Christina is our guest today, and Christina is – well, I met her through the Pilgrim Arts Festival which runs every year in July, in the depths of winter, in the depths of Huonville.
‘The depths of Huonville’, I like that.
Christina’s the mother of 7 beautiful girls, and she’s a very skilled harpist and composer, I hear, and also I heard today that Christina has a hospitality ministry to backpackers, so we’re going to talk a bit about that. It’s great to have you on the podcast today Christina, thanks for coming.
How did you become a Christian?
Okay, so that’s a really interesting question. I was actually thinking about this the other day – I can’t remember. I cannot remember a time before I loved Jesus, and I know that some people find that really hard to grasp, and I’ve heard people give conversion testimonies of when they were 3 or 4, and they have a really benchmark moment. I do remember times in my life, even as a child, when I was convicted of sin, when I cried out to God for help. I remember times when I realised that the way that I’d been thinking of God was falling short of who He really was, but I can’t pinpoint a time when I went from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. Obviously I know that it happened, but for whatever reason God hasn’t given me that memory. But I just have a very very strong memory of always knowing that God was there, and of always sensing His presence. And I was always very serious about wanting that to be a deep thing in my life. I remember as a very small child watching these probably quite dreadful children’s evangelistic television shows from the United States that my parents had on VHS called Gospel Bill. I think it was kind of a Christian rip off of Sesame Street. There were puppets and people interacting with puppets, and there was a sheriff who was Gospel Bill. And every single episode they gave the Sinner’s Prayer, and a call to convert. And I used to sit there and every single time I would pray the Sinner’s Prayer. (laughs)
I’m just the same. I don’t know how many altar calls I have gone up for, but I have gone up for so many.
And I think at the time, as a very small child, I just thought that well, there they were, they’re presenting the gospel again, and they’re asking me to pray the prayer, and I wanted it! I wanted in. Every time! It wasn’t until later that I realised actually you don’t have to do that every time.
So was there a time, maybe later in your teen life or your adult life, where you just said ‘Okay, I have to make an in or out decision, line in the sand, from this time forth’ or it’s just always been –
No. I’ve definitely had highs and lows in my spiritual life, and highs and lows in my individual temptations and struggles against sin. I’ve had highs and lows in faith in terms of having faith that God intended good for me, or that God was sanctifying me, things like that. But in terms of actual doubt in God, or a sense of ‘I could go this other direction and that would be a viable choice’, I’ve really never had that. I’ve just always been very very gripped by the reality of God’s story, and God’s invitation, and God’s faithfulness.
Fantastic. So you mentioned American VHS tapes, and your accent sounds slightly North American. When did you – or, where are you from and when did you come here?
My parents moved to Australia when I was a baby, and then we lived in Melbourne in the suburbs, in Box Hill. And then we lived on the edge of the outback, near Parks and Dubbo, near the dish, on an old sheep station. Like, an abandoned sheep station. And on the beach in Queensland, and finally in a very old Colonial-era house in the middle of Tasmania. So I’ve experienced a lot of different types of life in Australia, which I love.
So now you live here – I just have to say I drove to this property tonight, in my Mini, on the dirt road, wishing that I’d listened to the Lord telling me to bring my husband’s four wheel drive. It’s wonderful, I wish I could have seen it in the daylight.
It’s pretty special in the daylight.
It’s a pretty special place. And you have a backpackers ministry here.
We do! Which is hilarious that you didn’t even know that when you drove up here. But yeah, we have a place called Pilgrim Hill, and it’s an off-grid hostel, especially aimed toward the backpackers, working holiday visa, fruit-picking season travellers who come to the Huon Valley. We have many many people coming to the Huon Valley to pick fruit, and it actually sustains the local economy, provides fruit to Australia really, and they do that in exchange – they have to do 88 days of agricultural work, and in exchange for that they can have a second year on their visa. And the government’s actually extending that now: if they do another 88 days, they can have a third year in Australia. And it’s very very attractive to people. We have actually ministered to people from 55 different countries so far. It’s a very interesting part of life in the Huon Valley, and beginning to do this kind of ministry with backpackers has been great locally because many local Christians would go out of their way to pick up hitchhikers or things like that, but there wasn’t really a connection point for ministry.
