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6. June 1993 – June 2004: Sydney Australia

Chapter 6

June 1993 to June 2004: Sydney, Australia

The Land Down Under: Another world

After a short stay in the Philippines, we set off for Austra­lia. Around that time, our sister church in Melbourne was hosting a church camp, and they wel­comed the Sydney group to join them. Our coworkers from Sydney and some of the core mem­bers joined the camp. So instead of flying straight to Sydney, we flew from Manila to Melbourne to join the camp.

Once we landed in Melbourne, we immediately realized that we had entered a different world. Prior to our arrival in Australia, we had always thought that summer begins in June. While in the Philippines, we exper­ienced hot and hum­id sum­mery weather. But once we got off the plane, we immediately felt the contrast in temperature because it was winter in Aust­ralia. Our Melbourne coworker picked us up and I felt that we were driving on the wrong side of the road. Again it was because the driving direction was opposite to what we were accus­tomed to in North America. Somehow we sensed that God was lead­ing us to start everything anew. Taking up the work in Sydney would be a life challenge that involved a new mentality and new ideas. It would be a good training ground for us to be led by God’s Spirit and we were excited to accept the challenge.

The next day, we were whisked off to the camp site. It was even colder there. So it was kind of funny to experience win­ter in Down Under. Although it did not reach subzero temp­era­tures, it was enough to make us shiver even with all our warm clothes on. But the reception at the camp warmed our hearts. We were introduced to the Sydney group core mem­bers. Actually we had already made acquain­tance with a few of them while in Hong Kong and Canada. They went to Sydney to further their studies and later became migrants in Australia. So we looked forward to take over the Sydney work from our coworkers.

After the camp, we set off for Sydney by car. Our coworkers asked me to drive in order to get used to the roads. It felt weird with the steering on the right side of the car. Thank God there wasn’t much traffic on the road. I made a couple of wrong turns, and almost ran into the on­coming traffic, scaring my passengers. In the end, I was able to find my sense of direction in driving the Australian way and arrived in Syd­ney safe and sound.

From short term mission to long term commitment

The Sydney group was very small and we had already met the main core members in the camp, so our coworkers spent only a few more days in Sydney with us before heading back to Hong Kong for their new assign­ment. There were four Christ­ians in the group and the rest were mainly family members and a few students. In Hong Kong, we used to serve in a bigger church with over 100 people. Even our Bible study group ex­ceeded 20. Here in Sydney, I would be thrilled if we had about 20 in attendance including the occasional drop-ins. Some­times it would dwindle to just 7 in attendance. We prayed to God to grant us patience and strength not to lose heart in building the work in Sydney. It was a humbling exper­ience and a real challenge for me to share the word of God faith­fully week in and week out whether we had a few or many attend­ees.

We were supposed to serve short-term in Sydney, get the church regist­ered, train up the core group to be lay leaders, and then hand the work over to other coworkers.

While we were in Hong Kong, we had a team of coworkers who took turns preaching. But in Sydney, we were by ourselves in minis­tering the word of God. Being trained in pro­ject management during all the years of my professional career before serving God full time, I immediately calculated the number of messages and number of Bible studies I needed to conduct during my ministry in Sydney. After an hon­est evaluation, I felt confident about serving the church with all that I had. I also thanked God for granting me so many pre­vious spir­itual experiences that I could draw upon to share.

However, due to the expansion of our church’s ministries world­wide, there weren’t any coworkers who could replace us af­ter we had completed our objectives. We had to extend our stay in Australia to continue to build up the church. That posed a real pro­blem to me. The problem was that we had only a handful of people to start the church. They were so eager for spiritual nourishment that they grabbed every op­portunity to listen to our sharing. I had to share the word of God to the same group of people attend­ing the Sunday serv­ices and Bible stud­ies, and even at dinners and outings, and on practi­cally every occasion. After our first term of service, it almost drained my entire resources and I feared that I had nothing more to give.

Rely on past experiences or depend daily on God

Then I realized how shallow my spiritual life was. In my first year in Sydney, I had not relied entirely on God to supply my “service” materials. I relied mostly on past experiences rat­her than daily dependence on God alone.

Frankly, in the early stages of the ministry, at times I felt I had nothing more to feed the flock with. In my second year of ser­vice, I still tried to do it “My Way”! I would go to a Christian bookstore and buy some books. My intention was not to read them for devotional pur­poses but to get preaching material. At one point, I even resolved to conduct a book review as my preaching, hoping that it might sound good and challenging to the congregation. But deep inside my heart, I knew that I was only imparting knowledge.

There is a vital difference between imparting knowledge and imparting life. When one passes on knowledge, the re­cip­­ient hears it and it registers in the mind, yet it brings little effect on one’s life. So we first need to internalize the word of God through faith in prac­ticing what we have learned. After that, we can share with our hearers the reality of the word of God in our lives. Only then will the hearer be imparted with life. In other words, the knowledge received must go through a pro­cess of spiritual regurgitation in order to produce life. When we experience the depth of God’s word, we can repro­duce life.

Time flew by, and we ended up serving a total of 11 years in Sydney. I tried my best to preach and share the word of God week in and week out. I oftentimes had to beg our heavenly Father to feed me first and grant me insight into His word so that I could feed His people. It was like sojourning in the wilderness. I was like a dry and thirsty land longing for the morning dew and daily susten­ance of water to quench my thirst. It was an uncom­fort­able feeling at first not to depend on my own self. But gradually, I learned the vital principle of spiritual life: Not I but Christ. As Paul in 1 Corin­thians 2:1-5, I made up my mind to know nothing but Christ, follow­ing in his footsteps and drawing close to God. In other words, whatever hindered my devotion to God, including even my past spiritual exper­iences, I would count it as nothing in order to be renewed daily by the grace of God.

Time and time again, God’s grace did not fail and He granted me new insight and wonderful experiences to share with the people just when I thought I had nothing more to give. During our 11 years of service, by God’s wonderful grace and mercy, we built up the min­istry from a handful of people to a gathering of about 100 at­tendees. We witnessed God’s power of transform­ation in people’s lives and learned a lot during our ministry in Sydney. We would like to share with you some of those wonderful moments of how we ex­perienced God’s unfailing love.

The borrowed car

The car that we drove back to Sydney from Melbourne act­ually be­longed to a sister who had left for the Full Time Training in Hong Kong. During her absence, she was very kind to offer her car to the coworkers in Sydney. Because we were taking over the work in Sydney, we also continued using her car. But she would soon com­plete her training and return to Melbourne in a few months’ time. So we had to look for another car to replace hers as well as return her car in the best condition.

After we had gone on a trip to attend a coworkers’ meet­ing, and as we were on our way back from Melbourne to Sydney, we felt the car having a problem in changing gears (the car is a standard drive). It was still a long way from home, about 200 kms. We prayed that we would not be stranded on our way, and so we drove at a steady pace with­out changing the gears too much. Thank God, although it took longer than usual, we managed to make it back to Sydney. The next day, we took the car to a mechanic recom­mended by a sister in the church. It was a costly repair job.

