Today’s guest is Richard. Richard and I (and Moz, in fact) became friends way back in high school, we were just talking about it, I have the best friends from high school. And Richard actually taught Moz how to juggle in high school.
A skill for life.
Yep. It’s actually been very helpful.
And then, as should be expected, Richard ran off and joined the circus. And I have more than one friend who has run off and joined the circus. And now Richard does something more ‘normal’ for a job.
Richard and his wife Eunju and two teenage boys live in Sydney, and he’s back here in Tassie to visit family for Christmas. So I have seized the opportunity to interview Richard for the podcast. He’s had about eight hours to think deeply about my questions while riding bikes madly around Hobart. So let’s see what happens.
So Richard, welcome. It’s good to have you with us.
Thank you very much, it’s good to be here.
How did you become a Christian?
As you mentioned I ran away from home and joined a circus, well, started a circus with three other people, really. I’d like to think of it as a small business in the entertainment industry. But no, it was a circus.
A terrible thing to have to put on your CV.
So on the way back from running away to the circus, I was on a boat between Melbourne and Devonport, The Abel Tasman. Ran into a lady who was not a Christian, but was also struggling with her girlfriend in the same way as I was struggling with mine. So it was a weird conversation. But not out of the ordinary for that stage of life I think. There were a lot of odd things that were happening and this was one of those. Looking back it does seem a bit odd.
And as I was speaking to her, I kind of got this sense that I was speaking to myself, and to her. It wasn’t quite an out-of-body experience but I was sort of sitting back in the back of my head and listening to what I was saying.
And I remember speaking about the hope, future, and destiny that we have in Christ. And the work that he did on the cross.
So where had you heard that stuff?
I must have heard it somewhere. Or maybe not.
Right, so it really, really came out of nowhere?
It did come a little bit out of nowhere. There’s a lot of space between my ears, so somewhere in there I suspect there was some things of a heavenly nature at work I would think.
People had prayed for me for a number of years. And my grandmother was a very strong believer. And of course, there were you guys at school and a number of other mad energetic people that had been running around.
So I was kind of taken aback a bit by this. Not too surprised, but I went away and mulled it over in my own mind, thinking OK, well, if that was true then I was going to sign up for that. So I think my entire thought process was, ‘God if you are, in fact, there, then if it is like you say it is, then I’m in.’ And took some time to unpack that and apply it to life later on. But yes, that was the initial step.
Did you find that you had people to help you through the unpacking process?
Yes, I probably didn’t realise at the time that I needed them as much as I actually ended up. I was coming into a very different circle of friends. I had one very good friend who actually helped interpret the event without telling me exactly what had happened. He was very careful about that so that it was something that I owned, and not him. Very wise, retrospectively looking at it.
And I remember saying to him, ‘Well, if I am a Christian. If. Very big If.’ because I really didn’t like the label very much. ‘What do we do now?’
And he says, ‘Oh well, Christians go to YWAM meetings.’
That’s Youth With A Mission, that was fairly big at that stage. The meeting, yeah.
And apparently that happens on Tuesday nights in North Hobart. So that’s where I ended up.
And I asked him some years later why didn’t he tell me to go to church because that’s where Christians normally go. And he said, ‘I don’t think you would have been ready for church, and more importantly, I’m not sure they would have been ready for you.’
So it was quite interesting.
And along the way I think having people help understand, perhaps not the community that I’d come in to but helping me to understand who I was in that context was really important. So nobody actually told me to change anything. I remember looking back thinking, ‘Nobody actually said you have to do this, or you have to do that.’ It was very sort of demonstrating how it all works.
I mean, I spent a lot of time in your parents house. Maybe too much.
I don’t think so.
But it was interesting, I was coming from a background where I didn’t understand what—people would talk about ‘pentecost’ and I thought that must be something to do with a poltergeist, or an exegesis must be an anti-Christ. And Paul preaching to the genitals was completely out of my understanding and world view.
So to have people around to kind of walk through how that change in your life actually applies going forward was really important.
I’m trying to remember, was YWAM for you the next step? Did you head off to do a DTS (Discipleship Training School)?
