Welcome Everyone, I’m Ruth Amos, today I’m chatting with Bruce, welcome Bruce.
Bruce and Wendy have three children and seven grandchildren, and when Bruce retired, he and Wendy moved from Launceston to Hobart to be closer to family, well, most of the family, because one daughter is still in Singapore. And the others are down here.
Bruce and Wendy came to our church and they immediately got very involved especially with Alpha and all sorts of things. Bruce is a skilled photographer and I’ve recently learned last week that he’s also a skilled watercolour artist.
It’s a pleasure to talk with you today, Bruce.
So, questions, how did you become a Christian?
That’s interesting, I actually discovered a little note going way back in the family archives here. And this little note says ‘I was converted on 6th June 1956 and since that date my religious knowledge (wasn’t that scary) has progressed with the aid of various courses including “What the Bible Teaches” “Guide to Christian Growth” “Guide to Christian Living” and the Epistle to the Romans. All of which have proved helpful.’
Wow! So can I ask, what age you were in ’56?
Sure, sure. I would have been around about seven. So I guess that was sort of a first statement of faith if you want to say that I guess. This was probably written, my guess around about 9 or 10 something like that.
You should see the handwriting, it’s so neat for a ten year old. That’s amazing.
I was privileged to be born into a Christian family. Both my parents were Christian. They’ve since passed on. As I said, my parents were very much into church going. I was dragged morning and night when I was a young guy. And I don’t know whether I really appreciated it then, despite the bit that I wrote there. I guess you sort of learn … as your life progresses you sort of learn a greater appreciation and obviously yes, you get a greater knowledge of God. And you’ve got a chance of becoming, or making a greater relationship with God, which is what it’s all about, or with Jesus in that sense.
I mean the most important thing really is to have a relationship with Jesus.
And if I can sort of stress that, it’s gotta be what it’s all about.
And a relationship doesn’t stay still does it? It always grows and changes, and you learn more about him.
It’s constantly changing. I mean my relationship has always had ups and downs and all sorts of different things but at the same time, you’re quite right, we’re learning more, we’re changing more. God is changing us.
So what did you do in Launceston for your job?
Well my parents were in Burnie and I moved to Launceston around about 1967, desperate for a career in photography.
How does one go about a career in photography?
Well, much to my father’s disgust because I think he really wanted me to become a trade or have a trade under my career belt as it were, in that sense they allowed me to go to Launceston and I had great ideas of getting a job at the Examiner at that stage, as a professional photographer. Of course with no experience you just don’t get that sort of thing. You don’t generally wander in, even as a cadet photographer, even back then. However I walked into a photographic store on the recommendation of my uncle who I went to Launceston to live with, my uncle and aunt. My mother’s brother.
And he said, ‘Bruce you’d better get down there to Graphic Arts and ask him for a job.’
So I walked in and asked him for a job and within an hour, yes I had a job.
So those were the days when you could walk in and get a job, if it was the right thing. Now very obviously God had his timing in all that. I perhaps didn’t appreciate it then so much as I look back and do now.
I worked for this guy for about thirteen years and just before he had to pay me long service (which I think back in those days was fifteen years) he made it known that he wanted to sell the business and get out of it and I had an option of buying the business which is what we did back in about 1980’s something like that.
By that stage Wendy and I were married. We married in ’73. And it was late 1970s that my career changed in terms of being just a worker, to working even harder. Because when you have your own business you don’t just rock up at odd hours.
It becomes more of a 24 hour thing.
It can be, it can be almost an obsession if you let it. But the key thing is trying to maintain a perspective in terms of your family, probably should preface that with God. Because when we were married we actually stated that God was going to be the head of our house, at our wedding reception.
Nice, that’s very nice.
It was an interesting thing when I look back because although Wendy’s mum was a Christian, and certainly some of my family that could be there were Christian, most of the folk there were certainly not Christian.
I haven’t prepared this one, but how did you and Wendy meet?
Oh, that’s interesting. I used to chase nurses.
You used to chase nurses?
A group of us. I had a flat in Launceston, it was above an art gallery, and whenever the art gallery had an opening we used to have a party on top. We figured that the neighbours wouldn’t know any difference then. They’d blame the owner of the art gallery.
