Today’s guest is my dad!
John Langlois, in case you didn’t know. So dad has, as I said about mum, three children and two grandchildren – a favourite granddaughter and a favourite grandson, which is very handy – and dad has worked in quite a few places. As a telecom technician, administrator of a children’s home, a president of a radio station, a head of a YWAM base, a spiritual director at Christian Performing Arts Fellowship, and a minister with the Anglican church, and now he’s just as busy as every other retired person that I know. And I think I’ve probably missed some things you did as well, but that’s alright.
I’m really excited to interview you today dad! I know that everyone’s been hanging out for this interview –
– because we’ve talked about you in so many other interviews. So anyway, starting at the beginning: how did you become a Christian?
I think by a process of osmosis. Mum and dad were both very committed, and therefore God was a given in our household and I saw no reason to challenge that, as His activities were evident throughout our family. I think becoming totally committed to Christ has been a number of steps, at various levels. I remember having to think very hard about the questions in the catechism when I was confirmed at 11. I remember, at that time, having a sense that I was being called into ministry, which I immediately decided I didn’t want to do, because my only experience of ministry at that time was men wearing a black dress standing up in front of the congregation and intoning ‘The Lord be with you’. Which didn’t really turn me on at all, especially as I was chronically self-conscious. But even so, I ended up leading a CEBS group, and various things as a teenager. And I think as I matured as a Christian, God revealed more and more of Himself, or more and more of Jesus’ work on the cross for me, in taking the punishment I deserve and giving me grace to come boldly before the throne of grace, before God’s throne, which is an amazing concept really. And then of course in the years of renewal in the ‘70s, where we were very suspicious of this character called the Holy Spirit and decided to investigate once my parents got involved, and that investigation caused us to thoroughly search the scriptures, where we became convinced that despite having read these scriptures all our lives, they actually did mean what they said in regards to the gift, work, and activity of the Holy Spirit. So I guess it’s been an increasing immersion in Him through our lives.
It doesn’t ever stop, does it? You just keep growing.
No! I mean, I remember one of our YWAM leaders saying ‘If you believe exactly now what you believed 10 years ago, that just proves that you have not matured at all in 10 years.’ So life is an adventure, God is an adventure, there’s so much yet to discover. And I guess that’s a good thing, because we’re going to live for eternity with him and all that’s going to be discovery of more and more riches of God’s person, so exciting times ahead.
So when I listed all the things you’ve done in your life, I think people might be surprised to hear just how awful your schooling was. So I thought maybe we could talk a bit about that, because people expect – I know in the United States, when you were working there, people expected you to have a doctorate, people expect a certain level of schooling, so would you like to talk about that?
I did pass all these questions by dad before we started!
For me, I tell people I’m someone who’s educated despite the schooling, not because of it. I think I was, in some ways, a fairly typical lad – as I said, acutely self-conscious – but also someone who’s focus was outdoors, building things, experimenting with things, adventures. So I was never confident enough to wag school in body, but I wagged often in spirit. So I would sit there, gazing out the window, imagining all sorts of adventures while school passed me by. I remember my parents complaining about my Social Studies teacher, because he would at the beginning of the week give us a foolscap, Roneod page of material. A Roneo machine,or a Gestetner machine some people may remember, it was a methylated ink type goo that was squeezed out through a wax paper onto very furry absorbent paper. So the print was actually very fuzzy, it was close-typed, and close-lined, and the teacher would hand us that at the beginning of the week and say ‘Read this, and you’ll get a test at the end of the week.’ That was really it.
I enjoyed science. Science we had a young teacher who was very debonair, and quite adventurous, and science you can do something and see the results, and that excited me, so that was great. And those were the days when there were all sorts of chemicals available which are no longer available, and I remember another young lad in our class decided he might put together a little banger to stick under the teacher’s chair. So he mixed up some sodium and phosphorous and a few other things, and shook the beaker that contained those things, at which point it exploded. And he lost his hand, and a number of the kids had glass in their kidneys, so that was quite an adventure. And from that point, a lot of those chemicals are no longer available in high schools.
I think that story is one of the things that got me interested in chemistry in the first place!
