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!

tuesdays are for heavy hearts

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

Hi friends! It’s me again. Just procrastinating writing a paper and such, so instead I thought I’d write something just for the heck of it.

I just realized that I haven’t shared about my service placement yet, and I want to take a moment to do that because it is a super important part of my abroad experience. So every Tuesday while I am here, I volunteer in the mornings at Gateway Baptist Church in their Care Centre. This is also the church that I have been calling home since arriving in Brisbane, as every week I have been tagging along with my host family to the 10am service and the young adult service at 6pm.

I love volunteering at Gateway for soooo many reasons. Of course one of those reasons would be that I get to connect with more people who attend the church. And I have met such lovely individuals — people who truly want to do the Lord’s work and further His kingdom here on earth. It is a privilege to work with them every week and see the way God uses their willing hearts! I also love that I get to serve and affect lives for Christ even while overseas. As I wrote in my first blog post, my heart longs to be so much more than just a tourist during my time here. Being a part of an organization like the Care Centre allows that to become a much more tangible reality. I don’t want to simply be served and give nothing back to the community that has been giving me so much! I want to do my part as well.

One of my favorite aspects, though, would have to be the opportunity to interact with a part of the community that I wouldn’t usually have access to. I mean, I attend a private Christian uni, basically all of the friends I have met are church attendees, and my host family is Christian. I don’t have a lot of exposure to the marginalized society here aside from this opportunity. And how powerful it has been to rub shoulders with individuals who have been going through deeply troubling times. Australia is a place where life seems so incredibly perfect; the sun shines about ninety-nine percent of the time, people are friendly and cheerful, and everyone is always hanging out and having a good time. As one of my Aussie friends put it, “Life is just too good here!” In a world that seems so pristine, it is hard to imagine that there are people going through some truly harsh realties. The Care Centre helps put that into perspective for me.

Part of my job at the Care Centre is to package food to give out to those signed up for the On Track program, which assists those who are going through financial struggles. I also do interviewing with clients that are signed up for the program in order to help assess need and to check in to see where they are at in their lives (very reminiscent of social work-type duties). The Care Centre is a well-rounded program, offering assistance with food, clothing, household items, and also responding to emotional and spiritual needs.

Some days are nothing short of heartbreaking. Once we had a woman come in who had been evicted from her home the night before with a litter of young children to care for. Another day we had a Syrian refugee share the joy of the birth of his new baby boy, only to have that joy dimmed by fearfulness for the family he left behind in Syria and the unknown future his young family now faces in a new country with no connections and few provisions. We had another sad soul who shared her struggle with suicide and depression. I ache for these people who have been dealt such unfair hands in life. Tuesdays are for heavy hearts.

There is beauty in that pain, however. There is beauty in walking alongside these people and letting your heart break for them when theirs is already so fragmented that it can’t break any further. There is beauty in lending strength when the burdens that are borne are so heavy that they can’t be shouldered any longer. There is beauty in a smile that says that “sure, things aren’t great now — but you aren’t alone anymore.” And there is beauty in the resilience that I see as I stare into the eyes of those who have been battered, but not broken.

Tuesdays are for heavy hearts. But they are also for redemption and renewal, transmitting a hope that comes from Christ alone and the work that is being done to further His kingdom.

Thanks for reading friends.

xoxo, Riss

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I volunteer with two other Americans from ASC, Bethany Van Eps and Alyssa.
Bethany is the one pictured in this photo! They are both fantastic human beings

An Australian Adventure(r)

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

Hey all!
I swear I’ve been trying to write this blog post for like a week and a half now. Unfortunately, the fourth and fifth weeks of school (so last week and this week) in Australia marks the start of assessment due dates and increased reading requirements. It’s been a busy week and a half to say the least.

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Here’s an ultra-flattering picture depicting the humidity. I had just stepped out of the AirCon* of the bus and was going to walk home. My glass fogged up immediately.

But I am not complaining. I mean I’m in Australia! And the humid 80-degree weather won’t let me forget it. Last week we had heaps* of rain so the grass and trees have become increasingly vibrant and lush and I am now living in a tropical wonderland. It is gorgeous. Interestingly the rain here is different than at home. At home when it rains it gets a little cooler and the humidity is generally released from the atmosphere. Here however, after the rain it stays just as warm and muggy as it was pre-rain meaning you’re walking around in a greenhouse. The rain also comes in like 5 minute showers of varying intensity which is fun for walking and public transit. Let’s just say I bought a raincoat within two weeks of landing and am still working on my timing. Queensland weather, I tell ya what. Technically it was supposed to be autumn a few weeks ago but the summer heat has held out. I never thought I’d say I miss the cold, but living in a literal sauna has changed me.

