Selfless giving at Homecoming


Cooranbong, New South Wales

Alumni at Avondale College of Higher Education’s Homecoming weekend responded generously to offerings collected to support lifestyle medicine and student mission.

We even cut our Homecoming budget so that every dollar given to the offering went to the Lifestyle Research Centre rather than to covering expenses. The Pacific Partnership is that important to us.

The offering during the worship service on Sabbath (August 27) exceeded $A7000. Staff at Avondale had been praying for $6000. “God blessed,” said financial controller Lavinia Ontanu. “Our application for university college status will stretch us financially, so we’re taking our fundraising much more seriously. And that has meant taking God with us. It was as if He was saying, ‘Thank you for including Me, I’m just waiting and wanting to bless and bless abundantly.’”

The money will support the Lifestyle Research Centre at Avondale as it helps to reduce the “crippling” burden of chronic disease in the South Pacific islands. The centre is offering seed money to Pacific Islanders so they can begin postgraduate study in lifestyle medicine. This Pacific Partnership should empower those with influence to share knowledge with their communities.

“We even cut our Homecoming budget so that every dollar given to the offering went to the Lifestyle Research Centre rather than to covering expenses,” said Public Relations officer Brenton Stacey. “The Pacific Partnership is that important to us. Teaching someone how to manage and treat chronic disease using lifestyle medicine interventions could, as our lead researcher says, radically transform lives, relationships and communities.”

A $1500 offering during vespers on Friday evening also exceeded expectations. The money will fund three service/leadership scholarships for returning students. The recipients will be those leading trips organised by student club One Mission.

“Service is one of the most powerful ways to share Christianity because it’s Christianity in action,” said chaplain Dr Wayne French. “It’s not just talking about Christianity but living Christianity. That’s why we offer these scholarships.”


Avondale Alumni acknowledged the service of former students by announcing at Homecoming the recipients of its annual awards.

Nurse educator Jean Gersbach’s commitment to demonstrating care for others and faith in God saw her receive Alumna of the Year. Gersbach nursed for more than 20 years at Sydney Adventist Hospital. She also served in the Pacific islands and now lectures at The University of Newcastle. Her citation mentioned the beheading of husband Lance on Malaita in 2003. The murder challenged Gersbach’s faith—after months of praying, she and Lance felt God had called them to Solomon Islands. “I was no longer satisfied with token Christianity,” says Gersbach. “Either God was real or He was not.”

Alumnus of the Year Dr Bernard Taylor’s award recognises his contribution to international scholarship in biblical languages and studies. He became the first non-Jew to teach biblical Hebrew to rabbinic students. His speciality: the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament. Taylor translated 1 Samuel and substantial sections of 2 Samuel and 1 Kings for the New English Translation of the Septuagint. His most important work, Analytical Lexicon to the Septuagint, is now an essential reference tool.

Teacher Christopher Starrett received the award Young Alumnus of the Year for developing an effective ministry in the schools in which he teaches. The ministry combines sport, service and worship. Starrett taught at Northpine Christian College (Dakabin, Qld) after graduating in 2010. He would establish basketball and mountain bike ministries and play a key role in a Seventh-day Adventist Church plant on campus. And he accepted regular speaking appointments. “He was on his own ministry bandwagon,” says principal Graham Baird.

Seven other alumni, one from each of the Homecoming honour years, received citations from their classmates: nurse, missionary and author Margaret Watts (1946); Adventist Church administrators and evangelists Pastors Justin Lawman (1996) and Athal Tolhurst (1956); academic, musician and choral director Dr James Bingham (1966); fundraiser Calvin Edwards (1976); teacher Narece Thapa (1986); and “musicianary” Monique Johnson (2006).

The popular Hymns and Songs of Praise provided the finale on Saturday. Produced by the Institute of Worship at Avondale, the concert featured an engaging Graeme Press as master of ceremonies. Press is Music Director for Australia’s largest free Christmas concert Carols in the Domain. He weaved stories from the carols and from his work with the Salvation Army as well as reflections on his faith journey into the program. This and the off-the-cuff a cappella singing of choruses from his favourite hymns and songs brought a worship feel to the concert.