Boarding School in New Zealand in Uphill Battle Amid National Lockdowns

One of the international students is 14 and hasn’t seen his parents since he was 12.

Boarding School in New Zealand in Uphill Battle Amid National Lockdowns

For Longburn Adventist College House volunteer Brooke Davidson, setting kids up for the kingdom is a personal passion she pursues every day. “I love demonstrating that kingdom focus,” she explained. “[LAC] is such an awesome place because you meet kids from so many different walks — Adventists, Christians, non-Christians. Being able to speak into their lives from a spiritual aspect, even if it’s just a minor influence, it may set them up for the kingdom.”

LAC House, the boarding school arm of Longburn Adventist College in Longburn, New Zealand, is home to approximately 50 boarding students every year, many of whom travel from overseas to study at the school.

Originally a teacher herself, Brooke admits that being a volunteer dormitory dean isn’t the easiest job, but being able to give back to the school she once attended makes it all worthwhile. “When I was a student here, we had deans that I loved so much,” she said. “They provided so many fun opportunities for us, so I wanted to give back to these younger people. That’s why I quit my awesome job of teaching.”

Although LAC House is a nurturing and fun environment for the boarders, lockdowns and restrictions over the past 18 months have proven incredibly difficult. 

“It’s especially hard for internationals,” she added. “They haven’t been home in 18 months. Our youngest boarder just turned 14, so he hasn’t seen his mum and dad since he was 12 years old. It really takes a toll.”

While lockdowns and border closures trapped New Zealanders in their own homes, LAC staff gave up much of their Christmas holidays to look after the physical and emotional needs of 25 international students who couldn’t return home. 

“Staff who had worked all term had few holidays, were working longer hours than normal, and could not go home to their own families,” LAC principal Brendan van Oostveen explained. “Maria Henry, our head of Girls’ Dorm, and Jefferson Souza, our head of Boys’ Dorm, along with the volunteer assistant deans basically didn’t have a Christmas break. On a positive note, they did get to travel some of New Zealand and ended up having Christmas Day in the snow — in Auckland at Snow Planet.”

The year 2021 has also proven very challenging for LAC. Normally able to recruit volunteers from around the world to serve as dormitory deans, LAC faced border closures that made it impossible this year. “We had to search far and wide within New Zealand and Australia, and we were ultimately blessed with a smaller-than-usual team,” van Oostveen said.

Another major concern for LAC was that it wasn’t able to replace international students as they graduated. “We have 43 in the dorms at the moment; if the borders had been open, it would have easily been more than 50. Last year, we had 25 internationals arrive. This year 17, next year, it will be nine. I have applications from people wanting to come, but they can’t get into the country,” van Oostveen said. “We’ve been blessed with an increase in domestic border numbers, but it has still been a significant problem.”

LAC House now finds itself planning for 2022. With New South Wales, Australia still battling increasing COVID case numbers, a Trans-Tasman bubble is unlikely to return anytime soon. “And New Zealanders can’t even return to New Zealand because there aren’t enough spaces in quarantine facilities,” van Oostveen said. “On writing this, I am not sure where we will find ourselves this time next year.”

LAC staff are calling anyone who is willing and able to come to, or who is already in, New Zealand, to work at LAC House as a volunteer assistant dean in 2022. “Australians are considered domestics here. You don’t need to have a visa. You just need to have a missionary spirit!” van Oostveen said.

For those unable to physically help, van Oostveen urges them to provide financial support if they are able, “because we need to weather this storm as best we can, and I’d like my staff to have a Christmas of their choice this year.”

“Many of you would have attended LAC, or at least know someone who has attended LAC over its 108 years and understand the impact that LAC House has had on the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific. We continue to be committed to bringing people to the foot of the cross. It is now time to consider how we might support the mission field that is LAC House.”

The original version of this story was posted by Adventist Record.