Sabrina Tonkin on Big Families and Being a Young Christian in the Bay Area
By Anastasia Le
Friendly, unassuming, your average small-town girl grounded in her faith. The second of nine children, my longtime neighbor and friend Sabrina Tonkin, 19, sat down with me to talk about the two most important things in her life: family and church.
What is your opinion of big families, in a culture in which young people are having fewer children?
I’ve always loved being in a big family. There is a different bond from just having one brother or sister. [All of my brothers and sisters] are there for each other, to talk and support one another. We have more of a friendship bond. I’ve never met any other families like ours. Having a big family is considered abnormal, and some think it’s unnecessary to have so many children. A big family is different, especially when you bring homeschooling into the picture.
Can you describe your homeschooling experience?
Homeschooling was the best option for me. I’d always wanted to go to a normal high school, which I never ended up being able to do. It affected my life in good and bad ways. I didn’t have the social experiences or the dance or the programs of a normal high school, but because of that, I fell deeper into my church and its youth programs, which was good for me spiritually. I still wish I could have had the normal high school experiences, but that’s okay, because it brought me closer to my faith.
What is your relationship to the church like?
My church, Three Crosses, is huge. I love it. I got more involved in its youth groups when I started homeschooling, which helped me hold onto myself spiritually and emotionally, and in that way, I connected more with God. I grew closer in my faith and church family. It was for the better.
How would you describe Christian values to someone who is unaware of what they are?
My parents’ rules and our family’s rules are founded in Christian values, the main one being to keep God first, above family, friends, schooling, above everything you could need in life. This isn’t the case for all Christians. This semester I spent my time at the church to think my plan and future through because I wanted to stay in-touch spiritually and talk to God about what my path is really meant to be; what I’m supposed to do schooling-wise, future-wise. Where does he see me? Through prayer, I found my answers.
What do you see yourself doing after you’ve finished school?
I’ve always loved working with children, and especially women. The program I’m doing, the Clinical Assisting Program, will allow me to get a job at a reproductive clinic, which is where my mom was seen. The reproductive clinic isn’t just a medical facility, it’s more about having a relationship between the professionals and the patients. You get to know a lot more about the patient’s history, their feelings about specific procedures, and if they’re not only physically but mentally prepared for their pregnancy.
What was the influence behind your goals?
Seeing my mom go through the process of not being able to conceive naturally for five years until receiving in vitro fertilization treatment really influenced my decision to go into gynecology. I saw the medical side of everything — how her gynecologist helped her, how her IVF specialist worked with her, how she did special procedures. I was young when my mom was going through the actual process, and was a lot more present when she was going through the pregnancy. My mom has always pushed me and my siblings to go into the medical field. It’s all we’d ever talk about.
Can you describe your experience interacting with Christians who hold different values from your own?
I have a friend who bases his faith back in the Old Testament more than I believe. He very much believes that if you only focus on prayer and completely avoid medical treatment, you will be healed. Having been raised to believe in the medical field, and wanting to work in the medical field, I do believe if you pray you can be healed, having seen and experienced that in my own life and my mother’s life, but I also believe in the capabilities of the medical field.
What is your idea of a fulfilling life?
Life is about being happy. It’s about doing the right things for yourself and your life. Happiness to me, beyond the job I’m currently working towards, is staying close to my faith and my church, and in the future hopefully my family will be in that community beside me. I plan to live in the Bay Area into my adult life. I love my church family. It’s where I was baptized, it’s where I found my life. When I start my own life, I still want to be present in my mother and siblings’ lives, attending the same church, all the things I do now.
Do you think everyone should be Christian?
Christianity isn’t for everyone. I don’t believe in coming into conflict with anyone else’s faith. I don’t think arguing about faith is very Christian of me. I wouldn’t want anyone to argue with me about my beliefs. I will always spread the word of God and I will always preach, but that doesn’t mean I’m telling you to be Christian. I’m telling you that I will pray for you. It’s the way I feel, that it will benefit you if I pray for you or if I open my word to you. Maybe my words will affect your life for the better. If someone who is Catholic, Buddhist, or Muslim says, “You’re in my heart” or “I will pray for you,” I accept that and thank them, because it is a lot for anyone to pray for someone they don’t know. You never know how hard it is on someone. For me, I like praying for people who believe in different religions even more so than Christians because it’s opening their heart, not just my heart.
How do you think we can foster a community from so many different people?
We are all human, we all are capable of being kind, of being emotionally supportive. It doesn’t matter your race or the way you were raised or what job you have or what values you have; as long as you can be there to support one another. Supporting gay rights is a big conflict in the Christian community. We don’t shame anyone, but we also don’t really talk about it. I don’t want to speak for all of Christianity, but I support gay rights and I support equality through all aspects of life, whether that be race, religion, the LGBTQ community — that’s their own life, in my eyes that’s none of our business. Just like I don’t believe in pushing someone Catholic to be Christian, I don’t believe in telling someone who is gay, “You’re not supposed to be gay.” I’ve heard a lot of Christians say, “You shouldn’t be friends with him, he’s a sinner” but to me, we’re all sinners. We all have sins, we all go to church to work on our sins, and you should never push someone away because they are gay because you don’t know why they’re at church in the first place. We are all human, we all have our flaws, we all sin; it doesn’t matter in which way you sin. In God’s eyes, every sin is the same.
What is it like to go to church?
It’s an awesome feeling I also feel outside of church, from talking in small groups to reading the Bible on my own. I’ve walked into other kinds of churches and I’ve never experienced the same emotions. That’s what I like about my faith, that the responsibility to be faithful is put on you and only you, not enforced by others. When I’m not feeling well or feeling disconnected, I’ll drive to the church, sit there and take the weight off my shoulders. The weight can easily come back as soon as you return to those places of stress, but you can always come back to the church. There’s this great sense of relief. I feel so at peace, especially when I sing with everyone. I feel connected and in touch with my spirituality. I can let go.
After an hour’s worth of modern Christian schooling, I began to understand the appeal of a God who can promise stability and safety in a world spiraling blindly into the future. I was amazed to have experienced a world view so devoid of the political fervor that ricochets off the walls of the Berkeley City College campus. I was left with a sense of rightness in the world which immediately dissipated once I stepped outside.
At the top – The second of nine children, Sabrina Tonkin (right), with her youngest sibling, Reign (left). Photo: Anastasia Le