by Anna Kroehn

Messy Church in Waikerie in South Australia’s Riverland began in 2017 as a missional experiment. We were trying to create a Christian learning and celebrating environment to engage our children and the school families we connect with.

It has since become a preferred church community for many families in our region. Anecdotally, we know that some people call Messy Church their church and unapologetically do not go to Sunday morning worship anywhere else.

Now Messy Church is one of the greatest hopes our local church has for the future in terms of newcomer attendance at church, relationship building and discipleship.

In 2019 we had 125 people register at Messy Church, including helpers. These 125 people represented 28 families, nine grandparents of children in attendance, 67 children under the age of 14 – or 53 per cent of the total attenders – and 14 adult helpers who attended without a child.

Of the families, 10 are not worshipping members of any other church. Sixteen of the families have children enrolled at Waikerie Lutheran Primary School, while 15 either have previously attended or currently attend Mainly Music. Three Messy Church families come from other Lutheran churches in the Riverland region, while two come from the Waikerie Uniting Church.

Overall, approximately one-third of Waikerie Messy Church members are new to church or were not previously worshipping anywhere else, one-third are local parish members and one-third belong to other churches. Attendance month by month in 2019 varied from 47 people up to 71.

Every Messy Church is an opportunity for well-formed Christians to share their faith as they come alongside, befriend and do messy activities, like arts and crafts, with the families in attendance.

Each session has a theme and the activities explore a teaching – a bit like a sermon, but hands-on! We have 10 to 15 minutes of celebrating our learning from activity time, sing songs, watch a video, drama or reading of the story, and pray together. We finish by sharing dinner.

One of my favourite parts comes after the mess. During the clean-up we find the artwork, treasures and forgotten pieces people have worked on during the evening. Some of them are quite powerful. This is a reminder to me to never underestimate what God is doing in those activities! Sometimes children and adults will lay bare very honest requests at prayer stations or in self-reflection activities.

Some of my most treasured moments during Messy Church – and those of other helpers – are talking to kids at our stations about the evening’s story and topic. Once we discussed how they would feel if an angel appeared to them to tell them they were brave and mighty, and to not be afraid because God is with them, like God did to Gideon. I was talking to two young girls and they asserted that this probably wouldn’t happen to them because the Bible is mostly full of ‘boy stories’. I had the privilege to tell them that there were amazing Bible stories about God using women for mighty brave acts, too.

And that’s how we plan our sessions. We listen to the Holy Spirit as a team, discuss emerging themes and questions our Messy Church attendees have and then plan sessions to address them.

In 2019, we hosted holy communion for the first time at our post-Easter session about the Road to Emmaus and we will celebrate it again in 2020.

Waikerie Parish Pastor Lee Kroehn supports us to deliver these special parts of worship in appropriate ways for new or not-yet Christians, in line with our Lutheran beliefs and values.

Another huge highlight from the past year of Messy Church included a baptism at the school after the young person expressed his wish to be baptised. This was a gradual process of him attending Messy Church regularly, together with parish services at the school and worship at Waikerie Lutheran Church on some Sunday mornings. We are thankful for the mentoring and support provided through many people. The parish has also been able to support the further discipleship of this young person by sponsoring his attendance at Lutheran holiday camps – JC Life (Junior Christian Life) and Christian Life Week.

We continue to pray for those families who are coming to Messy church even though they do not necessarily profess faith but enjoy belonging to our community. And we look for practical ways to show love to these families. Most people new to Christian faith and communities belong before they believe these days.

We invite you to keep us, and the families we meet with, in your prayers. Please also pray specifically for our leadership to be sustained in energy and time, for the right helpers to be available and for the growth conversations we have each time about faith and life and God’s great love for us all.

Anna Kroehn is a member of the Messy Church Core Team, along with Alison Wurst and Melissa Pipikos, for Waikerie Lutheran Parish in South Australia. Anna is also chairperson of the LCA/NZ’s Committee for New and Renewing Churches.

 

 

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by Julie Hahn

I’d just closed my eyes when I heard a gentle knock on my hospital room door. I was tempted to roll over and tell the nurse, ‘It’s okay. You look after her. I’ll get some sleep’. With two other little ones at home, sleep was not on my agenda. But a midwife had swaddled my new baby so that all I could see of her were two enormous brown eyes that peeped out, blinked at me and drilled straight to my heart. There was no going back to the nursery for her. I was in love with my new baby girl.

But less than two years later, after I’d retrieved her from climbing to the top shelf of the pantry and cleaned up the 400th mess for the morning, I found myself in a fed-up heap on the floor.

