It is my delight to write an article for this silver jubilee edition of ‘China Challenge', after what has been an amazing journey for me over the past 17 years. I have had the joy of working alongside so many wonderful brothers and sisters from many nations, some of whom have become my closest friends.
You never know what you open yourself to when you pray prayers like, "Lord, I am willing to go anywhere, or do anything to fulfil your will for my life." So I could never have imagined where my first meeting with Ross Paterson would lead me, and how this would connect in a remarkable way with God's will for my life.
Some may know that God's call to China came totally unexpectedly for me. Some 18 months previously I had come out of a number of years as a full-time pastor in a city church in Perth, Western Australia. While I never saw the handwriting on the wall, God used the bamboo tile pattern on our shower wall to speak to me in a way that was unmistakable. I tried to pretend that I was imagining things, but God simply provided a number of other signs over the next couple of weeks that confirmed my call in a way that would not go away. He also reminded me some time later of some significant facts. While I was working in Fiji, he had used a Chinese man to lead me to faith in Christ. The first man I led to the Lord was Chinese. And several years later the church I was pastoring was comprised of a congregation that was over 50% ethnic Chinese, from Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. In a way that only God can do, He brought the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together at just the right time.
One of my major roles with Antioch Missions - Chinese Church Support Ministries has been leading many short-term teams, taking several hundred men and women from over twelve nations to China. The many experiences and amazing testimonies from these teams will become the subject of a book I plan to write when I eventually retire! Without doubt my greatest joy has been to witness God touch the hearts of a number of short-term team members, who have not only returned to their home country to pray and invite others to support the Church in China, but have also heard God's call to prepare for full-time service and then joined AM-CCSM's Antioch School of Missions. Some have become proficient not only in Chinese, but also in the minority language of the people group God has called them to work amongst. My ongoing privilege has been to visit them on the field and provide pastoral oversight.
The primary focus of the short-term intercession teams that I led has been to spend time among some of the unreached people groups of China where there is no established Church. God graciously allowed us to feel His heart of love and compassion for these people, which made prayer and intercession not only easy, but such a joy and delight. Through these times God confirmed that He was using our intercession to open their hearts to the love of Jesus. On some occasions He even allowed us to witness immediate answers to our prayers, encouraging us to become more earnest in our prayer.
On one team we arrived at the train station to discover that the soft sleeper beds that we had booked and paid for in advance for the 27-hour journey had been confiscated, and instead we had been assigned hard seats at the rear of the train. We learned some time later that senior communist party members attending a meeting in the city had felt they had a greater need of those beds! Although initially annoyed, we were soon to discover that God had His purposes in allowing this.
I was assigned to sit next to a young Chinese businessman whom I'll call David. He spoke excellent English and explained that, although he had been raised as a Buddhist by his parents, the week before our meeting he had been thinking about whether the God in the Christmas carols his grandmother had taught him could possibly be real. David had become extremely successful in business and was settled with a wife and a daughter, but he was disenchanted with Buddhism and making money, and knew there must be more to life. Needless to say that within the first hour he was gloriously saved and his transformation was evident in his beaming face and deep joy.
A number of other Chinese people in nearby carriages were aware that something unique was taking place and were curious to hear this message about God. At one stage I counted thirty-two people pressing in to hear what I was saying. David was so hungry to know more about God, so I asked if he would mind being my interpreter. He willingly agreed. Over the next several hours, beginning with the Genesis story, I had the joy of sharing about God's plan for mankind.
As I paused to catch my breath, one young Chinese man asked me a question that I am sure will never leave me. "Why haven't we heard this before?" he said. "Why haven't we heard about a God who loved us so much that He died for our sins and to give us eternal life?" For a moment I was stunned and did not know how to respond. I eventually said, "I'm sorry. I don't know. But one thing I am sure of is that God has arranged this meeting for you today." Before the train journey was over, he and five others gave their lives to the Lord.
All through the night Chinese men and women were coming to the rear of the train for various prayer needs. Much to our surprise, God graciously answered some of these immediately. Needless to say we never slept, but the joy we experienced more than compensated for our tiredness and lack of comfort. One thing that I have learned through this and several other similar experiences over these years is that we serve a God Who works everything together for good to those who love the Lord, to those He has called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28).
On another train journey, just prior to the handover of Hong Kong to China, the border was really tight and foreigners were having their visas cancelled for carrying Bibles or evangelising. So I strictly warned all the team members not to share their faith because of the risk not only to themselves but to the entire team. I had given permission for some of the Chinese speakers to engage in general conversation with others on the train and, a couple of hours later, two of the team members approached me and very politely sought my permission to share the gospel with a mother and daughter they had been talking with. Initially I was annoyed that they would even ask my permission for this, but then they informed me of the reason why.
This was the first train journey the 18 year-old daughter had made and she was accompanying her mother to the countryside to visit her sick grandmother. The evening before she had had a dream. In the dream she was talking with some foreigners on the train (something she had never done before) and, as they spoke to her, light was flowing from their lips and their words were bringing such joy in her heart. So naturally she asked the team members, "Do you have any words to share with me that could make sense of my dream?" How could I refuse the team members' request to share the Gospel? Within thirty minutes, both mother and daughter, neither of whom had ever heard about Jesus before, were born again as children of God.
Space does not permit me to share more of the many wonderful testimonies, but what I am continually amazed at is that, as we make ourselves available to God, He will orchestrate divine appointments with those who are seeking to know Him.
Another of the highlights of my time with AM-CCSM has been the opportunity to travel and minister with Ross Paterson in church meetings, missions' conferences and teams in a number of different nations. Our giftings are quite different and it has been a joy to experience the way God has used them to complement each other for His glory. As we travelled together, I always looked forward to Ross' early morning pot of real English tea! On occasions God has even provided the opportunity to relax with a game of golf or a spot of fishing and this really brought out the British/Aussie competitive spirit. These times have provided such wonderful memories.
While I genuinely expected to continue working with AM-CCSM until I went to heaven or the Lord returned, He made it clear at the end of 2010 that He had other plans for my life and I was to finish at the end of 2011. Accepting this has brought a mixture of sadness and excitement. As I write this in November 2011, I am still uncertain as to exactly what I will be doing, but the Lord has made it clear that He is going to use my near death experience three years ago and the resulting insights I gained into trauma as part of His calling for the next phase of my ministry.
So it is with sadness that I say farewell to the ministry of AM-CCSM and the many wonderful folk God has given me the privilege of getting to know. I want to especially thank Helen Pirouet who has faithfully volunteered as administrator for almost all of this time. Without her skills and devotion the ministry in Australia would never have succeeded. I also want to thank my wife Margaret along with my three children Zoe, Nyree and Zachary for their love, support and sacrifices over the past 17 years, for without this I could not have fulfilled this calling. There are so many other folk, too numerous to mention, who have been a vital part of the ministry in AM-CCSM Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. To each of them I say a huge thanks and my deep appreciation for all they have done. I don't want to diminish their great reward in heaven so I won't acknowledge them here!
With love and blessings,