Welcome everyone, today we want to welcome Gerald to the show. I have known Gerald since we were in primary school together but I left primary school at the end of grade five and I think we just completely lost touch. We probably weren’t actually really close in primary school, it has to be said. Then it was really nice when Gerald and Sara and their four kids turned up at my church and that was very cool and we reconnected and I thought it would be nice to chat to you today. Gerald preaches to us sometimes at church, very well, it has to be said. But he’s not a paid pastor, he’s a follower of Jesus like me. So it’s very good to have you here on the show Gerald.
So we start where we always start, how did you become a Christian?
There’s a bit of a story but it’s quite simple really. The typical story, a very familiar one to a lot of people. I grew up in a Christian household and my parents were pretty strict and they taught us well. Very good Bible teaching. And really conservative, church, twice on Sundays without excuse. So I had my parents’ faith up until the time I was about 18. When I was 18 I took off overseas for a year as an exchange student to Sweden and I landed with a family who were new atheist. About as …
As different as you could get.
Opposite poles from my parents. It was, ‘Christianity is a farce, it’s a crutch, it’s a load of rubbish. Science has the answer to everything. Miracles don’t exist.’ And coming from that ultra-conservative background where nothing was ever questioned, you didn’t have to test your faith in any way, to that. I had to make a choice.
I was there for twelve months, I went to church three times in that time, and got to the end of it and I’d seen both sides and just knew where I wanted to go. I absolutely wanted to follow Jesus. That was a big thing for me.
And God, he didn’t leave me completely alone. It turned out there was another exchange student just down the road, an Australian, who was a totally on fire, charismatic Christian. I believe he’s actually a Sydney Anglican pastor now. And he really encouraged me while I was there. And I also had a couple of guys in my class, and this is a school of about a thousand people, mostly there were no Christians, and they just happened to have been missionaries, from missionary families as well.
So God had a way to sort of throw me in the deep end, but also provide some levels of encouragement.
I mean, knowing the school we went to here, the little Christian school, getting into a school that first is that size, and then there’s no Christians anywhere, that would have just been mind-blowing.
Yeah, yeah and there is no Christian worldview anywhere, at all, wherever you go. And church over there is mostly government-run. So most Christians, or most people are members of a church but it’s about being hatched, matched, and dispatched as you call it. And there are a few free churches, and I went to one free church service during my whole time there.
What did you think that God had that the new atheism didn’t have?
Hope, I think. And purpose.
It’s a theme that keeps coming up for me. I’m quite sceptical and I suspect that actually going there for a year and being challenged by my host family, my host parents, actually put me in a place where I do question everything.
What I find is whatever I question, the world, if I remove God, if I walk away from that, it’s pretty dark. And for me that’s one of the key things. I saw that side and thought, ‘There’s no hope. It’s just darkness.’ And I didn’t want to go there.
For me, I like how Christianity answers all the questions. The who, where, what, how, why? Science does a great job of answering the what, and the why, and the how, and even the when perhaps? But the who and the why (the why science doesn’t answer well) the who and the why I think Christianity answers them all extremely well. And for me that kind of thing is important. I need to actually see the reason behind it.
So what do you do for a job?
I’m an electronics engineer.
OK, that shows how much we’ve lost touch.
OK so an electronics engineer is like, maths and problem solving.
That’s my job, that’s what I do. I actually run a small company and we manufacture a lot of bespoke electronic equipment. And specialise in underwater equipment as well. So we manufacture underwater video cameras, video transmission systems for fish farms, data loggers, measuring tools, if you can’t buy it from Big W, we’ll make it for you. You just pay a premium.
So that’s what we do.
That’s what bespoke means.
It will work, it will do the job you want, you just have to pay for it.
So how does your faith show itself, I think generally people don’t think of engineers as being particularly ‘woo woo’ kind of people, so how does your faith show itself in your workplace?
It’s a tough one. And I often ponder that question. It’s a bit like the ultra-conservative upbringing in my childhood school and church, I’ve always worked with believers. My business partners have always been Christians. So my work environment has always been a Christian environment. So it really is about how I relate to my clients. The language that I speak.