Sobbing.

Screaming.

‘GOD! I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE!’

What happened between the moment I fell in love with my child and the moment I found myself on the floor, exhausted, depressed and defeated?

Life and motherhood is what happened. I’d given everything I had, and still, being a mother seemed to require more.

As I lay there at the lowest place I’d ever been, a verse of Scripture came wafting into my consciousness. ‘Be still and know that I am God’. In my heart, it was translated as ‘I’ve been waiting for you to let me! You’ve been relying on yourself. You have been fighting so hard to stay in control of everything. No wonder you’re exhausted. Why don’t you let me take over?’

It would make a great story if God sent angels to rescue me and clean the house, do the washing, make meals, drive to the kids’ schools, pick up their dad from work, clean up drips on the floor, read 52 storybooks a day, clean sticky fingers and faces, and answer the three-year-old’s 300 ‘whys’.

But angels – the heavenly variety with wings – didn’t arrive to take away my work. Something much better happened. God showed me how to rely on his strength – and not my own. On that first day, on the radio, in the book I was reading and in the words of a friend, I heard the words, ‘God is faithful’.

During the next few days, weeks and months, as I made it from one difficult moment to the next, I recited, ‘God is faithful’.

My eyes opened up to the ‘angels’ with skin on: the women at church, my friends, other mums, books about parenting, voices on the radio, my family at the other end of the telephone, and my poor husband who’d been filling in the gaps.

I learnt how to love in new and different ways. The new ways worked.

Ours used to be a ‘No’ house. If the children asked for something, the answer was ‘No’. If they reached out to touch something, they were reprimanded with ‘No!’
The children each expressed that life was not as it should be. The five-year-old took control of everything – and everybody. The three-year-old grabbed attention any way he could. The baby became an expert tantrum-thrower.

I thought I appeared calm on the outside, but on the inside I was screaming, stressed out and miserable.

Devoted and meticulous, my husband attended to all the jobs for which I had neither the energy nor inclination. If anybody had asked him, he may have answered that he could not remember the last time he had laughed with his family.

It’s not surprising that the joy of parenting had gone from our daily lives.

One day, our children’s preschool teacher took me aside and asked, ‘Miss Julie, is there a reason I don’t hear you saying ‘Yes’ to your children?’ I didn’t have an answer. But that question changed our family’s life path.

When preschool ended that day, for the first time ever I squatted down and held my arms out as wide as I could. My children spread out their arms and ran into mine. It restored the smile that had gone missing.

From then on, at every possible opportunity, I watched people like that preschool teacher in action, and then I’d go home and practise. We read books and listened to people who had a much gentler and more enjoyable approach to parenting – with better results. Our house gradually became a ‘Yes’ house.

Saying ‘Yes’ didn’t mean that we gave up ‘discipline’ but rather, changed the way we disciplined. We had confused discipline with punishment. We learnt that to discipline means to ‘train’; that is to show how.

We learnt to show our children how to touch things gently – placing their little fingers in ours and helping them to touch things, such as books, china and baby brothers and sisters … gently. When we responded with a ‘Yes, that’s right. Gentle’, we found we were more likely to see that behaviour repeated.

Others helped us see that children whose needs are being met are much more eager to please their parents. When given small, manageable tasks and when they know that the rest of the family ‘team’ relies on them to do them, children tend to rise to the expectation.

Nobody starts out as a parent wanting to scream at their child – or at the other parent. But what we find ourselves doing in moments of stress is often exactly what we promised ourselves we would never do.

We learnt through watching other families and through our own mistakes, that children don’t need perfect parents. They need parents who know about grace – who know how to give without expecting anything in return. Grace in parenting is recognising that simply by being, they are likely to get into trouble – that’s real life. But grace is about picking them up, dusting them off and loving them anyway.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve been observing, studying and practising practical ways for parents to be more effective parents. I’ve taught parenting classes and mentored families. I’ve watched families make small changes, which have resulted in big differences.

Often parents ignore the spiritual aspect of their lives. I found that the changing demands of being a mum sidetracked my own spiritual journey. By joining a craft group of Christian women, I was able to talk through my frustrations. The older women helped me to know that they, too, had struggled. They helped me understand that Jesus is just as loving towards struggling, bleary-eyed mums as with anyone else. And during the journey, Jesus will never, ever leave me. Jesus is faithful.

It’s now more than 20 years since I was in that screaming heap. With new skills and knowledge, and an open heart and mind to the wisdom of others, parenting has been much more bearable – dare I say, enjoyable. We have certainly had our ‘moments’ but, generally, we have a lot of fun together and keep in touch when we’re apart.