However, I used to entertain groups of nurses, and at that time I learned how to cook. I was cooking because I figured if I had a flat I had to learn how to cook. Takeaways were not a thing then compared to nowadays. We learned to cook and we entertained groups of nurses.
Well in the end, probably in about 1971, we went to a Singspiration, we used to call it then. Now Singspirations were a gathering of youth and at this stage it was being held at a bible training college which was out St Leonard’s way in Launceston. And that was called WEC college. MTC or Worldview college now. And probably anything up to 100 or 150 youth would turn up and have a Singspiration after church on a Sunday night. And that would happen at least once a month if not twice a month.
So you’d just be singing, guitars, and yeah …
Everything, yes, it was fairly radical for its day. I mean this was way back in the 1970’s. So yeah I met Wendy at that stage at WEC college. And we became friends. Married in ’73.
She’s a nurse, by the way.
She’s a nurse. She came from Queensland, she came ‘overseas’ to do her midwifery training.
To Launceston to train?
OK so you’re working in a photography shop, and then you’re owning the business and you did a fair bit of wedding photography …
That came a bit later. We had a real variety of business, everything from not only retail sales but also we were selling professionally as in not only professional equipment but supplies to government departments and started tendering for government departments and in fact, I remember meeting a guy by the name of Rod Viney way back then.
And if you wanted to hear Sue Viney’s interview, that’s available, you should be able to find it on the website.
So I remember meeting him somewhere on one of the trips down here because we had to sort of come down and visit some of the government departments. I had a very good staff person at that time helping me do that and she was able to make some very good inroads into some of those departments. Lots more adventures in my store, but we won’t go there.
So how did you find that your faith showed itself through your work?
I guess, we tend to perhaps be a little bit more conservative at times, but at the same time my staff that I employed, and I had a huge variety of staff over a number of years and I had the business for about 18 odd years and we had a huge number of staff people go through. On more than one occasion, because it was a small business, the conversations often used to mention God or what God was all about. I had the opportunity on more than one occasion to answer some questions, particularly with regards to how to become a Christian. And also to present a bible or a couple of bibles to a couple of staff members on one occasion.
Now I had to be very careful that we didn’t compromise, and don’t misinterpret this, I’m not talking about compromising our faith, but just compromising our stance in terms of the relationship with a staff person, in fact nowadays it probably wouldn’t be allowed but this was way back then. And I guess at that stage as far as I was concerned it was presenting God’s word. And the chance of these folk, in once case one particular woman did become a Christian. I’m not too sure where her stance is now or where she’s situated now but we can only sow the seed and let God do the work.
Wonderful. Did you find that in terms of running a business that you were tempted to not have biblical principles in your running of it? That your Christian stance owning a business changed the way you ran the business?
My Christian stance changed my whole perspective in terms of running a business. We had some fearsome opposition, and I mean really fearsome opposition back in those days and there was some wicked stuff being done around us. I guess with hindsight now you’d say, ‘OK that’s fairly normal with the way the world is at this point in time.’ I tried to ride above and through that. In some cases we had to do some pretty ruthless actions to be able to survive.
Now they certainly weren’t morally ruthless in any shape or form. But one occasion one of my suppliers had decided to cut off my line of purchase in terms of an actual vital part of my business. At that stage we owned a one-hour processing lab and the key supplier in that instance was Fuji, and our opposition decided to take the stance of getting the sole franchise for Fuji in Launceston which immediately drummed us out of getting availability of goods.
As it happened my former employer had known the owner of the sole business. The whole business at that stage was called Hanimax and he knew the owner of Hanimax. And he also knew the guy who did the accounting at Hanimax. So I had knowledge of that guy’s name and I rang him up and said, ‘this is what the status is’ and he took a few moments just to register who I was and he said, ‘Ah yes Bruce, I remember you, I remember meeting you when I was down with the former owner of the business, leave it with me, I’ll fix it.’ So within about two days there was a new contract drafted from this particular group. They’d given me a different franchise name and a different franchise thing with virtually the same discount in terms of purchasing which I’d had previously. All I had to do was do a new delivery which cost a bit in terms of paperwork and all that sort of stuff. But that’s the sort of stuff that was going on.
I mean that was a pretty vital exercise when we were dealing with that sort of business because we were dealing with an investment there of about a quarter of a million dollars back at that age which was a lot of money to be borrowing back in the recession we had to have, according to Paul Keating.