See I have heard of this, because I remember you have evening meals where you invite Christians –
We have. We’ve taken a break recently because we’ve just now opened our hostel, and we needed to take one – we’ve done four seasons – the fruit picking season is from October to May. So we’ve done four seasons of community dinners in an Anglican hall in the centre of Huonville, and it was amazing. We had people from 16 different churches volunteering. Such a wonderful inter-denominational, non-denominational thing where you have – we had Reform people, Anglicans, Charismatics, Pentecostals, all in one building, all doing evangelism together and I love that, it would always make my heart sing at the end of an evening. And also because what we would do, we would have on each table there’d usually be about seven to eight non-Christians and a Christian volunteer, kind of leading the conversation and sharing with people, so none of the Christians could really argue and say, ‘You’re doing it wrong.’ Everyone’s able to use their own style of sharing the Bible, sharing their relationship with God at a table of non-Christians who’ve come knowing what the evening’s going to be about. That it’s going to be sharing a meal and listening, talking about faith. And so it’s very open, it’s very transparent, people don’t feel like they’ve been tricking into coming to something.
And many of the travellers are under – well, they have to be under 30, I believe, for the visa – but they’re often university students, and they’re often like accounting, sociology, psychology, education students. They’ve never done any manual labour before, and they’re in the middle of one of the hardest seasons of their lives. But it’s also a really exhilarating time because they’re being pushed, they’re maybe learning a new language, learning a new culture, far away from their peer group, and oftentimes they are willing to think and explore about things about themselves, about what else there might to life that they wouldn’t normally.
We had one girl tell us that she was so terribly bored picking cherries that she would think about what we said all week. And another person said, ‘You know, we talk about –‘ the other people, the other travellers that would be picking things together in the orchards, ‘we talk about what you guys have told us, during the week.’ So we did that for four seasons and it was amazing. But one of the reasons we started doing it was because we had this vision for a hostel for backpackers for 10 years, we had the land for 10 years. And we kept on knocking on doors, trying to fundraise, trying to find a way to do it. I remember my husband coming home from his, at the time, part-time job, and saying, ‘We’ve got to find – we can’t just be always saying “one day we’re going to be in ministry,” we’ve got to find a way to minister to backpackers now, and then if the Lord wants to He can bless us with the hostel,’ rather than saying, ‘Oh well Lord when you bless us with the hostel, then we’ll be able to minister to people.
That’s absolutely true, and there’s so many people who struggle with that. I’ve talked to somebody else who said ‘I’m working really hard now so that we have the money so we can go into missions,’ but they’re not doing any missions thing at the time. And I was talking to the bishop about ordination – no, I’m not getting ordained, just for my listeners, just so they know – and he was saying that one of the things he looks for, in terms of people getting ordained, is are people actually doing the work now, before they’re ordained? Because if you don’t have a heart for evangelism that comes out before you’re ordained –
It’s not going to happen magically when you go through ordination.
That’s right, exactly. So this is amazing, like, ‘What steps can you take now?’
Absolutely. And I think that – I remember actually hearing somebody teaching about hospitality, and they said, ‘If you have a really bad couch, a bad set of couches in your loungeroom, and you think “Well I’m not going to do hospitality until I have a nicer couch,” that’s the wrong way to look at it. Wear out the couch you have on hospitality, and then the Lord’s going to give you a nicer couch.’
So this is what’s happened!
Right! So we did that for the 4 seasons, and then we finally had the – which of course is 4 years – we finally had everything come together to be able to build our hostel and our home up here, through a series of miraculous… (laughs) and hard work! So we just opened and we’ve done one season, we’re just going into our second season up here. So now we’re looking at how we can start up the dinners again in Huonville, but we needed to have one year where we were just focusing on doing ministry up here. One of the key ways that we do ministry with the hostel up here is we invite the travellers to eat with us three times a week, and we share our family dinner table. So we’re just looking into how we can – sustainably, without burning ourselves out – go back to hosting the public dinner in Huonville. Because they’re kind of different, because with the dinner in Huonville we were able to – sometimes we had maybe 80, 90 travellers for a dinner. We can’t have that in our home. So both are good in different ways. One of the lovely things in Huonville with the public dinners was all the volunteers. That I mentioned before, all the volunteers from different churches. And we weren’t expecting this, but we had some lovely encouragement from volunteers who would come up and they would say, ‘I was terrified of evangelism before, but now I’ve just sat down and had dinner with a bunch of people asking me, “What’s the Bible, who’s Jesus,” and I was able to share my faith, and I feel like I can go and do that with my co-workers now.’ And that was like, oh wow! Thank you Lord! It was really funny, because we weren’t trying to go into evangelism training, and actually in many ways, so much more effective than evangelism training in that we were just introducing people to the opportunity to do evangelism.
