Although we were having an absolute blast doing all sorts of crazy things on our orientation in Cairns, it certainly was a time of spiritual growth and testing. I could tell right off the bat that I was being tested, and my decisions from very early on would pave the way the remainder of my trip. In those first few days, God revealed Himself to me in such a real way, and showed me his plan for me for the next four months.
I love Gordon College. I feel so safe, so loved, so cared for, and truly at home in most groups of people. However, is this good? Is this always healthy? I realized by going to Gordon just how spoiled I am. Especially since I work at Gordon as well. All of my classmates, my professors, my bosses, my coworkers, those who serve me in any capacity, most people who call, most people who I call, and almost all who walk through the door… are Christians.
What a comforting feeling - to know that I will be accepted for who I am by most everyone. But this is so not reality. I went to a public high school that was larger than Gordon, and those were some interesting four years. Definitely not the best four years of my life, but my faith was so strong - because it had to be. I felt as though I had no choice. There was no such thing to me as being lukewarm at Haverhill High School. If you weren’t 100% solid and sure of yourself, you wouldn’t make it. You couldn't be a half-Christian.
Even though Gordon is such a comfortable place to me now, it’s so easy to slip into complacency in a world full of Christians. You make excuses for yourself, think of how much worse off you could be, and pat yourself on the back. But the truth is, Nat and I both benefitted so much from seeing first hand just how much worse our lives could really be. Now we know that we need to fight for what we have. I’ve never been so thankful for the environment I’ve been given in Gordon College.
My heart aches for the American college student. Their lives are so empty. So meaningless. My brother once said that if you aren’t living for the Lord, it’s like you’re walking around dead. I honestly feel as though that’s what I witnessed that week in Cairns. A bunch of dead bodies wandering around with no souls. The talk starting at 2PM or earlier was always, “What are you doing tonight?” Aka: “Please validate me and tell me that you’re going to the same place I am. Or else I need to change my plans and go where you’re going, because I must seen where the people are and where the party is.” No one actually does what they want to. It’s so 7th grade, but it’s really all about peer pressure. I personally have never had such a hard time saying no to someone.
Nat and I weren’t in the same room that week, and one of my six roommates was so incredibly sweet. I loved chatting with her and we actually had some pretty deep and meaningful conversations. But then she’d ask me to go out with her. I knew that I didn’t want to. I wanted to put on my yoga pants and read The Time Traveler’s Wife. I did not want to get dressed up, I did not want to spend money on alcohol, I did not want to be up until after 2AM, and I especially didn’t want to be hanging out with drunk Americans. The thing is, Australians drink, and they drink frequently. But Americans binge drink, and that’s one hundred times worse.
So when I’m asked to join her out that night (and most nights to follow), why do I feel as though I need an excuse? I just don’t want to. Period. It’s not my scene. I don’t drink the way you all do. I’m tired. I’m not feeling to great. Why won’t you just leave me alone? And so then they beg. “We’ll come back early. You don’t have to drink. I’ll pay for you.” No. No No No. No thank you.
Since Nat and I weren’t in the same room, I didn’t even have strength in numbers in saying declining these outings. And honestly, because of the weird jet lag, I wasn’t tired at normal times most nights, I was usually awake enough to go out. But I made the choice and stood my ground and never went out with them. And the following mornings, the stories would pour in. So-and-so got in a bar fight, the cops had to bring them to the hostel, she threw up, he punched a glass sliding door, those three all have black eyes… and I was so happy that I was safe and cozy in my bed.
A few days into this mayhem, people began to notice. And here’s where God shows up and blesses Natalie and I for our strength and obedience. We meet Lyndsay, who’s a Christian, and begin to hang with her at night. And I learn my roommate Molly is a Christian too, and she’s here with three other Christians from Azusa Pacific. Then one girl approaches Natalie on the verge of a breakdown: “You’re a Christian aren’t you?” Nat responds, “Yes, I am, what’s up?” And the girl begins to sob. “I can’t do this. I feel so alone and I just had my first drink of alcohol ever. Why did I do that? I can’t handle this pressure.” God then used Nat to minister to her, reassure her that she’s not alone, alcohol does not send you to hell, and invites her to spend time with us whenever she likes, also extending an invite to attend church with us.