Right. So I’ve always had an interest in things scientific, and I remember my English teacher saying that I had creative ability. One of my English teachers used to read poetry to us and other things, and I quite enjoyed that, but in those days if you had more than 10 spelling mistakes in any written piece of work then you automatically failed. And as I can’t spell, I failed everything written anyway, so it wasn’t actually encouraging. It’s interesting, because our son Anthony is an associate professor at Flinders and his spelling is worse than mine, but he has the advantage of growing up in the era of spellchecks. Anyway, education has advanced to some degree since I was at school. Basically, I failed high school, but I did sit an aptitude test for what was then the PMG, which devolved into Telecom and Postal, and I came about equal 12th out of 400 kids, some of whom went on to matriculate but dropped out of university because they couldn’t do it, whereas I went into the PMG training school and got proficiency payment for excellent work. But that’s because it was all practical, hands-on, and no spelling mistakes. Or you didn’t get penalised for spelling mistakes, I’m sure there were plenty. So that was fun.
I remember when you were studying later in Hawaii, the Lord sort of gave you healing from that time.
That’s right. Because studying in the School of Biblical Studies is a 9 month course in which the first couple of weeks you learn the process, which is to read through a book of the Bible in one sitting out loud. And then you read it through again and find the major changes of theme, and then you read it through again and find the minor changes of theme, and then you read it through again and find one text to summarise the whole book. And then you summarise each small section using 4 words from the text to summarise it, and then that becomes a horizontal chart and you memorise that. And that seemed very reminiscent of schoolwork to me. But I remember going up – because I failed the first test, I think I got 50-something – I didn’t actually fail but I was very disappointed with my results. I went up and sat under a gum tree and complained to the Lord about that. And He reminded me of my school days when I would take my report home. And my report always said things like ‘Disappointing result, if Johnny just tried harder.’ Which would cause my mother, who was the obviously strong person in the household, to express, in obviously strong manner, that I needed to do better. Which would get a bit awkward, so dad would crack some sort of joke and have it all pass over. But dad would say ‘Well, he always comes back with this result,’ or something to that effect. And I’d embraced that, I discovered. I’d effectively embraced a mantra of failure. And the Lord reminded me of that quite vividly, sitting under that gum tree, so I renounced that and cut it off in the name of Jesus Christ and embraced everything He had for me. And the amazing thing is, I really enjoyed studying after that.
So at the end of that course, at the end of 9 months we were asked to sit the Princeton middle of the year exam, which is what they give at Princeton to their theological students as a Bible study exam, after 4 years of theological study. And at Princeton they’re given 2 weeks to prepare, they’re given 2 hours to sit it, and 40% of them fail. And of that group, I think 40% fail when they sit it again. We were given no warning, we just walked into the lecture one morning and were told ‘You have 1 hour to do this test.’ It was 100 questions, and I think my result was 93%, and we were then allowed to substitute that for any other result throughout the 10 months and of course I substituted the first one. So that was very affirming of God’s capacity to heal.
So in between the school days and YWAM, which is when the School of Biblical Studies was, you were administrator of a children’s home. Why did you take that on?
Well, before that, we were part of Beth Shalom Community in the very early days of that organisation. And that was set up by a dear friend of ours who was a minister, who was working with alcoholics and drug addicts and people who needed a friend. We ended up believing that God was calling us into that full time ministry, so I tell my friends in Telecom that I decided I was going to work for God, not the guy who thought he was god. That was quite a leap of faith for us at that stage. It was a huge decision to make. We talked and prayed and cried a lot about that decision before we made it, but that was the pivotal one: going from a secure government position, which was comfortably paid, and having a mortgage on a house to selling our house and building on the property at Beth Shalom, and moving into a period where we had no guaranteed income at all. We were, as they say, living by faith. My brother who had his own business says he lives by faith, because he needs faith in the Lord to know which contracts to accept and not accept, so this is not saying it’s any better than any other calling that God gives. But for us it was very radically different from having a secure government position.