A few days later, when we came home from our Bible study, we saw a young man fixing the stairway’s light in our apartment build­ing. We thought that he was one of our neigh­bors living in the same apartment building. We greeted him and thanked him for fixing the light. We asked if he lived in the apartment building, but he said he lives at an­other apart­ment block opposite ours. He saw that some young kids were hanging around our apartment block in the middle of the night when our ground floor stairway’s light went bust. He felt it was unsafe for those who lived in our apartment if they came home late at night. So he came over and fixed the light for us. What a wonderful neighbor! We asked him if he was a Christ­ian. He said no but his mother was a Christian. He is Arm­enian and his name is Tony. We told him we were church workers. We became friends with him, and later found out that he was a car mechanic. We told him that we just had our car fixed for $800. He was surprised when we told him what was fixed. He said that it should cost at most half the price. In any case, he volun­teered to inspect our car the next day.

It was no joke. The next day, he hollered from downstairs and asked me to come down so that he could examine my car. We said we would pay him whatever it would cost to fix the car. He told us he would do it for free because he regarded us as friends. Since that day, every now and then, he would come over and fix my car. I served him coffee, and acted as an apprentice when­ever he needed my assistance. I recorded the time he spent so that I could repay him. When he knew that I had to send the car back to Melbourne to the original owner, he even arranged for a paint job so that the car looked new. Apart from the paint job and the spare parts which I paid, he never asked for his labor costs. I counted the total hours he had spent, and it added up to over 20 hours in 6 weeks’ time. I couldn’t afford to pay him as a car mechanic. But I managed to come up with $200 and humbly asked him to accept what I could afford. He stared at me and refused to accept a cent.

We sent the car back to Melbourne just in time for the sister who had come back from the Full Time Training. When she and her fam­ily received the car, they couldn’t even recog­nize that it was her own car. It looked like new and drove like new. It was a good testim­ony to her family that we were good stewards of the car we borrowed. That reminded us of what Jesus said in

Luke 16:10 He who is faithful in a very little thing is faith­ful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.

We learned to be faithful in small things so that God would entrust us with greater things.

Our first owned car

The church brethren knew that we had to send the car back to Melbourne and that we needed to buy another one. So they took out from the reserve fund a sum of $4000 to buy a used car. Our friend Tony offered to find a car for us. No sooner had we sent the car back to Melbourne than Tony found a used vehicle for us. It was a clean and basic 11-year-old car with standard shift and no air-conditioning. Tony repaired it into top shape and the car cost us a total of $3800. We were happy with the car although in the sizzling sum­mer, it was real­ly hot to drive after leaving the car under the sun for a few hours.

An upgraded car

But Tony was not pleased with the car. He told us that he would find us a better car with automatic shift and air con­ditioning. We told him not to worry about that. After we had been driving the car for about 18 months, suddenly Tony called us one day and said he had found the perfect car for us. He asked us to sell the first car. We did not want to bur­den the church financially with an upgrade, so we declined his offer. But he persisted and told us that we could resell our car for $4300 which would just cover the cost of the other car. But how could we sell our car at a higher price than what we had paid after driving it for more than a year? Tony told us that the car was actually worth more than $3800 but he did not include his commiss­ion when he sold the car to us. He kept on asking us to sell the car and finally we told him to give us a week to sell it. We committed the mat­ter in prayer: if we could really sell the car within a week for $4300, we would consider the replace­ment.

In the first few days, only a couple of people inquired about the car but did not even come to inspect it. Then on Thursday after­noon, we received a call and a couple wanted to take a look at the car. They came and test drove it. They were interested in the car but made no commitment. Fri­day was the deadline we promised Tony: unless we sold the car by Friday, we would not accept his offer of getting the other car. By Friday noon, there was still no deal. We thought that God had closed the door on this, and we were at peace with it. Sud­denly early afternoon, the same couple called and wanted to see the car again. They came a­round 3:00 pm and did another thor­ough check of the car. Finally they made us an offer and we settled for $4300. God once again answered our prayers. That was exactly what we needed to ex­change for the other car, which was also an 11-year-old car but with automatic shift and air-conditioning. We took the car to the car insurance company to appraise it for the insurance. It was appraised at $5500. Again Tony got us a real good bar­gain and of course he didn’t take a cent as commission.

We drove the car for a couple of years. One summer, we went back to Canada for a home visit. We lent the car to a brother in the church who was in need of a car. After we came back from our trip, the brother returned the car and he had it polished neat and clean. We thanked him for keeping our car so well, and as usual, we parked it in our parking lot. The next morning when we looked out the window, to our horror the car disappeared! Mean­while, we had a couple of coworkers from Hong Kong who were staying with us. We went separate ways in search of our car. We realized that the car was stolen after our brother had polished the car so neat and clean. We finally had to go to the police station to report the missing car.

The church brethren were kind enough to arrange a car for us while Tony looked for another car. Two weeks passed and in the middle of the night at 3:00 am, we received a call from the police saying that they had found our car and that we had to go to fetch the car immediately. We called our dear friend Tony and he immediately came over to pick me up and then we went to fetch the car at the location reported by the police. Indeed we found the car, but literally every­thing inside was stolen, includ­ing the seats. Tony had a small stool stored inside the back trunk of his car, and he used it as a seat to drive my car while I drove his car and we went back to his apartment.

The next day, we called the car insurance company and the appraiser came to inspect the car. It was written off and I re­ceived $5000 for the stolen vehicle. God works in myster­ious ways. The value of my car appre­ciated rather than depreciated.

Act of God

We did not want to burden the church brethren in their lending us a car at their own inconvenience. Again we com­mitted the matter to God and hoped that we could get another car as soon as possible. It was already three weeks since our car was stolen and Tony still could not find a suit­able car for us. We started to get a bit worried. Then sud­denly Tony asked me to go with him to see a car. It was in our neighborhood, and when I looked at the car, it was better than the two vehicles that we had had. I thought it would cost us dearly. Tony told me to keep silent while he bar­gained with the owner. He was indeed an expert in car mech­anics. He pointed all the faults to the owner and the owner kept on agreeing with Tony. In the end, he bargained the asking price of $5000 down to $3500. When we took it to the car insurance company for appraisal, it was appraised at $6000.

We had the car for about a year. Then one evening, we went to our Bible study meeting in the city. Suddenly there was a catastrophic hail storm. It was the worst hail storm ever recorded in Sydney and it caused billions of dollars of damage. Unfortun­ately, our car was parked on the street and the whole car was punched by hailstones. We brought it to the insurance company and again it was a total write-off. We were paid the full amount of $6000 for the damage.

Pay back in full

We had to trouble Tony again to find us another car. To make the long story short, with the insurance money he up­graded us to a better car again, and we kept it until we left Sydney, at which time a sister in the church bought it from us for $4000. We had served in Sydney 11 years. It was never our intent­ion but somehow we changed cars a few times. The church gave us $4000 for our first car and also a basic monthly car allowance. Apart from that, all those years we never bur­dened the church for any car expense including car insurance, main­tenance, and gas. When we left, we returned $4000 to the church in full. We owe our gratitude to our dear friend Tony. He maintained every car we had, and would always find us a better bargain each time we had to change to another car. We also deeply appreciate the church brethren who arranged a car for us to use while Tony was helping us find a car. But we knew all along that it was God who took care of our daily needs.