Yeah. So also a very confusing process. They gave you a form that required a reference from your pastor. I couldn’t imagine why spaghetti would be writing in the first place. I had no idea of anything.
It probably would have been six months, then I went off to do a DTS in Newcastle. Very much guided by my desire to do something for Jesus.
I decided I would be a baker for Jesus at one stage. The learning there was that you can’t keep burning cakes and cheese-and-bacon rolls, and still be a baker for Jesus. So it was at that stage that I concluded that I’d do something different.
So you need to find something to do that fits who you are?
Who I am, exactly.
So yes, that was a very interesting process of really just getting sacked from the last bakery I worked at, after setting his mother-in-law’s birthday cake on fire. And pretty much sulking on a beach all afternoon. And then woke up to somebody calling my name. Couldn’t see anyone around. Headed back to the place I was staying, which was my grandmother’s place. And felt like I needed to jump in the car and drive up to Sandy Bay and I didn’t know whether it was to meet somebody or pick something up, for some reason I had to go there.
So I showed up there. A lady met me, she said, ‘Oh, you must be here for this.’ And handed me a brochure. Which was the brochure about Discipleship Training Schools in Australia.
So I took that, drove 50 km back down to Dunally, sat on the veranda and looked at my brochure. And Newcastle jumped off the page and I thought, ‘Great! I’d love to go to Western Australia!’
Not knowing that Newcastle was actually not there.
Life’s been just one big long learning experience, hasn’t it?
Yeah. we’re kind of starting from a low level base there. But yes.
Cool, so you were in missions for a while?
Um, yeah. People say it’s ‘in mission’ but that’s something I never saw it as. And it’s kind of interesting because to me it was just living out what you believe. I didn’t see it as particularly different from what everybody was supposed to do.
I remember quite clearly looking at the application form for the DTS and it said, ‘Tell us a bit about how God called you to do the DTS so we can help you pray through it’. And I thought to myself, ‘That must be for people who aren’t sure.’ So I never sent off my application form because I was completely sure that God had called me. There wasn’t much of a question.
So it was just kind of following the bouncing ball.
I was with YWAM in Newcastle for about three years. We did a lot of youth ministry. Which was kind of interesting.
Circus skills would have come in handy there?
Circus skills came in handy. We ran ‘Lunchtimes with a Difference’ programs and another program for kids during the holidays called ‘Breakout’ and we just, it was in the good old days when you could just run around and do anything on a school campus. We would get sued these days for a lot of things that we did. Throwing earth balls around and things.
It was really good, for me I just threw myself into everything.
And what happened after that three years?
I got married.
So I met my wife, it was at that point that I decided that probably I needed a job. Only because I needed to do things like pay rent. Which I had managed to do myself earlier but I thought now that there were two of us I should be a bit more serious about that.
I remember asking God, ‘What do we do next?’ so we went on our honeymoon. I think we got down to our last twenty bucks. I had a great best man who actually paid for bits of my wedding that I perhaps should have paid for. We spent a month driving around Tassie in a very, very old car that worked most days of the week. Much to my wife’s complete delight, not.
This is what life is going to be like from here on in.
Then I went back to Newcastle and we managed to find a place through a friend of a friend and somehow we got the bond money together. And then it was a matter of figuring out what to do from there. We sat around for a few days wondering what God would have us do next. Thinking that there would be a next.
I looked across the road, saw a place that built computers and did IT networking and stuff. Coming from a circus background I thought I was well-qualified so I rang them up and asked for a job. They said, ‘No’.
Yes, you can’t believe it can you?
So I just rang them up every day for two weeks. And eventually ended up speaking to their general manager. A guy called John Smith (generically enough). And it turned out that we had a common friend somewhere along the line. It was him and the sales manager, I think, knew somebody that I knew. So it was quite interesting.
He says, ‘Do you have a shirt and tie? Come in on Monday and we’ll speak.’
I didn’t have a shirt and tie but I thought the correct answer was yes, so I said, ‘Yes’. Then went about securing a shirt and tie from my pastor who was the only person I knew who wore a shirt and tie.
