From Little Things Big Things Grow
This isn’t going to be a typical blog post, more like a letter. I want to share something deeply personal with you. I also want to share something miraculous and ordinary and true—the story of how a regular day gave way to something extraordinary.
When it’s time, it’s time
A while back Ryan and I were invited by the leaders at YWAM Sunshine Coast to come and share about our vision for Sydney and recruit staff to join us in our pioneering work. It was a huge offer considering every YWAM base has more vision than staff, and the Sunny Coast is no exception. Their invitation was generous and sacrificial and came with no strings attached—only a desire to see us succeed and to see YWAM take root in our neighbourhood (Newtown) and the inner city of Sydney.
Despite asking the Lord “Is this the right time?” a number of times for more than a year and a half, we never felt released to take them up on their generous offer. It seemed strange to us because we needed help, and yet we continued to sense God inviting us to wait. And then recently we felt it was time. Why? We weren’t sure. But we felt certain God was saying “now” and “go” so we called the base leader, John Faull, to see if the offer was still there. He said “of course!” and promised to get back to us ASAP with the ideal date for us to visit.
Turns out the ideal date was six days away! This was in order that we could reach the maximum people—all the staff, the DTS students and staff before they leave for outreach, and the SBS before they graduate. John not only wanted us to come when we’d reach maximum people, he then went on to give us strategy and advice regarding things to share that would appeal to their staff. (Imagine that—one ministry doing everything in their power to recruit for another, even at the risk of losing their own best staff. AMAZING example of open-handed leadership.)
We hurriedly made arrangements, rented a minivan (because ours has just broken down for the third time in two months), packed the morning we left, collected the kids early from school on Friday, texted friends while on the road to arrange where to stay, and drove twelve hours to Maroochadore, Queensland.
Is this really happening?
On Monday morning (last week) we arrived at YWAM Sunshine Coast for the first time. After their weekly worship gathering, John introduced our family and invited Ryan and I to share. We shared for fifteen or twenty minutes about our vision and hope for Sydney and then John led everyone to ask the Lord if they were to answer the call to join us in Sydney to pioneer. (Keep in mind, we’ve never met anyone in this room except a handful of their senior leaders/elders.)
Before we knew what was happening, another leader got up and commended us to the staff. (We had worked with her in Townsville so she knows us well.) Then an elder got up and shared how he and others were called in this same way when their own base was pioneered more than twenty years ago. Then another elder got up and asked people to stand if they sensed God speaking to them to move to Sydney to help us. He was convinced there were seven.
Ryan and I glanced at each other with awkward “Is this really happening?” deer-in-headlight eyes and nervous half smiles. And then we stood there in the silence, hearts beating through our shirts, wondering what was about to happen.
Slowly, one by one people stood. First one. Then two. Then eventually eight. Some were sniffling, some were sobbing, others were shaking, some were beaming, some were stunned silent. We had yet to hear their individual stories of how God was speaking to them, but it was clear this was God’s doing not ours.
John then called all those up to the front who had stood, and also invited anyone to come up who wasn’t yet sure God was calling them to Sydney, but sensed God was speaking to them to somehow be involved.
People started pouring toward the front. Some were crying. Many were hugging each other. Most looked as shocked as we were. The front of the stage filled with two dozen people as Ryan and I stood in disbelief. It takes a lot to make either of us preachers speechless, but we were.
What was even happening? We came in faith, sure, but certainly expected nothing like this.
That night we called a meeting for those who wanted to come to Sydney and anyone else interested in learning more. When we walked into the room reserved for our meeting all I could do at first sight was to laugh. There were close to 40 people! (37 or 38, I think.) We went around the room, hearing from each person about why they were there. Some had sensed very clearly God leading them to join us. Others knew they weren’t to join but wanted to hear more so they could support us in prayer. Others were still in process of discerning how God was leading them.