From house to house

During the 11 years we served in Sydney, we moved a few times. Each time it was God who directed us to move to another premise.

The coworkers whom we replaced lived in a one-bedroom unit in Sydney. After we arrived in Sydney from Melbourne, through the kindness of the church brethren we stayed with a church family while our coworkers were still with us for a few days. We moved into their unit after they left Sydney for Hong Kong for a new assignment.

Family visits

Our families in Canada were all excited to know that we had moved to “Down Under” for the new work, and were eager to come for a visit. Our first family visitor was my niece Yvonne who visited just shortly after we had settled in Sydney. She came for a few days and stayed with us in the small apartment. We did our best to entertain her in Sydney while we were still unfamiliar with the city. She has a kind heart and was content to go along with us wherever we took her while we were also exploring the city. One of the high­lights was to go to the zoo and cuddle a koala. That was memorable. Soon after that, it was forbidden to hold a koala because it induced fear in the cute and delicate animal.

A few months had gone by and we received news that Kathleen’s mom, her sister Bella, and Bella’s husband Richard would come for a visit in December. We welcomed their coming, but we were faced with a couple of practical issues. First was transportation. We had just returned the car to Mel­bourne, and Tony, our dear mech­anic friend, had yet to find us another car. Then we had the problem of accom­modation. We puzzled over how our small one-bedroom apartment could ac­commodate all five of us. We had to com­mit the matter to our Heavenly Father in prayer.

Timely deliverance of the car

Only a couple of days before their arrival in Sydney, our mech­anic friend Tony gave us a call in late evening. It sounded urgent and he wanted to meet with us immediately. We thought it must be some­thing serious, so we dropped everything and went down to wait for his arrival. Soon we saw him driving a red car, and he stopped right in front of us. He picked us up and drove away. We asked him what the urgency was. He just giggled and asked how I liked the car. It was a standard shift and it felt good. He told me that this was the car for us. He got it fixed and it cost $3800 in total, just within our budget. What a pleasant surprise! We thanked him for getting us a car, and more so, we thanked our Father who once again delivered what we needed in the nick of time. A couple of days later, we were able to use the car to pick up Kathleen’s mom, sister, and brother-in-law.

An unexpected offer of accommodation

In November 1993, we received a call from a Mel­bourne coworker who told us that one of our Singapore coworkers had an auntie living in Sydney. He asked if we could get in touch with her. We contacted this auntie and introduced ourselves as friends of our Singapore coworker. The auntie sounded very warm in receiving our call and wanted to meet with us. So we set a time to meet together for lunch. We called her Auntie Doris, and she was also a sister in the Lord. She was kind to us and treated us for lunch. Some­how there was a strong bond of love within us because we were in the family of God.

A few weeks had gone by and suddenly we received a call from Auntie Doris. She told us that she would be going back to Hong Kong for a few months and she wondered if we could find some­one to stay in her apartment during her absence. Offhand we could not think of anyone who needed accommo­dation. But Kathleen told her that her family would come for a visit soon. Auntie Doris immediate­ly welcomed them to stay in her apart­ment. She even invited us to move into her place be­cause it was a two-bedroom unit. She told us that we could stay until such time as when she decides to come back to Sydney. When she mentioned the date of her departure to Hong Kong, what a surprise! It was the same day as the arrival of Kathleen’s family. It is impossible to arrange such perfect timing unless it was divine intervention.

In the morning we picked up Kathleen’s family at the airport and drove them to Auntie Doris’ apartment. While we were on the way to the en­trance, we saw Auntie Doris who was com­ing out with her friend and was leaving for the air­port. Kathleen introduced her mom, sister and brother-in-law to Auntie Doris right at the en­trance. They thanked her for her hospitality. Auntie Doris and Kathleen’s mom were about the same age and they embraced one another warmly. Then she was taken by her friend to the airport. Once again we testify to God’s timely provision of the accom­modation and it greatly encouraged Kathleen’s family. Our God is a great God who keeps us under suspense but would always deliver with pleasant surprises.

Kathleen’s family stayed in Auntie Doris’ apartment while we stayed in our own unit. Kathleen’s sister and brother-in-law stayed for only a week before leaving for Malaysia. But her mom stayed for another few months. So after Kathleen’s sister and brother-in-law left, we terminated our lease of the one-bedroom unit and moved into Auntie Doris’ apartment to stay with Kathleen’s mom. After a few months, she left and we remained at Auntie Doris’ apart­ment.

Urgent need for a new home

A few months had passed, and one day we received a call from Auntie Doris. She told us that she had just booked her flight back to Sydney and would arrive by the following weekend. She kindly welcomed us to stay with her. But we thought this would inconven­ience her with our ever-growing church work. So we decided to look for another place for accommodation. But we only had a week’s time to move out. We really had to commit this matter to God. Kathleen specifical­ly prayed to God that we would not spend too much time in looking for accommoda­tion, for we needed to devote our time to the church work. She pleaded with our loving Father to grant us a suitable place to move into within a week, so as not to inconvenience Auntie Doris.

We also shared this matter with the core members of the church, and we prayed together for God’s provision. On Mon­day, we went to the real estate agent who had dealt with our previous apartment unit. She was happy to see us and said she had an apartment which would be perfect for us. She took us to see the place and it was a two-bed­room unit with a rent of $160 per week. Our original intent­ion was to rent a one-bedroom unit as before, since it would be less expensive and we didn’t want to burden the church with the rent. That evening we went to visit a sister in the church. She was one of the core members and was the church treasurer. We told her about the two-bedroom unit we had just inspected but we hes­itated to rent a two-bed­room unit because that would increase the fin­ancial burden of the church. She was amazed that the rent was so low. She told us that a few years earlier, the rent for a two-bedroom unit in that area was already that price. Either there was something wrong with the apart­ment or it was really a good bargain. We told her that the apartment looked very clean. She suggested that we go and in­spect the unit again the next day. She also called another sister in the church, also a core member, to accompany us to inspect the place. If it was indeed clean and neat, we should rent it right away.

Early next morning, we called the real estate agent and she arranged for a 10:00 am appointment. When we arrived at the apart­ment complex with another sister in the church, we dis­covered there was already another couple waiting there. When the real estate agent arrived, somehow she could not find the key to the apartment. She called her office and was told that another agent had the key. She apologized for the mix-up and asked us to come back in the after­noon for the inspection. Since the sister lived just a street from the apartment, she in­vited us to go to her place first. We prayed that God would grant us this place even though there was another couple who was ahead of us waiting to see the place, so that we would not inconvenience Auntie Doris.

