Four Day Lesson

Excerpt from Vicki Crocker personal blog “Heights and Depth” Vicki is a Fall 2017 student from Roberts Wesleyan College. Reproduced with permission.

ASC Keep Cup

So far, I have been here in Australia for 4 days and I can see how mu God is working in this trip. Not only were my travels safe, but those who I’ve encountered have been great, strangers and soon to be great friends. I can see that God has had his hand over me and all my worries. Like if I would get along with my host family. But I believe that a karaoke night with the volume turned all the way u; along with laser disco lights is a well obvious sign that I will be perfectly fine.

I’ve begun to see first hand that when you just put things in God’s hands he WILL take care of you and give you what you need to grow and endure. We just need to let go and listen to what God is telling us to do and follow his commands wholeheartedly without hesitation. Because when we let ourselves follow with our hearts and through trust, God opens these amazing doors that allow you t experience and grow.

Looking back before this adventure, I know that God was preparing me for all that I should experience here. Through hard times and times of loneliness, God has taught me to look and focus completely on him. Our ASC leaders have been telling us to embrace the awkward moments and the lonely times and the times when you miss home and in those moments, redirect your focus to what you have right in front of you and to connect with our host families.

One of the most interesting parts of this experience is that whole idea that we are here in a completely different country on the opposite side of the world in a total opposite time zone with close to nothing as our possessions and relying on those around us to live. With that, what a joy it is to be able to give back to them, to be able to serve in the littlest ways and to really become part of the beauty that surrounds you, even though it’s is almost every way opposite. This reminds me that no matter where we really are nothing is owned by us. We rely on the gifts God has given us to thrive in life, and that is something we must be thankful for.

Study abroad ruined my comfortable life

Excerpt from Wendi Jo Vande Voort  is a Fall 2016 student from Dordt College. Reproduced with permission.

I wrote this overlooking blossoming almond trees while procrastinating. I had fully intended to do homework for an hour each day over spring break and obviously, that went as planned. Not. At least I did not procrastinate as much as I could have – as the revised and edited version was brought about two months later after catching up with friends I made while in Australia. So, here are my revised thoughts pondering how my life has changed since my time in Australia. (I was in Australia from mid-July to early November of 2016).

In February, I had the privilege of providing advice to a friend of a friend who recently went on the adventure and opportunity of a lifetime at the ASC. I pray your journey was pleasant and yet a challenging adventure.

If I had to describe the impact of my time abroad in another country for 3.5 months, 16-time zones away from my support system, and about 22 hours of flight away from home: it was terrifying, marvellous, and one of the most meaningful decisions of my life.

The world’s a stage: my home throughout the safety I find in the rural countryside. I have learned something important about the place I call home since my study abroad. Home is where I find God’s country as many farmers and ranchers call the rural countryside. Home is where I can breathe in the fresh air, smell livestock, and touch an ever-changing living plant. Home is my comfort zone. Home is my safety net. Home is the lands in which agriculture rises and falls with the markets. Home is where my heart, soul, and passion thrive. Home is the driving force which reminds me to pursue my career goals. Throughout the Australian outback, the rolling hills in Iowa, the rows of almond blossoms in California, upstate New York’s classic New England-looking farms, or New Zealand’s lush hills overflowing with sheep I feel at home.

I will forever be a practicing minimalist. I can pack like a queen, also known as packing the kitchen sink, according to some. So, when you are told you get one fifty-pound checked bag (and two extra-large carry-ons) for 3.5 months we have a problem. You truly learn what you can and cannot live without. I returned from Australia with many of the belongings I left the states with, but I had a deeply changed mindset. Stuff mattered much less. People and relationships mattered much more. Buying plane tickets to go on adventures and visit friends was much more exciting than buying a new piece for the ever-perfecting wardrobe. (Although, I did buy some clothes.) Going home with souvenirs – who needs those? I got photographs, friendships, and memories.

Here’s a worldview, beaten to a pulp by my own doing. I went to Australia with what I thought was a well-developed worldview. Then I lived among the worldviews of a people with different histories and mindsets than my own. I took their worldviews and my old worldview to develop a completely reconstructed perspective of life – especially related to politics, world issues, and faith. What better way to reinforce what you truly believe then to challenge it.

