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Student Story by Brent Brittliff

17 Oct 2022

At Whitley, I’ve found you are not taught what to think but how to think. Sure, it is a Baptist theological college, but all traditions, cultures and world views are respected, acknowledged, encouraged and expanded on, with humility and gentleness.

Metaphorically speaking, I waited at the bible college bus stop to be picked up, stepped on the Whitley bus, and realised I had a first-class ride to my destination!

My job had been as a clearance diver for the Australian armed forces. We took the lead in things such as anti-terrorism, and worked with ships and oil tankers – anything to do with maritime.

Looking back, I guess it was a little frightening at times.

My name is Brent Brittliff. My father was a minister and I come from a Maori-Anglican tradition – Te Hahi Mihinare.

I ended being part of the Special Forces but at the peak of my career I was diagnosed with a heart condition. Two weeks after that I was on an operating table having open heart surgery.

But I could no longer work in the profession I thought I was going to be in for the rest of my life.

So I explored my faith. I wanted to learn from the experts. Not that you need a university degree to do this. But I wanted to look at my faith journey critically and academically, developing and setting the foundations for my spirituality and remaining active in my ministry calling.

When I learned of Whitley I found a free-flowing dialogue with the college. Signed up for a Bachelor of Theology course. I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that you have to be an academic scholar to do a degree in theology.

Each lecturer is an expert in their particular theological field, bringing scholarly subject knowledge and lived experience. They can ‘talk the talk’ because they have ‘walked the walk’. Some of their pearls stand out. One that sticks with me is: “Yes, the reading is hard! What are you going to do? Complain? And play your Play Station? Or dig in and do the work? The choice is yours”.

I love the multiculturalism and realness of the staff and students. There is no ego or competition—a space where you can share and ask questions without judgement. If I had to recommend a unit of study I would say the transformational units. Units which expand your mind while remaining open to different interpretations and thoughts. I have walked into a class thinking I know something about the subject and walked out with an entirely different view – which is brilliant.

After graduating, I’m not sure what the Lord has in store for me. Ordination is a possibility, for sure. Some of my friends who have left the armed forces have committed suicide. Most haven’t done that well transitioning to civilian life. I am passionate about sharing this message with others who have gone through a similar experience.

I guess, if I could press the metaphor a bit more, the driver of the bus would be Jesus – I just get off whenever he opens the door!