We’re in the midst of week 6 here in Australia, which seems crazy. It feels like I’ve been here forever, but I credit that to very long, very full days. Some of my days have been fairly chill, but due to the whole ‘I’m on the other side of the world’ thing, each day is being treated as an adventure none the less. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Queensland State Reserve library, working on the piles of homework I’ve accumulated. With big windows overlooking the skyline and four floors of study space with big tables and comfy spinny chairs, it’s quickly become one of my favorite spots. Lots of coffee shops have been visited and lots of coffee has been drunken (drunk? drank?) as well. I honestly think I’m more hooked on it here than at Dordt, which quite frankly (with how often I visited 55th and the Bunsen Brew and how quickly I ran out of defender dollars last semester) is impressive.

Another area of this city I’m coming to love is just a short walk along the river from the library. South bank is this gorgeous area along that is right along the Brisbane river, situated next to the big ‘BRISBANE’ sign and the Eye of Brisbane (ferris wheel). It’s this really chill, semi-touristy area with some awesome features and some real good photo ops. There are two main pools; one is a normal pool surrounded by big rocks and the other is a sand-bottom pool attached to a man-made beach. Next to this is a splash park and kid’s pool area. Leading down the river a bit further is a mini, super shallow river area covered in and surrounded by rocks (perfect for sun baking*). It’s difficult to explain, but not at all difficult to enjoy. Every Friday night and Saturday afternoon the little side street of shops that runs parallel to the pools gets turned into a little street fair/market selling art, clothing, crafts, and food. I been many a time, with many a friend and I’ve loved every visit more than the last. 😊

I’ve been on a few awesome class field trips, but I think I’ll do a blog post dedicated specifically to non-Brisbane awesome-sauce a little later (when my list is a bit longer 😉). Sorry this was so very delayed! I’m going to try and get better at updating. I’ve been requested to comment on some differences in food, vocab, and other daily conveniences so stay tuned!

Love and blessings from Brisbane,

Bethany ♥

*Aussie Slang, look at me adapting to culture

Week 1 Adventures

Excerpt from Spring 2017 student Tarian Atallah “Adventures in a Foreign Land – a reflection on life being lived in Brisbane, Australia. Reproduced with permission.

So after 24 + hours of traveling I made it to Australia! What an adventure it was just to get here! The flights were not nearly as hard as I thought they were going to be but I will admit that I am trying to not think about the fact that I have to do it again to come back to the states.

I landed around 7am Tuesday Brisbane time which allowed me to skip most of the jet lag which was insanely helpful. That same day all the International Students (yes it is weird to call myself that) walked about 7miles (which is about 11.26 km) around Brisbane. I saw everything from skyscrapers to palm trees to weird lizards roaming freely. I also traveled on a boat that took me across the Brisbane River which winds throughout the city. This day was exhausting, sweaty, and hot but so so so surreal. Throughout the day I found myself in awe that I was ACTUALLY here in this place. To be honest I really don’t have the words to express how grateful and happy I am to know that I have the chance to live here.

The next day, Wednesday, was filled with orientation materials about what it is like to actually live here and take classes in a foreign place. This day was also filled with a time of reflection and communion. While sitting outside under a palm tree in about 85 degree weather I found myself having a changed perspective. All the doubt and fear I had about not being at Cairn University anymore was completely gone. I found myself, in a sense, indebted and grateful for all the people who still told me to just go on this trip. I so easily almost did not come on this trip and am glad that the Lord was speaking to me through these people. Brisbane, Australia (and its surrounding areas) are seriously magical and I find myself undeserving of an opportunity like this. Praise the Lord! I have also found myself needing to trust and rely on the Lord in ways I haven’t in the past. In a sense I have been plopped into this place so foreign and Him and only Him can bring me through. When I realized this I found myself so so so humbled.

The next two days were filled with orientation with other Australians at Christian Heritage College (where I am attending) and a beach day down on the Gold Coast. Because the sun is 7 TIMES hotter here I totally got burnt but now it is turning into a cool tan I guess haha.

Then on Friday I moved into my host family’s house where I will live for the rest of my time here. There is a dad, mom, daughter, and two other international students, one from China and another from Malaysia. They also have a very cute Pomeranian, named Olliee, who snuggled with me on the first day. This family is originally from South Africa which gives me the opportunity to not only learn about the Australian culture but the South African.

And so here is the deal, before coming here so many people said to me, “well isn’t Australia just like America?” And I am here to say that it is NOT! I have only been here for just under a week and I can already tell you almost everything is different. Obviously the seasons are different so I basically went from the dead of winter into 90 degree weather. Australia uses the metric system and Celsius so I very often find myself unsure of distances, weights, and what the temperature actually is haha.  I have found that Australians tend to be a bit friendlier that I am used to having grown up right outside Boston. Multiple bats have flown over me at night which is COMPLETELY foreign to me. Morning and afternoon tea are often partaken in. And the fact that Australians drive on the left will be something that will always throw me off. These are just a few of the many things I have found myself needing to process through. In a sense this past week has been easy considering I haven’t started classes yet but my mind has been overflown with information and new ways to live life. When I say that almost everything about this experience is different than what I am used to I really mean it.

