Today’s guest is Alison and she’s a family friend of mine. And actually I was thinking I cannot remember a time when you weren’t around.
Alison also was very helpful to me when I was working at the uni and you were working at the uni. And we could just have a conversation in the same sort of arena that helped me to figure out how to be a Christian in that space. So just yeah, I’m excited to have a chat to you today. And hear more of your story and because, you know, how it is with old family friends like you never actually find out detail. So today’s detail. So how did you become a Christian?
Well, it’s quite a long story, but I’ve always had, ever since I was a little girl, I remember having a hunger for something more. I didn’t know where to look cause I was never brought up in a Christian environment. But when I came to uni, I connected with EU and I met a few people. But I still didn’t kind of like feel that … well giving your life to the Lord at that point seemed a little bit radical. And I was very intellectual because I was studying science. And you know what science is like. You’re looking at what you can see, what you can feel, that’s what science is all about. So I was approaching life from a very intellectual perspective and anything of the miraculous like the virgin birth, I couldn’t really get my head around it. But at the same time, life was a bit tough and I was away from home and struggling and one thing and another. So I got in contact through some of the EU friends with a Baptist pastor.
EU is the evangelical union.
Yeah. I thought I’d clear that up. So, you got in touch with the Baptist pastor …
And got to know him and his wife. And I was a bit like, you know, pretty much not very good place, which I won’t go into. And, you know, in the end, I used to go visit Doug and Grace a fair bit. And Grace at one stage said, you know, I’d had a little bit of experience with reading a little bit about the baptism in the Holy Spirit. And she said, well, would you like me to pray for the baptism in the Holy Spirit for you. So I said, yes, please. And she prayed and absolutely nothing happened. I went home feeling a bit well … a bit disappointed, I suppose. But she gave me a book to read, and I can’t remember the author, but it was called As At The Beginning, and it talked about how people just seeking the Lord in their own homes. There was a section on in their own homes they just prayed. And I put the book down at that point in time, and I just prayed and I asked the Lord to touch me. And he did. It’s like I received the gift of tongues. And I just knew that he did something deep in my life, hard to put a finger on exactly what was happening. And even back 50 years ago, it’s you know. But I do know that that was a turning point in my life.
Yeah, absolutely. And did you end up like going to church with that church and being part of that group then?
Life took a different course. I’d already applied to go to ANU and do a PhD in genetics. So that was very soon after I went off to Canberra. And to be perfectly honest, life fell apart. In ANU. And it’s like everything got derailed. Academically, emotionally, spiritually, everything got derailed. So that after a couple of years of that, I got you know, I used to visit Doug and Grace back home. And they’d set up a place at Sorell called Beth Shalom. So I came and joined them for a couple of weeks or so, I thought, and ended up staying two and a half years and became a member of their community, which was a community at that point, and you’ll remember that maybe, which was really deeply involved in ministering to deeply disturbed people. So, you know, I was part of that for a couple of years.
Yeah. Wow. So did you complete your PhD at that time?
Not at that time. I threw everything in at ANU. It was like it was totally finished. So I went back to uni and started doing psychology. And I also through Doug, had got a position. He was involved with Mental Health Services and he knew, he had connections with people there and through that I applied for a course in welfare officer. So I did a welfare officer course, for a year. So that was the idea was that I was going to be the community’s welfare officer. I got involved. So I turned learned a lot about mental health and drugs and alcohol and stuff. And we had a few alcoholic people come through Beth Shalom at the time. So I had personal experience as well as, you know, the training of being involved with people like that. And so, yeah, I sort of changed from being interested in science and genetics to being interested in how do you help people. So that’s why I went and did psychology for well I did part time. When I left Beth Shalom I got a job with Mental Health. Working with the alcohol and drug dependency unit and doing psych part time right through to honours. And then after that, I finished up with the alcohol and drug dependency and did a PhD in psychology.
And then started working at the uni from that point?
Yeah. Yeah. Sort of off and on. As you know, it’s hard to get work at a uni. I worked as an RA for my supervisor for a year. Sorry, that’s a research assistant. And then I got a job at Monash for three years. Worked at Monash for three years as a ‘junior academic’. I suppose I’ll call it. Yeah. And that was a bit tough.
Yeah, I guess it is. I guess psychology has got to be one of the hardest arenas to be Christian in at the uni.