Stiff competition

At the appointed time, we went back to the place hoping to be ahead of the couple. But they were already waiting at the front entrance. It looked like we had a strong competitor who also eagerly wanted the apartment. The real estate agent arrived and we all went in to inspect the place. The sister spoke softly to us and told us that it was a real good bargain. We immed­iately told the real estate agent that we wanted to rent the place. However the other couple also expressed that they wanted to rent the place. So we all went to the real estate of­fice to fill in our appli­cation and returned to the sister’s place, eagerly waiting for the verdict.

God granted us a second chance

Time ticked by and we did not hear any response. During the waiting period, we were a bit regretful that we did not rent the place the day when we first inspected it. God had pro­vided this place for us and we just let it slip away. Anyway, together we prayed that God would give us a second chance. Finally the real estate agent called us to go back to the real estate office. The couple was already there. The real estate agent told both parties that she had submitted both appli­cations to the landlady. Then she explained to the couple that we were actually the first ones to inspect the place. We just came back to reaffirm the rental. She had also explained this to the landlady and the landlady accepted our applicat­ion instead. The couple was disappointed but did not make a fuss and left.

Faithful in small matters

We were so grateful to the real estate agent who spoke on our behalf. She later told us it was because she knew us from the previous rental and she thought we were really nice people. So she sided with us! In actual fact, we had little contact with her since we settled in the previous rental unit. We thanked God that He touched her heart and that she remembered us fondly. It reminded us that we are always being observed. People would remember us even in small things.

In the end, God indeed granted us anoth­er place to live just in time for Auntie Doris’s arrival. Before we left her place, we cleaned the whole unit including areas and spots where she could not reach, and making sure that all the ceil­ing lights were working. When she came back home, she marveled at such a neat and tidy apartment. She called us and deeply appreciated our effort in keeping the place in such an immaculate condi­tion. We in turn thanked her for letting us use her apartment especially when Kathleen’s fam­ily was here. The bond of love between us grew. She treated us just like her own children and we respected her as our mother in the family of God.

The last move

We stayed in the two-bedroom apartment for many years. The land­lady was also very kind to us and did not raise the rent for the first few years and then made small increments later. We had Bible studies in our place and Auntie Doris also joined us. The group started to grow and the living room seemed too small to hold the bigger group. Then Auntie Doris told us that her family had just bought a two-bedroom unit on the same street and only a few houses away. She offered to rent the place to us. It was actually a brand new unit with a bigger living room. We hesitated to take her offer because it would cost more to rent the place. But Auntie Doris was very kind to us, and offered to rent us the better unit at the same rent we were paying. She told us that it was an offering to God. We were so touched by her love. We accepted her offer and moved into the new place. We stayed there until we left Sydney in June 2004.

Miraculous healing

It was back in 1994 around Christmas time. Kathleen and I both love fruits, and Australia produces the best varieties available any­where. One afternoon we ate some fruits. Late that night Kath­leen felt naus­eated and started to vomit; she also exper­ienced severe abdominal pain. She took some med­icine and went to bed. But she tossed and turned all night because of the severe pain. She was also running a fever. We suspected that it was a case of food poisoning.

It just so happened that her mom was visiting us from over­seas. She was due to leave Sydney in the morning for Mel­bourne because a brother in the church kindly offered to drive her to Melbourne for a visit. She is very observant and noticed that Kathleen was not feeling well. She would have given up going to Melbourne if she had found out that Kathleen was suffer­ing from severe pain. Kathleen re­assured her that it was just the normal time for her woman’s pain, so her mom left for Melbourne and would be back in a few days’ time.

Kathleen rested the whole day but the pain persisted. The next day we went to see a doctor. Because we were on work vis­as, we didn’t have any medical coverage. The most econo­m­ical way to deal with the problem was to see a gynecologist. It cost only $8.00 a year for this service as part of the family planning project.

When the gynecologist listened to Kathleen’s description of her symp­toms, she told me to rush her to a hospital be­cause she sus­pected some kind of internal infection or inflamma­tion. That can be extremely serious. She couldn’t pinpoint the exact cause. It could be appendicitis or some sort of intestinal infect­ion.

The cost of hospital stay was about $800 a day, which was an astrono­mical figure to us when compared to what we were earning. So we sought a second opinion by going to a medical center. It cost us another $28 to see the doctor. This time, after listening to Kathleen’s description of her pain, the doctor didn’t even bother to examine her. He simply said there was nothing that he could do and strongly recom­mended her to go to hospital immediately. So we drove to the nearby hos­pital.

Being in Sydney for only a few months, I wasn’t familiar with the local directions. I looked at the street map and drove Kathleen to the nearest hospital. Unfortunately I missed the exit and ended up driv­ing farther away from the hospital. Meanwhile Kathleen doubled up in pain. She couldn’t sit long enough in the car for me to figure out how to get to the hos­pital. She preferred to go home to rest instead. Just as we ar­rived home we received a phone call from a sister in the church. She had some urgent matters to deal with and needed our immediate attention.

We met the sister at a nearby food court to discuss her pro­blem. When she saw Kathleen, she immediately sensed her pain and suffer­ing. She forgot her own problem and wanted to take Kathleen to the hospital. She understood our financial concern and assured us that she would foot the bill. We deeply appre­ciated her kindness but Kathleen preferred to wait another day to see if her situation im­proved. The sister urged Kathleen to see her own family doctor, but it was already late afternoon, so we left it to the next day before seeing the family doctor.

Another day went by and Kathleen’s pain had not sub­sided. She was still feverish and vomiting, so we went to see the sis­ter’s family doctor. He was a fine Christian too. After examin­ing Kathleen and listening to her description of her pain, he also recommended her to go to hospital at once. He also suspected some kind of internal in­fection or inflamma­tion which, if not treated soon, might deter­iorate into a life-threat­ening problem. Against all odds, we elected instead to commit this mat­ter to God, and if Kathleen’s situation did not improve by next morn­ing, we would have no alternative but to take her to hos­pital. By now we had three doctors who all arrived at the same diagnosis and recommendation. But we committed our case to our Heavenly Father. He remains our refuge in times of need.

I truly admire Kathleen’s endurance and tolerance of the pain. I tried to persuade her to go to hospital but she in­sisted on waiting. We remember the Bible verse in Psalm 25:3:

Psalm 25:3 None of those who wait for the Lord will be disappointed

That evening Kathleen stayed in bed, still in severe pain. I was in agony watching her struggle with the almost unbearable pain. I knelt by her bedside, laid my hands gently on her abdomen, and began to cry out to our God for help. I poured out my heart in agony and pleaded to God for heal­ing. I was praying for a miracle. After the prayer, I noticed that Kath­leen had fallen asleep. While I knelt by her bedside watching her peaceful sleep, I wept because she had not been able to sleep at all the previous nights.