Every now and then, a little verse comes wafting back into my consciousness, ‘Be still and know that I am God’.

And I’m reminded to keep my eyes open for angels with skin on, and that God is and always will be … faithful.

Julie Hahn is a member of The Ark, Salisbury Lutheran Church, in South Australia, mother of four adult children and the wife of a scientist. She plans to release her first book ‘I’m too busy being a parent to read a parenting book’ soon.

This story is an excerpt from the Lutheran Media booklet Parenting Finding the Fun. To order a copy, phone 08 8267 7300, email luthmedia@lca.org.au or visit the website at www.lutheranmedia.org.au

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by Nick Mattiske

You may have seen the TV ad where a dad makes a cheese and ham sandwich for his son, but the son says, ‘That’s not how Mum makes it’. The dad has to flip the sandwich over so it’s now ham and cheese rather than cheese and ham. The ad gives some idea of the negotiations involved in parenting, though it would be nice if all parenting problems were resolved so easily.

Parenting is not just about dealing with children; there’s a lot of head-scratching over work-life balance, sharing housework and dealing with different expectations.

My wife stayed home with our son for a year or so after he was born, then we both worked part-time, sharing care. Then changing, unstable work circumstances meant that I ended up doing more of the stay-at-home parenting. This wasn’t, let’s say, carefully planned out – it just happened. And it brings complications, some trivial, such as me changing my son’s sheets right after my wife did because I didn’t realise she had already done it, others less so.

While my work, though not particularly high-flying, allows me to be involved in child-raising, the instability and complexity do create some anxiety. This is exacerbated by a lack of grandparents and other family members in close proximity to share the load. Women especially say to me that I won’t regret spending more time with my son, but there is a price to pay.

In our society, being a stay-at-home dad is still something of an anomaly. As journalist Annabel Crabb points out in her recent perceptive 2019 Quarterly Essay ‘Men at Work’, women aren’t generally asked why they want to stay home to raise their kids – it’s self-evident. But there is suspicion over why dads would choose kids over a career, perhaps the flipside of suspicion over why women aim to be leaders, and our society has not properly worked out yet how men can juggle work and parenting. (Crabb also points out how – no surprise – northern Europe is way ahead of us. A German friend of mine recently said that this is why in Germany you don’t see the Australian backyard party stereotype of the men standing around drinking beer and the women in the kitchen cooking.)

I benefit from living in a not-particularly-salubrious, multicultural suburb where people privilege richness of life over monetary richness, so there is a certain understanding here. Community is important. Nuclear families can be dangerous because bottled up in one household, problems can go … well, nuclear. Because my son is sports-mad, I have been drawn more into sporting clubs and have been pleasantly surprised by the community one finds there.

It’s a generalisation that men talk about deeper issues less and perhaps need to be particularly attentive to the threat of isolation, while women tend to get together easier for playdates and the like, but it’s helpful for all parents to find other parents with the same problems or to see other parents with different problems. It’s a way of informally workshopping issues and keeping things in perspective.

Parenting is not something easily explained to people without kids. It’s like falling in love or eating very hot chillies – description comes a distant second to experiencing it and there’s only so much planning one can do. Much of the time it’s just what we have to do; you can’t box them up and return them in the mail. Parenting is both hard and joyous and my personal steep learning curve has been about living with both the joy and the difficulties and realising that neither me as a father nor my child are perfect or dreadful.

Living in a household together and the effort that goes into feeding a child both physically and spiritually results in a degree of tension, though the more time I spend with my son, the more depth of understanding I gain.

More time with my son also means he can learn from me, even from my mistakes, of which there are plenty. The encouragement of a Christian perspective in my son, instilling notions of right and wrong, encouraging care for others, the cultivation of priorities, the questioning of things, as well as enthusiasm for physical activity, nature and art, becomes interwoven with everyday activities. And, pleasantly, my son’s moral maturing means the instruction goes both ways. I now tend to give more to homeless people and think twice before buying that donut.

I must stress that my wife and I share parenting, and although I take the bulk of time, I am not sure overall that the parenting is equally shared. My wife still texts me on her way to work about lunchboxes and permission slips.

In the church, we can and do help in various practical ways, especially where, with a mobile population, there are not wider family networks for support. It would also be good not to mistake social convention for divine sanction. And in the church, when we talk about gender roles as we have been recently, it would be helpful if we didn’t then assume that gender automatically predisposes temperament, ambition and skills, and we instead nurture the flowering of individuals.