I have an awakened appreciation for culture. I lived under the impression much of my life that I fully appreciated other cultures. I was wrong. I thrive on an unconscious white privilege if you will. I still do not quite understand it, but I am learning. Learning to accept portions of cultures I do not agree with and choosing not to instantly go on defense has been challenging. Every culture is subject to differences, and that does not mean one way of living is incorrect from another. Only by grace can you accept that sort of mindset.

A friendship that started out as complete strangers, turned into something as strong as a family, and I’m an introvert (but a bold one). To the GI of GIJO and the Roo Hunter, may our adventures (so far) in Australia, New Zealand, and New York remind us that distance means nothing when memories can be retold a thousand times over. It only took us a weekend trip to the Sunshine Coast within the first month of the semester to realize we were the three musketeers. For your advice and friendship, I am forever indebted. Then for my advice about relationships – your welcome. *Insert crying laughing emoji.* May our short time together have lasting effects on our lives in the future.

Learning how to get along as an individual and on my own. Sixteen-time zones are a long way to ask advice for little things such as I am frustrated about ‘x’, I cannot navigate this bus system (bloody bus system could have been my death the first two weeks), or I had a bad day. Having the experiences, did make me realize and appreciate my host family, friends, individuals, and the program coordinators I leaned on for advice. We are not an island as individuals, nor do we need to expect help from the same people all of the time. Help comes in many forms and choosing to live life regardless of the challenges you face is part of being an independent individual. (Adulting for the win?)

Be still and know that God is still God, and God is still good. I was terrified something would go awry when I was away for 3.5 months, but nothing traumatizing happened. I had to learn to let go and let God lead my life. As a type A person, someone who finds perfection the epiphany of life, I struggle to let God lead my life. Going to a place completely unknown to me and living life out there for 3.5 months taught me a lot about trusting God, listening to his will for my life, and knowing God would be there regardless of the situations I would face.

Like I said, study abroad ruined my comfortable life. But, the new ways I have chosen to live are some of the best decisions I have made.

P.S. For the record, American coffee, especially if you are the Australian espresso black coffee-type, is not going to cut it for you. Still trying to figure out how to afford a $700 investment in an espresso machine and a coffee grinder… Sincerely, a coffee snob who can make her own espresso thanks to a day crash course in making and serving espresso. (I have certification and everything.) Disclaimer: I promise I am a good person, I just like excellent coffee. If you are ever in NYC, GIJO have put the seal of approval on Bluestone Lane Coffee which has a handful of locations within the city.

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The two parts of GIJO (Gianna on left and Wendi Jo on right) and the Roo Hunter (Caven in center) in the Outback.

ASC in Sydney

Blown away in Sydney because I touched one of the wonders of the world! (I truly do despise puns, but sometimes…)

God Helps the Outcasts

Excerpt from Bethany Van Eps personal blog “An Australian Adventure(r)” Bethany is a Spring 2017 student from Dordt College. Reproduced with permission.

(a fitting song related to this post is Follow You by Leeland. Put it on for mood music if you’d like 🙂 )

Today marks a week since serving my last shift at an organization that has quickly become a huge part of my life and I have a lot of feelings about it. This semester I had the honor to spend every Tuesday morning from 9:30 until 12 serving with some of the most kind hearted generous people I’ve ever met and I’d love to tell you about it.

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When I was assigned to Gateway Baptist Care Centre when I first arrived in Australia I had no idea what to expect. At orientation I learned that I would be working with the ‘On Track’ Program. This program was a branch of the Care Centre which admitted a set number of clients every six months and provided these clients with food parcels and listening ears every 3 weeks. The goal of this program is to support families and individuals in the midst of troubled times while also helping them regain their footing and encouraging them to break cycles of reliance on welfare programs. It was such a beautiful ministry. My fellow ASC students, Marissa and Alyssa, as well as myself were told it was our job to set up for community tea and that we would be taking turns interviewing clients and working in the shed. I was excited.

