Taking a gap year: it’s a Kiwi rite of passage that might seem indulgent or wasteful. But can a gap year be redeemed? Or is it all about selfish exploration and the refusal to grow up? Headspace is a gap year programme run by GC3 and provides young adults with an opportunity for growth and spiritual development.
For Melanie Crosbie (20), a gap year with Headspace in 2016 was the perfect opportunity to take a year out after completing high school to seriously consider her future and how her choices fit into God’s big picture plan.
“I grew up in the South Waikato in a Christian family. We are the typical dairy farming family—I went to small town schools and enjoyed being part of a tight-knit church community.
“I was planning on studying Event Management at uni—I knew I’d be good at it, but I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy it enough to spend money on a degree—so I thought, ‘why not do Headspace for a year and decide afterwards’”.
Headspace is a year-long (February-November) programme run by GC3 and is made up of five ‘blocks’. This includes three month-long teaching blocks, a work experience block, and 10 weeks offshore in a global mission context.
Melanie emphasises the transformative nature of the Headspace community:
“Just spending time with the leaders, interns and other gappers was one way that God used Headspace to really change me, I was surprised by how quickly we became a family. Living together for a year was formational, while you’re living in community it becomes so natural and normal to talk about Jesus in everything. Those conversations helped build up my knowledge and my view of God. I found that I was learning through the example of others and their experiences as we prayed and shared life together.”
The teaching blocks feature helpful input from a variety of Christian teachers and include completing the ‘Perspectives: On the World Christian Movement’ course. Melanie says, “Perspectives was great learning for me—especially about how mission worked through the whole story of the Bible.”
Melanie spent her work experience block with the team doing apple packing in Hastings and kiwifruit packing in Cambridge. This block is “where gap year meets real life. Gappers earn money, grow determination and endurance, as well as having the opportunity to practice outreach.”
Gappers are well-prepared for the overseas portion of their year and spend time developing materials and learning about language and culture. Every year the gappers spend time in Thailand where Headspace has cultivated partnerships with local Christians and organisations.
Melanie’s experience in Thailand gave tangible expression to her learning. During the 10 week block they visited Destiny Rescue, an organisation that rescues girls from the sex trade, as well as teaching at a school on the Burmese border where she met Karen people, many of whom had fled the dangerous environment of their homeland in Burma.
“It was during my time in Thailand that I really realised I had a passion for social justice. Growing up in church you hear God is the God of justice, but it hits home when you see it in a real-life situation. I remember getting to know refugees at a boarding school and initially feeling mad at God for their unfair life circumstances. But as I watched the students and saw their joy in God, despite their circumstances I realised that if they weren’t mad, how could I be? It was humbling to see God’s character outworked in the world and helped me to start thinking about how I can be part of His redemptive plan.”
On returning to New Zealand Melanie began to think and pray: how does what I’ve learned fit into my life going forward? Her mentor (Headspace Youth Director, Charlie Shadbolt) suggested praying about studying social work, and when the final guest lecturer for the year pointed out that “you can learn skills, but you can’t learn passion”, Melanie knew she needed to change her plans to study Event Management.
“I’m now in the midst of studying social work here in New Zealand with the hope that I’ll be able to use this to help refugees or internally displaced people in some way in the future. Through Headspace I’m still connected with some of our mission partners in Thailand and we’ve set up a way for ex-gappers to continue to give and make a difference to the special work they’re doing over there.
“If you are just finishing school don’t stress: you can change what you do, you can change your mind and that’s OK. If you’re feeling unsure then a year out helps give perspective. Headspace introduced me to new ideas and new experiences, but it really helped me to learn more about myself, God and who I am in God, and that’s where all the change comes.”