When I woke up the following morning, I turned and looked at Kathleen to see how she was doing. I was star­t­led to see that she wasn’t in bed. I immediately sprang up and ran out to look for her. Then I saw her standing in the kitchen prepar­ing breakfast. I tried to be composed and asked her how she felt. She gazed at me with a faint smile and told me that God had answered our prayer. All the pain had disap­peared and she felt wonderful after a long night’s sleep. She told me that while I was praying to God, all of a sudden she heard what seemed like an explosion inside her abdom­en. She described it as an inflated balloon that had suddenly burst un­der pressure. She immediately felt relief and fell into a deep, sound sleep. My jaws dropped! I was in awe and lost for words to describe how I felt. Did God really answer my prayer? I looked at her while feeling perplexed and deep in thought, but she reassured me that she really felt all right. She turned around and was ready to set the table for break­fast. She hardly missed a beat as she walked gracefully to­wards the dining table. There was absolutely no sign of pain. We hugged each other and gave praise to our loving Father who had compassion on His lowly servants. It was actually Sunday and we went to church beam­ing with joy and were ready to testify of God’s miraculous deliverance of Kathleen’s potentially life-threatening suffering.

The next day, Kathleen’s mom returned from Melbourne. She hardly noticed that a miracle had just occurred during her absence. We were content to listen to her as she happily shared about her experience of God in Melbourne.

The Sydney church established

When we arrived in Sydney in June 1993, our first priority was to register the church with the government. It took us three months to complete the registration, and finally the Sydney church was officially formed. Since there were no coworkers to take over our work in Sydney, we kept on renew­ing our work visas every year to continue the work there.

A new chapter in serving

In April 1996, we had a church Easter camp and we were so privil­eged to have our teacher Rev. Eric Chang as our keynote speaker. It was also during the camp that we received our ord­ination. As we knelt down and received the laying on of hands from Rev. Eric Chang, all of a sudden a flashback of our past filled my thoughts and I knew that if it were not for God’s lovingkindness and grace, our marriage would have been in jeopardy and Kathleen would not have knelt along­side me re­ceiving the laying on of hands. I just felt so un­worthy to receive the ordin­ation. I was so over­whelmed by God’s love that tears of joy gushed out uncontrollably. A new chapter had begun in our lives. As more is given, more is required. I prayed that I would serve God faithfully and not disappoint Him.

Political uncertainty in Hong Kong approaching June 1997

After the camp, Rev. Eric Chang discussed with us the future plans of the Sydney church. He explained that 1997 would mark a major milestone for Hong Kong. The United King­dom will hand the colony back to China. Although China pledged that there will be no policy changes in Hong Kong for 50 years after the takeover, there was a lot of skepticism among the Hong Kong people. In the face of uncertainty, many fled Hong Kong and migrated overseas as the year 1997 approached. There was a sudden influx of mi­grants from Hong Kong into various countries. Many migrants were subsequently introduced to Christ­ianity and this created a boom in the Chinese churches overseas. Demand for pastors and church workers followed. Quite a number of pastors left Hong Kong for employment at overseas Chinese churches. The Christian com­munity in Hong Kong became unsettled and some churches ended up understaffed.

From working status to migrant

When Rev. Eric Chang invited potential candidates to take over the Sydney church from us, surprisingly none of the coworkers accepted the invitat­ion. They all pledged their loyal­ty to the Hong Kong churches that they were serving, reas­suring them that whatever hap­pens, they would stay and witness the China takeover. In view of this, Rev. Eric Chang suggested that we apply for immigration sta­tus instead, since he did not foresee any coworkers coming to take over the Sydney work from us in the next few years. On the one hand, we admired and were touched by our coworkers’ faithfulness in staying with their church brethren in times of uncertainty. On the other hand, it clearly meant that we were to stay for a much longer term in Sydney than we had originally anticipated. Soon after our dear teach­er left Sydney, we submitted our application for immig­ration.

Kathleen fell sick

In Australia, winter begins in June. Most of the time, the weather would be nice and sunny in the afternoon, but would turn much cooler after sunset. It was on one sunny afternoon in June that we paid a visit to a family. The family was so hospi­table that they invited us to stay for dinner. By the time we left, it was already sunset and the temperature suddenly plummeted a few degrees. Our car was parked some distance away and we braved the wind and rushed to our car. Since we did not intend to stay at the family’s place that long, we were not warmly clothed for the sudden drop in tempera­ture. Kath­leen was shivering even after we got into the car. That night, she felt sick and started cough­ing. She was an experienced nurse in Canada before she turned to serving God full-time. She thought that she had just caught a cold, so we did not take the matter seriously. She took some cough syrup, hoping that the cough would sub­side in a couple of days. But the cough persisted and got worse. We bought different kinds of cough medicine but none helped.

When the church met on Sunday, everyone was very con­cerned about Kathleen because she looked so weak. Every­body offered sug­gestions for fighting the cough. The cough per­sisted for about a week, so we started to take it more seriously, especially because Kathleen had lost weight noticeably. She was often out of breath and felt too tired to even stand up straight. We prayed earnestly to God for healing. We knew that He had done it before, and that He would never for­sake us.

Kathleen was diagnosed with pneumonia

We had a brother in the church who was a medical doctor. He gave us a surprise visit on a weekday because it was his day off. After he examined Kathleen, he expressed deep con­cern that she might have contracted pneumonia. He recom­mended that she go to the hospital immediately for further examinat­ion. We took his advice and immediately went to the hospital.

In the evening we were to have a baptismal training session. Kath­leen urged me to go, while the brother and his wife were very kind to stay with her waiting for the medical checkup. So I left with a heavy heart and went to the Bible study. I shared with the group about Kath­leen’s absence and we all earnestly prayed for God’s mercy. Later we received news from the medical doctor brother that Kathleen had indeed con­tracted pneumon­ia. It would be a life threatening situation had she delayed in getting proper medical treatment. She had to be hospitalized for a few days. Since we were not permanent resid­ents or Australian citiz­ens, and had not bought medical insur­ance, it would cost a few thousand dollars to pay the hospital bill. The finan­cial cost was immediately settled because the church breth­ren reassured us that they would take care of all the hospital expenses. We deeply appre­ciated the love and care of the church brethren. Although we knew that money was not an issue because our heavenly Father would take care of our needs, we had never imagined that it was going to be accomplished through a mira­culous deliverance.

The hospital deferred all payments

In usual hospital practice, once patients are admitted to the hospital, they have to pay in full all the hospital bills immed­iately. In fact, not long before that, a relative of a church sis­ter fell down the stairs and broke her leg. She was treated in the same hospital that Kathleen went to. She was also a visitor, but she had bought medical insurance in Hong Kong. However she was required to pay all medical expenses immediately after each hospital visit. She could claim back her insured por­tion only after she has returned to Hong Kong. But in Kathleen’s case, she was never asked to pay when she was admitted to hospital. It was already a sign of God’s mer­cy.

The nutritionist’s compassion

When Kathleen was hospitalized, a nutritionist came by that even­ing and asked her to fill in an order for her daily meals. When she came back to pick up the order, she discovered that Kathleen had left the form blank. The nutritionist was curious and asked why she did not fill the order. At first, she gave the excuse that friends and family would bring meals for her. But the nutritionist advised her to take the order because the meals were specifically designed to improve her health because she was so weak and frail. Finally Kathleen told the nutritionist that we could not afford to pay the hos­pi­tal bills and she would do her best not to incur additional costs with the food bills. The nutritionist was very concerned about Kathleen and wanted to know more about our situa­tion. When she realized that we were church workers on work visas with low income and no medical insur­ance, she was moved to tears and told Kathleen that she will foot the food bills. She comforted her, telling her to rest well in order to get better. Meanwhile she reported our situat­ion to the hospital’s social welfare department.

