A Sketch of Krista's Life
by Aaron Ausland
Krista Hunt Ausland
(Photo by: Rick Singer Photography/Spokane)
Krista was born on Nov. 5, 1972 in Seattle Washington, where Jim, her father, was finishing graduate school at the University of Washington. Her mother, Linda, was busy with their first child, Susan, who was born in 1970. Prior to that Linda had been a high school teacher. The next year they moved to Spokane where Jim taught as a history professor at Whitworth College. When Krista was 3, her brother Jefferson, who was adopted from Korea at 4 years of age joined their family.
After a few woebegone months battling Pyloric Stenosis--a genetic disease in which children are unable to keep down their food (before modern medicine they used to starve)--she became a wonderfully delightful child. Perhaps it was those first few months of extra attention and love that set the tone early in her life. She never did outgrow being cuddled. Her mother recalls that from a very early age Krista exhibited a precocious creativity. She had a fondness for playing with her food and with her animals. She used to make sail boats out of her bread which would dare the rough seas of her mashed potatoes. She would dress up her bunnies and tote them around in a carriage. She had many animals in her life: pigmy goats, kittens, dogs, fish, a horse named Amigo, and hamsters.
Krista as a toddler
Her first love affair with books was with the Nancy Drew mystery series. She and her friends once made business cards for their sleuthing firm that claimed the ability to solve any mystery and answer any question. They used to sneak around the neighborhood perfecting their skills.
Another favorite game was restaurant. They once made a menu for "Krista's Kitchen" with such tantalizing items as nachos, chili, pudding, and pie. But it was the prices that brought the customers. Nachos cost a hug, chili, a kiss; salad for a thank you, pretzels a mere please. Pudding cost a smile, pie a laugh, cookies for a handshake, and ice was only a word. In fifth grade she played Dorothy in the first annual production of the Wizard of Oz at Evergreen Elementary. In 2000, they dedicated their 15th production to her honor.
Krista, Susan and Jeff
One of the things that helped shape her high level of compassion was the journey that her dear friend Heather Koller took through cancer. She accompanied Heather to many cancer camps as children and watched as she battled through the painful bouts of chemotherapy. Heather died in 1994, the same year my (Aaron's) mother (her would be mother-in-law) died of cancer and her own mother was diagnosed with cancer. Her compassion was also lived out in the way she reached out to people and made them feel so special in her presence. She cared about people and would make special efforts on their behalf. She spent many summers at Camp Spalding, a Presbyterian retreat center, as both a camper and a counselor. She also made real efforts to follow up with the campers, such as in high school when she hosted a slumber party for a group of 5th graders she had counseled the previous summer.
Adolescent Umbilical Cord
Besides her creativity and compassion, she showed natural skills in leadership early on. She drew people to her. In grade school she served as class president, in junior high she was an active class officer, and in high school she became the second woman ASB president in Mead High School's history. Her dynamism and natural leadership were so apparent, often her opponents would find themselves rooting for her to win and one even admitted to having voted for Krista. She left an immediate impression of credibility with people that was neither pretentious nor forced; it was natural.
Other talents emerged in many places as she grew up. At just 14, she won Seventeen Magazine's national cooking contest and was able to travel to New York with her sister Susan who won in a different category. In New York, they cooked at the famous culinary arts school and toured around together having quite a ball. They even did a photo shoot with Seventeen. In high school she excelled in debate and jazz choir. But it was her extra-curricular activities for which she was best known and which shaped her most as person.
At 16, using the $2500 cooking scholarship, she ventured to Guatemala as an exchange student, a major turning point in her life. She was already fairly aware of her own country, having traveled across America twice to live in Atlanta and North Carolina during her father's history research trips, but she first awakened to the realities of the developing world in Central America. Prior to that summer in Guatemala, she lived with an almost surreal sense of contentment, perfectly happy with her life at home with her friends and animals and spending her summers at Camp Spalding. After her time in Guatemala during their war years, she returned a changed woman. Although she still maintained a certain contentment about herself, she became an activist for peace and justice.
What she saw in Guatemala violated her Christian upbringing, which had taught her the values of God. One of her favorite versus and one that has been used by many when speaking of her life is Micah 6:8 "He has shown you, oh people, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?" She was no longer ignorant of the injustice and lack of mercy and humility out in the world, and she had gained insight into how politics, economics, and culture interact to create that injustice. She returned determined to do something about it. And this "doing something about it" has been a constant theme of her life since.
Krista in High school debate
In high school, she and her childhood friend Julie Gage, cofounded the Youth for World Awareness organization in conjunction with the Spokane Peace and Justice League. It remains a place for socially conscious youth to participate in activities ranging from bringing in speakers who present different perspectives on topics of global importance, to letter writing campaigns, to protests. With interests ranging from political oppression in Central America to the alarming rate of deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest, she sought ways to make real her commitments to Christ and good stewardship through action.