Yes, I remember. So you feel like God helped you through those times?
He helped me through those times incredibly because a number of years later when we’d sold the business, I was able to go back into the opposition and simply take my business to them. Because at that stage I was doing professional photography and the group that I’d sold my business to couldn’t handle what I needed so I was able to get stuff from this other professional crowd and I still have a relationship with them in terms of wheeling and dealing today.
And I guess that’s where it could have all fallen over if you weren’t a Christian, is that relationship would have just –
Absolutely. You would have had a grievance, and it’s just not worth letting grievances continue, particularly with a Christian faith.
As the saying goes, why let someone with a grudge live rent-free in your head?
Good point, good point.
Perhaps I haven’t phrased it terribly well but that’s just …
OK that’s really great.
So coming to Hobart, it’s been a bit different to what you thought it would be?
Oh it’s been a sea-change. We’ve been very blessed in terms of coming to Hobart. We had sort of reached the end of a point in Launceston with a) careers because Wendy had retired and I was working from home at that stage so I could sort of move and shake a little bit. And our son and daughter-in-law, Mark and Sarah, had two young children. Sarah had maternity leave for I think it was three years, she had to then go back to her career or not continue working as far as the school where she was employed. So we said OK, we’ll take Becky, the youngest one who wasn’t at school at that stage, and we’ll look after her for I think it was two or three days a week, in order to allow Sarah to go back to work.
In that instance it meant us coming down probably about two days, or it might have been three days out of the week and then back to Launceston.
Which is a fair commute. It’s a two an a half, three hour commute, each way.
It’s a fair commute, absolutely. And especially after doing a day of child-minding and then working on from there. We did that I think for about the first month. In between times obviously we had our house listed in Launceston. Launceston was facing probably one of the worst real estate slumps I think you can imagine. That was OK because the house we had, we had actually bought close on thirty years before, so OK sure, we could make some money out of that. But at the same time – replacement. And in Hobart we already had a market which was about thirty percent above Launceston anyway. And this was before the current surge we’ve seen in the last three years.
So we’re actually very blessed to be getting a hold of, and downsizing radically, a unit, which we’ve got.
And you had a what we call a ‘fleece’ some sort of requirements for this unit that you laid before the Lord didn’t you? And I remember Mark saying to me, I think this is impossible. So what were you asking for in this unit?
Because both of us had had various bouts of surgery, I’d had back surgery with remarkable recovery around about thirty five years ago, and she’d had a knee job done, so she’s got a bionic knee, and age creeping on, we decided we needed a flat block of land. Our previous house was on a block of land at Trevallyn which is somewhat sloped.
And we needed a smaller house, we needed a smaller garden area, we had a huge garden area in Launceston which was fantastic but, yeah, a time and a place.
So we asked God to provide us a flat block of land, we needed a view.
Flat block of land with a view?
We’d had a gorgeous view in Launceston, straight down the Tamar river, we could see probably about 20 km down the river, or certainly 15 kms. It certainly kept us sane to look out the window and say, ‘Good morning, God.’
So yes, here we are with a flat block of land, a small unit, a view.
Everything that you needed.
Praise you Lord. We had to downsize in terms of a few things that we really wanted like double garages and three bedrooms and everything else didn’t occur but really it would only have been an excuse to bring more junk which there’s only a certain amount that you need in this day and age.
It’s true, it’s true. The less junk the better.
And so you came down here and you set up to look after Mark and Sarah, and then …
And then! Well, somewhere in between times, because Louise and her husband Brett were in Alice Springs, we knew that there were some issues up there with their family and they were just not getting any resolution in Alice Springs. The reason being Alice Springs is really like, although it’s a city, it’s like a big country town. It’s a remote city or remote town. Any serious medical issues need to be done through Adelaide or Sydney.
And that’s a fair distance from Alice.
It’s a fair distance to commute to Alice Springs. In fact, the cost of getting out to Alice Springs is probably greater than Singapore. And in terms of getting treatment even, even though Louise is in the medical field, it’s still a difficult stance. So they made the decision to come to Tasmania. This is now about two years ago. And she’s scored a good job in a GP practice in Huonville. One of their sons has got some medical issues that are being sorted out that certainly wouldn’t have got treatment in Alice Springs.
And you and Wendy are here to help them out as well.