And many people would say, ‘Well, you’re just a good human.’ But I tend to think more about the person I would be if I weren’t a Christian. And I think the dangerous thing is we very often, and rightly so, we compare ourselves with Jesus and go, ‘We really fall short.’ True. But I try as much as possible to compare myself with the person I was yesterday. Or the person I was last year. Or the person I would be if I weren’t a believer.
To me that’s really important. Because everybody is at a different point in their faith. And yes, we should be striving to grow, and we should be encouraged to grow, and work on that.
That’s why you can’t judge anybody, right? Because you don’t know who they were yesterday. They may be the most irritating person you know, but they have improved.
We still have to make judgements. But exactly that, yeah. How can we see people for not who they are necessarily, but who they can be in Christ, if they’re not a believer, and who they can become if they continue on in their faith and grow.
So for me it is very much practical. How am I proclaiming Christ? If you go out on a fish farm, the language is very colourful, and I want them to see that I’m not participating in that kind of life. I want them to see something different. Something unique, something they like.
The way that I treat my family. The way that I speak about my wife. The time that I spend with my kids. All those sorts of things I think are important.
Shining a light. Yes.
So you’ve travelled a fair bit lately. I’ve written down India and Papua New Guinea and anywhere else that you want to talk about. I’ve said before about travels to India that we can’t really talk about, definitely not name, but not talk about the people over there. But how has that affected you? And why do you take your kids?
That’s an easy one with the kids. Why wouldn’t you? I love being with my kids and I love to travel with them and they love it. Why would I leave them behind?
Well, people would say, and I’m totally 100% on your side, but people would say disease, poverty, filth and ….
Safety is a myth. And we live in a culture of safety-ism now. It’s got to the point now where people have actually not thought about whether being too safe is actually dangerous. And I think it is.
To start right at the beginning, the reason we bring our kids along, Sara and I, when we only had three kids, travelled to … just went on holiday. We had some frequent flyer points we needed to use so we thought, ‘Oh well, where can we get as far as we can?’ And we made it to Ayers Rock. To Uluru. So we spent a week there looking at Uluru and Kings Canyon and Alice Springs. And we both thought, ‘We have to bring our children here. We have to show our children this. We have to show them Australia, show them something of the world.’
So while we were there we found out we were pregnant with our fourth. So we looked at the dates and thought, ‘Which year are we going to pick?’ And we picked 2012, it ended up being 2013, we took our kids for four months travelling. And that’s kind of been the catalyst. It’s set us off on the whole travel mindset of camping, exploring, trying different things.
So now it’s just natural that if we’re going to do a trip somewhere, we all or some of us go.
So India, how did that change your life?
In so many ways. In Tasmania we are at the bottom end of the bottom end of the world, and it’s very easy to just live a nice comfortable little relaxed life. And why not? But just to see the contrast, I think that was the big thing for us.
The contrast of how people live and the reality of life for millions just really put into stark contrast the way we live here. And interestingly we only went to India for two weeks after we went to Sweden for three weeks, on our way back from Sweden. So we’d just had this beautiful holiday in Scandinavia and then we went to India. The contrast was remarkable. And then within all of that chaos, within all of that pain and suffering, to see some of the work that’s going on to bring hope to people. And that beacon of light and how powerfully it shines and the impact it can have. Yeah, it still resonates now with us. And even with our kids. A different outlook on life.
So do you feel survivor guilt? Or how do you deal with the fact that you come back and life is comfortable?
Oh yeah, I felt that very strongly. I’ve told people this story before. The first day we were there we’d been out for lunch and I was getting back in the car and this beautiful little girl, white dress, standing next to me, tapping me on the leg with her hand out. What do I do with that?
I think what it did was totally crush my sense of self-sufficiency. I’ve done pretty well with myself, personal responsibility is very high on my list of things that people should aim for, and I take that on myself. But in that situation I had absolutely no control. I couldn’t fix the situation, I couldn’t solve it, I couldn’t do anything. Even if I handed her a coin I didn’t know whether it was going to go to her, or whoever she was with. And that completely rocked me.
