Today’s guest is Matt, and Matt is one of those friends who is more like family.
Yeah, we go back a while, don’t we?
Yes, right to 1985, I think.
How old were you then, Ruth?
Eleven! [laughs] Yes, YWAM Canberra days.
And Matt and Maureen then moved to Tassie after we moved to Tassie.
At the invitation of your father.
And then when we staffed a DTS, Moz and I, Matt and Maureen were our leaders then. And then later on, when my parents ran away to the United States, Matt and Maureen helped out as substitute grandparents and looked after the kids when they were sick, or when we were sick.
Matt and Maureen have 3 kids of their own, and I counted 6 grandchildren.
Correct. Yes, 3, 2, and 1.
That’s per child, so 3 for the eldest child, 2 for the middle child, 1 for the youngest?
Yes, that’s right.
And they all live interstate, but I hear you’re about to take off and visit them?
Yes, we’re about to visit the ones in Townsville.
That’ll be great. Anyway, so we could obviously reminisce for a long time, but let’s ask the questions: how did you become a Christian?
Oh dear. I don’t really know. [laughs] That’s a big question. I was born and bred, for better or worse, in a nominally Catholic family. So in one sense I’ve always been a Christian. But even as a child, I knew I had some issues, particularly with rejection on the one hand, and with rebellion on the other hand. And I think I was very confused as a child. Confused, and oscillating between those two extremes. And in the midst of that confusion, I had some sort of connection with God, but really I knew God was the only answer to my identity issues. And that’s what they were in retrospect, as I look back now, that’s what it was. And God was the only answer.
How do you think you got that picture, though?
That’s a long story. That’s taken 70 years. And maybe some of it we’ll see. You see, I was searching, I suppose. Searching for answers, searching for meaningful stuff that wasn’t just a glib sort of answer, but a real answer. And sometimes I would see God, or see sort of an answer up the end of the street, so I’d run to that, but when I got there, whatever it was – God or whatever, ultimately I saw it as God – He’d run to the next corner. So I’d race off to the next corner, but He was gone by the time I got there. And it went like this. So I was searching, a lot of my childhood and earlier years as an adult, searching, searching for real answers, genuine answers, that were really meaningful. And that searching, I think, has taken me to a lot of places. Physically, geographically, spiritually, and it’s been a good life in one sense, but it’s been very frustrating and confusing in another. So have I answered that question, how did I become a Christian? Not really, I suppose. It was when we came to YWAM really, that I became a born-again Christian.
Right. So if we go before that at the moment, I heard that you studied to join the priesthood.
Scary scary, eh? Yes, that was part of my searching. I was looking for answers and the only thing I knew in my sort of time, in my experience, was Catholic priesthood as something closer to God. So when I was about 17, that’s what I decided I felt that I needed to do. So I spent seven years studying for the Catholic priesthood. Philosophy, theology, languages, histories, scripture… and I got some answers. So I certainly appreciate that time. But I think the more answers I got, the more I started to sort myself out a little bit. As I sorted myself out, I saw really that God was calling me in a different way, a different path. More radical, more meaningful, more personal, less theoretical.
More radical than the Catholic priesthood, that’s saying something.
Well, there’s so much culture in the Catholic system – any denomination I suppose, there’s lots of culture, and so many theoretical answers – what I mean by ‘radical’ is foundational, when the rubber hits the road. So that priesthood … well, I left without being ordained, and I wasn’t really sure then where I was going. But I started to become more assertive in myself, I started to pursue a career in the public service, met Maureen, got married, had children, bought a home, bought a car … all those sorts of marks of success, and they worked, but even so after 13 years in the public service I again found this wasn’t really answering my searching.
Were you still going to a Catholic church at that point?