As Annabel Crabb says, aside from giving birth and breastfeeding, men are capable of the jobs parenting requires us to do and being allowed to do so enriches both men’s lives and our society. Even if the women need to check up on us some of the time.

Nick Mattiske is a member of St Paul’s Lutheran Church at Box Hill in suburban Melbourne.

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by Colleen Fitzpatrick

I am the proud grandparent of three amazingly beautiful and gifted granddaughters.

I should clarify that I am one of those grandparents who gets to spend time with the aforementioned grandchildren and then can hand them back to their parents. I am not one of those wonderfully heroic grandparents who have taken on the role of parenting grandchildren in order to keep them safe.

I would like to acknowledge, too, family members and friends who do not have children and/or grandchildren, yet who still listen and enjoy stories of our grandchildren. I know that some of you would have chosen to have children and grandchildren and that the joy you share with us is at times mingled with sadness.

When I was a new mother, I was bewildered, bewitched, bemused … I hadn’t had much experience with children, let alone babies. My parents were interstate and my parents-in-law didn’t have a car, so the main support they could provide was by phone or the occasional visit. Somehow I survived and so did our children. Whew! That was largely due to having a husband who is a natural with children, who spent a lot of what could have been free time caring for our daughters and having all sorts of adventures with them. It has been wonderful to see those days return as we care for and interact with our granddaughters.

When our daughter told us that she was pregnant with twins, after we had both mopped up our tears, we started thinking about the implications and how she would manage with a toddler and two babies.

I came to the decision that I would give up work to be available to help in those important early days. In the meantime, my husband, John, was taking a day off work a week to care for our toddler granddaughter.

Being grandparents is vastly different from being parents.

All is fine while they are compliant and cute and all is going smoothly – but then they can ‘turn’ and that is difficult. We are not their parents and I struggle to know how to respond to bad behaviour – or probably, more accurately, to defiant behaviour. When I ask Miss Eight-years-old to set the table and she says ‘I won’t!’, I find myself resorting to reminding her that, ‘Mummy has said that you are to do that’. It works sometimes.

We love having fun with our grandchildren and I am thankful that they have reintroduced me to the joys of shooting goals with a netball. It’s also great to play Chinese checkers, Uno and other games, and even better when I win! I love teaching them the names of flowers or how to sew or having them help in the kitchen – many things that I wasn’t able to do with my own grandparents, due to distance, work duty or death.

A sadness for me is that the Christian faith is not a part of our grandchildren’s everyday life, as our daughter became disengaged from the church during her teenage years. However, our grandchildren are baptised – and this gives me comfort and hope. They are aware that I go to church every Sunday and at family gatherings, I ask a blessing before we eat together. This has become an expectation, and I am seen as the family ‘pray-er’.

However, it’s not always easy to find the openings to share faith with our grandchildren.

I believe there is more that we as church can do to support and encourage those who, like me, struggle with this within the intimate circle of our families, to follow up on the confirmees who have drifted away from the church, to let them know we still care about them and that they are not forgotten. And to provide comfort and hope to those of us who unceasingly pray for protection and salvation for those who are nearest and dearest to us.

Colleen Fitzpatrick is a member of St Stephens Lutheran Church in Adelaide.

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Serving in a global context is obviously a challenge enjoyed by Australian Chey Mattner, the Lutheran World Federation’s (LWF) World Service Head of Operations. Before he took on the Geneva-based role in 2018, Chey was Australian Lutheran World Service (ALWS) Executive Director and spent 10 years with the LCA’s overseas aid and development agency. We asked Chey about serving the church in an international setting.

What do you enjoy most about your role, particularly in terms of its global implications?

The variety of it. LWF World Service is a very lean organisation – only 3 per cent of its funding is allocated to overheads. That means you can be in the field one day, meeting a government official the next and writing a policy somewhere in between. We have more than 7000 staff in 25 countries, so most decisions have a global impact. And working with an extremely committed and professional team, as was the case at ALWS!

Has it given you new perspectives?

Working at ALWS gave me the perspective of challenges faced by an organisation which provides technical and financial support, while this role has given me a better idea of obstacles faced by an organisation implementing the work. For example, we may not be able to construct a school quickly because a flood has washed away the foundation, or we need to evacuate staff because of conflict. The role has reinforced for me that human greed is the reason for much of the poverty and suffering in the world and that the most powerful way to address it is to give children, especially girls, the chance to be educated.

What are the most challenging elements?
Making hard decisions that affect lives. We recently needed to close a program because we couldn’t find the money to keep it going. It will have a tremendous impact on those who benefited because of it, as well as on staff who were employed. And accepting the fact that we can’t always respond to needs because local regimes will not allow us in.