We’re here somewhere in the middle of it, trying to keep pace with kids and collecting from schools and cooking meals, which Wendy does admirably for them, at least a couple of days a week because obviously Louise is working flat out and Brett’s not a cook. He can boil water I think but … I don’t think I’m casting aspersions on my son-in-law.
So that’s great. So I think at the beginning of the process nobody knew that this is what was going to happen but it’s just worked out.
Absolutely, we couldn’t have picked our retirement. It’s a way different retirement. I remember Pete Adlem saying at one stage, I think it might have been when we first came down here, he said, ‘Bruce, remember that retirement is spelled with a TYRE’
Well yeah, I can definitely see that.
So one of the things that you’ve been majorly involved in here has been Alpha. Can you tell our listeners what Alpha is, and why it means so much to you?
Certainly. Back in about 1996 I think, Nicki Gumble who is one of the early movers and shakers of Alpha in London, at a church group called Holy Trinity Brompton, and Sandy Millar who was the previous vicar (or what ever you call them in the Church of England), came to Australia and they brought the concept of Alpha into Australia.
At that stage, Wendy and I think three other women from the house church that we were a part of in Launceston went to Melbourne to do this conference. To hear Sandy Millar and also to hear and meet Nicky Gumble.
We used Alpha in our house church because we had a ministry to Asian students. Students coming through university in Launceston, students coming through the Maritime College which was a separate entity at that stage in Launceston. And over the course of time a number of students that came to learn English, we simply talked to them about Jesus. And Alpha was one of the tools that we used. We saw a lot of lives changed during those nearly 20 years our house church functioned before we moved down here.
I guess I’ve had a passion for Alpha for that very reason, because I know how Alpha works, and I know how God works through Alpha. Now it’s not the only thing that God uses but certainly it is one of the things that can allow people to ask questions.
And that’s what it’s all about, people feel free to ask questions.
So across the world, millions of people have tried Alpha. I think it’s about 189 countries or something like that which Alpha has currently penetrated into and I think there’s about 112 languages.
I know back in our day we were doing Alpha in Chinese, we had Chinese subtitles, we had a Korean stream of Alpha because we had some Korean students, and I’ve forgotten what else, there might have been another one. But certainly English was the clear thing they came to learn.
So that’s exciting because they’ve got the subtitles, but they’re hearing the English, they’re getting the English conversation, and nobody is forced into anything with Alpha are they?
No one at all.
They are just asking questions.
So I’ll tell you about a guy who came to our house church back, in fact one of the early sessions of Alpha we were doing, it may have been around the year 2000. And he was a PhD in English literature and English language, he was a senior member of the communist party from Beijing. He’s now Dean of Foreign Languages in a Chinese university in one of the big cities over in Northern China. He is an Australian citizen, his wife and young boy are now Australian citizens. However, Yong started asking questions about God and after doing several sessions of Alpha, one of the things we do on Alpha is hold a retreat. Now sometimes it’s a retreat day, as we’ve done here in the last couple of years, sometimes it’s a weekend. In this instance it was a weekend. And they were walking along the Brid River foreshore in Bridport in Northern Tasmania and he was still asking questions, he said, ‘I can’t believe, I can’t see this God you’re talking about’ and then all of a sudden the tide turned, and the tide up there comes in very, very quickly. And suddenly he screamed out and said ‘I believe, I believe’ because he could see God working through time, tide, and obviously just the turning.
And he experienced God in miraculous ways.
There have been so many others that we’ve seen have other experiences that really have been transforming. Some of them have gone back in to China, and are possibly part of the house church movement over there.
Do you keep in touch with many of them?
We’ve got probably loose contact with a couple of hundred.
Wow, that’s amazing.
We’re good friends with a Singaporean woman who is probably a better contact person than what I am in that area, but we were just part of a group, part of a house church, there was a group of about six leaders and their families who were part of the house church and it just all went from there.
Over the twenty years …
That’s a lot of people.
I remember hearing about Mao Zedong coming to America I think and not feeling accepted or cared for by Christians. And going back and doing what he did. And you wonder whether, if he was accepted as part of a group and if he felt welcomed and cared for by Christians whether the whole of Chinese history would be different.
It’s an interesting concept.
So I just think this is an amazing outreach that we can be a part of.
So a final couple of questions that I ask everybody; when do you feel most close to God?
That’s a deep question.
