Professor Matt King is an award-winning scientist in the area of geodesy and geophysics. We talk about what that is, about how he lives as a Christian in the university environment, and how he balances work, home life, and ministry.
Professor Matt King is an award-winning scientist in the area of geodesy and geophysics. We talk about what that is, about how he lives as a Christian in the university environment, and how he balances work, home life, and ministry.
Mum’s told us a bit about time with YWAM and I’ve talked to a fair few YWAMers, so I’m going to skip over that. We know you came back here, led the base here, which was great because that meant that I got to meet Moz and get married which is really important to me! And then you went and joined CPAF, and lived in the United States for 10 years, and then you came back.
After 10 years, we’d seen the festival grow from 50 students to 250 students, with an international constituency – most of them were from [the United States of] America [and] Canada, but there was quite a few from Europe and Asia, including Australia – and my role was a joint role, to look after all things to do with graphics and production and promotion, and all the recording side of things. My primary role was Director of Pastoral Care, and I worked with a dozen counsellors. On the internship program I worked with a dozen arts interns on all things audio and visual. But as the ministry grew, the electronic recording and graphics side of things was becoming increasingly dominant, and I felt that we lost balance.
Praying about that one day, I had a real sense – actually, it was coming back here after Roslyn’s mother died and being at St Clements, and Robert Legg had just retired, and someone said as a bit of a joke ‘We can’t find anyone to replace Robert, you should come back here as Rector’ and I said, ‘I’ll be in that!’ And we all joked about it, and then Roslyn and I were talking about it afterwards and said ‘Why did we have such an amazing response to that?’ I mean, clearly we weren’t going to come back to replace Robert because that needed to happen immediately, but we decided to press into the Lord on that, and He showed us that things had got out of balance in my life, and I had this sense that if I was ever going to pastor a church, now was the time, because if I didn’t do it then, the time would pass too quickly. I just wouldn’t have the energy.
So we prayed into that further and we really felt that was right, and we prayed about it with you and the other family members, and then we prayed about it with our fellow board members at Masterworks and Christian Performing Artists, and some people could see it and some people couldn’t. I remember Patrick, who was our director, he found it very hard to accept. His wife could see the call, but it was the fact that we sold our house before we even advertised it I think convinced Patrick. This was just before the global financial crisis, and we invited our neighbour over to say we’ll be going, and he said ‘What are you going to do with the house?’ And I said ‘We’re going to sell it.’ And he said, ‘I know someone who’ll buy it.’ And I said, ‘Who’s that?’ And he said ‘Oh, the guy over the road.’ And I thought he was talking about a young couple who lived in an adjoining house to theirs, and he said, ‘No, I mean this guy.’ And his wife said, ‘Don’t we normally talk about these things?’ But he’d seen a number of American companies collapse, and a company he worked for was on the brink of that, and he wanted to get all his super out of superannuation and into property, and the house that we had had 3 acres with it, and so he said, ‘We can shake on this. We can agree on a price and shake on it.’
And if we had waited another six months, we would never have got the money to pay back the mortgage and second mortgage we had. So we left America totally debt free. We didn’t have any assets, we didn’t have any super, we didn’t have any savings, but we didn’t have any debt. And that was God’s grace. I rang the bishop here, and I said, ‘You don’t know me’ – because he had come to that position after we left the state – everyone around him knew us, however. And I said, ‘This is who we are, this is my life history, we’ve worked in full time ministry for 45 years, and I believe the Lord’s calling me to pastor a church, and as we’re very at home in the Anglican system we thought we’d knock on that door first.’ He said, ‘Well, 45 years of following the Lord has got to count for something in leadership. I’ve got eight parishes, take your pick.’ And then his offsider called and said, ‘There are hoops you have to jump through, of course,’ and I said, ‘That’s fine, I’m happy to jump through hoops. But I know I’m welcome to try.’ And we came back, and we applied for a position at St George’s Battery Point, because it’s close to you here, it’s close to the Conservatorium. So we chatted with them, and they were unanimous in their acceptance, and we were there until I retired.
How does that work in the formal church, compared to working in YWAM or CPAF or something para-churchy?
The trappings are very different, the Lord is the same. I remember saying to the Lord as we were processing this, ‘I’ve handled a children’s home, I’ve handled a YWAM base, I’ve handled an arts organisation, but how do I handle a church?’ And immediately the Lord brought to mind that anointed song from Camelot. [sings] ‘How to handle a woman, is to love her, simply love her.’ Love her. And I thought, ‘That’s it, that’s the key.’ And yes the church has its own culture, the denomination has its own culture, but the Lord transcends all cultures. And so for me, because I was very familiar with the Anglican scene, there wasn’t any conflict there. Because the bishop at the time was someone who was very familiar with the working of the Spirit. He himself had been a missionary in South America for 10 years. He and I had a lot in common. I enjoy employing younger people to work with me, young curates. They were such a blessing and the church grew because of what they could contribute, as well as what we did. Roslyn’s gifts were fully occupied in developing a choir and stretching them, as she is wont to do. So yes, it’s like you can pour water out of a transparent plastic bottle into a coloured glass bottle and it looks totally different from the outside, but it’s still the same water. It’s still the same Spirit, it’s still the same Lord. If you’re aware God’s calling you, then you can expect him to enable you to work through whatever coloured glass you find yourself in.
Absolutely. And just briefly, I want to say that in your retirement you now have a house again.
