I grew up in a (new) Christian home with parents who found Jesus personally after I was born. There is a whole lot of mess that goes along with being the first Christians with real faith in your family (I’m going steer away from the phrase ‘born-again’ as I don’t think it means much outside of evangelical circles), but it also means that you really get to see transformation in your parent’s lives and know that it’s all quite real.
I committed my life to Jesus first as a six year old at an after school club and I’d loved church from long before that, I can really remember looking forward to church every Sunday, even when it was just me going with the lovely neighbour down the road each week and the rest of my family staying home. Somehow, it still surprises me that I felt so at home in church, it was pretty boring for a small child and there wasn’t Sunday School even, but I loved it. I think a big part of it was the sense of family I found and some of those lovely people are still in my life to this day.
Somewhere around the age of 16 I got a bit disillusioned with church itself, some silly things happened in my home town in the churches and I think teenagers are particularly sensitive to that. I also left home and just didn’t ever get brave enough to go to church by myself, though I know I wanted to. I never stopped praying (occasionally) and still had a ton of Christian friends so I was never far from that world, actually as I write this I’m realising I had part time jobs that took me away from church and that was probably the main reason I stopped going. Which leads to a whole lot of other problems.
Anyway, after wandering the wilderness of my University years and my first job I moved to London. Funnily enough, I have a journal from that time and I am so surprised to see that I really just wanted to serve God, even then. God really honours our heart felt prayers I think as I’d promised Him I would find a ‘good’ church when I got to London and be 100% committed. Little did I know that London was considered a bit of a spiritual wasteland in those days, so it wasn’t that easy to find somewhere that I fitted in and was easy enough for me to get to each week.
God really did have his hands on my travel though right from my planning stages, I’d actually intended to go work in a Summer Camp in the US before I went to London – the day I was going to apply for that I remember I got called into a manager’s office at work and told that if I stayed til the end our contract I would get a significant bonus, that was enough to convince me I needed to stick around a few more months, which meant no summer camps. Some time later I realised that if I had have gone to the States it would have been very, very likely I would have been in or very near New York on September 11th as I meet someone who was on one of the first flights out of New York once planes were flying again and he said the whole flight was full of summer camp people. I think the financial costs alone would have been quite crippling for me on my budget, let alone the horror of being caught up in something like that.
Instead on my way to London I stopped over in Sydney to visit a University friend (I think God wanted me to see that city then) and I also went to visit another friend in Sri Lanka, yes a country in the middle of a long civil war. I clearly remember the day I booked my tickets being on the phone to the travel agent and having a voice in my head very clearly saying ‘fly out the Saturday night’ not the Monday that would have made more sense as I could have spent a whole weekend with my friend in Sydney. I dutifully listened though I had no idea why until July 2001 in Sri Lanka three days after I arrived when I was woken by my friends, telling me that the airport had been bombed that morning by the Tamil Tigers and it turned out that the Sri Lankan Airlines flight from Sydney had been diverted to Mumbai (the one I would have booked) and things were pretty chaotic. I didn’t even know where Mumbai was (it had only just changed from Bombay) and I think I would have been pretty freaked out in India alone after having a near miss with bombers.
That time in Sri Lanka was actually one of the first times I ever really ever had to totally and utterly rely on God and His protection. I remember I got absolutely worked into a state over a situation I was in with having to share hotel rooms with a strange man (something I still wouldn’t like, but I was 24 then). Well, he wasn’t a total stranger, he was the cousin of my friend’s husband, but you know, not fun. Even now if I think about it, I realise that I could have been put in a compromising situation so easily. I prayed so hard that God would give me peace if I was meant to stay in Sri Lanka one night (I was trying to get out on the first flight, the thing is there were no flights at all due to the bombing) and I woke up in, guess what? Total peace. Did I take that as a sign I was fine, no I didn’t. I still panicked and caused problems and probably made my friends want to kill me. It’s funny, this one afternoon I was a hysterical mess before our big trip around the hill country and I was on my bed at 3pm a snotty, crying mess and it turned out a year later back in NZ, I was talking to my godmother and she mentioned this one time she was in bed at 10pm at night when I was in Sri Lanka and she had this sense I was really upset and was praying for me. I remembered it was exactly that day and time that I’d been the crazy mess on my bed in despair.
While we travelled around we visited a few ancient temple sites and other historical places and at one they were going to charge me a ridiculous amount of money to go in because I was foreign (my friends went in for free). I refused on principle to go into this temple and stood outside and waited. I remember very clearly feeling almost like a bubble around me protecting me, it is hard to describe, but it was almost like a physical shield. I’ve actually since then heard people who’ve gone to other dangerous parts of the world describe exactly the same thing in the same way. I survived that whole trip and got on the first flight out after the bombings and even actually got an upgrade to Business Class. This never eventuated when I got on the plane, what was with that? My bags flew priority though I found at at the other end – so nice for them. 🙂
When I first got to London (post dot.com crash – gosh I feel old even mentioning that) the first interview I went to was with a very large Australian telecommunications company that has a small presence here in Europe. Actually even getting that job was a bit of a miracle as there were literally thousands of people being made redundant in the ICT industry at that time, me with no experience at all should not have been given a look in. Most of my friends who moved at the same from NZ (coming to the UK is a bit of a Kiwi right-of-passage) were out of work for several months, which was something I could not afford.