It’s a hard question.
I guess there’s been a couple of times that we’ve had incredible God experiences. We’ve been very privileged in certain areas. One of them was a trip I had to South Korea one Easter. Going back, 1986 I think it was, and at that stage I was also involved with a group that used to import musical equipment from Korea, as in pianos. There was a group of about 8 or 10 of us that used to import this equipment and distribute it all the way around Australia. And the profits would go to Christian work.
So we needed to go back and talk to the factory supplier over there and we decided to take a group across with us. And we had the opportunity to do it over Easter and we went into one of the big churches over there which at that stage was Paul Yonggi Cho’s.
I can remember going to the Friday night prayer meeting, we’d just flown in from Australia at that stage. Before we left for Korea Wendy said to me, ‘Bruce, don’t allow your prejudices for God in terms of any working [get in the way]’ (as we would now call it the working of the Holy Spirit through gifts). Because I was a little bit myopic as far as things called tongues and other bits and pieces, and that came from my upbringing because I had a fairly strict upbringing in terms of Christian faith. So I said, ‘Yep Lord, what are you going to teach me?’
That’s a scary question!
Oh yeah, and it was during that prayer night, and we were in this big auditorium, there might have been close to fifty thousand people in that auditorium, and another forty or fifty thousand listening in other auditoriums around this big church which they had. And the service was being conducted in Korean, there was a certain amount of English translation but it was very limited. And when it came to the prayer time, the English translation ceased.
God, through his Holy Spirit, gave me a very special privilege. I could understand the prayers that were being spoken in Korean, in English.
Wow. That’s fantastic.
It’s just mind-blowing to understand that.
OK it’s something that hasn’t happened since, it was a special thing for a special period of time, and I guess it just opened my eyes.
So that was one particular time.
I had an incredible privilege to go with a group to John Wimber. A video conference in Sydney. And that was an eye-opener back in 1993. At that stage there was a prophecy given by John White who I think was colloquially known at that stage as ‘the gentle doctor’ because he wrote the gentle doctor books, and John Wimber and another guy called Paul Cain. But they delivered a prophecy of sexual abuse amongst churches and people. We saw in that afternoon between two and a half, and three thousand people move forward for healing.
So, yeah, I guess that sort of was a background. Jump forward then to, well a whole heap of issues all the way through there in terms of feeling close to God. One of the other key things, I had a fairly major heart surgery back in 2009, and I’d had a 95% blockage of the main right hand artery, so praise God he hadn’t finished with me yet. That was able to be stented successfully.
I often wonder what are going to be our first words when we meet God, what’s going to be our first action. What are we going to say to him? It’s sort of a bit of a salient reminder in terms of being pulled up in terms of your life ambitions and what you had hoped to do and what you planned when you face those sort of challenges.
But praise the Lord, we’re back on top, we’re healed through huge amounts of prayer and here we are.
So yes, we’re in Hobart, we are part of St Clements, and it’s been a thrilling journey.
It’s amazing to hear all those stories, that’s what’s so wonderful about talking to people like this.
Yes, OK, it’s not Bruce we’re talking about here, it’s God, working through for His glory. And with Alpha particularly, we’re seeing, even earlier this year with our church we had close on 45 to Alpha and I think about 8 or 9 that came to a saving knowledge. Which is fantastic.
God has the glory.
What is one thing that you wish everybody knew about God and Christianity?
I wish they realised that they have a huge privilege of being able to talk and form a relationship with a God who is alive. I mean that, to me that’s one of the key things. If you can have that relationship with God who’s alive it’s a thrill, it’s a privilege, and yes it’s there, we’ve just got to ask Jesus for forgiveness, confess our sins, the bible says and ask him for forgiveness. And once we’ve done that, our sins need not be remembered. Finished. Done. God has dealt with that through Jesus’ death on the cross for each one of us. And his resurrection, which obviously has given us … I guess through his resurrection he’s defeated sin and death and Satan forever.
It’s real simple, it’s not any great science to do that. It’s just a matter of just being prepared to humble yourself before God and acknowledge him for who he is.
And then you get a relationship with him.
You then develop a relationship with Jesus or God, and obviously that comes through being prepared to read his word, being prepared to listen to what God is saying in your life through his word, through people that are talking to you.
Fantastic. Thank you so much Bruce for sharing with us.