The college that started in a pineapple packing shed
EVERY Sunday night, hundreds would cram into a pineapple packing shed for a lively church service before the chairs were packed away and replaced with cubicles for classes the next day.
Suncoast Church and Suncoast Christian College started more than 40 years ago by a pastor and church elders with just $1000 in the bank.
Pastors Neil and Nance Miers had a vision to grow a church and college which would impact the Coast community. The then Nambour Christian Outreach Centre bought a 23 acre pineapple farm on Kiel Mountain Road at Woombye with just $1000 for a deposit, thanks to the generosity of the landowner.
A year later, Pastor Miers was showing a fellow pastor, Gordon Gibbs, the property. As they stood at the top of the hill, Pastor Gibbs said that he saw a vision of many children running and playing there.
"When Neil was relating this story to me earlier this year, he thought at the time "maybe a go cart track!" But no, this was a prophetic word and God had birthed the vision for a church and a school,'' Suncoast College principal Greg Mattiske told a 40th anniversary celebration recently.
"In 1979 the Suncoast Christian Academy began with 81 students and two staff in a literal tin shed, with a bare concrete floor, and wooden saw horses for desk supports.
"On a Sunday night the church folk would pack away the rows of chairs and set up the individual cubicles for school on Monday. Suncoast Christian Academy would then operate until Friday, when the cubicles were all packed away again and the building repurposed for church.
"This happened week in and week out for years. It all sounds equal parts amazing, exhausting and just a little bit crazy. Those of us who work at the college now are in awe of the passion and commitment which drove that early community to be so bold and to work with such toil and sacrifice. Not only do they have our thanks, but our deepest respect,'' Mr Mattiske said.
"The passion and vision for the school are abundantly clear in the yearbooks from those early times, but so too are the hardships and challenges. It was not one long glorious picnic in the sunshine on the luscious, sub-tropical hills of Woombye. In just 3 years, the school had grown to 220, stretching human and physical resources to their limits.
"The legendary Allan Taylor, who was there right from the beginning, wrote in 1982 that "had we envisaged the growth, work load and general pace of school life, we may have despaired at the immensity of the task, but as always, our God was gracious and gave us just as much as we could cope with each day. He constantly encouraged us with the frequent testimonies of changed lives and increasing achievement of our students."
In one of Neil Miers' yearbook reports, he acknowledges the hard road to gaining Government approval and funding for the school, and the opposition from unions.
"Teachers took a significant pay cut to work at Suncoast and employment conditions were hardly attractive. Even as late as 1997, 18 years into the story, teachers would still go down to the courthouse in Nambour once a year to appear before the magistrate to explain why they were willing to accept a wage that was below the Award; this was not just a job for them, but a calling to serve God.
"Finances were tight, facilities limited and resources scant. But the church and school staff would press into God, trusting him to provide. With the school bursting at its seams in 1982 there were big dreams but a lack of funds to fulfil these.
"One day Neil was standing down at the site where the church is now, and he remembers God distinctly say to him, "Sell the soil" so they did.
"The scale of the earthworks was astonishing but it released the finances needed to build the church and expand the school.
"Much of what were the sandstone hills of Suncoast now underpin the Bruce highway. And now quite hilariously, all these years later, we are buying back the sandstone, piece by piece to beautify the campus; our current students lovingly call us Sandstone Christian College.
"When I think of the whole 40 years, the school's history has an abundance of fine and glorious accomplishments; we can truly thank God that it achieved its mission so successfully to make an impact in young people's lives, and especially for Jesus; there is much beauty and so much to be thankful for.
"At the same time it also had its share of hardships and rough patches, and at times, we perhaps did not always meet the high standards we aspired to as a community of believers.
"One of the mysteries of our faith is that God has chosen to reveal himself to us though the stories of the Bible, which is a fascinating warts and all narrative that tells the story of God's dealings with his people and all of humanity.
"At times it is glorious and beautiful, but oftentimes it is messy, confusing, untidy and even ugly. However, through it all, God continued to work out his wondrous purposes, steadfastly and doggedly reconciling humanity to himself. I think the same can be said of the story of our College.
"Suncoast is a special and unique community. There has always been something a bit different about it that sets it apart from other places.
"… we are celebrating is our culture and who we are; Suncoast is an extraordinary school made up of magnificent and remarkable people from the past and present; pastors, staff, students, parents and volunteers who are the heart and soul of the school.
"There has always been such a clear sense of our purpose in God, and the desire to be a community of authentic, lived-out faith. A school where relationships take precedence, where care and love for students is the defining quality.
"The belief that we just should love the children. It ought to be as simple as that.
Hilariously Allan Taylor wrote to students in 1983 - "Though Willie (the wooden paddle) sometimes runs hot and wailing fills the air, you're ALL very special to me. Remember God loves you, even if you wear six pairs of underpants in anticipation of the worst and I love you and that's the way it should be." Love was indeed the main ingredient.
"Today Suncoast has grown into a vibrant, dynamic school community which still carries the strong sense of mission upon which it was founded. We aspire to offer a high quality education, one in which all students will grow in their faith, character and learning.
"As we celebrate 40 years of the College, on behalf of the leadership I thank all those who have gone before for the gift of their legacy to the College. I also honour the current staff, for the way they uphold the culture and for their devotion to the vision and the mission. As a team we pledge to be faithful stewards of our school into the future."