Cougar Characters: Leah Ralston
After gaining her education at MVNU, one alumnus found an intriguing way to shine forth... thousands of miles away.
After going to a seminar for graduating seniors, Ralston gave LinkedIn a try. She put up her resume but wasn’t having much luck, so she added as many pastors as she could trying to land a job in a church.
“All I wanted was a job in ministry that allowed me to be connected with music in some way,” Ralston said.
The very next day she received an email from Pastor Jerry Appleby. Appleby told Ralston of an opening at the school his church runs and asked if she would be open to the possibility of teaching.
“I had always said I never wanted to be a teacher since both of my parents were teachers at some point and I knew how hard it could be,” Ralston said, “but I felt that God had a hand in this, so I told him I would pray about it and get back to him.”
Soon after, Ralston received another email from Appleby that changed everything. Appleby’s LinkedIn profile said he was in Florida, but this email informed her that the school was in Hawaii.
“I literally remember just staring at my computer screen after I read that email with my mouth hanging open in shock for a few minutes,” Ralston said. “I think I knew right then that I would take the job, but I still needed to pray and really seek after God.”
Not long after, Ralston packed her bags and moved 4,500 miles away to the Aloha State.
“Why not Hawaii?” she asked. “Yes, it is a long way from ‘home,’ the culture is crazy different than that of the Midwest United States, and I would basically know no one once I got there, but I knew this is where God wanted me to be!”
So, on July 19, about two months after the interview, “I was on a plane with a one-way ticket to Hawaii!” she said.
Ralston, who graduated in 2012, went on to teach music to students in kindergarten through eighth grade at a private Christian academy.
Ralston considers herself to be adaptable, but acknowledges the move was “still a big shift.” Her first year in Hawaii consisted of a lot of learning.
“I lived with my boss and her family in a Japanese-Hawaiian household,” Ralston said. “They taught me how to budget for the crazy rent prices, how to make some local foods, how to save money on energy, some local pidgin language, and they helped me look for my first car here. I also learned to always wear sunscreen because I'm haole (white), and the sun is much closer here than in Ohio!”
Ralston is learning more and more every day as she teaches the students at Windward Nazarene Academy.
“Teaching has been the hardest thing I have ever done, but it has also been truly rewarding,” she said.
Ralston loves getting to know her students, watching them grow and seeing their passions come forth, and she enjoys their individual personalities.
“I love getting to pray with them, mentor them and share my passion for music and theater with them,” she said.
Taking her talents miles away from home has been intriguing and exciting, but it can also be very difficult.
“Being apart from my family is probably the hardest thing I've had to deal with in this whole adventure,” Ralston said. “But we cope by using technology to stay close! Praise God for FaceTime and Skype!”
Ralston typically calls home at least once a week to catch up and makes it a point to try to go home for Christmas. Her family is thankful for the time they spend together during the holidays.
“It's not the same as being with them, but they know and support what I am doing here and have been amazing with the huge transition that my life has taken,” Ralston said.
Lately she has engaged in worship art, a way to communicate with and glorify God through drawing and painting. Ralston minored in graphic design at MVNU.
“I also love hiking the gorgeous trails here on Oahu and going to the beach whenever I can get away from work for a bit,” she said.
She is a part of the Hawaii Opera Theater’s professional productions and the Mae Z. Orvis Opera Studio program, taking classes for her master’s degree and singing at many different venues across the island.
“God has blessed me with these organizations and deepened my love for this art form,” Ralston said. “He has started showing me how this can also be a ministry in my life. I want to learn more.”
Pursuing a master’s degree in vocal performance to “be a voice for God in the darkness of the theater world,” Ralston realizes that she may have to leave the island she has fallen in love with.
“This may take me away from Hawaii for a little while, but I feel like part of my heart will always be here on the aina (land) of Hawaii,” she said. “I have ohana (family) here now that is so important to me. It hurts my heart to think of leaving at all, but I also know God's plans are greater than my own.”
Through her experience living in the “Paradise of the Pacific,” God has been blessing her by showing her how faithful and caring he is to his children. Ralston feels like she finally has a faith of her own. During her almost four years on the island she has had to rely on God more than ever before and says he never failed her.
“I feel like I have grown closer to him since graduation and following him on this crazy journey he has set me on,” Ralston said. “I wouldn’t have done anything differently.”
Ralston praises God, saying, “Mahalo nui loa Ke Akua!” which means, “Thank you so much Lord God!”
“God lives here in the Ko'olau Mountains just like he does in the cornfields of Ohio,” Ralston said. “It’s just amazing how big our God is!”
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