YWAM Newcastle Staff, Ashley Willingham, shares 5 things she loves about being a missionary in Newcastle, Australia with YWAM (Youth With A Mission. You can read more of her story and journey on her personal website, www.ashleywillingham.com
Just over 6 years ago, I embarked upon this wonderful city. As I arrived in Sydney and began the journey up to Newcastle, I remember thinking, “This doesn’t look too much different than the states.” It had suburbs and houses all in a row. It had the occasional McDonalds (Maccas) and Subway. It had K-Mart. Cars. Mailboxes.
The next logical thing to ask me is what in the world I was expecting! Haha
I remember about a month into being in Australia, I took the bus one Monday morning into town by myself and just started to explore the city. At that point, I didn’t know that God was going to speak to me about coming back on staff, but I did know during that morning adventure that I really loved this city.
I loved the cafes, the beaches – and I remember having this fleeting thought “I could live here.”
I could write an entire post about wonderful things in this city, but I’m just going to narrow down a few that I think make it distinct and an incredible mission field. (If you want some more specifics, check out this article.)
Here are 5 Things I Love About My Mission Field
1. Store and Business Hours
This may seem like such a small thing, but it’s something I noticed straight away. Places close. Most stores shut their doors each day at 5, some cafes close at 3, some places are closed on Sundays, whether by Christian values or not, and everyone is a-ok.
Coming from a country where everything stays open at every possible hour and on holidays (or parts of them) and Black Friday seems to start on Tuesday now – it’s refreshing to see a different priority here. The amazing thing is that no one seems phased by it, and maybe that’s because it’s been this way forever.
I remember mentioning to someone at home once that the malls here close at 5pm except for on Thursdays for “Late Night Shopping”, and they said, “When would you go shopping?!?!” It seemed such an incredulous idea to them that anyone should be ok with this, but I think it’s so brilliant.
Maybe it’s the hope of people going home and being with family. Maybe it’s the desire to prioritise other things in an otherwise materialistic world. I don’t know who thought of it or why this is the way it is here, but I do know I love this about Newcastle (and Australia really).
A big part of ministry here at our centre is geared towards youth, and although I don’t directly work with that ministry each week, I see youth all the time. They are so smart and funny and great people.
I love seeing them grow in our youth program. Recently one of the teams performed a musical/play in front of all of us and some parents and guests, and one of the crew (our word for young people to be inclusive) had a main role that blew me away. I’ve seen this crew over the last couple years go from painfully shy to confident actor. After the production, I made him a hot chocolate and told him what a great job he did. He seemed so proud of his newest venture, and I cannot wait to see him continue to grow.
The young people here are passionate, and they love when people see them and include them. They want to be part of the team, and that’s what we are trying to do. Whether I am doing that ministry full-time or not, I really love the young people in this city!
3. Healthy Culture
Another thing I quickly noticed about Australia is an overall desire to be healthy. No, it’s not perfect here. There are still McDonalds every few blocks and plenty of junk food to go around.
The main difference though is the dining out culture. You have fast food, fast casual and sit-down restaurants. In the States, you have all of those, but I think there are two categories with sit-down restaurants – 1) chain & fast sit-down (i.e. Chiles, TGI Fridays, etc.) and 2) proper sit-down restaurants, which aren’t typically chains.
In Australia, if you go to a restaurant or cafe, you’ll get great food. Incredible salads full of flavours (shoutout to Goldbergs’ amazing Kumera salad!), wonderful meats, vegetables and more. There’s a general care for what you eat and tasting the richest of flavours.
I appreciate that there is a value of that in Newcastle, whether or not it’s in every place at every moment. It’s still very real, and it’s something I’ve noticed from the beginning of my time here.
To top that off, there’s a great exercise culture – runners outside, surfing, bike riding. It’s great. The gyms are certainly not as “affordable” as in the States, but other than that, it’s a great “fit” city!
4. Surfers, Hipsters, Businessmen, and More
There is a great diversity of people here. I am not necessarily referring to ethnicity, although there is a bit of that, but more “types” of people. There is a much broader diversity of ethnicity in Sydney.
In Newcastle, though, you will walk along the beach with the surfers to your left and
look up to the street lined with cafes and hipsters making coffees.
Approaching the cafes, you’ll see men and women in business suits grabbing their coffee on the go.
There are athletes and fashionistas. There are families with children. There are teenagers. And musicians.
There are so many categories of people, and I love that they all fit in this city and live and work alongside one another.
5. Church Unity
Another thing that was apparent within the first few months of living here was that churches here work together, not in competition. There are many events that happen yearly that are church events…as in the broader word “church”, not a specific one. I love this.
It’s apparent that everyone is keeping the main thing the main thing – reach the city of Newcastle.
It’s funny how caught up we get in things that only take us away from the main thing. My husband often says that we need to remember that the distance between what we agree on is much shorter than the distance between what we disagree on and that’s good. It’s good because it creates unity and framework to working together.
Rick Prosser, a local Christian pastor in Newcastle, leads Kingdom Works, which is a huge catalyst for this unity in our city. Here is the vision:
Kingdomworks Inc. is primarily a catalyst for unity and mission in our region. It is about serving and connecting the body of Christ towards the cause of Christ, that we see a region won to Christ. We believe firmly that a united church will usher a sovereign move of God in our region!
I love that our churches work together, and I think it has majorly strengthened what God is doing in the city. Each year all the churches in Newcastle come together for City Serve, a yearly opportunity to gather and serve the community. It was amazing to see the unity within all the churches, as well as the effect on our city!
I could write so much more about this city that I love.
I have come to love it more and more as I have lived here and met more people and saw more of it. God is moving, and even in this western country, He is needed.