On our first Tuesday we got a taste for how impactful our relationship with our fellow volunteers would be. We started the morning by praying together, and in between meeting with clients we were asked about how our experience was so far, what America was like, etc. Genuine interest was expressed in us, which was touching. One of the sweetest gestures though, was when all of our fellow volunteers banded together  to find out where we lived and who could give who rides to placement every week. This small gesture of kindness was huge to us three Americans (who were already getting a little sick of public transport 😂).

As the weeks passed we all had a chance to interview clients, which really just meant sitting with them, asking how they’re doing, and listening and showing genuine care for their situations. If you weren’t assigned to interview you were working in the shed assembling food parcels to be given to these families and individuals who were down on their luck. At the start we rotated two interviewing and one in the shed. As the semester progressed however, and the supervisor Robyn began to know our personalities and strengths a bit better we found a permanent role that was perfect. Marissa, as a psychology major interested in counseling was assigned the task of interviewing every week (which she LOVED) while Alyssa and I, as business majors who like systems and organizing, got to work in the shed. Again, this reassignment was an itty bitty gesture that communicated a large amount of care and concern that we should all be comfortable and utilizing our skills.

At the start of the semester I had a feeling this placement was God’s vehicle for blessing me but I had thought it would be through the clients I worked with or perhaps in the warm-fuzzy “I helped someone” feeling. While those were both true and present I found my self blessed immeasurably by the staff of volunteers I had the pleasure of working with week after week. Our little team grew so close and saying goodbye last week was  more difficult than I had ever thought it would be.

This semester I witnessed first hand what actively loving your neighbor looks like, as well as the power of recognition of suffering as well as the recognition of common humanity. Sitting and talking to people (a pass time I greatly enjoy anyway) offered them an outlet to share their troubles and feel validated amid their suffering. For some, this program is their first glimpse of God’s love. Being able to show God’s hospitality to refugees and his love for strangers was an honor and to be honest it’s mind boggling to me that God chose me to be a vessel in this way. This semester I also had the joy to feel the rewarding power of generosity both in being able to give generously in food and compassion to those who need it as well as in receiving more from this volunteer crew than I could ever repay.

After all of our clients were taken care of last week our little team came together and gifted us cards, along with parcels of Australian goodies to bring home with us. We were speechless and so so thankful. Then, as if they hadn’t given us enough, they drove us up to the Mount Gravatt lookout, bought us coffee and we had one last hour of fellowship. I teared up as we hugged goodbye then and am getting misty eyes writing this now.

I will never forget my time at Gateway Baptist Care Centre, nor do I want to. I pray God continues to bless this spectacular ministry and that people continue to be blessed through it.

Blessings from Brisbane
Bethany ♥

Have Class, Will Travel

Excerpt from Bethany Van Eps personal blog “An Australian Adventure(r)” Bethany is a Spring 2017 student from Dordt College. Reproduced with permission.

As a part of my course requirement here in Australia I have to take CS254: Australian Indigenous Cultures and Worldviews as well as AS200: The View from Australia. These classes are about understanding and embracing the beautiful country we’re studying in and the beautiful people that inhabit it. Through these classes, in an effort to truly let us experience Australia, we’ve been on a number of really neat field trips, taking us out of South/Central Brisbane and letting us explore.

St. Helena (hell-ay-na) Island: AS200
Just off the coast of a South Brisbane, St. Helena Island opened in 1867 as Queensland’s foremost maximum security prison for men. The prison operated as one of the most lucrative businesses for the government housing a sugar mill, limestone kiln, and an award winning stock of cattle. While only 7% of the original buildings are still standing there was plenty to tour, led by our actor/guides demonstrating the prisoner-convict relationship and making the historical tour both funny and memorable. A day of historical touring and playacting helped us learn about Australia’s dark convict history.

(learn more: http://www.sthelenaisland.com.au/)

Stradbroke Island: CS254
Stradbroke Island is a popular tourist destination off the southern coast of Brisbane in Moreton Bay. While this island sports gorgeous beaches and often hosts Australian families on a weekend away, the ASC brought us for an entirely different purpose. As a part of our Aboriginal Australian cultural studies we took a two day trip to Stradbroke in order to learn and experience the history and culture of the island’s first inhabitants, the Quandamooka people. We first learned about traditional dress, song, and dance from Matt Burns, before then then visiting Uncle Norm and touring the elder’s museum which was full of artifacts that told the history of the island. We spent the next morning making traditional sand art with Craig aka ‘Tappi” before taking an afternoon swim in Brown Lake (a lake which looks like a massive cup of tea due to the surrounding trees dropping Tea Tree leaves into the water to decompose). A wonderful weekend full of cultural study and enrichment.