No. [laughs] That was tied up partly with Maureen, but also with the leading of God. Maureen was brought up as a Lutheran, so when we were first married, we went to a Lutheran church. So for a while, sometimes we went to a Lutheran, sometimes to a Catholic. When the kids were young, we went to the Catholic school, we went to a Catholic church. But by that time, I was clued on to [the fact that] God wasn’t tied up in a particular denomination. God was much bigger than that. So really by the time I was 40, I’d been successful in so many areas (the public service and so on) but it wasn’t answering my deeper searching. And so when God called us on into YWAM, I was ready. I was really ready for whatever God had to offer. So that was the next big move. It was part of that searching again. But even that question of whether we join YWAM or not was a solution that God put in front of us. That was already God answering, but I didn’t realise it at the time, it’s only in hindsight you get this sort of understanding of things.
Absolutely. You look back and join all the dots. So how did YWAM first come across your radar?
We’d joined a charismatic group in the Catholic church, but it was YWAM who taught us how to listen to the Holy Spirit, to do stuff. That goes back to 1971.
I think dad had a similar – and the interview with dad is coming – dad had a similar thing where when he started teaching, he started teaching things he’d learned from YWAMers, and eventually people said to him ‘Well, why don’t you just do the training?’ So it sounds like a similar sort of thing.
In a sense… but after we first met YWAM in ’71, it was still 12 years before we joined YWAM. So a lot went under the bridge there. In moving to YWAM, that was again mixed up with this sort of searching for who I am, who’s God, what’s life all about, what’s the meaning of stuff? And I didn’t have a clue. As I look back now, it’s a wonder I survived. [laughs] I was a mess. I was an absolute mess. Those first 5 years in YWAM, well, they were hard. God gave some answers, but they weren’t sort of good answers in a sense. I mean, God started out by showing me why I’d had a 40-year problem with my mother. And this was gut-wrenching, this was really major. And then he led me to start forgiving her. That took … years, actually. But that was God, you know? He showed me why I was in rage, angry all the time. But it was not on the surface, it was underneath. He showed me why I was stubborn, He showed me why I was in rejection, He showed me why I was in rebellion. And through it all He showed me more about who I am, my identity. And of course, He showed me heaps about Himself as a good father, in short. So those five years, they were really difficult. God gave me some fundamental answers to my searching.
It’s a bit like surgery.
It was, yeah. And it took a long time to recover. You know [snaps fingers] one simple word from God, laid me flat for months.
It’s really interesting that God chose to give you those answers that you were looking for in a community situation where other people understood what you were going through and whatever, rather than earlier.
Well sometimes I don’t know that they did understand. [laughs] I felt very stranded. Just me and God. It was a very difficult time. The other big thing God did toward the end was he healed me from grief. I didn’t know I had this grief in my life.
What were you grieving?
The death of me. Not the ultimate death of me, but a death of me as a little boy, my identity. It didn’t exist, and that’s what I was grieving over, I didn’t know who I was. Bit complicated, but I was grieving over something in me that had never come to life, I suppose.
Wow. This is very deep. This is amazing.
It was. The only merit I can claim is that I kept asking questions. I kept looking, looking, looking. Which is not very much, but.
And you feel like you got to the end of those five years and it was a new start?
That was when your father called us down, invited us to come down here to Hobart.
I see, get to Tasmania and your life really starts.
I guess I found the answers I needed, I was starting to be myself, and so we embarked upon whatever was left, 20 years where God was able to use us in many different ways, as you know. A lot of administration…
I wrote down a question about administration because I know that was really pivotal in blessing YWAM, not only nationally but internationally I think.
Yeah, probably, probably.
And a lot of people when they think about going into missions, they don’t think about doing accounts, or paperwork or whatever, but you’ve found it’s an important part of your ministry.
Well that was the way God had gifted me I suppose. Going way back to the philosophy and stuff, and then the public service experience, which was a lot of policy, a lot of community development, a lot of writing and researching. So when we went to India in 1992 that was specifically a research project that I was asked to do: travel India and research a particular subject. So there would have been very few people in YWAM who could have done that. That was God’s gift. When we went to Bangkok again, I was largely helping with the development of YWAM’s mercy ministries in south Asia, and helping to administer two big projects in Cambodia. But I suppose over time I have come to see that some people may see that type of missionary work as not really missionary. It’s not real, you know?
You’re not standing on a soapbox and preaching.
