5 minutes with Jean ...
Tell us a little about you.
I’ve lived in Brisbane for nearly 19 years, but I grew up, went to school, and got married in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa during the turbulent apartheid era. After graduating from university, I was employed as a laboratory analyst and worked in an oil blending plant. There I was one of 3 women among a staff of 15, and the only white, so it was quite a change to what I had experienced growing up. I learned a lot about ethnic and religious diversity, multiculturalism, racism, and sexism. Then, in the late nineties we made the difficult decision to emigrate. Despite this being the best decision for our children’s future and the fact that we are so thankful to be able to enjoy life in Australia, it’s still a painful time to look back on. However, becoming an Aussie meant I could eventually fulfill my dream of attending Bible college, and in 2016 I finally graduated with an Masters of Divinity after 6 and a half years of part-time study! I discovered that I love the rigour and structure of pursuing God through academic means, so much so that I have decided to keep going. I’m currently completing an MA research project in Old Testament narrative. What's your favourite Bible passage & why?
I have a couple of favourite favourites! The first one is Isaiah 49:15 which reads “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”. Most of us have known the love and nurture of a human mother, but this verse emphasises that God’s love for me is greater and more powerful than this. It brings to my mind the enduring image of our God as a superhuman mother. My second favourite is Luke 12:6-7 which reads “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows”. So, it’s very similar message to the first verse. It reminds me that if God chooses to lavish his care on something as small and insignificant as birds that are worth almost nothing, then although I too am ordinary and relatively unremarkable, I am known and valued by God. How do you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus?
One of the things that has really helped my spiritual growth and enabled me to keep my eyes more firmly fixed on Jesus is to read big chunks of Scripture either in a single sitting, or over a few days. When I’ve read entire books of the Bible in a relatively short period I have seen what themes the writer has introduced and how these have been woven into the overall message of that particular book. This stimulates me to reflect on how these fit into the wider story of the Bible as a coherent whole and amazed me as I have realised that God is in control, not only of my life, but he has a plan that he is working out in the world and in history.
More recently, I have also begun to read the Bible giving special effort to identify with the biblical characters as real people rather than abstract figures on a page or moral examples. This has brought the Bible to life and deepened my faith and awareness of God’s presence around me. It’s a bit like Aslan’s words to Lucy in C. S. Lewis’ book The Dawn Treader: “But there [i.e. our world] I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.” In other words, knowing God then and there in an ancient and inspired text has resulted in me knowing him here and now.
What would you like the next generation of Christian women to know?
Dream big, but have realistic expectations. Be strong and courageous! Scripture bears testimony to the richness and resilience of humanity in its female form. Learn to listen to their voices and be inspired and cautioned by their deeds. Being a minor character does not mean your contribution is unimportant. Do even small things, affect change in your small corner of the world, one person at a time. Others may underestimate or overlook you, but take heart, you are loved and chosen by a God who “chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are…” (1 Cor 1:27-28).
What's one thing that you love about your church?
Over the course of the last few years I have been accepted onto the preaching roster at our church and regularly given opportunities to preach from God’s Word at the Sunday morning service to a mixed congregation. This has enabled me to exercise and develop my spiritual gifting, allowed me to participate in building up the local body of believers that I am part of, and provided the opportunity to share what I have learned at Bible college to, in turn, equip others to do the same. Accepting a female preacher was not easy for certain individuals at the start, and it is not all that common in my denomination, so I am very thankful to my church for giving me the privilege. What did you learn about God at a time in your life you found hard?
God is enough. He is faithful and he will get me through. When we first emigrated, I was so homesick. I think I spent the first two years here crying inwardly and outwardly. But God provided me with a wonderful group of Christian women… we prayed for one another, cared for one another, and encouraged one another to grow in faith. I guess I learned that God really is everywhere. There will never be anywhere I can go where he is not already there.
What are you passionate about?
I care deeply about issues relating to environmental ethics and eco-theology, especially animal welfare from a Christian perspective. I believe that Christians need to reclaim the mission of stewarding the earth and it inhabitants, both human and nonhuman. I’m passionate about getting Christians to realise that the so-called green agenda is something that we, as God’s people, should care deeply about. I’d love Christians to see that God loves all of his creatures and creation, and that we should love what he loves… even the old black crows!
What do you enjoy doing when you rest?
I feed the birds in my garden every morning and then spend an hour or so amusing my cheeky blue parrot. I enjoy catching up for coffee with friends whenever I can, or taking my kids shopping or to the movies. I’m also hopelessly addicted to documentaries on ancient history and also British period dramas (like Poldark, Downton Abbey, and anything Jane Austen). And then, just for fun I’m also attempting to resurrect my not-all-forgotten high school Latin. I find walking is a great way to unwind and contemplate life, the universe, and God, and it allows me to escape and rest from the other more stressful demands on my attention.