**These pictures are from the lovely Emily Kelly, Anna Gibson and the ASC staff. No phone=Bethany’s pictures lacking any form of quality**

Australian Outback- Bonus Downs: AS200
The Australian outback covers a large percentage of this country’s land and is generally unexperienced by the population at large. In order to learn about this more wild rugged side of Australian history and culture we took a nine hour drive towards the heart of the country and spend 2 days 3 nights in a sheep shearing shed an hour outside of Mitchel. This trip could really have a post unto itself, but I’ll try and shortlist the jam=packed 4-day weekend. We had the privilege staying at a farm-stay called Bonus Downs, hosted by the lovely Madonna and Lyle. Our time there included a property tour, a brief history lesson of the farm, a discussion about environmental stewardship as Christians, a little trek through the mud to catch Yabbies (like a little crawfish), and nightly campfires. Part of our discussion on environmental stewardship included the issuing of a challenge. A no-shower challenge. The purpose? To preserve water, feel connected to ‘place’, bond with each other (and give Bethany dreadlocks). The result? A shower has never ever felt better. While we didn’t get as dirty as students in semesters past and were treated to a bit more luxury, red dirt, mud and campfire

**These pictures are all Anna Gibson’s I believe but Emily Kelly and Alyssa Migliaro posted some really cool ones on FaceBook as well**

Bridgeman Baptist Church- Dhiyaan Service: CS254
Bridgeman Baptist Church is a medium sized Baptist Church located in North Brisbane. This past Sunday in an effort to learn more about how Aboriginality and Christianity are compatible practices we traveled as a class to experience their Dhiyaan Service which is lead by Aboriginal Australian worship leaders and pastors. At this service we were able to see a Galatians 3:28 demonstrated through a traditional dance performed by members of the congregation, both young and old, indigenous and nonindigenous, male and female. It was a beautiful opportunity to witness the blended, diverse body of Christ and was really eye opening for all of us. CS254.PNG**Photo Credits: https://www.instagram.com/australiastudiescentre/ **

Overall this semester has given me wonderful opportunities to explore not only the awesome city of Brisbane, but also the beautiful country it is located in! I’m so thankful for classes that facilitate this kind of hands-on, exploratory learning and have been so blessed in this way! Eighty some odd days of exploring down, twenty some to go! Excited to soak up as much as I can!!

Blessings from Brisbane,

Bethany ♥

embrace the smallness

Excerpt from Marissa Showalter’s personal blog “Riss Lynn Takes Brisbane” Marissa is a Spring 2017 student from Messiah College. Reproduced with permission.

“It’s good for the spirit to be reminded as an individual or a community that there will always be something bigger, older, richer, and more complex than ourselves to consider” – Tim Winton, Island Home: A Landscape Memoir.

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Australian Outback by Mitchell, Queensland. Photo by Alyssa Migliaro

In the last week, I’ve truly experienced Australia the way that most of the rest of the world pictures it to be: koalas and kangaroos, red dirt for days, and starry night skies that take your breath away. That’s right folks, I finally experienced Australia Zoo and the Outback (and I’m not talking about the steakhouse). And what an experience it was.

So two Mondays ago it was a public holiday (Labour Day) here in Queensland, and what 18198218_791562847677225_6166771247237832656_n.jpgbetter way to spend our day off from uni than a trip to Australia Zoo?! Yep, you heard me, I finally went to the home of the Crocodile Hunter. If you thought my level of excitement to be in the Butterfly Sanctuary in Cairns was high, you should’ve seen me Monday morning. Bouncing off the walls is definitely an understatement.

