At 2.45 on Friday afternoon I was cleaning my desk and looking through my Bible at the numerous pieces of junk that had accumulated in it over the years. Old church bulletins, tattered bookmarks, random notes and then a brochure that had been sitting there for around 12 months. The brochure was a promo for a basketball team from Australia who travelled each year to the Philippines as missionaries, moving around the villages, playing games against local teams and sharing faith along the way. “Venture for Victory” was the name of the trip and it had captured my imagination as something I’d like to do ‘one day’. But when?.. I didn’t know. I sifted a lot of the accumulated junk into the bin but this brochure I put back inside the covers with the noted intention of doing something about it – of enquiring what it would take to go on one of the teams.
I would definitely‘ do something ‘ about it… soon… I was only 21 and in my first year of teaching in the little country town of Wagin. So I figured I had plenty of time to get around to it. I loved basketball and was a super zealous young Christian so it seemed like a perfect fit. I tossed the Bible back onto the desk in my tiny makeshift Phys ed office.( It was actually one of the Home economics store-rooms!) and closed the door for the weekend.
I was Perth bound and had signed up for a weekend of discipleship training with Rod Denton from Melbourne. I didn’t know anyone else going, but that didn’t matter to me. In those years I was a sponge for new information and the issue of “discipleship” seemed front and centre to me. Nothing has changed on that front.
The weekend was valuable. I was inspired to go back and think more purposefully about discipleship, but just as it was all about to end I had one of those weird and all too rare “God moments”. A bloke I had never met before approached me with an unusual request. I knew who he was – well, I knew his name – Dave Stanford – and I knew that he had already done a couple of the ”Venture for Victory” trips that I had said I would look into.
What I didn’t know was that he had gone on the weekend with the intention of promoting the trip in the hope that God might speak to someone there. As the conference ended he hadn’t felt that a generic group promo was in order. But he did sense God telling him specifically to approach me and ask me if I had ever heard of these teams and if I would consider going.
So he did just that. He came and said ‘G’day, I’m Dave and I saw you playing basketball earlier. I was wondering if you have ever heard of the Venture for Victory teams – and if you might want to pray about going”
I had the immediate sense that this was no accident – that it was one of those divine nudges to go and do something that was both exciting, but way out of my comfort zone. Oddly enough looking back after nearly 40 years it doesn’t feel scary at all now – but I was just 21 years old then and the world felt very different. The trip was expensive and I needed to find the necessary $ $ to go. I was excited but also not sure of all of what was involved – what I was sure of was that I had either had a significant and immediate answer to prayer, or I had experienced a massive coincidence.
I have never thought of it as a coincidence. It was one of the first times I recall experiencing a sense of “calling” from God and the trip itself was probably the most life changing thing I have ever done. I remember during my teen years that I had a very negative perception of missionaries. When they came to speak in church they looked and sounded so nerdy – so out of touch – and their stories left me bored however, I came home from the Philippines knowing that my days as a teacher were numbered and that I wanted to do work that involved sharing my faith with people outside the church.
It was a pivotal moment in my life.
On this weekend just gone I saw Dave again at a family function and he introduced me to his son and told the story of how we had met and of the connection we have because of that very unique and special moment. I don’t think I have ever shared that story on this blog, but this weekend was a prompt do just that because as I listened to Dave re-tell it I couldn’t help but thinking “what a cool story’.’
Im thinking I might even start a folder or category on this blog titled “The Fingerprints of God”, became as I look back over my life I see moments that I now regard as unmistakably divine encounters. You can call them whatever you like, but my experience since then tells me that’s exactly what they are.