So I borrowed his and went in and had a chat and eventually landed a job there in the stores, packing boxes. And unpacking them.
And from that beginning to your work experience, what do you do now work wise?
Workwise I’m working as a program manager on a digital transformation program for a company that does hearing solutions. I’ve just recently started that job, before that I was messing around in banking and financial services, credit risk management systems. So all the time working with IT teams to deliver projects I suppose would be the way to look at it. Keeping people everyday convinced that I know the next step. Of which often I don’t. I hope none of them are listening.
You never know.
So it’s just been a step-by-step let’s follow what’s in front of me process for you?
Yeah, so the way I look at it is: everything I need to know I learned on my DTS. Which was just, ‘Ask God what the next step is, and do that.’
As you get older you get more, what’s the word? You get more serious, and you start to consider the consequences longer and all that sort of thing. But generally the principle is the same. It’s ‘What do we do next? We sit down. We say to God, “We’re not sure what to do next. We’re pretty sure you are. That’s what makes you God and me not. What next?”’
And sometimes the answer is clear and sometimes it’s not but you can kind of see, yes. Retrospectively you can see God’s fingerprints all over life.
And in the workplace I do exactly the same thing. So when we went and worked in the Middle East for a while and I was in banking and finance and IT there as well. Exactly the same thing, step by step, I applied the same principles that I learned on my DTS which was really obedience to God and being open to the world around you.
Not a, what I would describe as a monastery mentality but more a ‘run out of the upper room’ mentality and into the streets.
I remember the whole thing of Jesus borrowing someone’s boat when he spoke to the crowd. And when you think about all the things that Jesus had, he could have probably mustered up a boat but instead he chose to ask somebody who owned a boat, for a boat. Not because he particularly needed to do that but that was his connection, if you like.
And I think it’s those points of connection in your day to day life that really channels the Jesus through us. God will use your mundane life, whether you’re working in IT, or messing around in schools, or being a librarian, or whatever else people do. You just use those connections, those natural connections.
I try to be fairly intentional about that. Not always successfully but yeah.
Can you tell me about maybe a work conversation you’ve had with somebody?
For me talking to people outside the church is really easy. So I find that quite easy. Dealing with Christians is more difficult. Even though I probably appreciate being connected into the body of Christ. I think that’s really important and if you’re not then that’s probably something that’s worth having a look at.
But the chance to outwork the relationship that you have with Christ in a church environment can be somewhat difficult. Because it’s kind of all expected. Whereas non-Christians and people that are yet to be churched are somewhat more open to that sort of stuff in some ways.
It was interesting at work there was another guy who was a colleague in another team but he’s a manager as well. Naturally I said something that offended him, which is not uncommon. Some of my best friends are people that I’ve initially offended. (A working example of forgiveness.)
Gives us all opportunity.
But it was quite interesting because I’d said something in a meeting and he was quite offended by that. And I noticed that. And I said to him afterwards, ‘Look, I know that you’re a believer as well aren’t you?’ And he said, ‘Yep.’ Just the way he held himself, or I don’t know what it was.
And we sat down and we talked about what it was that I’d said, and I basically apologised for it. And over the next couple of days, it was quite interesting, he came back to me and he said that was quite profound for him because he said, ’In the work place we can have different opinions, but we’re still part of the body of Christ.’
And I found that quite powerful to hear that coming from another Christian. It’s often easy for non-Christians to say, ‘The way you did that is really different.’ But for a Christian person to come and say, ‘I appreciate the way you dealt with that situation’ for me, was fantastic.
What would you say to someone who talks about the sacred and secular divide?
I don’t think there is one. I think they are really unhelpful constructs. For me, I don’t wake up in the morning and decide to be sacred or secular. I’m schizophrenic enough probably without that. But I think it’s wrong to, not wrong, but I think it’s unwise in many ways to stand on our Christianity as being the right way for everybody all the time. Because what that tends to do is to take the focus off us understanding the other people and more onto a soapbox sort of thing.
You know, voting in a particular direction just because that’s what Christians do. Or working in particular environments because that’s where Christians work. Those sorts of things I struggle with a bit.