I have never been to another place quite like Australia Zoo. In the U.S., all the zoos I have been to have been crowded, noisy, and very city-esque. This one was sparse, tranquil, and felt as though we were actually in the wild. Some of the animals even roamed free from their exhibits with their trained handlers — such a strange occurrence! You wouldn’t see a dingo being walked down the sidewalk in proximity to patrons at the Philadelphia Zoo, that’s for sure.

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The view from the treehouse on Bindi’s Island

Growing up watching Steve Irwin as the Crocodile Hunter on Animal Planet as so many of us did, it was unreal walking amongst his legacy at Australia Zoo. The passion that oozes from his memory and the staff is palpable, and it makes you excited too. This is the Australia that I always pictured from my childhood, this wild and untamed side that invokes all the images of deadly snakes and riled crocs. I even got to hold a koala and walk among kangaroos and wallabies in “Roo Heaven.” SO EXCITING.

But seriously, the Outback trip was AMAZING. It was a class excursion, so the whole group of Americans went. It was 10 hours of driving to get to Bonus Downs, the farm that we were staying at just past Mitchell. This farm regularly hosts large groups and is run by Madonna and Lyle, the sweetest old farm couple you will ever meet. It was a nice weekend away to sort of just chill out, get some peace, and reconnect as a group. We slept in a sheering shed and under the stars while we were there, sat around campfires, and ate TONS of food, a personal favorite of mine. Pretty sure we had a full meal every two hours (well maybe not but it felt that way!).

And can I just say that I love camping?! The smell of the fire, the fresh breeze that

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Photo by Anna Gibson

caresses my face in the evenings, the stars shining brilliantly in the sky, the freedom of having no schedule and just being able to sit around chatting and sipping on coffee, singing worship songs, and just feeling God’s presence hovering over us all. Takes me back to my favorite place on earth, Roxbury Holiness Camp, where I’ve camped with my family every year since I was in diapers. There is no place where I feel more at peace or more connected with God than out in His Creation. Praise Him for this beautiful, magnificent, diverse world!

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Photo by Anna Gibson

Among other things, I also learned how to crack a whip (and I would recommend staying a safe distance away if I have a whip in hand), I shook hands with the prettiest horse ever, held some yabbies (crawfish), took some solid naps, and went for long walks in the red soil with the flies swarming (I had a whole heap of them just sitting on my back — if you don’t like bugs, the Outback is NOT for you just an FYI).

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Lauren and I are professional nappers. It’s a gift. Photo by Anna Gibson.

The last night, I also slept under the stars despite the cold (yes, remarkably and to my utter shock Australia does get cold at times!). I remember waking up at probably around 4am and catching my breath as I peered into the dark night. Tim Winton, a famous Australian writer, best describes the experience of the Australian night sky in his memoir Island Home:

In the desert the night sky sucks at you, star by star, galaxy by galaxy, until you begin to feel you could fall out into it at any moment. In Australia the sky is not the safe enclosing canopy it appears to be elsewhere. It’s the scantiest membrane imaginable, barely sufficient as a barrier between earthbound creatures and eternity … you feel a twinge of terror because the sky seems to go on forever.

And it does indeed go on forever, I can attest to that! The night sky does a remarkable job of reminding you how unimaginably small you actually are, and makes the hairs on your arms stand up when you consider that despite the smallness, there is a great big God who knows us personally and CHERISHES us with an unfathomable and inconceivable love! Embrace the smallness friends, because within it the glory of God is revealed. I wish that I could take pictures that would do justice to everything that I am seeing with my eyes so that you all could feel the way I feel as I look upon God’s handiwork. How breathtaking. How marvelous. How awe-inducing. He is good. SO GOOD.

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Photo by Alyssa Migliaro

Carry this sweet reminder of God’s greatness with you this week. Take a moment to look at the sky and drink in the wonder of His presence. Thanks for reading.

xoxo, Riss

*Fun fact: did you guys know that 80% of Australia’s population actually lives in their top 20 largest cities? Hold this up in comparison to the U.S., with only 10% of our population in our 20 largest cities. We think of Australia as being a country full of crocodile hunters, when actually the majority of the population is comprised of city-dwellers. Pretty mind-blowing, hey?