What would you like to say to encourage Lutherans in Australia/New Zealand?

Hold onto ALWS. It’s one of LWF’s most respected partners because of the value it places in true partnership. ALWS is a solid, reliable and professional organisation which LWF learns a lot from. And we need to challenge ourselves as a church to think globally. Where once the future of our church was to protect itself from the world, it will now only thrive if it’s in the world. We need to reconnect because our church has so much to give.

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by Elsa Matthias

When I graduated from high school in 2016, the question: ‘Where do I go next?’ was at the forefront of my mind.

As our family moved to South Australia from Queensland, I began a physiotherapy university degree, and then had the chance to be a part of the LCA/NZ’s Grow Leadership program in 2017.

I didn’t know it then but that crack in the door was a huge step in my faith journey and of servanthood to Christ. I am still studying and loving it, but my volunteering hours have been filled with numerous opportunities to serve the universal church – locally in my congregation, Churchwide for the LCA/NZ and globally.

Before Grow Leadership, volunteering in my local congregation was my only serving opportunity. Born overseas in the USA, naturally I knew there was a global church, but as a young person in Australia, how could I be part of that movement?

Grow Leadership, and the program’s ‘Stretch and Grow’ trip to Cambodia, challenged me to become involved in the wider congregation, the global body of Christ. So I asked God. And, as it says in Matthew 7:7, ‘Ask and the door will be opened to you; seek and you will find’.

I have since become a member of the LCA International Mission Committee. This has given me a chance to be involved in the ministries of the LCA/NZ and our overseas partner churches. But, God wasn’t finished with forging global connections for me.

I was asked to represent the LCA/NZ at the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan church Youth International Conference in North Sumatra in 2018. I was also invited to join the Lutheran World Federation’s Global Young Reformers Network. Both experiences have given me a better understanding of what it means to be part of the universal church. I also know that no matter what their culture, gender, country, language or religion, each person is a sister or brother of Christ and needs to be treated so.

In September and October 2019, I attended the Global Young Reformers Network Conference and Asian Church Leaders Conference in Indonesia and spent time with a community of young people passionate about their churches and the ways that we can make a difference. We addressed the topics of education, equity and revival of churches, as they pertain to young people. We sought to identify issues in these areas within our local contexts. We also developed recommendations for church leaders.

I have learnt from these experiences that the Reformation did not occur in its entirety in the distant past, it only began. We have been called as followers of God. We have been called to continue to spread the gospel. We have been called to continue to reform the church.

Three years of doors opening and a subtle guiding hand. Who knows what my future holds? There is one thing I do know: I must pay attention to God’s calling on my life, wherever it leads.

Elsa Matthias is a member at Para Vista, South Australia.

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Photo: Copyright Ivars Kupcis/WCC. Used with permission

by Lisa McIntosh

Australian-born Lutheran Peter Prove is a leading light in the world ecumenical community.

The director of the World Council of Churches’ (WCC) Commission of the Churches on International Affairs based in Switzerland, on one day Peter could be leading a staff delegation to Iraq in the wake of US troops moving in against Islamic State, on another, he could be addressing a press conference at the United Nations in Geneva or speaking as a panellist about how faith communities can help end violence against refugee children in Rome.

Now with more than two decades of experience in the international policy arena, Peter was born in the Adelaide Hills, raised at Eight Mile Plains and in the western suburbs of Brisbane, and was educated at St Peters Lutheran College Indooroopilly and the University of Queensland.

A personal injury and commercial litigation lawyer in Australia, in 1997 Peter moved to Geneva with his wife Philippa, a psychiatrist, to take up a role with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). After a 12-year stint as LWF Assistant General Secretary for International Affairs and Human Rights, Peter then moved into the ecumenical realm. He worked for four years as Executive Director of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, before starting with the WCC in 2014.

But he hasn’t had to move far – all three roles have been based in the same building in Geneva – just in different wings!

Formerly a member at Resurrection Lutheran congregation at Indooroopilly, Peter has attended the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva since moving to Switzerland.

While he hasn’t lived in Australia for more than 20 years and sons Oliver and Benedict were born overseas, Peter’s upbringing and faith foundation as a pastor’s son in the Lutheran Church of Australia remains precious. It’s also a ‘matter of some pride’ that he received the endorsement of the LCA leadership to take on his current role.

‘I really feel strongly about the ideological, religious and ethical underpinnings that I received from my background in the Lutheran Church of Australia, the way in which that background has enabled me to take on this role and what a privilege it is to do that’, Peter says. ‘And I do feel, even though the institutional links are not strong, that I do that on behalf of the Lutheran Church of Australia.’

