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10/1/97 Aussie siblings mix baseball, fried cheese, Southwestern

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Put another shrimp on the barbie to go with the fried cheese? Or how about a pair of front-row, third base baseball tickets? How about both?
“I confess I love both fried cheese and Texas Ranger baseball games,” Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary master of music student Anita Thomas admitted. And though Rangers don’t offer fried cheese — or barbecue shrimp — at The Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, the unusual combination makes sense in Thomas’ case. She hails from Brisbane, Australia.
Thomas has grown to love the United States, the Lone Star State and Southwestern Seminary — not that it has been easy. “I still get homesick,” she admitted, “but my heart is in two countries now. I know I’ll get homesick for the U.S. when I go back to Australia. Here I miss my family and the beach. When students see us going around looking like surfers, it’s probably only because we are missing home.”
The “us” and “we” Thomas refers to includes her brother, Leon, also a music student at Southwestern. The siblings made the trans-Pacific trek because they wanted to study not just music but the Bible as well.
“We want to be ministers, not just musicians,” Anita said. A violinist by training, she taught high school music after her graduation from Queensland Conservatory of Music. But she came to Southwestern in search of further education, preparation and inspiration.
In Australia, “music ministry” means a volunteer leading hymns during a worship service, Anita said. “It’s a big deal for a church to have a choir. Lots of church members play in bands, but there is no concept like there is here about worship and music in the church. We feel called to go back and use our knowledge to teach others about music as a ministry.”
Leon agreed. “Our calling is to establish a school of church music in Australia.”
The duo plan to stay at Southwestern and obtain doctorate degrees to prepare them for their goal.
Their father, Brian, said he and his wife, Kathy, are excited about their children’s future. “People in Australia are becoming more and more open to ideas about music as ministry and worship,” Brian said.
“God is definitely using the whole experience,” Kathy added. “The timing seems to be so perfect.”
Since Anita’s arrival at the seminary in January 1995 — and Leon’s a year later — their parents, who work at Queensland Baptist College of Ministries, a Christian school in their hometown, have become a liaison family for Southwestern.
Professors Phil Briggs and Joe King have visited their home, while Bruce Leafblad, professor of church music and worship, spent a sabbatic at their church — City Tabernacle in Brisbane — serving as interim music minister.
King, who directs Southwestern Singers, in which Anita and Leon participate, said the pair are a noticeable presence in the seminary’s school of church music.
“They are wonderful people. When Anita arrived, it was if a breath of fresh air blew through our school. They’ve had a positive influence on the whole student body because of their desire to learn,” King said.
“We are sponges here,” Anita enthused, “just soaking everything up and taking it in.”
Anita’s initial experience convinced Leon to trade kangaroos for cowboys. “I heard what Anita was learning, and I said, ‘That’s what I need!'”
His background includes college degrees in music and education, a music ministry position and a job teaching strings. “Southwestern has impressed me with its striving for excellence,” Leon said. “The professors here care for you spiritually and also personally.”
Anita’s parents, who visited Southwestern last fall, also are impressed with the seminary. “It’s so tremendous,” Kathy exclaimed. “We’re seeing the people who write the books we use at Queensland. God definitely knew what he was doing by calling Anita and Leon here.”
Anita is convinced coming to Southwestern was part of God’s plan for her life.
“I feel that God is going to use us to be a bridge to Australia. We need missionaries in Australia, even though many people would be too proud to admit it. The youth need examples of young people who stand up for the faith.”
Of course, there still are times when the duo long for Australia.
“I miss our surroundings,” Leon lamented. “The coast was only 10 minutes from our hometown and the mountains were only an hour away. And I’m still getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road!”
Still, they enjoy the small cultural differences between the two countries.
“People are the same here as they are in Australia — they just talk differently,” Leon noted. Just don’t ask for fried cheese at The Ballpark in Texas or debate the virtues of a sacrifice bunt at Queensland College in Australia.

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  • Dena Dyer