Shorts, Thongs, and Church: Neil’s Unconventional Road to MTS

“I guess you could say I had two attempts at becoming a Christian.”

Neil Auranaune didn’t grow up in a Christian home. When he was in early high school he started attending a youth group at the invitation of a friend, but it was short-lived. After getting picked on at school for his decision to attend, he decided it wasn’t worth it.

It wasn’t until Neil was 30 years old that he was invited back to church.

“I was coaching the local women’s rugby team here in Albury,” Neil explains.  There happened to be one Christian woman on the team, and then another couple joined the team. So I started getting to know them, and slowly that led to getting invited around to their place.”

What Neil was invited to was something called ‘family dinners’ on Monday nights. While there, with others from the rugby team, he was introduced to other Christians in a comfortable setting—and discovered they were all fairly normal.

Going ‘all in’ for Jesus

From there, he was invited to a trivia night at church, and the next step was being invited to their church.

“I thought, ‘Ooh, that’s a bit serious, invite me to church,’” Neil says. “So I said I’d come along to church, provided I didn’t have to get dressed up or anything like that. If I have to wear flashy clothes, I’m just not interested. That’s not me.”

Neil’s friends told him to roll up in his shorts and thongs, so without any further excuses, he went along to a church service. He heard the Bible preached and, as someone who enjoys learning, he thought it was interesting enough that he kept coming back.

After a while, he had been attending services long enough that he was invited to the church’s annual weekend away.

“The penny just dropped that weekend, during the weekend away,” Neil says. “I got to the point where I had to make the decision about whether I either go all in or I walk away, because once you get to the point where it makes sense, there’s no point going to church if you don’t believe it. So I made the decision to go all in and became a Christian.”

Seeking the Kingdom first

Shortly after becoming a Christian in 2016, Neil felt challenged to do more for the Kingdom.

“For some reason, Matthew 9 always kept rattling around in my head—you know, the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few,” he explains.

He started studying a chaplaincy course, but still felt he should be doing more. As he had conversations with his ministers about it, the idea of MTS was floated. Neil began his two-year apprenticeship at Albury Presbyterian Church in 2019, training under pastor Paul Sheely.

“It was a massive eye-opener,” Neil admits. “You don’t realise what’s involved in church ministry until you get put in it.”

2019 was a huge learning curve for Neil, with a bunch of different ministries for him to be involved in, including heading up a Friday evening kids club.

Then 2020 rolled around with its pandemic-related lockdowns, and Neil found himself trying to figure out how to do ministry online. In short, Neil learnt a lot in a very short period of time.

When Neil’s apprenticeship was drawing to a close, he wasn’t 100 per cent sure what his future would look like, but he knew for certain that he wanted to be involved in some kind of gospel ministry. He sat down with someone who was involved in a ministry outside the church.

“We sat down and chatted for a couple of hours or so, and by the end of it, I was getting a job offer from FOCUS Military Ministry,” Neil says. “I’ve got no military experience. But they said, ‘We’ve got a position. You seem like a guy that’d be good for it. Have a crack.’”

Neil has been working in this role ever since. His weeks consist of writing and running Bible studies on the base, and reading the Bible one-on-one with trainees—and he really enjoys it.

“One young lady, when she first showed up, you couldn’t get four words out of her,” Neil says. “But by the end of two years, you couldn’t shut her up. She became so solid—every Wednesday night she would be at Bible study. And if people didn’t turn up, she would just ring them up and say, ‘Why aren’t you in the Bible discussion now? This is better than defence. Get here.’ So that was just amazing and encouraging just to see her growth.”

For others considering MTS Neil says, “You’ve got nothing to lose. Everyone thinks two years is such a long time, but it’s not. At the very least, it’s going to grow you in your knowledge of the Bible. You’re going to be hanging out with people that want to do the same thing. So you’re going to be encouraged all the time.”