And so in the same way that you’re saying, ‘Do your hospitality while the couch…’ you’d encourage anyone in the church to be part of anything… like, if there’s an Alpha course running, or anything that just gets your boots on the ground, and trust God that you may do a dreadful job but He’s going to come through anyway.
Yes! Actually, funnily enough, we had some of our friends who are some of the most theologically switched on, and really into doctrine, and really… maybe a bit aggressive, social media whatever, volunteering who came and said, ‘Oh, that was terrifying!’ (laughs)
And then we had people who were really worried beforehand, ‘Oh I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this,’ who were like, ‘Oh that was easy!’ So I think the Lord tempers the wind to the shorn lamb in that situation.
Nice, nice. How many people can you have in the hostel here?
In the hostel we can have 12, and we have plans to build 2 more units and go up to 36, but again that’s just if the Lord blesses it. So we have a very long-term plan! And we have had for a long time.
And do you – this is just for my own, because I’ve driven here – do you bus them to work?
Yeah, we have a shuttle. So it probably feels incredibly off the beaten track, but just down the road we have multiple orchards, which is where they work.
So it actually works out quite well for them. Funnily enough, we’ve had some people up here who were not experienced drivers, but I think when they come from, for instance, China, everything about the Tasmanian roads is terrifying, and our road isn’t worse than anything else. So we had this Chinese girl drive up, she’s so lovely, but the introduction we had to her was it took her five minutes to reverse her car into a parking space. We have 10 massive parking spaces and they were all empty, and we were sitting here watching her trying to get her car in the right place and we like, ‘Oh, dear Lord, please help this poor lady.’ And we actually went and prayed for her when she wanted to drive down for the first time because I was so worried about her! But so far, so good.
I have to say that the road is actually quite good here.
We have improved it!
So can we talk about the festival, the arts festival? So how did that idea come about, and what do you hope to achieve from it?
I know it sounds kind of counter-intuitive to be having a Christian arts festival on having a backpackers ministry, but we strangely see them as actually quite linked. So one of the things we say is that our mission is to make disciples for Jesus through hospitality and art, and that’s one way of showing how they fit together in our minds. Once again, we have long term plans to have an artists’ workshop, an artists’ studio on the hill, and actually have residencies where Christian artists can come and have a time where they’re living on site here and actually creating art, and they would join in with the discussions and meals. And one reason to do that is to show the non-Christian travellers that Christianity is an integrated worldview that embraces vocations like art, or like caring for creation, so that they are really presented with the beauty and fullness of Christianity. We do also have a heart for artists. I’m a musician, my husband’s family is very artistic, my mother’s an oil painter, we have a lot of friends who are artists. So once again I have to give credit to my husband for kind of saying ‘We have all these long term plans for how to involve arts in our ministry, but right now we have all these friends who are Christian artists. How can we encourage them and promote them?’ And he had the idea of going down to a local apple shed at the time, it was a big barn, apple barn, that one of our orchardist friends has, and saying, ‘Can we use this in winter for an art exhibition?’ And it was actually a very charming exhibition, that first one, because it was in an apple barn in the middle of a paddock. And we had floodlights and everything, it was very dramatic and beautiful. It was also freezing, and really difficult to set up and take down.