I find it was and it still is, you know, still involved in the psychology department at Southern Cross where I now work. Very, very antagonistic to anything that’s not … Like any science. I suppose, anything that you can’t see, feel, touch, you know, it’s it’s like the sort of debates about is there free will or not? And yeah people say there’s no free will. We’re all just machines, that kind of attitude that people have.
So how do you how do you bring your faith into a situation?
With difficulty. [laughs]
I mainly pray for people, I suppose, people that I get close to. It’s, you know, I’m still learning in that regard to bring my faith into a situation where it’s just, you know, it’s just not highly regarded, you know, just having coffee conversations and people saying all sorts of negative things. So it’s a bit tricky, I must admit.
And you worked at the radio station here as well for a while.
That’s true. My friends, who I had been very closely involved with, Neville and Joan, who were well known in Hobart for many years I’d been involved with them before. While I was doing my PhD, I used to spend Sundays with them. And after my three years at Monash, I got a letter from Joan saying what I liked to come back? Maybe more specific than that to come back and join them at Hope Foundation, which was more this, not so much the radio side, but more the spiritual counselling side of the ministry. So I joined Hope Foundation and I worked for them and the radio for seven years. All by faith. No income. Full time.
I suppose it’s awesome to have had that living by faith situation when you’re working in such a antagonistic place that you’ve had seven years where if God didn’t exist, you wouldn’t have been able to get through.
And you know, when I left Monash it was a you know, I knew then that I was, you know, I was giving up my career. And although I hadn’t been awfully happy at Monash, it was still like a real loss, I suppose. And I knew that I was putting myself in a situation where my old age might not be provided for. I wasn’t gonna get any income, you know, where was I gonna go?
And yeah. So for seven years, we virtually basically lived on the smell of an oily rag and yeah, it was it was good times. We had good times, good relationships. I know your folks were involved as well. You know, towards the end of those seven years, so. Yeah, but eventually I felt it was time to move on from there. And so this is one of the amazing things that happened. I decided I’d go and look for the uni so I came down to Sandy Bay and went to the psychology department and wandered around the staff. And I said, does anyone have any any jobs for me? And … no, no, no. The next day one of the staff members rang me up and he said. My RA’s just resigned. Would you like to come and work for me as a research assistant? I said, yes, please. So that gradually from there, I kind of had my little toe in and gradually there things built up a little bit. I got some teaching. I got some tutoring. I worked in various places, not just in the psychology department, work in psychiatry as a research assistant down here at the hospital. So I was doing that for quite a few years. And every now and then I’d get a six month, 0.6 of a contract or something and did a bit of teaching stats – statistics to students and things.
This is not abnormal. This is really. Yeah.
You’ve been through all of that.
You know, to our audience, it may sound weird, but that’s the way the uni runs really, isn’t it?
And there wasn’t … There was … I suppose if I had stuck it out long enough, there would have been a future there. And in fact, I did apply for a job in Launceston at one stage, a full time permanent position. And I got to the interview stage, but I pulled the plug on that because I just bought a house down at Huonville and I didn’t want to up stakes and leave. And yeah, I decided that that didn’t you know, that wasn’t for me at that time. But things didn’t … workwise I wasn’t getting very far. And then I’d also during these years developed a connection with a friend through the Internet, as you do. And she was running a house church and a ministry called Great South Land Ministries up in Coffs Harbour. So they come down a couple of times. They actually ran intercession seminars here in Hobart. In various churches around the place. And eventually I I felt led to go up and join their house church. So that’s what took me up to Coffs Harbour where I’ve now been for 14 years. So, yeah. So that was a bit of that was probably amongst other times, but that was probably one of the hardest things I’ve done because I didn’t want to leave Tassie. Nothing in me wanted to leave Tassie. And whatever work I had here, you know, I didn’t have anything to go to employment wise. It was like, what do I do? I applied for a couple of jobs in Coffs and got knocked back both times. So it’s like I just really had to just get out of the boat again into the water and head off to Coffs Harbour thinking, you know, if nothing works out, I’ll come back in six months. But, you know, that first year was pretty hard because there literally wasn’t any work. I did census collecting for a while. Well, that was hard work physically just walking up and down streets with census forms. And eventually after about a year, I got some casual work in the psychology department at Southern Cross University in Coffs Harbour. And I think that was about two years subsequent to that, they advertized the one year teaching position temporary. So I applied for that and I got that. And then because it had been advertised externally, I was eligible to make that permanent after two years. So, you know, that’s one of the things that I’ve always been amazed by, just giving up a career way back and going to work for a Christian organisation. I never expected to get that career back. And so just to be it just to be able to just to have that full time academic position as a lecturer in psychology was a real blessing and a real move of God because they’re not easy to get those jobs.
