malibu! This is not Malibu, California, but this summer camp called Malibu. It is up the Princess Louisa Inlet in British Columbia on the ocean. It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to in my entire life. I had been there a bit when I was a kid, when I was really young, and had these really amazing experience there, so we wanted to go to this place because it’s remote. It’s off the grid. It’s stunning. It’s amazing, and the wilderness and everything around it is just so incredible, so we wanted to film the two talks on the Holy Spirit there.
It was a real privilege to travel to so many places to film. So many different cultures and so much history. We filmed a little bit in Nazareth which was really cool. I remember eating falafel one day for lunch and thinking Jesus might of had falafel here when he was growing up (Like not really, but the idea is still cool you know?)
I don’t know if this is my favourite episode, but I think one of the most meaningful ones was the episode on healing because I shared a really personal experience in my brother who’s fighting brain cancer and in some ways, he’s experienced healing, but in other ways, we’re still waiting.
As we’re recording this interview, and as we’re filming and doing posts, he’s in the middle of chemotherapy (again). And so when we talk about these things, it’s a reminder that we’re talking about real people. When we talk about Jesus meeting the need of loneliness, there’s lonely people we’re connecting with. When we talk about healing, there’s actually sick people needing healing. This is real stuff not just an abstract idea. We’ll pray and some of them are going to experience healing and some of them are going to feel like God didn’t answer their prayers and are wrestling with that reality. So I love the talk because we share these really amazing stories of people getting healed, but then at the very same time, we’re sharing these honest stories, like, hey, we’re right now praying for my brother and he’s not healed, and that’s hard and that hurts.
What are your hopes for the new series?
If we continue to see the kind of growth that we’ve been seeing as we released the first one, I think the result will be millions of young people around the world having the opportunity to experience the love of community and the love of Jesus. I think that can change the world. The dream is seeing a whole generation changed. Our hope is that this won’t just be a thing that a few people do, or something that a youth group or student does one time, but that this would become a rhythm in youth ministry where the doors open very wide for people who don’t typically go to church, and this would happen on a regular basis.
Our hope and dream for the new series is that it helps young people from all over the world meet Jesus. It’s really that simple – we want young people to encounter Jesus for themselves.
Find out more about the new Alpha Youth Series at alphacanada.org/ays.