After a few months here I heard through a friend of a friend that there was a Hillsong church, I’d been given a Hillsong album as a farewell gift by a friend and had watched Hillsong TV and liked Brian Houston so I was very keen to check the church out – one Sunday service later I’d recommitted my life to Christ and was throwing myself into it 100%, no turning back (as the song goes). The church in those days met in a tiny lecture theatre in Regents College and took me about an hour on a bus to get to. I cried my way through six months of services, I actually could not wear mascara at all or I would look like a panda, but my life was changed in so many ways, not that it was always easy. So within a few months I was working for an Australian company and attending an Australian church – words that would echo back to me when God opened up a huge door to me later.
After less than a year in London I overheard that they were planning to shut our heldpesk down as well as make a bunch of people redundant (they were grim days in the technology world) so I thought I might actually go back to NZ and finish my degree after I turned 25 (meaning I would get a bit of financial support to do it, something I hadn’t had when I was younger and battling all my health issues while trying to study and work part time). So, I handed in my notice and booked my flight home and thought quite honestly I’d be back in London within the year. It had been a tough transition getting used to living overseas as emigrating always is, so I don’t think I expected that I would be sad to leave by the time the flight came around, but I was actually. Summer makes all the difference in the UK. In my last week at work, during my leaving interview though I was offered the opportunity to go to Sydney on contract and help with the transition to them running our helpdesk. I immediately said no as of course, I needed to go back to University and get my damn degree. But, as I said no I clearly heard a voice in my head say ‘you’re going to an Australian church, you’re working for an Australian company, do you not think that is for a reason’. So I quickly said, ok, maybe, let me think about this.
Within six weeks I’d moved to Sydney. I don’t like to waste time do I?
On the night before I left for Australia, I was up on the horrendous dial up internet at my parent’s house trying desperately to book some accommodation as I had two nights only at my friend’s house and then I needed somewhere to live. It just kept cutting out so I gave up and was about to try again in the morning when my godmother called to say that she felt that God was saying ‘trust him, He’s got it all sorted’. She of course had no idea I was panicking about where I would sleep that very moment, but I took that as a sign to just get on the plane that afternoon and worry about it when I got to Sydney.
Well, on my first day at work one of the guys offered that I come stay in his flatmate’s room for the rest of the week, so that was a few nights taken care of and he took good care of me and introduced me to Sydney well. Then, on my 2nd day at work someone else came over asking if anyone needed a room as they were off on long service leave for a few months and were renting out their room. Amazing! I moved in that weekend and it was 45 minutes walk to work, a short taxi ride home (I was working London business hours while there) and I loved my flatmate. On my first Sunday in the flat I got up and did a quick search on the internet to figure out if I could get to church easily or not as I knew the main branch of Hillsong was about 45 minutes out of the city. Turns out I’d moved 8 minutes walk away from the city branch of church.
Wow, God is not only good, but He’s surprising too.
That season in Sydney really set me up in so many ways for the rest of my life. It was a bit lonely at times, but I spent as much time as I could at church and had my days free to think, pray, journal, and contemplate life. Sometimes I really look back on that season with nostalgia. And it was in Sydney, how could you not be happy? It was a scary, hard time. I literally slept on a friend’s floor for a couple of weeks in London (no air mattress – to this day I really don’t know why I didn’t just go buy a flipping air mattress!) and had to get used to big city life with the people and grime and loneliness. But it’s amazing by being obedient and trusting God what opened up for me.
I did seven life changing months in Sydney and then came back and got my degree in NZ (that was tough let me tell you, but I’m always glad I did it) and then I was job hunting again. I had a really bad bout of the flu soon after University finished and the first day I could actually lift my head off the pillow I was on the computer and saw a job in Wellington doing pretty much what I’d been doing overseas in telcos, but it was a big step up too. I applied, but I was also trying to get a role created for me back in Sydney as well. Well, within a week or so I was down for an interview in Wellington, despite me emailing the recruiter to say I think it was ‘too much’ money and not the right role for me – do you know that email never actually sent, thankfully I think a wee miracle stopped hotmail from sending that! The offer was amazing and my salary was more than double what I’d been earning in NZ two years earlier. Oh and it’s probably important to mention that I starting tithing my first pay day at church in London and it was such a testament to the Malachi 3 bit about testing God in your tithe – He did honour it.
Now of course all of this didn’t happen for nothing, God wanted me to be in Wellington, with the faith, finances and commitment to help build the church plant I joined there. I knew very quickly that it was why I’d been on the journey I’d been on. But, wow, I think it’s quite a story.
I wanted to share the story of God’s provision in my life with you as at times on this blog I’ll be discussing extremely hard, painful memories and situations and I think it’s a good reminder for me that He was with me through both the good and bad. I honestly think if I hadn’t had that crazy season of provision and surprises I don’t know if I would have gotten through the valleys that were to follow.