You’re not doing evangelism, or pastoral care, you know, directly. But I was working with people who were. While they were doing that sort of stuff, I was able to make sure all the Ts were crossed and the Is were dotted in big projects. But I can say really in answer to this sort of broader question, the most critical element of being a missionary is the motivation, or the heart behind it. So while other people did the evangelism and pastoral care, I was able to do the admin stuff, and even staff training, out of obedience to God, firstly, and secondly out of love for His people.
In many places God’s love and care has gotta be real and tangible. So when you take hundreds, literally hundreds of women and their children off the streets of Phnom Penh, you’ve gotta have the admin, the backup, the policies to care for them, you know? You’ve gotta have the finances in order. And besides, a donor in Europe won’t give you half a million dollars for it if you don’t have your finances in order. Likewise in Stung Treng, you know? There was a town of 20,000 people, with a river running right next to it, but no running water in the town. They had no healthcare. And so to provide those sort of things, we needed proper organisation. Admin, governance, policies, finances.
Yeah, it’s really important.
And that’s all I can say. It goes back to: that’s how God called me to serve, and that’s how God called me to love his people.
That’s awesome. So you’ve mentioned a lot of different nations and places, are there some that have a special place in your heart?
Yeah, we served in a few other places as well, but I think India and Bangkok are special to us, or to me. Maureen doesn’t like big cities. But they’re special to me because in India, we saw how God cries for the spiritual poverty of people around. How he cries over their Karma that holds them in the bondage, over the physical poverty that they live in, physical and spiritual poverty. It’s similar in Bangkok I suppose, where the people live in fear of evil spirits, in short. And that breaks God’s heart, because it goes right against who He is as a loving and good father. And so God showed us something of His heart for those peoples, and that’s why those places are significant to us.
I wanted to ask whether you had any stories of God’s amazing faithfulness during that time. I know you must have hundreds. Is there something you’d like to share with us?
You can easily put God’s faithfulness as ‘I needed $5, and God provided $5’, you know? There are many of those sorts of stories I suppose. But more significant to me is things like we’ve not received a salary all those years in YWAM. But we’ve had a home, we’ve had great lifelong friends, we’ve had everything we needed. We’ve had even, on occasions, some surplus money just to go and buy an ice cream or something. And financially we went to India, we spent our last dollar on airfares, then in India we rented this flat, we lived in India, provided all our living expenses somehow, and then we had ministry expenses as well which we were expected to cover, and I was asked to travel all year. Then we came back to Australia 12 months later, and what was in our bank account and how did it get there? There was $5,000 and I’ve got no idea how it got there or who it was from, even to this day. I’ve just got to say, God was faithful. But more than that, God was faithful to our kids too. Not only did he keep them safe, but he matured them in ways I could never have done. He grew ‘em up. So God’s been faithful at many different levels. Faithful to Himself and His character. It’s not because of me. I’m still searching for answers! God’s awesome!
He is! He totally is. I wanted to say also, I like how you’ve said He was faithful in India, and then He was faithful when you came back to Australia, because I think people often see very easily that God’s faithful over in whatever developing nation, and then you come back to a developed nation and you think now you have to get a job, you have to do whatever, that God’s only restricted to working in India.
God is faithful to his people wherever they live, and they’ve gotta live somewhere. You’ve gotta live in Melbourne, or Sydney, or Hobart, or Shanghai, or Mumbai, or Bangkok, you’ve gotta live somewhere, and God’s still the same. He’s still the same God, still faithful, wherever you’re living, whatever you’re doing, whatever He’s called you to.
So you’ve sort of moved on from YWAM…mostly.
Now you’re working more with a local church. Was that a bit of a shift in thinking, to be more involved in a local church instead of some missionary organisation?