The WCC is ‘a worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service’. There are 350 member churches from countries and territories around the world, with a total constituency of more than 560 million people – around one-quarter of global Christianity.

‘The purpose of the WCC is to bring the churches together to respond to the biblical mandate that “they may all be one”’, he says. ‘But it’s also true that one of the important threads and impulses that finally brought the World Council of Churches into being after many decades of discussion about this possibility was the horror of the Second World War.

‘So, from the very beginning, the World Council of Churches has been very much focused on peace-building, on social justice, on human rights and trying to respond to these developments in world affairs from a Christian perspective.

‘My own faith understanding has been somewhat transformed by my experience of working in these international Christian environments and these ecumenical contexts, but the fundaments of my faith are clearer to me now in terms of the responsibility that it brings for loving one’s neighbour. And I’ve gained a real applied understanding of the principle of Imago Dei, that all people are created in the image of God, all of them – regardless of any other divisions or any other disputes.’

In terms of ‘loving one’s neighbour’, Peter believes that the LCA through Australian Lutheran World Service has ‘set an example for others around the world’. ‘From what I recall, the donations to Australian Lutheran World Service from church people on a per capita basis far exceed many other places’, he says.

While ‘part of the legal architecture of the WCC’ since the council was formed in 1948, the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs actually predates the council by about two years.

‘The commission was established in anticipation of the WCC coming into existence and immediately got to work in representing the voice of the churches to the intergovernmental organisations, to the United Nations in formation, and actually contributed quite substantially to the formation of the UN, and very significantly to the drafting of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights’, Peter explains.

‘The remit of the commission covers an enormous terrain – everything from peace and conflict issues, human rights, economic injustice, environmental issues, disarmament. Its role is primarily advisory but also to lead by example and to be directly involved in addressing issues and raising awareness about issues the commission feels have a claim upon the Christian conscience around the world.’

Peter began work at the WCC just as the catastrophe in Syria and northern Iraq was playing out.

One of the first things he did was take a small staff delegation to northern Iraq, in order to take testimony from displaced people from religious minority communities, especially Christians but also other minorities who were similarly affected.

Peter says that churches have a critical role in overcoming the consequences of short-term political cycles.

‘Very often there is hardly any other actor in society that has the longer-term – indeed the millennial – perspective that could help to break it out of the short-termism and the poor decision-making that even our democratic institutions are unfortunately affected by’, he says. ‘I think it’s always important for Christians at least to second-guess political messages, to at least try and reality-check perspectives by cross-checking them against what the Bible says and, in particular, what Jesus says.

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In 2014, I was the most unchristian person you could ever meet. I had a gambling addiction, I lied to everyone and I was taking other people’s money.

But it came to a point where I knew that they were going to find out, I couldn’t cover it anymore. So I made a serious attempt on my life. And it was then that I had God reach out and save me.

I’d taken around 700 tablets and tried to drive into a tree. But my car flipped and landed a centimetre from the tree. I saw a white figure and a white light. The figure, who I now believe was an angel, was telling me it was going to be okay.

After that, I spent time in hospital and, while I was there, a woman opposite me read her Bible out loud every day. She had a friend who came in and I started bringing the curtain back around to listen. I remembered what a Christian friend of mine – who had stuck by me through everything – had said, ‘Give yourself to God’.

The two women offered me a Bible and I started reading the book of Job. He went through all this pain but he still believed in his God. So I started to have a conversation with the women about what it meant.

When I went home, I knew that I had to get over my addiction to get my children back. So I did that and I engaged in a church. Two women mentored me and walked my journey with me.

I had stopped gambling, I had a job and had begun training in peer support. I was involved in gambling help. But nearly three years into my recovery, I was charged with fraud.

Through 10 months of court hearings, I was so blessed to have an amazing church family around me, who encouraged me and told me God was going to be with me no matter what happened and that he had forgiven me. We prayed that if I went to prison, it was going to be purposeful.

In 2016 I was sentenced to four months in prison. In prison I spent a lot of time praying and, when I was prompted, I followed what God wanted me to do. I read the Bible to other women. I helped them with basic things, like learning to read a book, I prayed for them and talked to them about God.

After six weeks, I was released early on home detention. After my parole period, my young children were able to be with me.

Prison was tough, but in some ways it was tougher to come home because I had seen so much of God at work when I was in there. I saw women change. In six weeks, I know of 33 women who came to faith from sitting and reading the Bible and seeing what God had done in other women.