Being back here, it’s opened up, I keep my eyes open to what’s going on. Trying to seek those opportunities.
Look, there are lonely people over there and people suffering, but there’s plenty of people suffering right here. In Kingston there are tonnes of lonely people and you just have to go and look for them.
And also, it’s helped our family to be generous in giving, financially. And also praying. We actually pray for India once a week. We eat Indian every Monday night and pray for India. We’ve done that since we got home. And that’s my wife, she’s the one who drives that.
That’s a really nice way of doing it though, as a family, a family get together thing is shared food but then it’s keeping the focus back, and bringing that reminder.
Imagine trying to do that if Sara and I went without the kids.
Yeah, it wouldn’t have that depth of meaning.
It wouldn’t work.
And have you found that the kids have a focus that has changed?
Oh absolutely. Even if you question them about what they want to do in life, the direction they want to take, being involved in gospel ministry somewhere is up there for all of them.
The school has had some mission trips to Fiji and Moz has told the kids, ‘I hate to tell you this, but I’ve just wrecked your holidays from here on in. You’re never going to be satisfied with the resort living now, you have to go behind the scenes and see what it’s like. And do something.’
Cool, and PNG. What took you to PNG?
The beginning of 2017 I said to Sara, ‘I think we need a year off. No travelling this year.’ Anyway, so shortly after that I get a phone call from a guy that we met when we were travelling around Australia, who we got on really well with. He said he was taking his thirteen year old daughter on an island-hopping tour around Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea, would I like to tag along with one of my kids? I said, ‘yes’. Naturally.
We had our first night booked, we flew into a hotel, a guest house in Normaby Island in the D’entrecasteaux group of islands. Same guy who named Bruny and the D’entrecasteaux Channel. And our host there at that guest house was really intrigued by what we were doing and he organised a boat for us, and a guide, and he asked if he could tag along. So we spent fourteen days just hopping along uninhabited little islands that had never had tourists on them and the host just looked after us.
So it’s all just bark huts and tents and no one else apart from locals.
The guide would have been very useful, I’m assuming, with language?
No, they all speak English, really well.
Oh, even in the bark huts.
Absolutely. They are quite well educated and all education over there, all schooling is in English.
It’s quite amazing. It’s really good. So I came back from that trip with Isabella, we went together, that was wonderful, to spend that one on one time with her, that was brilliant. And then I thought, ‘I’ve got to take the boys, I’d better take them along on a trip.’ So the year after, the following year, October, I went again and a took a friend from Melbourne with his two boys. And we aimed to do a similar loop. We didn’t quite get to go to all the islands we wanted to, we had a bit of drama.
The weather wasn’t quite as good as we’d hoped, so we got stuck on an island for a few nights. And then we left there and went to an island, called Nuakata Island, which is close to the mainland, and there’s a bit of a backstory.
We unfortunately went during sea cucumber season. It opens every five to seven years.
Oh, so it’s not like time of the year or anything.
No it was just unlucky.
And these sea cucumbers are highly valuable and every single person over there who has a boat and can hold their breath is diving for them. And the market is predominately Chinese and there are Chinese buyers wandering around with anything up to half a million dollars cash. So that is just a magnet for rascals.
Unfortunately there were pirates wandering around in boats, cruising around, looking for these buyers. And they’d received a tip-off that we were buyers and we were on this island. So they came into our camp.
I was quite lucky, I got off quite lightly. We’d been out all day, we’d been fishing and diving, and we’d just been to the local school visiting them. And we came back, I had a quick dip, a quick swim, and there were two boats a few hundred metres off shore. I didn’t think twice, didn’t make much of it. And then Daniel, my son, and I got out and went around behind the trees to the well to have a fresh-water wash.
And all of a sudden my son Joel was sprinting past me going, ‘Dad, run!’
And I said, ‘Shall I get my camera?’
And he said, ‘No Dad, run!’
Oh OK, run.
So we took off and I had Rod’s son with me as well. So I was with three boys and I had one of the locals with me. And we ran quite a few hundred metres away down around the island. And waited. And it turns out there were ten fully-armed pirates with two boats up the beach. My mate Rod had a gun to his back, ‘Give us the cash, show us the cash.’