I recently came upon a quote that read “Yet departure from home is insufficient in and of itself; it does not guarantee a transformative journey. Some…board an airplane without ever leaving home; others arrive in a new place but never engage, preferring instead to live as consumers, wandering about seeking the next self-affirming experience.” But I hope that this experience is the opposite for me. Instead I hope that is more like this quote from Henri Nouwen, “Following Jesus involves leaving the comfortable place and going to the place that is outside our comfort zone. Spiritual displacement is what is called for. The dictionary definition says that to displace is ‘to move or to shift from the ordinary or proper place. As a ship at sea displaces water, so we are displaced when something greater than ourselves moves us in a new direction or state of being. For displacement to be a real discipline, it has to be voluntary.” My prayer has been that I would be willing to embrace the unknown and to, in a sense, not be and American in an unfamiliar land but to be so immersed in the culture that I become like an Aussie.

Home and beyond

The following are some reflections from Spring 2016 alum Sarah Kistler, now a senior at Messiah College.

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As I sat in our last class and debrief session in Australia, the ASC staff prepared us for reverse culture shock and possible struggles when facing reentry back home. They read us quotes from former students talking about how unexpectedly hard reentry was.  I mostly believed them. I knew I would miss my time abroad but had no idea how I would handle the transition.  I cried harder than I expected when I hugged my host mum for the last time and I felt less excited than I expected when I saw my parents’ car pull up to the curb I was waiting on at the Philadelphia airport.  But I was not too worried about these responses. They were bound to happen and they were easy to manage. For the rest of the summer I kept myself busy so I had little time to process.  People asked me about my semester and I would muddle through an answer that was all over the place and confusing even to me. But life went on.  I was excited to come back to Messiah College but I proceeded to have the most difficult semester of my college life thus far. I found myself so dissatisfied and had no idea that the reason for this was because of how I was personally handling my reentry process.

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Messiah students group pic at Stradbroke Island (including kangaroo)

Now that I have been home for several months I feel like I am finally able to talk about my experience abroad in a way that makes sense—the only thing is nobody is asking about it anymore.  And I think that is a part of what has made reentry difficult.  I tried to answer people honestly when they asked about my time abroad but I always kept in mind what my audience really wanted—so I made sure to throw in that the kangaroos are cute and taste good too. I made sure to make a comment about how beautiful the beaches are and to educate them on some Aussie slang.  And while these were all a part of my experience that I genuinely liked talking about, they were not significant parts of my experience.  The problem was that the significant parts of my experience were not the most engaging facts and stories.

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Service placement at Micah Projects community meal

I did not want to tell them about my near death experience with a crocodile in the outback (which did not actually happen) but about the revelation I had about my faith and how under the outback stars I felt God closer to me than I had in awhile. I wanted to tell them how my host mum made me an amazing dinner every single day and always made sure I had what I needed.  I wanted to tell them about the people I met and shared weekly meals with while serving at the Micah Projects. I wanted to tell them about the injustices that Indigenous Australians have and still face in their country and how their narrative has woken me to the reality of America’s own indigenous people.  I wanted to tell them about how our program directors have become some of the greatest role models I have ever had and the students in the program became some of my best friends.  I wanted to tell people why I cringe with guilt every time I forget to bring my reusable shopping bag into the grocery store and have to use plastic, and why I try am constantly asking what the telos is of everything I encounter.  I wanted to tell people all the things I learned about America and my own culture from being displaced from it.

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The night sky in Charleville, outback Queensland

Re-entry was hard because there were so many aspects of my four months in Australia that I had to leave out not only when answering the question “so how was Australia?” but when getting back into my normal routine at home and at Messiah College.  I went back to eating all three meals alone, using weekends to catch up on sleep and homework and figure out how to somehow get ahead for the next crazy week.  I had no time or energy to sit and reflect and a majority of my learning came from readings and lectures in the classroom rather than experience and exploration.  Despite this I must admit that I missed Messiah dearly while at Christian Heritage College in Australia.  I missed my friends, I missed driving, I missed using my debit card without anxiety that it would be declined.  I know I couldn’t stay in Australia forever nor would I want to because it isn’t home. But parts of myself were transformed there in the smallest, most subtle ways. Reentry is hard and unpredictable. I came home six months ago but my experience abroad is still challenging and shaping me as I hope continues to be the case as more distance increases between me and my semester down under.