Ryan and I shared more background about ourselves, our experience in YWAM, how God led us to Sydney, and what our hopes are for YWAM Sydney Newtown. We shared what kind of staff we’re looking for to help us pioneer and answered a few questions. We honed in on the fact that pioneering isn’t easy and we only want staff who are ready to accept a challenge. We emphasised that pioneering—though exciting—isn’t glamorous or sexy. It’s plain hard work.
Then we asked everyone to leave except for those who felt certain they were to physically join our staff team in Sydney… and eighteen stayed. EIGHTEEN.
It. Was. Unreal.
It will take a little time for people to determine when they can come and for how long, but we already have a few staff interested in not only helping us launch our first DTS (discipleship training school) this September, but stay for longer in order to help us really pioneer the ministry. Many of them are already making arrangements, working out their visas, and writing to their supporters to tell them what’s happened. We have people coming with all sorts of talents and gifts and skills: worship leading, media, photography, administration, accounts, child care, teaching, writing, videography, maintenance, baristas, fine arts, discipleship, and so much more. We are completely floored. In fact, our first new staff couple arrive next week, bringing with them six years of ministry experience in YWAM.
And get this: When John and the other elders saw who had responded to join us, they said, “You are taking some of our very best staff and students! This is awesome! Thank you Jesus!” (Again, how incredible are these leaders to be so releasing and empowering toward their staff and so sacrificially generous toward us?!)
The YWAMers coming are serious, committed Christians, willing to roll their sleeves up and do what it takes to see the ministry move forward into what God has for us and our community. They have passion and energy. They love Jesus. They’re fun. They’re practiced at loving their neighbours and loving one another. And they are doing all of this in faith, barely knowing us and many without having ever been to Sydney. It’s truly miraculous.
When faith looks like small steps of unspectacular obedience
I’m not exactly sure how to convey what a miracle this is. I’m sure the story alone sounds pretty impressive—and it is. But maybe what’s most miraculous to Ryan and I is how God has shown us his kindness in a season where we’ve felt repeated discouragement while being constantly faced with our lack: lack of a team, lack of finances, lack of movement in many areas we’ve sown into, lack of breakthrough, lack of followthrough with partnerships, lack of resources.
When we went to the Sunshine Coast, we went in faith—not full of rock solid belief, mind you, but the type of faith that says, “God I believe—help me in my unbelief.” For a long time now our faith has looked like showing up, deciding not to pull the pin, doing the next right thing, following the breadcrumbs—one unspectacular step of obedience at a time. It’s not the kind of faith you ever hear people bragging about, but the kind that keeps you rooted one day at a time because you’re convinced God is who he says he is and he’s still present and he’s got your back.
The gritty truth is that we’ve had many days—more than we can count—over the past two years in particular when we’ve asked ourselves if we could keep doing this. How long do we live under this pressure with no relief in sight? How long can we do this on our own without a dependable team? How long will we feel so lonely? How long can we live not knowing how we’re going to make rent this week or be able to afford to fly to leaders meetings we’re supposed to be attending? How long do we keep doing this even with nothing to show for it? How long will supporters or our sending churches continue to believe in us when we don’t have amazing reports to share in our ministry newsletters?
A pioneering reality check
At a leadership gathering we attended last year in Cambodia, YWAM veteran Jim Steir spoke of their early days pioneering YWAM Brazil. “Every morning I had to have a two and a half hour quiet time of prayer and scripture reading,” he shared, “just to lift me up into a mild state of depression.” He shared of hiding under the stairs in his office and crying because he couldn’t understand where the money was going to come from to feed his staff. He shared how he and his wife slept on newspapers in the hallway because a visiting pastor asked to stay the night and they didn’t want him to feel bad by finding out they had no guest room so gave up their own.
When Ryan and I heard Jim telling these stories we nearly bruised eachother’s ribs from elbowing each other so much. “See? See? Maybe we’re more normal than we thought? And maybe we don’t have it so bad, after all?” We knew enough about spiritual seasons to know that this was a time for our roots to grow deeper—God working in the unseen places around and within—so we kept waiting, trusting. Surely God’s work would become visible with sprouts of new life finding their way up to the sun. Right?