The next morning, a social welfare officer came and met with Kathleen. She reassured Kathleen not to worry about the hospital bills for now. She left an application form for me to fill out, to indi­cate how much we could afford to pay on a monthly basis in order to settle all outstanding hospital ex­penses. She comforted Kathleen, telling her that even if it took years to pay off all debts, the hospital would accept our honest assessment of our financial situation. Based on our income, we could hardly afford more than $50 a month to pay for the hospital expenses. It would take years to pay off the total cost which amounted to $4000. The social welfare officer indicated that I could defer the monthly payments until such time as I felt I could start paying. That was real comforting indeed. But was it God’s plan to deliver us from paying the hefty hospital bill? True enough, God had a much better plan ahead!

Applying for Medicare at coworker’s advice

We informed our family and our teacher Rev. Eric Chang about Kathleen’s situation and requested their prayer sup­port. As a result, we were over­whelmed with love and best wishes. Apart from prayer support, our family and our beloved teacher all pledged their financial support to pay for the hospital bills.

News about Kathleen’s hospitalization traveled to Mel­bourne. Our Melbourne coworkers pledged their support to us and one of them suggested that I apply for Medicare immed­iately. I took his advice and the next day I went to the Medicare office to submit our application. When the officer reviewed the applica­tion forms, she frowned and said she could not accept our application because we were not residents of Australia. I in­dicated that we had just submitted our application for perm­anent residency over a month ago. Then she told me that all applications must be sub­mitted in person and Kathleen should submit her own applica­tion. I told her that she was hospitalized and could not come in per­son. She hesitated a while and then accepted our applica­tions, but she also said that there was no guarantee that they would be approved.

No payment at Kathleen’s discharge

Kathleen was discharged after spending a few days in the hos­pital. The morning she was discharged, Mrs. Chan, the mother of a church sister came early to the hospital. She had always been very kind to us. Ever since we settled in Sydney, she would often invite us for meals and cook the best food for us. When she found out that Kathleen had con­tracted pneumonia and was hospitalized, she made nutrit­ious food for her every day. We were so touched by her lovingkind­ness. In fact she even bought me yummy barbecue pork and roast duck so that I didn’t have to cook at all. Some concerned brothers and sisters in the church also loaded me with delicious food, and I had some to spare even after Kathleen was discharged from hospital.

Anyway, Mrs. Chan came early to the hospital because she wanted to settle the hospital account for us. Before she arrived, we went to the accounts office and were told that not a cent was required! The social welfare department at the hospital had waived all outstanding expenses. We left the accounts office praising God for His wonderful grace. When we met Mrs. Chan, she told us that she had already brought the money to pay the hospital bills. We told her that we did not need to pay anything. She was stunned because it was her friend who had broken her leg some time back, and was hospital­ized in the same hospital, yet had to pay the fees in full at every hospital visit. We told her that God had taken care of our needs. She was so touched by God’s love for us that tears ran down from her bewildered eyes. Together we returned home full of love and praise to God. We also knew that God would reward Mrs. Chan for her constant caring of His lowly servants.

A miracle happened

A couple of weeks after Kathleen was discharged from the hospital, we received a letter from the Medicare Department. When we opened the en­velope, we found two Medicare cards inside. Both cards indicated that we were on visitor status. However, the expiry date was January 1997. We were puzzled as to what this might mean. In any case, it was just about the time for us to go back to the hospital to hand in our appli­cation form for the monthly payment of the out­standing hospi­tal expenses. We went straight to the social welfare department and handed in our appli­cation. At the same time, we pres­ented the officer with the two Medicare cards we had just received. She looked startled and asked how we got the cards. We told her that while Kathleen was hospitalized, I submitted the appli­cation forms for Medicare. She said she had never seen a Medicare card given to visitors in all her professional work. She rang the Medicare office im­mediately to authenticate our cards. To every­body’s surprise, it was indeed issued to us and the starting date of effect was May 16th, the date on which we submitted our appli­cation for permanent resident status. That meant that the card was valid before Kathleen was hospitalized. The social welfare offi­cer took the application form we had just submitted for our month­ly payment, and tore it in front of us. She said, “You don’t need this application anymore. Medicare pays for all your hospital bills. My dear, someone from above must have been watching over you! All the best to you, and do take good care of your­selves.” To which we said, “Indeed, our God is real and is watching over us.” We marveled and echoed with joy in our heart. We inexplicably experienced another miracle that once again proves the reality of God, for He is a wonderful and com­passionate God.

A few days later, Kathleen had to go to our family doctor for a checkup. When she handed her Medicare card to the recept­ionist, she was just as startled as the social wel­fare officer. This time we reassured her that the card was valid. Still, she called the Medicare Office for confirmation and again the card was valid. The reception­ist said she had never seen a visitor carry­ing a Medicare card in all her life.

Kathleen’s testimony: It’s all worth it if it brings glory to God

Thanks to the church brethren and friends who showered us with so much love and gifts, Kathleen recuperated well. After a few weeks of rest, on Sunday worship she wanted to testify of God’s benevolence to her. As she was sharing about the nutri­tionist’s reaction and many other incidents, concerning which she testified of God’s love, the people were so touched that many shed tears, men and women alike. At the end of her sharing, we passed our two Medicare cards around for them to examine. The Spirit of God moved that day and ma­ny mar­veled and acknow­ledged that it was a miracle indeed.

She also explained that while in her sickbed, she prayed that it would be worth it if her suffering and illness could glorify God. In fact, during her illness, the church was drawn even closer and the bond of love was evident. God was in­deed highly honored and glori­fied in Kathleen’s ordeal, and truly her suffer­ing and sickness made it all worth it.

God is mindful of us even in seemingly trivial matters

We started our ministry in Sydney in June 1993 and left Sydney in June 2004. During the 11 years of serving there, God literally sup­plied all our needs, great and small. We came to Sydney with luggage consisting of clothing, our Bible refer­ences, and a guitar. In all the years living there, we spent less than $1000 in home furnishings and items, which ranged from a dining set to pots and pans, as well as a new bookcase, a new TV, and a new guitar for Kathleen. When our neighbor left for Hong Kong, he gave us a leather sofa and a single leather chair. That completed our home furnish­ings. We truly experienced what the Bible says in:

Matthew 6:8 … for your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him…

Matthew 6:32 …for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things…

We never asked people for the things we needed. Yet some­how God promptly provided. Sometimes the provis­ions came from kind and loving church brethren, sometimes they came from unexpected peo­ple, such as our former neighbors whose names we didn’t even know until the day they moved out. If we were to share with you every instance of how our Heavenly Father supplied our needs, we could fill a book with all the stories. I would like to share with you just one of those mem­orable inci­dents.

