Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Journey In Following God (mistakes and all)

As a Christian, I have made it my mission to "do God's will", which I understand as meaning going where God wants me to go and doing what God wants me to do. Unfortunately this is not always clear cut. I sometimes wish He would just get out the big neon sign and say "GO THAT WAY!" (although since I am human, this still wouldn't guarantee that I would do it)

For me over the past few years, I have discerned "God's will" mainly through circumstances falling into place, guesswork, feelings and affirmation from people close to me. It has been a rollercoaster ride and I have bounced around like a yo-yo, sometimes doing what I perceived to be God's will and other times it was just a "me" decision.

Let me take you on that journey.

In 2005, mum and I travelled down to Portland, in south-west Victoria, to visit my cousin's church. I couldn't put my finger on what it was, but I said to mum at the time "I reckon I'm going to be part of that church in a few years."

Funnily enough, at the start of 2008 my first teaching job was in.....Portland, and I jumped in and got involved with the church straight away. I lived in Portland for two years. At the end of 2008 I had to reapply for my job against a fellow teacher and I chose not to, due to "newbie lack of confidence." I spent 2009 working at several different schools in Portland.

There were no real employment prospects for 2010, so I made the decision to move back to Werribee to get a job. This was purely a "me" decision, and even though God provided me with a job at an amazing school and I was with family, I spent 2010 and 2011 in the "spiritual wilderness," not committed to any one church and deep down I knew that Portland was where I should have been.

When a job came up back in Portland for 2012 I jumped at it straight away, leaving ongoing employment in Werribee in the process. Things were great with the church until right near the end of the year, and it was a challenging yet rewarding year at the school. Unfortunately, due to the size of the school, they couldn't offer me anything concrete for 2013 so I decided to move back to Werribee. I applied at my old school and got a job teaching Grade 1. I left the church over a "difference of perception" with the leaders in the way I go about my Compassion sponsorship, so I reasoned that getting that job confirmed it was "God's will."

2013 was an incredible year. I had an amazing little class, I travelled to 11 countries visiting my Compassion sponsored kids and had a great year being involved in the lives of my nieces and nephews. However I was still flitting between churches, and the more I travelled to the developing world, I had a sense of discontentment and disillusionment with many parts of the Australian culture and lifestyle. Basically we live in affluence, abundance and prosperity, yet we're so proud, greedy, selfish, self-reliant, materialistic and consumeristic.

I just couldn't function properly. Internally I became angry at people, especially Christians for not doing more to help the poor and instead focusing on and living for themselves. Our lives are supposed to look different to the world, yet we worry about the same stuff and chase the same stuff. I was living a life of sacrificial generosity, trying to set an example and wished more people would follow.

I had to get out! At the end of 2012, I had been in contact with an orphanage in the Philippines called The Ruel Foundation. They needed a teacher and I wanted to 'escape.' It seemed a perfect fit, but I listened to some people close to me and chose not to go straight away. Then the job came up in Werribee, so it was definitely on the backburner.

Halfway through the year I had been on two trips to eight different countries and was still processing much of the stuff I saw. I was at the height of my feelings of disillusionment and not feeling like I belonged in Australian culture, convinced that God was preparing me for something else. In June the Ruel director emailed again, asking if I was still interested in coming.

That was all the prompting I needed. The answer was a big fat "YES!" I finished up the year at the school, God provided sponsors for all my Compassion kids, I sold up the majority of the few possessions I had and moved to the Philippines. I was convinced this was finally my opportunity to leave Australia behind and it was a long-term thing.

My parents took a lot of convincing that this was a wise move, but they couldn't really argue with "I believe it's God's will for me; it's the job He's created me for." That's bullet-proof, and I honestly believed it. In his wisdom, my dad said I would actually impact more people by staying in Australia: students, Compassion kids, nieces and nephews. I knew he was right, but I stubbornly persisted. It was just something I felt God was calling me to. Everything seemed to add up, fit together, all the pieces fell into place.

Basically I was running away. I was never under the illusion that life in the Philippines would be 'easy', but I realise now that maybe unconsciously I thought that with a new start would magically come a new me, a better version of me. My faults and weaknesses haven't disappeared, in fact they've become even more apparent. I struggle with the same sins and bad habits I struggled with back in Australia.

In all honesty so far it's been a wilderness year rather than the 'Promised Land' I was hoping for, but I know I've learned lessons, done some good stuff and grown in God. He has used me despite my weaknesses and foolish decisions, and for that I am grateful. I don't know how long I will be here for, but I know I need to make the most of every moment. I am thankful for the opportunity to serve God in another culture and wherever I end up I know He's got my back as long as I keep doing my best to serve Him.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Compassion Sunday Tales

For those of you unaware, Compassion Sunday is an annual event in which sponsors and advocates go into their churches (with the prior consent of their Pastors of course) and share stories about Compassion, with the goal of seeing more hearts moved toward sponsorship.

I've been a sponsor since 2006, but I'd never really pursued the idea of Compassion Sunday. People in my church knew about my advocacy and were free to ask any questions, but I just left it at that.

In April 2013 I went to the Philippines on a week-long group advocates tour. When I came back I prayed for opportunities to share my experiences with others. Hardly a week later I got a call from Compassion. St John's Lutheran Church in Portland (Victoria) wanted someone to do a Compassion Sunday presentation in May, but all the Victorian Compassion staff were already busy that day. Would I be interested in going down and sharing some of my experiences?

Obviously I didn't have to think too hard about the answer to that question, so I immediately said yes. What was amazing about this was that Portland was the little town I had lived in in 2008, 2009 and 2012, and I had taught at the Lutheran school, so I was going back to familiar territory.

Having visited 31 of my sponsored kids in 12 countries I had a wealth of stories to share, so I managed to put together a relatively cohesive message and travelled down to my former hometown Portland. I shared at the two morning services, to a combined total of about 60 people and despite many of them already sponsoring kids, 5 more were sponsored that day.

I was just amazed that God used me and my story to change the lives of 5 more little people.
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As you may know, in 2014 I am now living in the Philippines, volunteering at an orphanage. God provided sponsors for all my Compassion kids, but my connection with Compassion has not disappeared. At the start of August I was contacted by friends from Victoria who were wanting to do a "long-distance interview" with me for their church's Compassion Sunday. It was a 5-minute spot for their kids talk segment, and I was to be interviewed by their daughter "Ruby Rose."

My friend told me it was a success; got lots of laughs and challenged people too. 10 kids were sponsored on the day, with a few more people taking information home to consider sponsorship. Even just to play a small part in that was amazing. 

Every child who is sponsored is another life changed and transformed. It is humbling to be part of. Here is my 2013 talk at St Johns (two parts) and my 2014 interview at Glen Waverly Anglican Church. Enjoy!