Every child dreams about its future. I dreamed of carrying on my father’s name as a great debater in our Gympie Council. It was my intention to possess a car, a house and a wife—in that order. But something intervened.
Growing up in rural Mooloo, Queensland, Mother always assembled her children each morning for a spiritual thought and prayer. Getting Father involved was difficult. He was principled, a man of integrity—just not interested in religion. On occasions when Mum did get him to join us, he would throw Mother a difficult question. Naturally, we children thought he was rather cool doing so. I decided rather early in life that Father’s former ways had more appeal.
My story is better understood if you know the context of my early church experience.
Our church was a rustic little building of pioneer times. Its 70 members expressed both the individuality of the Australian bush as well as conservatism. I recall converts to the Shepherd’s Rod movement, which went on to become the Branch Davidians of David Koresh infamy, for example. I even recall the police coming to escort noisy dissenters off the property. I decided that if this was Christianity, then I preferred the alternative.
I volunteered for the military as soon as I turned 18, turning my back on church and religion. Those military years were enjoyable; then, back in civilian life, I went into accounting.
Climbing the corporate ladder meant being accommodating. My boss sought to educate me, and I had opportunity to contrast some of his business practices with the principled and ethical ways of my father’s business. Although I’d rejected Christianity, I was still appalled at the alternative.
In such a context, my professional life didn’t deliver the satisfaction I’d anticipated. Workdays commenced before breakfast, and finished late in the evening. I’d join young professionals in the towns I visited at dances and parties.
But years of that kind of life had me running on a thin edge, and a candidate for a nervous breakdown, until one night in a Murgon, Qld, guesthouse something happened.
It was 2 am, and I was bedding down for a couple of hours before the duties of another day. My body was involuntarily moving to the mental beat of the music that I’d been dancing to all night when suddenly I broke into a cold sweat. I had the distinct impression of the close presence of evil and was paralysed with fright. A voice said, “You have sinned away your day of grace.”
But lying there in a sweat, another strong impression came. A voice said, “Kneel and pray.” It was an effort to rise from the bed, but I knelt, shaking, and uttered, “I don’t know if there is any God, but if You really exist and want me, you’re going to have to take me.” (I enjoyed my lifestyle.)
An answer to my prayer soon came. The next day I was summoned to head office, where I learned a rival had turned the boss’s head. Next, the girl I planned to marry broke off our relationship, giving religious incompatibility as her reason. She told me I should go and study for Christian ministry.
Amazingly, I took up her advice and decided to. I went to Brisbane, where I poured out my story to a church leader, seeking his endorsement. He knew my family. I was frank, stating my reluctance to leave my old life, but if he were able to swing things at his church’s seminary and get me admitted, I would go. But I felt comfortable that this wouldn’t happen, as the university year had commenced and registrations closed. The next day the phone rang: I’d been accepted into Avondale College, near Newcastle, NSW. My mother, whom I knew had never ceased to pray for me, was overjoyed when I left, baptised and blessed.
But I was not fully converted, and life as a student wasn’t easy. My old life continued to beckon. I tried the patience of the administrators to the limit. But being people of godly persuasion and insight, they saw my potential rather than the reality, and suffered me.
Then in my second year, I made a discovery. I read Ellen White’s The Desire of Ages, a fascinating, insightful discourse on the life of Christ on earth, and it changed me for good. I realised how lucky I was to have abandoned my old life when I did, and that my prayer, uttered in the presence of the evil one, had been answered.
Today I look back over 40 years of ministering to God’s people, with some 30 years overseas in a missionary capacity in numerous countries. I’m thankful for that whispered urging to pray on that black, terrifying night. And my lifetime in His service provided far more fulfilment and satisfaction than my ambitious childhood dream could ever have delivered.