Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013: A Year of Tests, Blessings, Provision and Preparation

For me, 2013 was a magnificent year, full of unimaginable blessings from God, fully due to His grace and mercy in my life.

It feels kind of wrong writing that, because it seems that when most people speak publicly about the year that was, it’s all about how hard, challenging and tragic it was, and they can’t wait for it to be over.

That wasn’t the case for me though, and for that I boast in God. I repeatedly experienced His protection, provision and faithfulness. I have dedicated and committed myself to be an instrument to be used for His Kingdom, and this year He used me, BIG time.

Looking back, I can see 2013 as a year of preparation. In less than a month I will be heading over to the Philippines for an indefinite period, working in an orphanage called The Ruel Foundation, doing a combination of admin, teaching, finance and computer stuff. I am equal parts excited and terrified, as I am “stepping out of the boat” and fully trusting God to provide for my needs.

In 2013, I believe God put me through four tests, in order to prepare me and develop my character for what I will experience in the next phase of my life. I like to think I passed them.

Test #1 – Waiting on God’s Timing
This was a hard one. I first got in contact with Pauline from Ruel in October 2012, when she needed a teacher. At that point I didn’t have a job for 2013 and I was ready to go there and then. I mentioned it to my church leaders, and they said that if I went they wouldn’t send me with their blessing because they believed there were areas of my character that needed working on before I could do something like that. As much as I didn’t agree with it, I accepted the Pastor’s decision as a man of God, and held off.

I immediately benefitted from this decision. A couple of weeks later I got a job at my old school back in Werribee where my family was, teaching Grade 1.
Also in 2013:
- I was able to visit 11 countries on 3 trips visiting my Compassion sponsored kids,
- I had a great year in the classroom, giving me an extra years teaching experience
- I was able to spend lots of time with my five nieces and nephews aged 1 to 5 and see them grow
- God blessed me so much financially that I’m better off now than I’ve ever been

I could very easily have packed up my stuff and headed over to the Philippines in 2013, but because I showed humility to accept a decision I didn’t agree with, God blessed me in so many other ways. I am glad I waited.

Test #2 – The Pride Test
As many of you know, over the last seven years I have turned into a bit of a “Compassion lunatic”. I have been absolutely sold out for this child development organisation because I have become so convinced that it is God’s business and it is so effective in releasing children and families from poverty in Jesus name. I have sponsored 54 kids in that seven years, and God has also blessed me to be able to see it in action in 12 different countries.

Unfortunately some people close to me have challenged me about the way I go about my advocacy, claiming I have been self-promoting and prideful. For me it has always been about, for and because of God, and I am comfortable in my heart that God sees it that way too.

The pride test came in September this year. The public nature of my Compassion sponsorship and advocacy caught the attention of some friends and people at Compassion. My friend Chad Loftis did a little documentary on my sponsorship journey, and Compassion interviewed me for the September issue of their magazine. It turned out they were both released at the same time, and with the nature of social media, thousands of people were seeing what God was doing in and through me. To add to that, at the same time I was over in South America on another Compassion trip, publishing my God-adventure on Facebook and my blog.

With the “self promoting and prideful” label still stinging me, I was all too aware that this was a Pride test, and there was a risk I could get caught up in all this exposure I was getting, which I wasn’t used to.

Ultimately, I believe I handled it in a godly way, and it’s between me and God. I left the promotion of the doco and the article to others, and while I appreciated the many encouraging comments that were made, I made sure to keep my distance, so as not to be seen to be revelling in the attention. I believe that both the article and the doco pointed people to Compassion, the church and God, viewed through the lens of my personal experience.

Test #3 – Stewardship Test
Earlier this year, I started delivering a couple of local newspapers in my area. Not sure why. A bit of exercise and it kept me humble I guess. Certainly wasn’t all about the dosh. Right from the start I was receiving a couple of extra bundles and they were over-paying me. Not by much, only a single-figure amount, and for a while I went on undisturbed, thinking “It’s their mistake.”

