As I looked around the 249 other candidates for the IELTS (International, English, Language, Testing, System), I wondered if was fear that had them shivering and not the bitter wind.
The IELTS is an examination recognised by the British Council and the University of Cambridge.
In its structure, it is an assessment tool to decide if foreigners wishing to reside in this country will benefit Australian society and contribute to the way of life here. Every aspect is tested; listening, reading, writing and speaking. The whole test is designed to see if the candidate will be a burden or an asset to society. It is very thorough and well-targeted, covering everything from syntax to unique expressions only used by Aussies.
The examination is not too difficult if you are familiar with the country and language and has the added benefit of helping to make you aware of other aspects you haven't encountered.
The Bible teaches us compassion. Once touched by grace, you carry God's love everywhere with you. On that cold morning waiting to get into the exam room with all the other candidates to do the IELTS, I had time to pray.
I prayed for the bloke just in front of me in the queue. I couldn't tell if his shivers were because of the cold or because of the fear that he might lose his entire future in this country because of one exam. I prayed he would be delivered of his fear, that he would stop and trust Jesus.
All around me in Scarborough Street, I felt the stress and the pain. It seemed that entire community of youngsters were there, their dreams hanging on the results of this morning's efforts. No exam, no visa; no visa, no dream.
We were told to leave our belongings; phones, wallets and such, and were then directed to registration. We may have been registered candidates, but we had been stripped down to only a few pencils and our passports and numbered with tags on our shoulders. No longer individuals with unique personalities and back stories, now just statistics on a stranger's sheet.
Even as I was on the door-step of the examination room, I was still coming to terms with the thick nerve-wracking atmosphere. 250 candidates and just 10 staff were to spend the next 2 hours and 45 minutes in that room.
There were tables labelled with our names and registration numbers, where we had to sit and from the ceiling hung flat screens where the instructions were projected.
I found the three stages of the exam relatively easy, but others weren't so lucky. They would sit staring at the blank sheet of paper begging the words to start flowing, to think that we were paying $350 to put ourselves through so much angst, so much anxiety.
Even though the staff is smiling, helpful and friendly, the whole process leaves you feeling isolated and craving real human contact.
The whole experience felt like we were being treated like cattle, herded through for a profit. It makes you ask, is this the image, the impression, Australians want to give to those seeking to obtain a visa?
Shivering, hopeful and fearful, I stepped back into the cold of winter's day in Southport. Grateful it was over, I couldn't help but think how much easier it is to be accepted into the Kingdom of God. No lines in the winter's cold, no stripping away of individuality, no numbering, no paying.
Instead a visa into eternity costs no more than an expression of true repentance for our sin, an invitation to Jesus Christ to take our sin on the Cross, and a willingness to have him forgive us and as we invite Him into our hearts.
In Revelation 3:20 the Lord reminds us that he is seeking us out and we need only respond to his knock, "behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me".