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Helena Stretton

1966-1967 / NZBTI Diploma (Henderson campus)
1972-2006 Dean of Women, Lecturer (Henderson campus)

Why cross the Tasman to come to a Bible College in New Zealand? I had been involved with Adelaide Bible Institute's Summer schools and Monday night lectures for a while so thought if I were to go full time to Bible College perhaps I should have a totally new experience and leave home and go interstate. I asked my Pastor what College would he recommend and immediately he said NZBTI... “Impeccable heritage with J.O. Sanders founding Superintendent and his mission involvement with CIM. Excellent Bible teachers.” The current Principal, David G Stewart, had been in Baptist College in Sydney with my Pastor and so he knew him well. He had a superb record as a Bible teacher and former missionary in India. I had heard David Stewart speak at an Inter Varsity Fellowship Conference and appreciated his messages very much. I said to my Pastor that I hadn’t expected him to say New Zealand and didn't know any grads from there – but he said, “Don’t think twice about it, trust me, just go! You can't do better in the southern hemisphere!”

At NZBTI, I loved the opening of the Bible by lecturers and missionaries to new understandings for facing life situations, and a Library facility for exploring more. I was enriched by the diversity of God's people through living on campus in community with people of different denominations, ethnic cultures, social backgrounds, and with a variety of educational, work and life experiences.

We learned from each other in times of communal worship, small group interactions for prayer and sharing, fun times on our beautiful campus with its open spaces, trees and gardens, tennis courts, the creek (for catching eels! or 'baptising' potential missionaries, soon to leave for overseas) and large apple orchard.

We learned the importance of rostered menial tasks to work together in teams not of our choice and to relate to students other than those in our courses. We had to think of others, their needs and how we could fill in for them at times and even go the second mile.

We all (who were single!) had the luxury of having one's own room where we could add our own homely touches, a room for escape, solitude and late night study!

As a result, I experienced personal thoughtfulness and help like never before, made life-long fabulous friends, and received a foundation for Christian life and service I have been so grateful for ever since.

My study years at NZBTI stretched me study wise and threw me into Christian service experiences I would never have chosen, and wasn't equipped for (where I experienced embarrassment and awkwardness at times) but where, more importantly, support of others and God's faithfulness were real learning opportunities. It provided examples of Christian living before me every day in lecturers and students. It challenged me into thinking about cross-cultural mission service (possibly with OMF in South East Asia)

After my studies, I returned to scientific research in Adelaide, as my former job had become vacant again. Before I left College the Principal's advice was to consider further academic study. 'Asia looks at degrees', he had said, and I only had a BSc. After a year back in research I was offered a three year post graduate scholarship in my research field so accepted that as the Lord's leading. When that was nearing conclusion I was very perplexed to be asked by BCNZ to consider the Dean of Women's role … and, as they say, the rest is history!

But what of my cross-cultural overseas missionary interest and preparation? Well, in the goodness of God, it came after retirement! When BCNZ graduate Edward Sands, a former Dean of Academic Studies at BCNZ and then Rector of a College training pastors in Central Asia, suggested I help put Christian Education on the curriculum in his College I turned him down as being way out of my ability. I neither knew where the country was nor how its name was spelt. I found it was in Central Asia not South East Asia, so not where OMF worked! Besides I needed to recover after so many years as a student Dean and then lecturer at BCNZ! But I can't thank Edward enough for his persistence and then his wonderful support. My months in that country were the most stretching and scary time of my teaching career, but the most exhilarating, enriching and God-dependent time. The students were passionate to learn and serve the Lord, often at great personal cost. It was a privilege to teach them and I thank God so gratefully for the experience ever since!

I now live in Adelaide and am retired from all formal teaching (i.e. from relief teaching TESOL in a church English Language School in Adelaide city and Bible study groups at my church). However, I continue to visit some church members (who were in a Bible Study group I led) now permanently in Aged Care, and am involved a little with Internationals at church (mainly refugees and asylum seekers from Iran). I also keep up connections with our Neighbour Group, despite Covid's limitations for gathering as a group. Over the years we've won a couple of prizes from Australia's official Neighbour Day organization and the Council of the Ageing for our activities. I also research post-colonisation history literature of Australia and its huge injustices of First Nations peoples to this day! I have been hugely ignorant of Australia's hidden history. As a church we support a Baptist Aboriginal church in our city, and personally I support reconciliation understandings and opportunities, however small, to help heal deep wounds of our Nation's past.

As I reflect on my journey thus far I am grateful to God for a hugely enriching life of privilege: Christian and middle-class upbringing; excellent education, health and work opportunities; residential Bible College and its solid equipping for Christian life and service that it gave me, inter-denominationally and cross-culturally; supportive churches; vibrant Christian supportive friends; and assurance of (and proven experience of) God's faithful provision and presence throughout.

“…from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48

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