‘We got stuck in pack ice and made international news!'

Rowan’s story | Being open to God’s plans in Antarctica

“I’m not a planner. When people tell me I must plan, it rankles me. I’ve had people say, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” That really aggravates me!

I was brought up in a Christian family, so I heard all the Bible stories. But it wasn’t till my teens that it all made sense to me. Jesus really did sacrifice himself on a cross … for me!

Later I remember being on beach mission, and the teaching from one of the leaders had a profound influence on me. That was when I started reading more theology and Christian books.

But I also remember reading Psalm 138 in my early twenties: “The Lord will work out his plans for my life – for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever. Don’t abandon me, for you made me.” (v8)

It struck me then, because I didn’t like to make plans. The Lord will work out his plans for my life! It’s been a key verse for me, and I’ve found myself praying many times, “Okay, God, do whatever you like with my life.”

I’ve found God’s plans to be surprising!

I never thought I would get a degree. I wasn’t a great student at school. But straight after school I got a job in electronics, then after three years my employer said they’d put me through a Bachelor of Engineering and give me a better job in the research laboratory. I said, “Okay.” It worked out really well!

Rowan's story took him to Antarctica

Marching penguins in Antarctica Tam Minton / Unsplash

I also never thought I’d work in Antarctica. But that just happened. I saw an ad in the paper, applied, was selected and went to Melbourne for training. I sailed to Antarctica in January 1981, and was based at Mawson station inside the Antarctic circle.

It was great! The ocean froze around icebergs in winter; there were penguins, seals, icescapes and mountains. I was running experiments, collecting data, solving problems, taking photos.

There were 32 of us through the winter, and the others knew I was a believer. Occasionally they ribbed me, but I think they respected me. There wasn’t much fellowship, but I did alright. I’d been in the habit of reading my Bible every day, so I did that. And there was one other guy who was a Roman Catholic, so on Sundays we’d go to the hydroponics hut and listen to sermons I had on cassette tapes.

There was another guy who knew we were meeting, and he asked questions, so later I gave him a Bible. Looking back, I don’t know why God wanted me there. Perhaps it was about having a Christian presence in Antarctica.

Rowan's story


After 13 months I returned to Australia. The hills were so green!

In 1984, I returned to Antarctica for a year at Casey research station. I did two big trips inland with five others doing glaciology work. I was putting up weather stations. Temperatures went below minus 60 degrees, and for a while the sun never set! I did several more Antarctic trips. One time on a marine science voyage we got stuck in pack ice for seven weeks and made international news!

In lots of ways, my life has continued like that. I haven’t made plans, but God has done many surprising things. I also never thought I’d write a book. But God made that happen – a coffee table book about Antarctica, using my photos.

“I’ve always said to God, ‘I’m yours. Do with me whatever you want.'” – Rowan

I never thought I’d go to Nepal as a missionary. But that’s what happened next. I stayed in Nepal for 18 years, which is another story.

And life is still like that today! God is still giving me opportunities for ministry using my photography skills in Nepal, Thailand, Australia. I’m doing what I love, and it amazes me.

Looking back, all these things have just happened to me. I never had a vision or a plan, but I’ve always said to God, “I’m yours. Do with me whatever you want.” And, amazingly, God has done that. Of course, it hasn’t all been rosy. There have been really hard times. I still have scars.

But the thing that strikes me is that God has worked out his plans for my life, and I have to be open to it. God has been so kind to me.”

Rowan’s story is part of Eternity’s Faith Stories series, compiled by Naomi Reed. Click to read more Faith Stories.

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