And I think we were at a point where God was speaking change to us, which we weren’t expecting. I remember at Beth Shalom, because we had 205 acres, and at that stage 500 sheep and a dozen cattle and 20 acres of barley, and we were very short staffed. So as well as working with people who were needy and living with us, I also had responsibility for the farm. And I remember our sheep getting lice, and the trauma of having to round them up and dig a sheep dip and build a shearing shed, because we could no longer take them off the property to be processed. Saying to God ‘I thought you called me here to work with people, and all I do is chase these stupid sheep.’ And then the Lord took me to the first Intercessors for Australia camp, which was actually held at a YWAM base and run by Noel Bell, and in that 3 weeks – which was quite significant on a whole lot of levels, spiritually not just for myself but for a whole lot of people who were there – it’s amazing to see the names of people who were at that camp in various positions of Christian leadership around the nation since then. But someone gave me a scripture there which was Nathan saying to David ‘I’ve taken you from being a follower of my sheep to being a leader of my people.’ And I remember Joy Dawson challenging us. Because a lot of the focus of that was learning to hear the voice of God, and she said – this was on Wednesday – ‘I know a lot of you are expecting to go home Friday, but I want to challenge you to seek God as to whether you go home or whether you come with me to Japan for a 1 month outreach on Saturday.’
And she said ‘I want you to go away and pray, and no answer is no answer, you’ve gotta press into God to get an answer.’ That scripture was one of the things the Lord gave me. I called Roslyn and said ‘Has the Lord said anything to you about Japan?’ Which he hadn’t. But I came back, and when I came back the community was going into retreat at Beth Shalom to see the way forward. The Lord had brought us to a place where we had to choose a leader from the mates. And Robert Legg, from the parish here at Kingston, called and said ‘I’ve just got something I need to talk to you about.’ And I said ‘Well, what is it Robert?’ and he said ‘Well, this is a bit awkward but I can’t sleep until I’ve asked you this question, and when I’ve asked you the question you can ignore it, but then I’ll be able to sleep.’ And the question was: had I considered the position of the director of Clarendon Children’s Homes? And I said ‘No, that has not even occurred to me.’ The next day another friend rang, and she said ‘Oh, I’ve been praying for you, and I believe the Lord’s telling me to say something to you but I’m not sure, I don’t want to give a false lead so can you pray that I hear the Lord correctly before I tell you what I believe He’s saying to me?’ So we did, and then she rang back the next day, and she said ‘I believe the Lord’s saying you’re to leave Beth Shalom and move to a place closer to town,’ and the thought that immediately came to Roslyn and myself was ‘Is this putting legs on the other scripture that I’d been given, and Robert’s phone call?’ And then through that whole week, we had a number of scriptures and directives as we waited in prayer with the community. At the end of that time, I went to see the bishop and I said ‘I believe the Lord might be calling me to this position. When do applications close?’ And he said ‘Well, they close today, can you put in an application?’ And I said ‘No, because I’ve agreed that’ – we hadn’t actually processed that with the community, we were just waiting for God to reveal to them what was right, without trying to pre-empt anything. So I said ‘We’ll pray about it with the community, and I’ll get back to you on Monday.’ And he said ‘Well, okay.’ I said ‘I’ll ring the Treasurer and tell him there might be a late application on Monday.’ Well when I got home and rang the Treasurer he said ‘It’s alright, the bishop’s already put in an application for you.’ It was a bishop’s appointment and it was all said and done. So we ended up at Clarendon. With great joy. Because it was so clearly what God was wanting.
Has God – I think I know the answer to this – but it’s not always that clear, is it? I mean, that’s the clearest I’ve ever heard any story, really.
No, and it’s interesting, I think part of God’s stretching of us is to cause us to exercise our faith muscles more as life goes on. You would think the more you get to know God’s voice the clearer it becomes, and that’s true in some sense. I think if you need an answer and you need it now and it’s a case of life and death then you can be sure that God’s going to give it to you. But sometimes he says ‘You need to wrestle with this one, you need to work out the pros and cons, you need to work out what is the sacrifice you’re making? Are you prepared to make it? Are you prepared to answer the call?’
For us at that time, we put the proceeds from the sale of our house into building a house at Beth Shalom. And because of the way it was set up, you can put money in you can’t take it out. So we left it all behind. So when we actually left Beth Shalom, we had our piano, and our personal effects and that was it. And that was it until recently.
And how old were you then, when you took on Clarendon?
Well, let me think. Catherine had just been born, so she’s 4 years younger than you, you’re 4 years younger than Anthony, so that’s 8 years, and we’d been married 2 years at that stage, so probably around 30.
