Study Abroad is as much an academic experience as it is what you make it. After sharing my Surf Camp experiences with my Mom, she sent me a picture of my two-year-old self, headed to Panama City Beach, Florida, on my very first plane ride. She sent along the words, “the places we will go”, from one of my favorite Dr. Seuss tales! I’d always known that one of these days, I would venture down under, but this life that I’ve lived these last three months filled with special encounters and connections made, knowledge gained, and places traveled, far surpassed anything I could have ever imagined.
With my final week at UNSW completed, a new adventure awaited—the 2019 National Training Event (NTE) with the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (AFES). I traveled with many of my mates from UNSW’s Campus Bible Study (CBS) to Australia’s capital of Canberra, for a five-day Christian conference.
Here’s a bit of backstory on how I was encouraged to attend this conference. You may recall that during O-Week, I aligned myself with two different organizations—UniChurch/CBS, and UNSW’s Pole Society. Since my first Sunday at UniChurch, I’d seen NTE promoted as a conference that welcomed believers and non-believers of the faith, who were interested in learning more about Jesus Christ and the Bible, with the hope that students would leave feeling comfortable enough to share God’s Word all around the world.
In all honesty, I hadn’t intended to go. The conference seemed rather costly, I had no desire to evangelize when it was all over, and five days felt like a long time to be around 1,800 people. However, after hearing my mates’ NTE experiences of meeting new people from across the globe, camping and singing with one another, and the opportunities to learn and grow in faith, they managed to convince me that this conference would be a great educational opportunity. I couldn’t have anticipated prior to coming to Australia that I’d get to experience my first-ever “church camp”, but I am grateful I decided to give it a go.
Lesson Learned #10: America certainly is not perfect, but there are many freedoms I take for granted, such as freedom from religious persecution.
The theme for this year’s conference was “Encountering God, Hearing His Voice”, and that alone excited me. I was born into the Christian faith, and sometimes I’ve felt my religion was more of an obligation than something worth getting excited about. NTE was a humbling and insightful experience. I finally learned the difference between each Christian denomination and discovered my “why”—why I have chosen to share in Christian faith.
In addition to helping me grow in my own spiritual journey, NTE was a visual definition of global engagement. I encountered students from across Australia, the surrounding Pacific Islands, Europe, Asia, and South America. Not everyone in attendance was a believer. Some were just curious to learn why do Christians believe in this “invisible God”.
I experienced three very memorable moments. The first was during a seminar led by Christian students and leaders from the Pacific Islands. Sixteen women from Papua New Guinea were introduced as being the first nursing students at their University to begin a Christian group on their campus. They described the difficulties they faced like gaining acceptance from the university, and the challenge of reading a Bible not written in their native language. I learned that a lack in Bible translation was a common obstacle for many across the globe, as not everyone can easily understand English texts.
I encountered a man from Dubai who found himself wanting to convert to Christianity as a young boy, and was repeatedly beat by his father after expressing his desires. Eventually, his father kicked him out the family home due to his abandonment of the Hindu religion. His story was heartbreaking to me, but also a wake-up call that my experience at home and the acceptance I feel in many social settings, is not universal. There are places in the world where having radical beliefs are punishable by the law, and people must practice underground.
The last moment was something I’d never heard of before. Andrew Barich of UNSW (CBS) began something that I found quite amazing. He created a program on campus that bridges Christian believers with those that follow the Islamic faith so that each religion can learn about the other’s beliefs for greater understanding. He was interviewed by the NTE staff, and his program was featured during one of our nightly sessions.
There are many aspects that aid in human connection. These same factors could also be attributed to the major conflicts we face today—religion, music, politics, culture differences, and so on. NTE was a beautiful space to watch all these factors foster connection among different types of people rather than divide us.
Oh, The Places You’ll Go is right Dr. Seuss…places never before imagined. This conference left me fulfilled in a way that no bridge climb, hike, night out with friends, or food experience ever could. Living life is much different when you place value on what’s truly important. Values look different for everyone, but the key is to be aware of them, and for much of college, I don’t think I fully knew what I found value in.
When I wasn’t in Bible talk sessions or electives, I played games with my CBS mates. They even took me on a nice historical tour of Canberra including a visit to the Parliament house AND the Parliament house car park! We ended up in the car park accidentally, but had we not ventured beneath the building, I would have been convinced no one was inside the building, because from the outside-looking-in, it appeared deserted.
For our final quick trivia, and in preparation for the holiday season, I want you to think about the special thing you give others around this time of the year? Do you have that word in mind? Well if you’re Australian and reading this, you’re probably thinking about the hamper you’re going to give someone. That’s right, a hamper. Try translating that one, and then making it all make sense.
We’re coming to the end of our journey together. I want to thank you for remaining invested with me by reading these posts. There are certainly more places to go before Christmas, and I’ll give you a hint for the next one…P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney. Until next time—the last time *sad, but happy face*.
Quick Trivia Answer: A hamper = a gift or present that you present to someone…not a laundry basket.