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Siblings cross an ocean for Collegiate Week experience

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–LifeWay’s Glorieta Conference Center is secluded in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a 20-minute drive from Santa Fe -– and a 25-hour flight from Queensland, Australia.

“Secluded” doesn’t even begin to describe Glorieta’s location for siblings Orrin and Helanna Stevens, who made the trek to the conference center from their homes in Queensland for the Aug. 3-9 National Collegiate Week conference.

“I came hoping I’d find direction,” 20-year-old Helanna Stevens said. “I’m looking for what to do with my life and where to go.”

Orrin and Helanna Stevens’ father attended LifeWay’s National Collegiate Week conference years ago before moving to Australia and had mentioned the experience many times to his children.

“Dad said we would gain something in our spiritual walk in coming,” Helanna Stevens said. They waited until this summer to attend the event mainly because the Australian school year doesn’t end in May and 18-year-old Orrin Stevens needed to graduate from high school before making the trip.

Even though the brother and sister are American citizens, they’ve spent their lives in Australia. Orrin Stevens said Collegiate Week provided a good opportunity to experience the differences between the two cultures.

“I came to see the difference between the ways we do stuff,” he said, adding that he quickly noticed American Christians are more willing to openly discuss controversial subjects.

Collegiate Week featured speaker Jon Randles focused his attention on encouraging the students to use and nurture their Christian passion, a lesson Helanna Stevens said Australian Christians could benefit from hearing.

“There is a passion in a lot of churches, but it’s religion-based,” she said, explaining that many people focus more on strict adherence to tradition and rules than on growing their faith in order to effectively reach others. “The Christian movement hasn’t quite made it to Australia yet.”

Part of the problem with creating passionate Christians in a country long known for its disregard for religion is that children are not as encouraged to leave home for college as they are in the United States, Orrin Stevens said. That mentality is changing, he said, but it is still difficult for children to “find themselves” apart from their parents.

“It must start in the schools,” Helanna Stevens added. “High school is tough –- like college here [in the United States]. If you had a Christian community in high school, that would help.”

The Stevenses said they relished the opportunity to network with other Christian young people and gain encouragement from the attitudes of the other attendees. The conference helped give the siblings confidence that Christian passion, even in Australia, is possible.

“Change is happening,” Orrin Stevens said, adding that his Christian friends back in Maryborough, Queensland, would be uplifted to hear “there’s a group over there [in America] already driving forward.”

Helanna Stevens said she took heart in meeting so many passionate Christians.

“There are networks to be made,” she said. “We are the chosen generation.”

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  • Brooklyn Noel