So we jumped in with that, and we see it as something we can do to, once again, reach out to local community and say, ‘Come and have a look at this. This is a little bit of what Christians feel passionate about, beauty and craftsmanship and expression.’ And I think it’s a bit of an embassy. And it brings people in and they can have a conversation over the art pieces. And we encourage that with the people who walk around and talk about the different art pieces. Our last art exhibition, which we did hold in a proper venue, had I think about 30 adult artists. And we had a sort of satellite exhibition of children’s art. And what we discovered – we intended and wanted it to encourage artists, but what we have discovered over the four years we have done the art festival now, is that… it’s funny, because it’s the same thing with dares. We went in saying we want to reach out to a community of people who are unbelievers, and we have done that. But the interesting thing is through that, the body of Christ is edified, and relationship and community is formed, and so we have had some lovely feedback from artists who have exhibited from the first time who are now doing an arts business. People who maybe are a bit on the outside fringes of Christian community because they’ve never felt supported or validated in their vocation, coming in from that and saying, ‘This is so encouraging to me, to be treated with dignity as both an artist and a Christian inseparably.’ And then also some fun things, for instance a friend of mine who’s a very talented writer was struggling selling her work. And she met one of your other guests, Wendy, through the arts festival, and they’ve become very very close friends, but Wendy has actually mentored and coached my friend to become financially viable as an author. And so we’ve had a few little things like that, and I’m like, ‘Thank you Lord, this is great!’ And people buying art as well, but I feel like we’re at the baby steps of that. We have a long way to go, I think, before Christians feel like it’s – at least in Australia, I don’t know how much this is true all over the world – to feel like buying a piece of art is actually a good thing to do. It can be a good use of your money, it can be a good investment in someone’s talent, in that craftsmanship that God has given them through the Holy Spirit. It’s not necessarily – it’s not an unspiritual thing to do, to buy a beautiful piece of art, or a well-written book.
Amen! (both laugh)
Obviously I can’t change people’s hearts, the Holy Spirit has to do that, but at least we can put the stuff out there and we can encourage excellence. We don’t actually accept everything, which is hard sometimes. My husband and I don’t do the curating because we don’t want to turn people down. All the pieces are anonymously assessed by independent curators. I think there’s definitely a place to have exhibitions that are open to everyone, and encourage people who are completely beginners, but because one of the things we want to do is encourage a high standard of excellence, in order to do that you really need to have a standard.
For sure, absolutely. And I think you’re right, I think the church is in the baby steps of that… art, visual art, and writing is one thing. I think writing is a different thing: if your book’s Christian, then people are okay with it. If your book’s a novel, not so much. But the visual arts, and classical music is another area where we as a Church haven’t… we’ve ignored that beautiful area of creativity.
I recently did a Bach concert, and I actually haven’t been doing public concerts for several years, because I’ve been focusing on family and ministry. I also teach harp from home. So I recently did a Bach concert, that was actually for the arts festival with a wonderful musician who goes to St Clements, her name’s Alexandra Legg. She’s absolutely wonderful. She played a whole Bach suite, and I played some arrangements of Bach for concert pedal harp, which is my instrument.
Alex plays the cello, and you play the pedal harp.
Yeah, that’s right. So I did a bit of research because I wanted to talk about Bach during the concert. One of the things I do during concerts – you can see I’m a talkative person – one of the things I do during concert is I like to talk about the music, introduce context, tell stories that are interesting or funny, or whatever. And so I was doing a little bit of brushing up on my history with Bach, and I was just so struck by how we often go over the same arguments over and over again, but because we’re not necessarily paying attention to what people came to in the past, we’re not learning from them. So with Bach, he was in a really interesting time in his area of the world, which would now be called Germany. You had two schools of thought: the Pietists and the Lutherans. And the Lutherans were a much more establishment church idea, and they really loved the idea of having these beautiful worship spaces, and paying full-time musicians of the highest calibre to create amazing church music and choral music, and really wanting to do things for the glory of God, for the majesty of God, and at the highest possible standard. And then you had the Pietists. And the Pietists were making some valid points, and saying, ‘Look, this is nothing. This means nothing. Where’s your heart? Where’s the heart? Where’s the closeness with Jesus? Where’s the simplicity? Where’s the humility?’ But then the Pietists of course went in this direction where they said, ‘Let’s not have art. Let’s not have – let’s have the most simple music. Let’s pare it all back down, and then we’ll be more spiritual.’ But of course you can see that there’s pitfalls on both sides, right?
So the cool thing about Bach – and this always comes up – whenever somebody who is in the classical music world who’s a non-Christian will make a comment about, ‘Oh, Bach was just a Christian because people were Christians then!’ People who know about Bach, Bach scholars will say, ‘No no no, this man had a theological library, you have no idea. Everything was annotated!’ And when they look back through his library, he would always buy both sides of the argument. So he would have the Lutheran view and the Pietist view on all the different subjects of the day. And his family Bible is full of all of his – I mean, you’d think the man was Bible journaling. 21st century Bible journaling! So his music actually reflects a lot of the deep theological thinking he went into, and also the personal relationship he had with God. It’s all there. You look back, and you could go, ‘Let’s be informed by these conversations, because people have walked through this before.’