Yet still, the months rolled on. “Yes Lord, one more day. We will keep trusting you despite how things appear.” Rinse, repeat. We took turns encouraging each other, and kept on offering our “yes” to God—sometimes barely whispering it aloud.
When God does what you absolutely cannot
So by the time we left for the Sunshine Coast last week, we left in this state: fairly weary, definitely stretched too thin, discouraged but holding on, and believing yet tender from what has seemed like a pattern of disappointment and failed plans. If someone would have told us we’d recruit close to twenty staff we would have laughed in their face and said, “You don’t know how hard it’s been. You don’t know how long we’ve been waiting for tangible breakthrough. You don’t know how many people have offered help and then seemed to disappear into thin air when we actually needed it.” We likely would have laughed (tinged with a bit of cynicism) and then squeaked out another “help us God—we still trust you.”
The truth is, we hoped for at least one solid, full-time staff person who was skilled at leadership and could come alongside us to get our first DTS off the ground. If we could get a couple, then we would be thrilled. And if we could somehow manage to get four we’d be beside ourselves with elation. We didn’t dare let ourselves dream about what God actually had in mind.
But despite our long season of discouragement and despite the lack and despite the absence of certainty, our step of faith looked like doing the next right thing we knew to do—one (seemingly) small act of obedience at a time. In this case—visit the Sunshine Coast and share with the YWAMers there. Never in our wildest imagination would we have thought we’d see an outcome like we did. And that’s exactly how it should be.
You see, like the story of Gideon’s victory (in the book of Judges), we can’t take credit for what happened. This was not us winning people over by our personalities, our experience, or even a compelling vision. This was not us impressing God with our radical faith, twisting his arm to release some “deserved” blessing that we have earned. This was not the Sunshine Coast leaders coercing people to join us. This was not an emotional response orchestrated by the right combination of music, lights, and audio-visual. This was not energetic young people jumping on their white horses to become the heroes of their own stories.
This was God. He gets all the credit.
Yes, John and the leaders had to invite us. Yes, we had to wait for the right time and then make arrangements and go. Yes, people had to show up with open hearts and a willingness to be interrupted by the Holy Spirit. We all did our small parts. But ultimately, this was God’s doing. God calls. God builds the church. God empowers people to respond by his grace. God gives the invitation and the assurance that his leading is kind and wise.
God does the growing
Listen to one of the foundational verses for our ministry. God gave us this scripture at the very beginning in 2015, before we had landed in Sydney. In his first letter to the Corinthians the apostle Paul shares:
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Cor 3:6-9, NASB)
For years now Ryan and I have been reminding each other: From little things big things grow.
Seems God’s now reminding us of this, too.
How about you?
Do you have an area in your life that seems like it will never bear fruit? A promise unfulfilled? Some weariness and doubt mixed into your faith and obedience? A situation that seems hopeless that God is encouraging you to persevere through? Be encouraged that God is always working behind the scenes, and ultimately, he’s the one who does the growing. You can trust him. He’s not going anywhere without you. So keep planting. Keep watering. There will come a time when the little sprouts start to burst through. And I promise you—spring has never looked so good.
In closing, will you join us in prayer?
Please thank God with us for an astounding response to our call for staff. Pray for the many young people who have responded—that God would help them discern timing, that they wouldn’t be deterred by distractions, that he’d go before them and make a way for them financially (Sydney’s a tough city for volunteer missionaries to afford), that they would follow through with the word of the Lord for their lives, and that they would become part of a fruitful core of key staff and leaders called to see the kingdom of God established in Sydney as YWAM does our part within the Body of Christ here in Newtown, the city of Sydney, and beyond.
Other related prayer points: Please pray that we will have a healthy intake of students as we launch our first discipleship training school (the Urban Village DTS) in September AND pray that we’ll secure the right housing and classroom space for the staff and students to thrive.
AMEN and AMEN and AMEN.