It was an amazing spiritual time. I would receive letters every day from people from my church, from people I didn’t even know, and my new friends that I had made. And I got to see how that affected women who never received cards or had visitors. I had tracts sent in and just to hear the women say, ‘Can I have that to put it in my room?’, was so heartwarming. I would sit with them and ask, ‘Can I pray for you?’. To see the look on their faces to see that someone cared about them was wonderful.

When I got out, I prayed, ‘What do I do now, God?’. It wasn’t until January 2017, four months after my release, that I knew he wanted me to start a ministry writing to women in prison. I had seen what a simple card could do, sent to someone letting them know that someone cared for them and was praying for them.

Women at my church were willing to write letters. As Nanga Mai Women’s Prison Ministry, we’ve written to more than 500 different women. We write and pray that it goes to the right person and that it’s a message that God is intending for them.

There’s so much more that we’d like to do but we’re only a small group. However, we are growing and now have three separate churches involved.

This ministry has always been based on prayer and we would be blessed by your prayers as we endeavour to serve women who are often forgotten by our society.

Rachel (not her real name) is a member of the LCA/NZ. If you have women’s names to suggest, or would like to become involved, contact Nanga Mai Women’s Prison Ministry by emailing nangamaiministry@gmail.com or writing to PO Box 43, Park Holme SA 5043.

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Gavin started binge-drinking during his teenage years when heavy alcohol consumption was part of the culture at various places he worked at around country South Australia.

He believes his shyness made him easily led by other people in those days.

‘Maybe I used that as a mask to cover that up, but then I did it because everyone else did it’, Gavin says.

After getting married and having children, Gavin and his family moved to Adelaide, where he didn’t know many people. That’s when he began drinking by himself and the impact of his alcoholism on his family increased. Son Dion, who was five when the family moved to Adelaide, says while he didn’t recognise that his father’s drinking was the issue, he saw the impact on his parents’ relationship as a result of Gavin’s emotionally and verbally abusive behaviour.

‘Probably the biggest thing I noticed was the fracturing of my parents’ marriage and that was in the form of arguments’, Dion says.

‘I didn’t consciously recognise that it was the drinking at that point. It was only as I saw that Dad was different when he got home from work than at other times when he wasn’t drinking and I started to put things together and realise that there was a problem.

‘I didn’t like my parents arguing. I’d see my friends’ parents and how they were together and I kept thinking, “Why can’t my family be like that family?”.

Gavin, who was brought up in a Christian family and had continued to go to church with his wife and sons, says that for years he endeavoured to hide the truth about their problems.

‘We just acted like a normal couple and we hid everything’, he says. ‘[But] arguing all the time was the ugly part and [we’d] just argue over stupid things really, and once an argument started, it just didn’t stop and I didn’t know how to control myself basically. I would go outside and have another drink.’

After he’d finished high school, Dion left home and moved interstate to work at Warrambui Retreat and Conference Centre, a Lutheran camp near Canberra. Despite believing it was ‘inevitable’ that his parents would split up, he was still crushed when his father told him his mother had left.

‘I knew it was a possibility for many, many years. I remember Mum saying, “As soon as the kids are gone, I’m gone”. She recognised the marriage had broken, fallen apart, long ago. I was just crushed, but I was at Warrambui and I was so grateful that
I was in an environment, in a community that was so supportive and just surrounded me with prayer and love.’

The day after his wife left, Gavin had his last drink. His pastor had recommended he go to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) but he says he was ‘trying to think of all the excuses in the world’ not to go.

‘Eventually, I did and it was probably the best thing I ever did’, Gavin says. ‘I felt straight away I needed to be there and that was probably the turning point.’

The decision to attend AA not only changed Gavin, it also transformed his relationship with Dion, which had been virtually non-existent to that point, according to father and son. They met up a couple of weeks after Gavin quit drinking.

‘I [told] Dion I hadn’t had a drink for 15 days and he came and give me a hug. That was the first thing I suppose that I knew I hadn’t lost all the respect of my kids. And it also encouraged me to keep going on my track of recovery.

‘That was a big thing, a very precious moment.

‘I attended AA for 12 months. I had a wonderful support group of six people from the church and they still support me to this day. I couldn’t have done it without them.

‘I really turned to God a lot and it helped absolutely. So now there’s a very close relationship there. We can talk day-to-day and basically, I just treat him as another person.’

Dion also saw the good that came out of a devastating situation in his dad becoming sober and in their new relationship with each other.

‘My parents’ marriage had broken down, but there was also a joy in the fact that he’d walked away from the alcohol and that meant new possibilities, new things, new chances – a second chance really – and that was so much to celebrate and give thanks to God for’, Dion says. ‘Before Dad stopped drinking, I really didn’t know who he was, I didn’t have a relationship with him.