In college she continued these abiding interests and traveled on Whitworth College's six month study/service program to several countries in Central America. For a month she volunteered in a small medical clinic in an impoverished part of La Ceiba, Honduras where she saw her first AIDS patients and worked with women affected by domestic violence. At the University of Puget Sound she pursued the fields of biology, international public policy, poetry and women's studies to further her understanding.
She was, of course, not blind to the injustices here at home either. In college she chose a work study program that allowed her to continue putting into action her deep beliefs. Working for Campfire Boys and Girls of America, she and Krista Thomas created a curriculum for Career Club that has been taught to some 10,000 students across America. She and I had the opportunity to team teach this curriculum at Lincoln High School in Tacoma. It was a thrill to watch her care for the future of so many kids with a tenderness and compassion that went far beyond the simply fulfillment of her duties as the instructor.
Aaron Ausland and Krista Hunt, University of Puget Sound
We met on our first day of college at the University of Puget Sound and our enduring romance led to marriage a week after graduation. While I worked in campus ministry at UPS, she taught biology and math for a year at Wilson High School in Tacoma, starting a peer-mentoring program for inner-city teenagers that caught not only the eye of the local media but several school administrators who wanted her to expand the program to other high schools. I remember picking her up after work each day. Sometimes I would bring our kittens with me, other times some chocolate truffles or flowers. I never knew what sort of state she would be in after teaching all day. About once a week I found her in her office crying. She'd tell me, "So and so was beaten by her father again," or "Young so and so brought a weapon to school today and was expelled from the district." She cared so deeply for her students as individual humans, and it was not unnoticed.
We wanted to serve in a developing nation for a while, so we worked in Alaska as bus drivers for two summers to pay off college debts. This freed us to apply for a three-year commitment with Mennonite Central Committee, a long established international organization that works at the grass-roots level with the poor.
Local Bolivians name a new library after Krista
After language study in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, we began our community development work in Bañado de la Cruz, a remote river valley. In Bolivia, she worked alongside others for basic things: a decent latrine, libraries and literacy for children, a sense of worth and community for women, a home where loved dwelled. These were simple acts, done with great devotion in an unknown river valley, and allowed her to live out her belief that she was "designed to show God's love through actions." Yet because she was never burdened by a false sense of her own importance, she kept the joy. After only three months in the village, we were riding a micro-bus to attend a retreat back in Santa Cruz when our speeding bus plunged over a mountain cliff, killing Krista and two others.
Our family and friends in America and Bolivia found our hearts shattered and shocked at her death. The Quechua Bolivian women in the Cooperative in Bañado de la Cruz described her in their remembrances as "a good friend, so kind, beautiful, a lover of children and animals, very funny, a hard worker." Bolivians in a nearby town honored Krista by naming their new library after her.
"She saw the good in everybody and convinced other people to see that part of a person, too," said her older sister, Susan Hunt Stevens. "She always found something about everybody to love."
Krista and Puppy Choclo
Sorting through some of her materials after her death I came across several letters and cards from her Wilson High students and from their parents expressing deep gratitude for the special care and exuberant encouragement she gave to them. As a testimony to her love, many of her former students courageously stood at her memorial in Tacoma to express their grief and speak of her care and the power of her love and encouragement to transform. One student even began by saying, "I am still in school only because of Mrs. Ausland."
Reading through her journal, one can see that she planned to continue her course of compassion and passion for justice. She was pondering her vocational calling with ideas such as working as a lawyer for immigrants, refugees, youth and children, or involving herself in alternative justice programs for youth offenders and victim's restitution, or trying to shape public policies with a greater emphasis on redemption and grace.
Finally, no sketch of Krista could leave out her love of nature. As a child, her parents took her and her brother, Jefferson, and sister, Susan, on many camping trips. She loved Camp Spalding on Davis Lake in large part because of its glorious natural setting. She also loved Priest Lake, a high mountain lake in Idaho renowned for its exquisite rugged beauty. In college she became an orientation leader for several years taking incoming freshman on three-day backpacking trips to introduce them to the Northwest and to the UPS community located near the Olympic National Park and Mt. Rainier. The Psalms that she enjoyed most contain nature themes. It was the natural world that helped inform her of God's nature and provided many metaphors for her spiritual journey. Several weeks before she died, while I was in Santa Cruz and she was left in Bañado, she wrote in her journal, "I am alone with the birds and the wind." It was not a complaint, but rather like a hymn, a testament of contentment.
Her father, Jim, tells about a time he was with Krista in Costa Rica and they saw the bird called 'amigo del hombre.' Never afraid; the bird flies near people, follows them, and lands on their shoulders. "Krista was an 'amiga del hombre,'" said her father. "She had a capacity for love and understanding. . . she was warmly received by everybody."