And our guide and Rod were able to convince them that we were tourists and not buyers. And when they found out they let us go and they gave our stuff back. All they took was our boat motor and our fuel.
Wow. That’s quite amazing. I mean, you can so easily see that turning all kinds of ways.
It could have been tragedy but it’s a cool story.
It’s just a cool story.
But at the same time, it seems to be the story that dominates the trip. And that was ten minutes of the trip. There’s so much more – diving with manta rays and fishing and swimming in these pristine waters and coral reefs and you could go all day on an island under the coconut palms and eating fresh fish on the fire and savoury bananas and not see a single other person. The middle of nowhere. Absolutely spectacular.
And the country, the people there, they’ve got so much to offer. And they desperately want to build these ecotourism ventures, but there’s just a few rascals running around. And so they’re learning about how to avoid them, and which routes to take to try to miss them. But it’s a real tragedy when that kind of thing happens because …
It builds a picture in our heads that is not right.
Yeah, which is not actually right.
There is so much more to offer, and I, to be honest, would quiet happily go back again. It wouldn’t bother me to go back. But I’d just choose a different path.
So you would suggest that everybody who possibly can should get out of Australia and do at least some sort of travel?
Absolutely. I think for our family I know that travelling around Australia for four months, just a half-loop, was probably the single best thing we did as a family, in terms of building our family, growing. You can’t live in a tent with six people, well, it was a camp trailer, so a trailer tent, for four months and not have to deal with issues and conflict and learn how to work through those things in a positive way. You can’t do that for four months without learning.
And if you can’t travel, do you have a next-best option?
Look, there’s so much to see in Tasmania. You can explore for months and still not see it all. There’s plenty of things you can do, it’s just about having, I think, quantity time together, exploring, seeing something different. Being involved in something, even, I’m sure there are projects you can get involved in that people are doing overseas. Learn about it. Sponsor children. All sorts of things you can get involved in.
I understand that not everyone’s able to travel, and we’ve made a lot of sacrifices to be able to do it. It’s not like it’s come easy.
But it feels to me like half of it’s about seeing new things, taking yourself out of your comfort zone, seeing whatever, and half of it’s about building that relationship as a family and making sure you’re spending that quality time and quantity time together so that you bond together as a family as well.
Absolutely, both of those things.
OK final couple of questions that I always ask everyone. And I didn’t realise how hard this next question was until I started looking at doing a podcast by myself and answering the questions myself. So when do you feel closest to God?
I’m just going to throw a spanner in the works, I don’t actually spend a lot of time worrying about whether I feel close to God. Because how I feel about God’s closeness has very little to do with whether he is or not. And if I’m constantly chasing whether I feel close to God then I think that’s a terrible place to be. If my sense of being is somehow tied to that. Ugh no. So I try and focus on what I know of God. And that’s pretty clear in his word. And I see it in creation. And I’ve experienced that in our travels. And through trials. For me it’s focussing on what I know.
And I think I spoke earlier about being overseas as an exchange student and seeing the darkness that’s not there. I guess I hold on to those hopes.
Yeah. Do you do a daily devotion?
You just live it.
I try and live it. One thing we do as a family is that as much as possible we have meals together. So dinner and breakfast, if I’m not starting work early. And we read the Bible together, that’s what we do during those times. So is the Bible read? Yes, every day. A specific devotion? No.
Cool, that’s good. I like having different pictures of what different people do, because I think a lot of people do different things, and there is no one right way to do this, because it’s a relationship with God.
So what’s something about God or Christianity that you wish everybody knew?
That same word, hope. Hope and purpose. And the, being an engineer, the answer to the questions who, when, what, why, how. There is an answer. You may be looking for it somewhere else, but hey, it’s over here.
You just need to do the right digging.
You just need to do the right digging. And sometimes for a lot of people that means wandering aimlessly for years. And you need to explore all the other options, for some people that’s what it is.
Fantastic. Well, thank you very, very much for talking with us.