We were planning to have a Bible study group at home, but we had no teapot to serve the group. One Sunday after church service, on our way back home, we dropped by a grocery store to buy some groceries. There we saw a teapot on sale. The orig­inal price was over $16 but it had been reduced to just $10. We were delighted. So apart from some groceries, we also picked up two teapots as we remem­bered that one of our church families needed one too. However, when we went to pay at the counter, we discovered that we had exceeded our budget and didn’t have enough cash to pay for the extra teapot. As a result, we didn’t buy the teapots at all. We just paid for the groceries and left. We thought we could go the next day to another grocery store near our home to purchase the teapots.

The next day, while talking to the family that needed the teapot, we were told that they had also found out about the sale on teapots and bought one. So we only needed to buy one for our Bible Study group. For some reason, I was tied up with other things and couldn’t go to buy the teapot until Tuesday. We needed the teapot by Friday for the group. When I went to the grocery store, I saw that there were a couple of teapots left but the price was back to $16. I asked one of the staff if the teapots might still be on sale. He checked and confirmed that they were still on sale. I was so thankful that I immediately picked one up; I also bought some mushroom caps.

At the checkout counter, the cashier rang up $18 for the tea­pot and the mushroom cups. I thought that it must have been a mistake because the mushroom cups were only a few dollars per kilo and I bought only a small bag. So I asked the cashier about it, and discovered that she had rang up the original price for the teapot. I told her that it was a mistake as I had checked with another staff to confirm the sale price before bringing it to the counter. She called for a price check and finally acknowledged that it was still on sale. She told me that normally all sales end by Monday, and since it was now Tuesday, all sales should have ended. But somehow the teapot sale had been extended another day.

Although I missed the normal closing date of the sale, it was amazing that I was still able to get the teapot at the sale price. When the cashier confirmed the sale price and re­adjusted the bill, it came to $2. I was stunned and asked why she charged me only $2 this time. She said it was company policy that if the customer had been charged incorrectly for any item, it would be given free of charge. Therefore she only charged me for the mush­rooms. As I walked back home, I held on to the teapot for dear life because it was a gift from God. He knew that we wanted to use the teapot for the Bible study group and not for our own leisure.

I was so touched by God’s love. He truly knows our needs. It wasn’t because of the amount of money saved that I was so happy. It was just that God had shown me that He was mindful of us even in trivial matters. It touched me deeply how much He loves us even though we really don’t de­serve such love. It was my mistake that I didn’t buy the teapot on Monday, yet God overlooked my mis­take. If we love our God whole­heartedly and follow Him every step of the way, we will exper­ience His living reality. He is a God of love and mercy.

Snatching them out of the fire

The year 2002 had been very special. We were literally exper­ienc­ing what the Bible says in:

Jude 22-23 And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire…

The phrase “snatching them out of the fire” means res­cuing people from the jaws of hell fire, from eternal damn­ation! It is that serious! That year, our hospital visitations brought us into contact with quite a few dying patients. Their ages ranged from 28 to just under 80 years. Seven had died. But each one was snatched out of Satan’s hand in the nick of time. They re­nounced their idolatrous worship and repented of their sins be­fore com­mitting their lives to God. Each deliverance was tense and urgent. We were like a SWAT team equipped with the armor of God, with much prayer support from the brothers and sisters to fight the dark powers of Satan. Amazingly God worked in my­sterious ways while we felt so unworthy to be cowork­ing with the Most High in the rescue operation of souls.

Just to cite a couple of those deliverances. We had a sister who was a doctor working in one of the hospitals. She came in contact with an elderly man who was dying of lung cancer. She shared with him the word of God. He had never heard the gospel before but now he was interested in know­ing more a­bout God. The next day, he was transferred to another hospital for further observation. But thank God we had a brother who was a doctor at that hospital. So she referred her patient to this brother and he started to follow up on the dying patient the moment he was admitted to hospital.

The next morning, the patient fell into a coma. When the sis­ter fin­ished her work, she went back home. It was already 8:00 pm. The brother called her and told her that the patient had been in a coma since 9:00 am. She called us to tell us about the patient, and wanted to visit him despite her exhaust­ion after a twelve-hour shift. We had no previous knowledge of this patient but we felt the urgent need to go with her. We were so deeply touched by her love and com­passion for her patient because she cared so much for his soul.

We drove to the hospital and arrived at around 9:30 pm. We stopped outside the hospital and prayed earnestly to God to grant this patient a window of opportunity to regain his consciousness so that he could commit his life to God. Kathleen and the sister went up first while I went to park the car. By the time I walked into the patient’s room, he was already surrounded by his family members. The sister intro­duced me to the family as her church pastor. The patient’s wife received me warmly but I felt a cold reception from the other relat­ives. In fact, delib­erately or not, they turned their back towards me, so I had to look over their shoulders to see the patient. Unfort­unately they were a notch taller than I, so I had to stand on my toes to catch a glimpse of the dying man. They were talking to one another and the time was ticking away. I prayed quietly in my heart and pleaded to God for an opportunity to do something.

After a while, they went out of the room one by one, to have some food. Kathleen immediately asked the patient’s wife if she wanted me to pray for her husband. She welcomed the suggest­ion and I immediately seized the opportunity to move closer to the patient right at his bedside. It was already past 10:00 pm and he was still in a coma. I didn’t really know what to say. So I put my hand on his forehead and bent down close to his ear. I spoke softly, calling his name, “Mr. Ma”. Instant­ly he opened his eyes and stared right at my face. I was taken aback because of his instant response. Then he started to struggle and wanted to get out of bed. All of us were so shocked that his wife shouted, “HE IS AWAKE! GO QUICKLY AND TELL THE OTHERS TO COME IN!” Immediately the relative who had stayed with us all the while in the room, dashed out and called the rest to come in. Meanwhile, I held the patient firmly and told him to calm down. Kathleen, the sister, and the patient’s wife started to help him sit up on his bed. Later a nurse was called in to help him get out of bed and to seat himself on the sofa chair. Everybody was stunned and fired quest­ions at him. He res­ponded by nodding or shaking his head as his mouth was covered with an oxygen mask.

When everyone calmed down, I started to share the word of God briefly with him. But I wanted to make sure that he under­stood what believing in God through Jesus meant. Finally, I told him that I would pray for him. But immediately one of the relat­ives protested and said, “He is a Buddhist. He may not want you to pray for him. Why don’t you ask him first?” I then understood why I had felt such a cold reception when I was introduced as a church pastor. They knew that as Buddhists they shouldn’t believe in our God. The choice was clear. If he wanted me to pray for him, he would in fact be denouncing his Buddhist faith. So I looked at him straight in the eyes and asked him whether or not he wanted me to pray for him. I told him that God loved him despite his Buddhist belief. But he had to make a choice. I put my hand next to his and told him that if he wanted me to pray for him, he would have to hold my hand as a sign to show everyone that he con­sented. He started to move his fingers and then with his utmost effort, he raised his hand and grabbed hold of mine firmly. His wife immediately yelled out, “HE WANTS YOU TO PRAY FOR HIM!”