So so, yeah, I was there now. I worked there for several years and gradually cut back my hours because I was getting older and I’ve kind of almost retired, but not quite at this point in time.
So there’s been like some really big times in your life where you as you say, you’ve got out of the boat, you’ve just walked in obedience. I’m just thinking for people listening, they’re probably going, well, how did she know that was what God wanted her to do?
Well, I knew I knew that. I knew that I knew that I was meant to because I think growing up in Tassie. Tassie was very precious to me. And sometimes God says to you the things that are the most precious to let go of. And I’d already in one stage prayed and said Lord I let go of my love for Tassie, so I’d done that. Subsequent to that, I kind of knew in my heart even I didn’t want to know in my head that this was not not just a spiritual letting go, but it meant something more than that, physically, practically. So when my friends in Coffs said, I think it’s time for you to move, I thought, yeah I knew that it was right. You know, it wasn’t like somebody just said out of the blue, come to Coffs Harbour. It was something I’d been processing for a year or two. And yeah, it took me a year or two to actually do that step of moving. So that was because that was a it was a process.
And I think this time was going to the radio station joining Hope Foundation. Again, it was a process because I was very deeply connected with, you know, with that ministry from before even the radio was up off the ground. You know, though, I mean, I spent a lot of time with Neville and Joan with your relatives. The Jewitts and Reg and Ath Chopping, you know, those various people. So I’d kind of developed, you know, a deep kind of connection with the ministry. And so, again, Joan wrote and she said, how about coming and joining us? And again, it was.
It spoke to something that was already happening.
It spoke to something that was there. And so, again, it wasn’t easy. I remember giving my resignation, I wrote it and took it in to my professor and then put it on his table and took off. Because, again, you know, somebody to go into something religious out of an academic environment, you know, must have been pretty bizarre from their perspective. So, yeah, there were the two big, big changes. Yeah. So it was like it wasn’t a once off I mean, it was a process which took probably years in the making. And all through my life, even though it’s had its ups and downs and chops and changes, there’s been a desire to really follow the Lord and to really be not just somebody that goes to church, but to have the ability to contribute is the way I’d put it to be able to minister, to be able to serve in whatever gifts I’ve got. And, you know, at the uni and at Coffs I never had that attitude of wanting to be a professor or anything. I knew it was a gift of God to be there and to be serving. And I love working with honours students and I love the young people. And so that’s a real privilege.
So you talked about church like and I know from talking to you that you don’t want to be the kind of person that just turns up at a church service for an hour each week and then goes home. Can you give us some idea of what you think church should be like?
Yes, I’ve had various experiences of church, not just here and even, you know, overseas. It’s a church where everybody contributes. Everybody has a role where people are ministered to and cared for and where people are nurtured. And where people contribute their gifts. So, for example, I know I’ve got a teaching gift. When I was going to St Thomas’s Howrah, I was encouraged to preach so that, you know, given the opportunity to actually utilise whatever gifts you have and to be able to exercise them, I think is important.
And the other thing I think it is really important, which one of the things the main thing I learnt from being involved in the house church for several years was to be real, not to hide. So not to say you’re feeling fine if you’re not. Not to pretend, not to hide behind religion, but to be open and to be vulnerable. And I think it’s really important that church is a safe place for people. They can come with their warts and all, yet not feel that if they’re having a bad day they’ve got to come and be happy and cheerful and all good kind of thing. But to feel safe, to feel free, that they can be nurtured, particularly for young people or for people that are going through real, you know, major issues in their lives. But it’s you know, I think a family is a good word to describe it. Yeah. Where people feel safe and comfortable and are given the opportunity to grow and are challenged as well.
Provide opportunities for people to minister to you know, like I’m looking more now at getting out into the community more. Like talking to people at coffee shops and things. How do you connect with the world in general? Because the church isn’t just a lot of people within four walls, it’s got a mission. It’s got a mission to the world. Jesus says go out into all the world and preach the gospel to all of mankind. And if we just sit in a church, and sing hymns and go home again, what impact are we having on the world? So, yeah, I think a church is a dynamic organism. It’s the body of Christ. It’s being Jesus in the world and having the impact.
