When you meet 26-year-old Alexander Boland – known fondly as AJ – you might assume he’s already a well-known charismatic preacher. One of those trendy, energetic types.
He’s gregarious, loud and fills the room with his presence when he steps through the door. He’s also incredibly articulate, sucking every ear and eye towards his magnetic words when he gets up to speak.
“It really helped me get vision and direction for my future. That is priceless.” – AJ Boland
What’s more, he’s theologically curious, a deep thinker and also a relationship builder with an enduring passion to see people discipled.
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That’s all the key ingredients for an on-fire church leader, right?
Yet before becoming one of the first interns ever at Bible Society Australia (BSA) in March this year, AJ was a jack of all trades.
Having grown up in Canada with his Christian family, when he finished school AJ somehow sailed into the commercial fishing industry.
“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life,” recalls AJ, who has been part of the BSA nine-month intern program with Bella Beach and Jassamyn Reyes Vega.
“It was a month at a time out to sea, and you’re on a small boat with two other guys in the middle of the ocean, working 17 hour days, and you’re puking your guts up and you don’t sleep. But it’s absolutely worth it,” he enthuses.
Afterwards, AJ did spend a year in Christian university ministry, where he worked alongside a “super on-fire” Aussie Bible graduate, Madison.
The pair ended up marrying after a nine-month courtship and then moved to Sydney. Both AJ and Madison started studying at Hillsong College while AJ worked in a commercial nursery and as a barista. Their studies were cut short when their first child Smith (now 18 months) arrived. Not too long afterwards, Madison fell pregnant with their daughter Mahoney (who arrived in August this year, in the middle of AJ’s internship).
So when AJ became a BSA intern, he was already well practiced in adapting to different work environments and teams. This was great preparation for working across the various parts that make up BSA, including Eternity, the Centre for Public Christianity (CPX), Koorong, the BSA missions team and fundraising.
“It was an opportunity to try out different skill sets that I don’t think any other organisation could afford me,” says AJ about the breadth of BSA’s work.
“I got to try out my leadership skills, public speaking, writing, communicating and creativity. It brought a lot of clarity to what I’m passionate about and about my own gifting. It really helped me get vision and direction for my future. That is priceless.”
He gives a couple of highlights: “I got to sit in on an interview with Tom Holland and Simon Smart [for an episode of CPX’s Life and Faith podcast]. I would have paid money to do that!”
“Then, while working with Koorong, I got to help a lady find the right King James Bible and a devotional for her daughter. At Eternity, I got be interviewed and to interview others … I genuinely can’t think of another space where I would get to do all of that.”
AJ also relished the opportunity to “see what a Christian organisation looks like on the inside.”
“Often you might think a Christian organisation is kind of an umbrella term, but then when you get into it, it’s pretty much just like any other organisation. But I have been very pleasantly surprised that at the heart of BSA, it’s still a faith organisation.
“So many people that I’ve met within the organisation have a genuine faith.
“They’re doing what they do out of a love for God and a desire to serve his kingdom. I’ve found that to be true across the organisation and all the different departments.”
AJ says he particularly enjoyed seeing how BSA connects with the church in Australia across “the spectrum of denominations.”
“It was very encouraging to know that Christian organisations had that freedom and ability to be part of the body of Christ without, as much as possible, picking and choosing which side of the fence they’re going to be on when it comes to denominational divides. It’s something I’ve always valued personally, so finding an organisation that has that same value was a very pleasant surprise.
“Being in the room with team members who openly have different views, but who are working together for a common goal or common vision to support the body of Christ, those kinds of things are lessons that will stay with me forever.”
“My capacity to dream has grown immensely.” – AJ Boland
While COVID and welcoming a new baby during his internship presented some challenges, AJ says these things coming together was also a blessing in disguise.
“It meant I got to work from home [for several months], so that allowed me to support my family more, compared to being in the office two days a week.”
When asked about his plans next year and further into the future, AJ says he feels called to disciple Christians and in doing so, he hopes to equip the church.
“I do have a very big heart for local community and discipleship … I’m not exactly sure what that’s going to look like, but I know there’s a lot of key ingredients that I got to taste and see in the internship this year.
“That’s really inspired me. My capacity to dream has grown immensely.”
Applications are open for Bible Society Australia’s 2021 internship. But get in quick, as the closing date is this Friday, December 11.
Check out AJ’s story for Eternity on why he gave up social media.