The other relatives had nothing to say. So I prayed for him and committed his life to God. After the prayer, he opened his eyes and looked at me with a faint smile. I could see that he was at peace and I really praised our God Yahweh for over­power­ing the forces of dark­ness again. After that, I said to the relatives, “You are all Buddhists, aren’t you?” They didn’t reply. Some of them turned their heads and avoided eye contact with me. One of the relatives who had blocked my view earlier looked at me with a friendly smile and I saw tears in her eyes. Another relative said they had been in the room since 4:00 pm and that Mr. Ma was as good as dead because there was no response at all when they called him. Well, I didn’t raise the dead. But by God’s mercy and grace, I did wake up somebody who had been in coma for over 12 hours. You the reader can judge whet­her it was a miracle or not. The most important thing was that our res­cue operation was complete, and we left praising and giving God all the glory. The next morning at 4:00 am, Mr. Ma passed away peacefully. Though he died, he had nonetheless gained abundant life by the grace of God.

Another deliverance from the jaws of hell

The Saturday immediately before Easter Sunday, I received an email from a couple who was living in Melbourne and attending our sister church there. They asked us to visit their relative who was hospital­ized at Concord Hospital in Sydney. He was suffering from kidney infection and had already been in hospital for a few months. His situation had turned from bad to worse.

Since it was approaching Easter and our church was going on a retreat during the Easter holidays, it meant that we were preoccupied with camp preparations. We were hard pressed to find any time for the hospital visit. But it just so hap­pened that we found out that a sister in our church worked as an intern at the same hospital. So we immediately informed her about this patient. When we mentioned the patient’s name, she immed­iately knew who he was. His was one of those “pro­blematic” cases. After his surgery, he had been very tempera­mental at times because of the sudden surges of unbearable pain that he felt. The doctors were having problems helping him to get better.

Anyway, our sister was kind enough to visit him on a daily basis and was updating us on his situation. Wednesday after­noon, the day before we set off for our camp which was a 90-minute drive from Sydney, we felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to visit the patient des­pite our hectic schedule. So we met him while his wife was attending to him at his bed­side. He was still alert enough to listen to us even though he could not reply because he was wearing an oxygen mask. He nodded his head and raised his hand to show that he under­stood what we were saying. Just before we left, we asked his wife whether we could pray for him. She consented, even though she said that she didn’t have any religious convict­ions. So we prayed that God would minimize his pain and grant him peace in his suffering.

We came back from camp the following Thursday. The intern doctor continued to update us on the patient’s progress. Saturday noon, the sister called us at home right after she had finished her overnight shift. She said the patient was in a criti­cal condition last night and all his family mem­bers were gat­hered at his bedside to prepare for the worst. She implied that he would not last long. I was in the middle of prepar­ing my Sun­day message, so I struggled to decide whether we should go to visit him or not. But somehow the Holy Spirit convicted me to go. Kathleen and I rushed to the hospital in the afternoon. After we parked the car, we prayed to our dear Heavenly Father that He would grant the patient an openness of heart to receive the gospel, to repent of his sins, and to be baptized.

When we entered the patient’s room his wife was also there. But surprisingly, he was very alert. The intern doctor told us that he had been slipping into semi-unconsciousness the night before. So we briefly shared with the couple the salvation work of Christ and the need for repentance. Then his wife told us that before their marriage, her husband had enrolled in some sem­inary studies. She had not known about it until recently when her husband brought up the subject. Then we asked him to confirm whether that was true or not. He nodded his head and raised his hand.

At that moment, we both felt God’s immense love for him. We asked the patient to consider the fact that we would not have been there at his bedside at that moment if his rela­tives in Melbourne had not expressed their concern for his critical condition and re­quested us to visit him. We could not possibly have known how bad his situat­ion was if it were not for the fact that we had a sister in the church who just so happened to work as an intern at that hospital.

We never did learn why he neither went to church nor told his wife and children about his religious convictions even after all the years of marriage. Yet all of a sudden, he brought it to the attention of his wife. Perhaps he realized that his time was run­ning short and that he needed to make a decision to restore his faith in God.

We shared with him our conviction that God really loves him and that at his most critical moment our loving God is still full of mercy and compassion. That love would make it possible for the dying pat­ient to return to Him. He nodded his head and was quite emotional in his response. We asked him if he would like to repent, seek God’s forgiveness of his sins, and be baptized. Instantly he raised his hand. We were taken by sur­prise at his quick response. We turned to his wife and asked if she would consent to his baptism. She told us that she has no relig­ious preference. But if her husband knew exactly what he was doing, she would have no ob­jection at all. So we asked him again, repeating the condition of bap­tism through repentance of sins. Because his wife was sitting behind him, he would have to raise his hand high enough to show her that he really wanted to confess his sins and be baptized. Again, he im­mediately raised his arm upright while at the same time nod­ding his head many times.

At that moment, we had no reservations about conduct­ing the baptism. We prayed for him, asked God to forgive his sins, and then sprinkled water on his forehead to baptize him. Then we prayed that God would grant him free­dom and deliverance from the powers of darkness and the bond­age of sin, and that he may receive the Holy Spirit. When we looked at him after the prayer of commitment, we saw that his eyes were beaming with joy. He looked at us with a smile of thanksgiving on his face.

Our hearts were deeply touched by God’s immense love. Indeed, He doesn’t want anyone to perish without first giving him or her the opportunity to repent of sin and to turn to Him for sal­vation through Christ. When one sinner repents, truly all of heaven rejoice.

As we left the hospital, we recalled the prayer that we said before we entered the hospital. God indeed had opened the dying patient’s heart and prepared him to receive the best gift of his life, namely, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Our prayer had been answered.

We visited him twice the following week. The last time was on Saturday, exactly a week after his baptism. He was slipping into unconsciousness. When we called to him, he could barely open his eyes. He nodded his head slightly and then slipped back into an unconscious state again. The next morning, he passed away.

His wife recognized his final commitment to God and arranged for a Christian funeral. In fact she told us how amazed she was by his alertness during the time of his bap­tism. She was with him all those months while he had been hospital­ized. She told us that during the last few weeks of his life, he was drowsy most of the time because of the morphine which had been administered to him. Our sister, the intern doctor, also testified that every time she went to see him, he was usually asleep. She was astonished to learn that we had been able to baptize him because when she had checked on him the night before, he was in such a grave condition that the doctors had to call his family in to pre­pare for his immin­ent death.

God is indeed merciful and compassionate. If for one rea­son or another we turn away from Him, or backslide to the point that we fear He would not accept us even if we wanted to repent, somehow God’s love would be beyond our com­prehen­sion. If only we renew our faith in Him, truly confess our sins and seek forgiveness, His love will overcome our mult­itude of sins. His grace is sufficient to redeem us from our wretched­ness. So don’t be afraid to surrender your life to Him and receive for­giveness of your sins. Then, and only then, a new life empowered by the Holy Spirit begins.

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church