I’ve just been reading the Gospels recently and it talks of a massive crowd following Jesus, you know, massive. Like he fed 5000 people. And that was only the men I think. Women and kids were added on. And people were just all over Judea and Galilee were following him. And I think wouldn’t it be great if people were drawn to the church like that? And they were drawn. We have something to offer. We have you know, we have the Holy Spirit to offer to minister to people, to meet them where they’re really in pain, their basic physical and spiritual emotional needs. So that’s how I see the church is a dynamic expression of Jesus in the world today.
Yes, absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. When do you feel close to God?
When do I feel close to God. I’m feeling closer to God now. Now, more than I have been in the past. I like sitting on my back verandah watching birds and talking to him there. I tend to mull over things which is kind of like a thinking and praying kind of activity.
I’ve been spending a lot more time in worship recently listening to worship music a lot more. One of the things I was doing in Sydney was walking the streets and kind of singing lowly because my voice is wonky, but singing the Hallelujah Chorus or something as I was walking along and that just gave me sort of made me just feel joy as I was walking around and feeling that out of that joy that I could greet the people that I was walking past and and feeling that the Lord was with me. I’m really one of the things I’m really seeking more is to know his presence, you know, in a deep way, to know the presence of his Spirit, to be able to be sensitive to his Spirit. You know, when you see somebody in the street to be able to be sensitive perhaps to His Spirit and say, look, that person needs someone to listen to or something.
So, yeah,it’s a big learning curve. Work in progress. But yeah, I do feel much closer to the Lord now. And I think one of the things I experienced not all that long ago was the depth of his love for me. And because I had been that, I did go through a pretty dry time because the house church kind of folded and then I was left, like, where do I go from here? I didn’t know where to go from here. But then the Lord touched me. I was feeling pretty, pretty in not a good place and but I was telling him that. But then out of the depths of my spirit, an old hymn came up. You probably know it. It was called Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus. Deep, unending, boundless free. It kind of just welled up inside me. It was like him saying, This is my love for you. Deep unending, boundless, free. And it just welled up. And then I dug it off YouTube, I think, and just listened to it over and over and over again.
And you know, it it was like a real revelation of even in my midst of where I was at, which was, as I said, not in a good place, you know. He knew and he loved me even when I wasn’t on top of things. And to me, that was such a change in perspective. And to know his love in a new way and to know that, you know, he cares for me, whatever. And I think out of that, because, you know him in such a depth of his love, that gives me a response of deeper love for him. So that gives me that desire. Well, look, there’s a world out there that’s broken. Something in me wants to go out and say, look, out there, you people out there in this broken world, God loves you. God is good.
And that’s the other thing I wanted to say was, you know, all through my life as I’ve been sharing, you know, God’s just given me the steps along the way. He’s provided for me, as I’ve said, the job, you know, a house. I’ve now got a house that’s fully paid off. You know, things that I when I left the radio station, I had nothing. Absolutely, you know, a little broken down, tatted up car was about all I owned. So God’s provided for me. He’s kept me safe. I’ve done a couple of trips overseas which were less than safe. So he’s kept me and he’s been good. And I think I know the goodness of God because I can look back over my 50 years and I’ve seen him keep me safe and provide for me.
And I think one of the things that I’m really feeling now is that there’s so much pain out there, so much lack of understanding of who God is, that you hear people saying that. Well, with the bushfires in particular. You hear people say this is a judgement of God. And I I can’t accept that my God is good. God doesn’t bring bushfires. He doesn’t destroy people’s livelihoods and their homes. And I think people just have this this feeling that if something goes wrong, it’s God that did it, and it’s not God. But to have that understanding, to be able to share that minute, that that knowledge somehow that because God’s been good to me and he’s no respecter of persons, he’ll be good to you. He’ll be good to the person I meet in the street. And somehow to be able to communicate that to the hungry people out there is really what’s on my heart.
So that’s the thing that you would like to tell everyone if you could.
That’s exactly it. If people would listen and that’s why I’m starting to do a bit of writing and things, is to try and say, well, this is my experience of God, oh, I now it’s different to everybody else’s, but I’ve experienced him. I’ve got something to say that, because I’ve experienced the goodness of God, you can, too. Is really what I’m trying to say.
It’s fantastic. Thank you. Is there anything else you wanted to share with us?
I think that’ll probably cover everything. Thank you Ruth.
Thank you very much.