Yeah, which is really young! And in my mind, you were old when we went to Clarendon. I’ve just realised lately, now that I’m 45, that you weren’t old when we went to Clarendon. You were really young.
My beard was black.
[laughs] Yes! Cool. So you’ve, as you say, left it all behind, we went to Clarendon, you were in a salaried position again, and then a few years there and then you left it all behind again and joined YWAM.
Clarendon was a wonderful time though. We were in community again, and one of the fascinating things there was that it was never set up to be a community, it was set up to be a children’s home. The people who were called there were called to care for kids, but community became a byproduct of working together in that ministry, and there was every bit as much community as Beth Shalom was. So, when we went there, basically there were 2 cottages with children in functioning, and a third one was leased to the government, and the first thing I did was get that back. When I left there we had 4 cottages, we had 7 foster homes, we had 3 crisis units where we took parents as well as kids, and we just saw God do such wonderful things in the Christian community around Kingborough and Taroona. Cottage parents and foster parents, one of my prerequisites was that they were all part of an active congregation. So they had their worshipping community to support them as well as the Clarendon community. Which was, in effect, a worshipping community – we always prayed together, and laughed together and cried together for the kids, so that was a wonderful time.
At the beginning of 1984 I was chosen to represent Australia at the International Council of Social Welfare study project in Japan, in Tokyo, with 7 nations. And that was a privileged position because when you go to Japan you never see that side of Japan. And from the time I got back, every time I opened the scripture it was a ‘go’ scripture. At that time we’d been members of CMS for years, I was state secretary for South American Mission Society, I’d been to the prayer camp at YWAM, we were very mission-oriented, and it became very clear that God was saying ‘go’ and I was saying ‘where?’ You know, were we to go to South Africa, were we to go to Japan, were we to go to join YWAM, or was I to go to university and get a tertiary degree in social welfare and continue in that sector? And we checked all of those out, and that was quite a long search, took about a year. And I remember my brother saying ‘Well, whenever you preach at church you always preach stuff you learned at YWAM, not in any of those other places,’ and I thought ‘Well, that’s interesting.’ So we went and looked at various other welfare situations, and I remember going to Ridley and looking at Ridley, and we went to the YWAM base in Canberra. While we were there, a couple of people I think came to us with scriptures that had been part of our ‘go’ guidance, and we just suddenly felt we were at home here. And so we put in a resignation and moved to Canberra. Did our discipleship training, School of Evangelism, and then to Hawaii for School of Biblical Studies, and 3 months around Asia which you would remember. Which included getting stranded in Singapore with no money, no visa, no nothing, and seeing the Lord provide. And then back to Canberra.
I remember that. We had nothing, and we knew we had nothing, and somebody at the base gave us a plate of chocolate chip cookies. So we just had a big party, and just celebrated, and then the next day…
We were staying on a YWAM base, and we were told that the place we were staying belonged to a family and they were coming back, and we had to get out. And I said ‘Well, where do we go?’ And they said ‘Well, there is a Christian guest house down the road.’ I said ‘We don’t have any money, but we do have a Visa card I suppose,’ although we’d decided that we would never go into debt on the Visa card. Maybe this could be an exception. And I pulled out my Visa card and discovered that it had expired the day before. And so we thought ‘Okay, this is one of those situations where God has to do something between now and tomorrow, so let’s celebrate.’ So we stopped fasting when this person knocked on the door with the plate of cookies, and enjoyed the celebration. And the Lord – I’d been ringing the airlines, because that was the other thing: we’d lost our reservation back to Australia, and we were on a wait list. And I would ring twice a day and talk to this poor girl behind the desk, and the next morning – well I talked to the YWAM leaders and they said ‘They’re not coming till tomorrow morning so you can stay tonight, but you’ll have to go in the morning.’ And the next morning I called this girl and she sounded terrible. She’d been sounding increasingly sick but she sounded terrible. I said ‘Look, sorry to bother you, but you should really be home in bed, you shouldn’t be taking my phone call.’ And she said ‘Well I wanted to wait for your call, because I wanted to tell you that you’re booked on a flight tonight back to Sydney. So the Lord did it.
It was such an obvious display of His faithfulness. So, we’re going overtime. The question at this point in the interview is ‘Do I make it a 2 week interview, or do I just go for a long 1 week interview?’ And I think it might have to be a 2 weeker, but anyway.