I struggle even with Christian schooling. Even though I think it is really good. I struggle with the idea of separation from a world that actually needs light and salt. So for me, I feel like I’ve got to be out there being salty and light. Maybe more salty.
And I always remember the parable about the yeast. How a little bit of the yeast affects the whole dough. So even when it feels like you’re outnumbered and it feels like you’re being ineffectual and you’re probably not doing anything, I reckon the fact that you’re actually out there in the dough probably means that you are being effective. You just can’t see that yet.
So yeah, I’m not sure there is a divide.
Nice. I like that.
When do you feel closest to God?
That’s a good question. When I started the Christian walk I felt really close with God. Like, I could look at an application form and know that that’s not for you because God had already spoken to you. Life was a buzz at that stage and I always felt God was pretty close and everything was about him and what he was doing in my life and that sort of stuff, and what I was supposed to do next.
And I think over time that changes. It becomes more natural than that over time. And it becomes more normal. So after you do that for about twenty-something years it’s probably not new and exciting anymore. It’s just really, really exciting still. But not so new.
So I think there are times I guess where, I dunno, it’s probably when things are not going well that I feel quite close to God, to be honest. Certainly when I’m speaking to somebody who isn’t part of the body that just maybe hasn’t had the opportunity to hear about Jesus. Talking to somebody like that and sharing the story and then responding to that is really, really good. You think, ‘That’s where the God is in things’.
I suppose the other time is when you’re just feeling, for me I struggle with self-doubt. Which is odd because I’m a very introverted sort of chap. And there are times when I just sit down and say to God, ‘This is how I’m feeling.’ And connect back to God through acknowledgement of how I’m feeling about things. And that’s not very much. It’s not very Australian. But it is something that brings me back.
It’s something I do all the time.
And I’m very introverted too, so there you go.
That’s right. In those situations.
What’s one thing about God or Christianity that you wish everybody knew?
I think for me it’s about, it’s happening. I think there’s some times where we can think, ‘Yeah this is just some pocket of people sitting over in a corner feeling something about Jesus.’ But I think globally, what I’ve seen as I’ve travelled and I’ve talked to people from different places, and seen God do different things in different places, we’re part of something much, much bigger.
And then when you look at the historical perspective, you look at God’s unfolding story for humankind. From when Adam was a boy, all the way through to where we are today, and you can see God weaving stuff together through history.
One of the things that really opened up for me was some of the verses out of Corinthians that date back to about 60 years after the resurrection and it’s where Paul’s talking about the testimony of the prophets and the resurrection and then the Gospel was preached to the five hundred some of whom are still living, and all that kind of stuff. (1 Corinthians 15:3–8)
And when you actually look at that from a historical text perspective and you realise that was actually written in the lifetime of people who would have remembered Jesus and would have remembered the resurrection. And there’s a real context there in that Jesus was actually a real person in Roman-occupied Palestine and he had some real issues to deal with. A bunch of people didn’t like him.
And all of the stuff that we thing is really important stuff — regime changes and those sorts of things — were not his agenda at all.
And I suppose the grace and the freedom through that is just really, really amazing.
When I first started out it was something that was very personal and it was God working in my life. And then you can start to see God working in the lives of other people, and then God working in the lives of other nations, and then God in the light of history.
And I think even though it’s really big he’s still got that place for each one of us to do our part. And I think if you take that and live it out loud … that’s what you should do, I think.
Not very theological I know.
You don’t know where it’s going to take you, it’s exciting. It’s the life with the meaning and the purpose in it.
I think probably, take the step.
I can’t remember too many people that I’ve seen that have done stupid things for God, and then regretted it. Take a step in faith, knowing that God’s got the next one.
I think sometimes particularly as we get older and have more responsibilities and stuff we probably move a little slowly. But I guess there are seasons as well and God’s revealing different sorts of stuff to us.
But I’d encourage anyone who has got half an inkling that God’s telling them to do something, do it. Let him figure out the rest of it later.
You don’t have to join the circus, just do it.
That’s cool, it’s very encouraging.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much.