It wasn’t really planned. What was planned I think was more of a downtime. When I was 65, and we’d been living out of suitcases for 25 years, and going someplace, setting up home, and then leaving it there as we moved on to the next place God called us. We don’t own it anymore, but we’ve left furniture in Chennai, in Bangkok, in Canberra, in Melbourne, I don’t know where else. We’ve left significant furniture all over the world. When I was 65 I was sort of like, ‘It’s time to slow down’. And God was even wanting that, and allowing us to. So we’d come back home, but I have continued to have significant roles in YWAM, but more at my choosing. But those roles have, slowly over the last 10 years, dropped off. I still have one or two, but along the way I’ve become more involved where I’m living, in St Clements. And that’s a great thrill, really. It’s just the same as being a missionary. Like I said before, you’ve gotta live somewhere! And so St Clements has become a platform to be a missionary to the people of Kingborough. So in some respects it’s not a big change.
When you look at it from God’s perspective, you’re still doing God’s work in God’s place.
Yeah! And God didn’t call us to serve YWAM, he called us to serve his people. And some of them happen to be in India, some in Thailand or Cambodia, some in Vietnam, some in Mongolia even, some in Bangladesh, and some in Kingston.
That’s great. Love that. So when do you feel close to God?
[chuckles] Well. When I’m desperate. Definitely. The more desperate I am, the closer I feel. [laughs] I like to feel close to God but … It’s not necessarily easy… in fact it’s hard. But it’s when God says, ‘Write down your vision, and wait. Wait on Me.’ And you’re going through all sorts of trauma inside, and God says, ‘just wait, I’ll be faithful. One day.’ That’s when I feel closest to God. It’s not easy, in fact it’s very hard, but that’s when I feel closest to God. There are still lots of questions I’ve got, I’ve got a whole suitcase of questions for God.
But at the same time, you don’t have that feeling of lack of identity or searching that you had at the beginning.
[sighs] Thankfully. Those fundamental questions were answered, yes. In those first years in YWAM I got a real handle on them. But it is like an onion, definitely. So over the last five years as I’ve been able to relax more physically, and with God, I think I’ve received even more understanding of who I am, and God’s peeled away different layers of… I don’t know. I think maybe I’ve come to a real core now. But as soon as I say that, God will open up another little window, and I’ll see, ‘Oh. Right. Okay God’.
We never actually get there, do we? Not until the end.
That’s right, I don’t think so. It’s been a whole life of self discovery of who I am, and who God is. Not easy, but it’s been good. I say that in hindsight, after I’ve come through it all.
Like surgery again. You don’t wanna do it, but you have to do it to come through it.
Yeah, that’s right.
So what’s one thing about God or Christianity that you wish everyone knew?
One of my favourite scriptures recently is from Romans. Somewhere in Romans, I don’t know where. ‘Everyone, or anyone, who calls on the Lord will be saved.’ There are other similar passages. ‘He who seeks will find. He who knocks will have the door opened to him.’ There’s no question about that, there’s no conditions attached to it. In fact, that’s it: God’s love is totally unconditional. And I don’t even have to be righteous or a good person or anything. All I have to do is call on the Lord, or seek or knock. Cry out for help. In fact, Jesus said, ‘Who needs a doctor? It’s only the sick person who needs a doctor.’ It’s only the sinner, then, who needs a saviour.
I guess that’s your life then really, isn’t it? Just a life of calling out on the Lord and hearing him answer.
Yeah, that’s right. So if there’s some encouragement there for anyone, that’s great! But that’s not how I meant it initially, I think. It’s just how I’ve managed to survive. And I recognise I haven’t gone into the detail of what I was surviving. There is a psychological name for it – and I don’t want to mention it! [laughs]
But I think so many of us come through life, and things go wrong, and you do feel like you’re just surviving. There’s so many different reasons for that, there’s many things that happen. I guess your advice would be, ‘just keep asking those questions’.
Yeah. My big issue was an identity crisis. All I could do was keep searching, keep pushing. But I knew that the Catholic system wasn’t gonna answer me, I knew the public service wasn’t going to answer me, I knew not even YWAM as an organisation could answer me. It was only God. So that’s what I give thanks for. In a sense, I found those answers that I needed, or God provided the answers eventually. He could have been faster though! [laughs]
That’s another one of your questions!
Yeah, that’s right God!
Thank you so much for sharing with us, Matt.
It’s been fun.