Cover photo credit at the top goes to Alyssa Migliaro!

tennyson said it best

Excerpt from Marissa Showalter’s personal blog “Riss Lynn Takes Brisbane” Marissa is a Spring 2017 student from Messiah College. Reproduced with permission.

“Tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” These words of Alfred Lord Tennyson have taken on a whole new meaning to me now that I am left with only six weeks left until I leave Brisbane and seven until I return to the States. Tonight I am feeling so keenly the heartbreak that I know is inevitably coming my way. I keep wondering to myself how I can possibly live contentedly back at home after having lived the life I have these past few weeks — and I’m stumped. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to do it.

I am so glad to have done this program. I’ve met so many people that I love and have gotten to experience so much. But at the same time, I’m kind of mad at myself. I’ve let so many people into my heart, and I’m going to have to say goodbye soon. I’m already trying to steel myself for the leaving, but I also don’t want to waste a single moment that I could be spending with one of my friends here. Life is too short, and time is too precious.

So I’m stuck with the heartbreak, I guess. I have never identified with Tennyson more in my life. “Tis better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” I am so blessed for the relationships that I’ve formed during my time here, and I wish I had the opportunity to grow them even more. I will admit, it makes me a bit sad to think that when I leave I might just become a distant memory to people as well. Like, “oh yeah, remember that one American girl who was here for a little bit? What was her name again?” I will leave, people will continue on with their regular lives, and I’ll be long forgotten about. The next American girl will come to replace me, and I will become just become one in a list of many. I don’t want to be a distant memory. What a depressing thought.

Study abroad, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. But they didn’t tell you that when you finish, your heart will officially be living in two separate continents on the opposite sides of the world. Prayers are appreciated friends, because this is going to be a tough one.

Just some late night thoughts.

xoxo, Riss

Clever Titles Are Hard

Excerpt from Julia Eshleman’s personal blog “Julia Nicole Eshleman” Julia is a Spring 2017 student from Messiah College. Reproduced with permission.

Okay, this is embarrassing. I wanted to write a post every other week… and five weeks have gone by since my last writing. Whoops.

There has been so, so much going on, and therefore, there will be a lot of skimming in this blog post. But tonight I have time to write, since my midterms are finally done (woohoo!).

Although I have only traveled within a few hours of my home so far, I feel like I’ve been to lots of new places in the past month. One of the most educational examples of this was when our entire Aboriginal culture class went to Stradbroke Island for a fiDSC_0405_editeld trip, and we were taught dances, practices and history from First Nations tribe members who knew our lecturer, Lea. Indigenous Culture, which I knew absolutely nothing about prior to coming here, is both fascinating and heartbreaking. As I learn more about the ways in which colonization has hurt this ancient, magical sort of people group, I have gained so much respect for Australian Aboriginal people; the way they view the spiritual realm, the land, and the connection between tribes is beautiful.

Stradbroke has some of the best views I have ever seen. It’s a small island; picture cliffs, brilliant waves, and very few businesses. I hope to head back to Straddie to go whale watching in the fall before I leave if I can(If you know me well, you will know exactly how I might feel about whale watching).

Although people ask me all the time if I get homesick, the sickness that worries me most is actually how I’m going to feel when I have to leave Australia in two months. There is just so much that I’m leaving behind. I’m going to miss watching the sunset in my backyard through the dining room window, and walking home from school. I’m going to miss singing worship songs at my church, and spending time with my friends. I’m going to miss having tea with the kind people at my service placement, and I’m going to miss eating dinner with my host family.

This is why even though I definitely miss parts of Montana and Pennsylvania life frequently, I cannot wish my time away. I know that I will go home in two months, unless something very dramatic were to happen. However, I don’t know if or when I will ever return to Australia. The thought is sad, but it influences me to be content in my circumstances- that thought and, of course, the fact that my circumstances are pretty sweet. There are times when I’m sad, or I miss people, but I could not possibly ask for a better place to be.

I’m actually going to write another blog post soon about my Spring Break trip to the Great Barrier Reef, so stay posted 🙂 As always, you guys should know that you can text, FaceTime, or email me whenever, and I love to hear from my friends in the states (or family members!) Thanks for being willing to listen to me ramble on yet again. I love you guys!