‘I would never have imagined that I could be such good mates with my dad before he stopped drinking.

‘I look at him and see his faith has just skyrocketed – because before it was essentially nothing. Now it’s real, it’s a living thing.’

Members of the LCA/NZ, Gavin and Dion originally shared their story of reconciliation and restoration through Lutheran Media’s Messages of Hope.

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by Matt Dutschke

Growing up in a large farming family on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia, I came across as a fairly happy sort of a guy. I grew up in the church and was always involved in leadership within the youth.

So a lot of people who knew me had no idea of the pain that was on the inside. Through my teenage years and 20s I hated myself. I had been through various forms of abuse and was struggling with my identity and worth and was afraid of relationships. I had always suffered depression from a young age.

I had a breakdown in my late teens and spent years talking through things with psychiatrists. When I was 25, my psychiatrist retired and we thought I was okay.

I was heavily involved in my community and my church but felt I still had something missing. When I was nearly 30, I met a lovely lady who had a little boy, who became my son and, after we married, we had a baby girl. My wife did not share my faith and so this was a struggle for me in our marriage.

The farm always struggled; I was driving trucks and working long hours to supplement our income. My wife did not enjoy farm life and, after the best harvest ever, we could still not see things getting better. So, for the good of the family, we leased the farm out and I worked off-farm in many different jobs.

In 2010 we went to Vietnam to teach English, which was my wife’s dream, so I gave up my job as a hire franchise manager. I had a breakdown there and came home and the marriage was never the same again. And after nearly 16 years of marriage, my wife left me, which I knew also meant losing my family unit and my family farm. I slipped into absolute depression. I hid away and was making plans to finish it.

I was sitting in the scrub on my farm and having my last cigarette, with the intention of taking my life. I cried out to God and said, ‘Where are you? I’ve trusted you my whole life and yet here I am’. Then my phone rang. It was my sister, Carol. She realised something was horribly wrong and made me promise to wait and she drove two hours back to the farm.

I was in hospital on and off for the next 12 to 18 months. My dad makes beautiful wooden comfort crosses and my sister had written the verse from Isaiah which says ‘I’ve got your name on the palm of my hand’ on a cross. I just clasped that and cried many tears over that journey.

The following year, a cousin and mate who is involved with the Shed Happens interdenominational men’s ministry nights on Yorke Peninsula, invited me to share my story. I prayed for strength and then shared everything – the shame of what I had gone through, the shame of losing my family, the shame of losing my family farm.

It was a turning point for me. I met the Shed Night founder, Queensland Lutheran Ian ‘Watto’ Watson, at a camp and he has given me constant encouragement and been a real mentor throughout my journey.

I’d decided to move to Adelaide to be closer to my kids but went back to Yorke Peninsula in mid-2012 to help my brother out while he was battling cancer. When he died, it was amazing how God gave me strength I did not believe I had, to be there for my family.

Not long afterward, my sister encouraged me to get involved with Teen Challenge South Australia, which helps men to overcome addiction, and I’ve been volunteering there ever since, including running a monthly Shed Happens night there. I also hosted the first Shed Happens nights for Adelaide’s north after
I moved permanently to Adelaide in 2012 and I remain involved with the group.

Through volunteering at Teen Challenge, I was offered a job at Cornerstone Housing, formerly Lutheran Community Housing, where I fill a variety of roles, from maintenance to dealing with contractors and whatever is needed.

Last year I went to Africa on a mission trip for SOUP, a Christian organisation which provides housing, medical treatment and emergency aid for people in Uganda.
I also taught adults life skills in Kenya for two weeks. It was a life-changing time for me, as I trusted wholly in God and sought his guidance.

But despite the way God had already turned my life around, my heart still yearned for a Christian life partner. Then through a Christian singles site, I met a wonderful lady named Dodie. We’ve now been together a little over 12 months and we were married in February this year and were blessed to have our four children in our wedding party.

God has been such a God of restoration, of grace, of healing for me. We are deeply indebted to God and I thank and praise him for giving me a second chance.

Together Dodie and I have developed a children’s Good News Reader Bible storybook for Africa, adapted from one done previously for Cambodia. But this is not my and Dodie’s doing, this is God’s leading.

I believe God’s got me where he wants me. And Dodie and I will be really excited to see where he’s going to take us next.

Matt Dutschke is a member of Para Vista Lutheran Church in suburban Adelaide.

For more information about Shed Night ministries, go to www.shednight.com

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