My encounters were of different sorts. That very persistent girl from my room noticed something different and brought it up while we were lounging at the beach together. “So why don’t you party? Do you just not like being around drunk people? Are you religious?” Now we all cringe at that dreaded word “religious” but if that’s how it resonates to people of the world, then yes, I’m “religious.” So then I shared with her where I’m coming from, why I believe what I do and why I avoid the party scene. I told her about how I see more to life then not remembering the supposed great night at the bar or club. And God totally met us there in that conversation. She opened up with me and shared how she didn’t even really like that scene, and how so frequently, she only goes because her friends do and she’d prefer to stay home and read Jodi Picoult. So then I said, “Amen to that,” and we talked about Jodi Picoult :) But her heart was real and genuine. She sees more to life and wants more than the lifestyle her friends lead. I can tell that beneath the giggly blond with the bronzer and sunless tan, there’s such a deep girl who’s yearning for more, and she trusted me enough to let me see that side of her.
Next was my encounter with a girl who Nat referred to as an animal. She was one of Nat’s roommates and her bunk was an atrocious mess. Clothes and papers everywhere and I think she may have even slept in a pile of clothes after coming back extremely drunk one night. Even her speech in everyday conversation seems slurred with the remnants of a good buzz. Anyway, I asked to sit next to her on the ride home from Community Day and we began to chat casually. She (true to form) asked what I was doing that night, and I told her that I’d just be chillin’ at the hostel. She said, “Oh, because you don’t want to be hung over for your day at the reef tomorrow?” I said, “Well yes, but I wouldn’t like to be hung over ever.” I told her it wasn’t my scene and I don’t see the appeal of binge drinking. I only made those two statements and then she took the floor, spilling out her guts about how much she dislikes getting drunk and she only likes dancing out with her friends. She wishes that people didn’t pressure her to drink, but she usually ends up pretty wasted, hooking up with a random guy. She said that the lifestyle is so empty and she really sees no way out.
Whoa. What on earth am I supposed to do with that? The animal is actually human, and chose to confide all of that in me, someone she just met! I did my best, but I don’t think I said as much as I could have. I think I was honestly just in shock. I affirmed her and said, “You’re right, there really is so much more to life.” But besides that, I really just listened to her and let her vent to me.
After all of these God-sightings, Nat and I reconvened and discussed how crazy it all was. We really couldn’t believe it. We had made it our mission in the beginning of the week to “find the good.” We were so frustrated and turned off by our immature peers, that we decided to find the good in as many people as we could. And I’d say that God definitely showed up. We were forced to admit that our first impressions of some of these people were wrong, and that they’re really just hurting. They saw Nat and I as safe spaces to let down their guards and be vulnerable.
With this, Nat and I learned what our job is: we are to be safe havens. With Christians and with non-Christians alike. We are two strong Christians who made this journey together. Automatically, this makes us stronger. But there are strong Christians here in our midst who came alone, and they need us for support. And there are non-Christians who feel stuck in their lifestyle, so we need to be bold enough so they notice that we’re different, and feel comfortable to go out on a limb with us and be real. God really showed us what our life could be like if we weren’t following Him, and I can speak for both of us and say that our eyes were opened and we’re extremely grateful. For those of you who were offering up prayers for us, thank you - God heard and blessed us through them.
So to the office of Global Education: we get it. We now understand why you are so hesitant to send people to Australia. Because yes, it’s pretty easy and can appear to be a four month vacation, but more importantly, because it’s a battleground. I would never approve of one Gordon College student being sent over here alone. It’s too risky, and too hard to stand your ground without support. And if two are sent, then it should be two who are good friends and very grounded. Nat and I are solid individuals, but it’s even a struggle for us to be here sometimes in such a worldly environment. I really can’t imagine what it’d be like without her. I would probably be looking for flights home.
Please continue praying for us. We’re incredibly blessed to have each other, and have a new friend like Lyndsay, but it’s not always easy to be a small light in such a huge darkness. God is doing big things in us and through us, so continue praying for opportunities and boldness. Love and appreciate you all.