However, once the Ruel job was confirmed for 2014, one day I was massively convicted. The following verses speared through me: “Unless you are faithful in small matters, you won’t be faithful in large ones. If you cheat even a little, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?” (Luke 16:10-11)

If I was happy compromising even over a few bucks, how could I be trusted with the responsibilities I would have at Ruel, and even one day in heaven? I was reminded that honesty and integrity is hugely important to God. What I have belongs to Him, and I am accountable for how I use it.

I knew action was needed, and I wouldn’t feel right in my spirit until I had righted the wrong. So, I wrote a money order for an amount less than $100 and sent it back to the company, for what I owed. I believe God blessed me in response, as I am now financially better off than I have ever been, despite sponsoring 30 kids, taking three trips and paying rent all year. That is the God-economy.

Test #4 – The Heart Test
As I have mentioned, this year I was incredibly blessed to be able to visit communities in 11 different countries, seeing the work of God through Compassion, and visiting the wonderful children that I sponsor. In January I went to seven different countries in Central and South America; in April I did a group tour to the Philippines and in September I visited four countries in South America again.

I have already written extensively about these visits (to read about them, please click on September/October 2012, January, February, April, September or October 2013 in the menu to the right). My heart was stretched and broken in a million different ways by the things I saw and experienced. The situations that these kids and families find themselves in are unimaginable, and as Christians we cannot shut our eyes to it. However through the church and Compassion there is Hope for a better future, both in this life and the next.

God needed me to see these things to develop my character and to help my heart become more like His. I believe I could have reacted one of two ways after these trips. I could have processed it all and then sunk more snugly into my privileged life of wealth, abundance and prosperity, feeling some measure of pity but keeping my distance from it.

Instead, God used the heartbreak and agony of the realities of poverty to confirm to me my purpose, that He has prepared and equipped me to GO and BE WITH the poor. To use what He has given me in skills, gifts and talents to care for and share His love with others, in particular people in the developing world.    

And so that’s where I find myself at the start of 2014: about to go on a great big adventure, with God as my guide. It is an amazing feeling to realise that all the experiences, gift, talents and abilities that I’ve been blessed with have led to this point. I honestly believe that this job is what I’ve been created to do. Everything I love to do and everything I’m good at is all lumped into this one role.

I’m loathe to put a timeline on how long I will be away, since I am not God and that would be presumptuous, but I’m hoping my first stint will be three or four years, God-willing.

A verse that has often challenged me is Jesus ultimatum to any potential followers: “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” There is certainly a cost involved in that. It’s a big ask, and I have often wondered what that really looks like, especially for people who call themselves Christians in the developed world – we are, on the whole, rich, affluent, prosperous, comfortable and secure.

In the end, all that matters is what that looks like for me. I am not accountable for anyone else.  While I can look around at “Christians” in places like Australia and the US living for themselves and their own comfort and lifestyle and feel frustrated and angry at them, all I can do is set an example of a life lived with generosity, simplicity and contentment, and hope that some people follow.

I am not trying to win a holiness competition, or say that everyone should do exactly what I am doing. That would be arrogant and foolish. But I do know that for me, Jesus’ command to deny myself and take up my cross involves giving up everything, in terms of material possessions and GOING to serve. I am literally giving myself. It is a scary place to be, but God has proved Himself faithful far too many times for me to have any fears and doubts that He is with me and I am doing His will.

I need your help, reader. If you are a Christian, can I ask you to pray for me? Prayer is powerful, important and it works. I am under no illusions about this next period of my life and I’m not going in with my eyes closed. It is going to be extremely difficult and challenging in many ways, and I cannot do it without God’s help and strength, and your support. Thanks.

1 comment:

  1. I was encouraged hearing how God worked in your life over this past year. And I know that He has so much in store for you in the Philippines in 2014! I look forward to hearing about your experiences and will be praying for you. God bless.