Yes, yes. It is amazing that when we came back to Tasmania at the end of 2006 we had our piano, which at that time was en route and they did drop it en route, and our clothes and boxes of books, but that was about it. We had nothing else. And now, because of the way the Lord has worked – I guess partly also because our lifestyle has not been extravagant, because we’ve never been able to get into the practice of being extravagant – all my salary went into the mortgage first of all on a block of land, and then being able to move a house down, has enabled us to be in a position where we are now totally debt free. We own our own home, we own a geriatric motor home, and a car, and we are very content. And we have a replaced piano which is better than the original one we dropped.
It just shows God’s faithfulness and provision, doesn’t it?
So the other big question I have here is about your struggle with depression.
Yes. Well. As you know, in the process of putting the house back together – which is a house we had cut in half with a chainsaw and relocated, and has been being reassembled ever since – I fell off the deck about 5 metres, and experienced quite significant injuries which put me out of action physically for about 6 months. And I remember talking to my doctor, saying, ‘Can you get post-traumatic stress from these sort of events?’ And he said, ‘Well, you’re hiding things well.’ But he referred me to a psychologist who said – after we talked for an hour, and he gave me a test to do – he said, ’10,000 students answer these questions exactly the way you do, and they’ve all been clinically assessed as having severe depression.’ So there’s five levels of severe depression and then there’s a few more levels of chronic depression, and below that a few levels of minor depression. And he said, ‘I knew that as soon as you walked in,’ and I said, ‘Well that could have saved us a couple hours. How did you know that?’ He said, ‘Well you tripped over the step, you bumped into the doorframe, your peripheral hearing is incredibly reduced, and your attention is somewhat limited’ and I thought, ‘Oh, okay. All those things ring true.’ And so we then proceeded on a process of therapy to get to the root of that. Which was all very helpful.
But I realised returning to church, that in my congregation I knew of three people who were struggling with mental health issues that were more severe than mine, so I assumed there were probably others as well. And I thought it was totally disingenuous to get up and preach as though there was no problem when I clearly had a problem similar to what they had. So I got up and shared that, as everyone knew about my physical injuries, I also needed to share that I had been diagnosed with chronic severe depression, and was undergoing treatment for that, which did not in any way challenge my faith in God.
God’s healed me miraculously on the physical side of things, I no longer need to wear an aluminium frame and use a walker and all that, and he’s healed me on the depression angle too. It was a process in both cases, as it often is.
But after I shared that with the congregation, about five people came to me and personally thanked me, and three of those confessed that they knew that they needed to get help and they had been avoiding that, and my willingness to share that had enabled them to take the plunge. All of which I was very grateful for.
And I think it’s interesting that you didn’t just go to Christian counsellors, or to Christian whatever – the help that you got was from a psychologist who wasn’t actually a Christian.
No, he wasn’t, but we had lots of good talks. He was actually of Jewish extraction, but he would say he’s an atheist. But we did spend quite a bit of time talking about the similarities between Buddhist philosophy and the philosophy of Solomon, as exposed in Ecclesiastes and the book of Proverbs, and we talked about the nature of the Trinity, and even though he was a Jew he had no clue really about the Gospel of Jesus. Because he’d always written that off. So I then encouraged another minister friend of mine to go to him for therapy because once I’d got well enough not to need it, he still needed to hear more of the Gospel.
But he would never suggest I do anything in terms of therapy without explaining exactly what it was, the part of the brain it was affecting, what was actually happening in this therapy, so there was no blind faith in any of that, as there is no blind faith in the Gospel. We believe what we believe because we know it to be true, and because of the evidence that is there which is very clear. And so I demanded the same of him in his therapy and he was very willing to give it.
Fantastic. Alright. So that brings us to our last two questions: when do you feel close to God?
Well, when I’m really desperate, like I’ve got a sermon to prepare for the healing service and I need to get it done, and I am crying out to the Lord, and he may direct me to a particular scripture and I think, ‘I never saw that before in that scripture. I’ve read it 100 times.’ So times like that.
Times when I’m on my own in nature. I know a lot of people have that experience, I guess. And times when I really don’t know what to do, often in terms of dealing with a counselling crisis, or relational crisis, sometimes I just have to trust that I’m going to open my mouth and say what God gives me. And when I know God’s active in that situation, suddenly I feel really close to God. It can be quite profound.
And sometimes I just have to take it on faith that He’s there, because I don’t feel anything. I might be physically or emotionally too exhausted to feel anything, and have to go ahead trusting God anyway. But sometimes there is a real, almost tangible sense of God’s presence.
Fantastic. And what’s one thing about God or Christianity you wish everyone knew?
That He really, really, really loves them. I think, you know, everyone knows God is love. What does that mean? When you’re hurt by someone you really love, you realise how much you really love them. I see quite often people who have been hurt by a spouse or a child or something, and they didn’t know they could be so hurt. And they are so hurt because they so love. And I wish people could understand that that’s how much God loves them. ‘God is love’ is so easy to say, and the cross is such a well known symbol and story, I think it sometimes loses its impact for people who’ve been part of the nominal church and heard it all their lives, it just has no impact at all. But I really wish people could understand that God really, really loves them.
Me too. Thank you very much for sharing with us.
It’s a pleasure.
This is the second half of the interview with my Dad. We start in the USA and then come back home to Tasmania to talk about Dad’s ministry in the Anglican church. We also discuss Dad’s depression and how he realised he needed to be real about that with his congregation and how important that was.
We see many more instances of God’s faithfulness and his love for his people.
I am taking a break from the podcast for a little while but there will be more interviews shortly. Make sure you’re subscribed so that you see us pop up when I’m back.
For more on CPAF and the performing arts festival you can listen to the interview with Mum (Roslyn) or go to https://masterworksfestival.org/
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.
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.