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From smoking dope to South Sudan – Rob’s story

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The first time Christianity came close to Rob, he ran away from it.

Heavily into a life of independence, alcohol, partying and smoking dope, Rob was confronted when his brother became a Christian. “What’s going on here?” Rob recalls thinking. “My brother was suddenly dressing in slacks, looking slick, instead of wearing street clothes.” Rob’s brother started going to church and holding Bible Study in the house Rob was also living in. “I would jump the fence at the back of the house,” says Rob, “so I wouldn’t have to go through all the Christian people on my way out.”

But one day, Rob went to his brother’s room to get a pen, and saw his brother’s Bible on the desk, open to where he was studying it. “I started flicking through it, trying to figure out what it was about. I flicked through the Old Testament and saw talk about warriors, swords and violence. I thought, ‘That’s not what Christianity is meant to be about!’ It caught my eye and I started reading the Bible for the first time.” Phrases and themes starting speaking to Rob: that he was a child of God, a child of Christ. But Rob was reading the Bible while he was stoned and wasn’t sure whether he was hallucinating.

A thought came to him in a whisper: “Get of the dope. Don’t tell your mates – just go”.

“At the time I thought it was my decision to go,” says Rob. “I didn’t know it was God.” He sold everything, and drove away.

Rob ended up in Darwin, with a job, but feeling empty. Deciding that he’d join a club, he picked up the Yellow Pages and started flicking through. He discovered that “churches come before clubs in the Yellow Pages. And a thought came to me, ‘this is where you have to go, this is what you need to do’.” After ringing three churches and feeling frustrated that they were all closed, Rob decided to give it one more go and rang Casuarina Uniting Church. The pastor there, Rob Tan, happened to be at the church midweek to conduct a wedding rehearsal, and answered the phone. As soon as he answered, Rob says, “I started balling my eyes out. I had honestly never cried a day in my life until then. And I was crying convulsively.” The pastor told him to come in straight away. Rob hung up – and immediately stopped crying – only to resume again as soon as he stepped into the pastor’s office.

“The pastor told me that day that God was trying to get through to me, knocking on the door.” Rob accepted the pastor’s invitation to come along to the church and see what it was all about. For two months he attended, sitting up the back with sunglasses on to hide the teas which were falling. Then Rob committed his life to the Lord, and was baptised on 8 July 2001. “I knew God was calling and that he has a purpose for my life.”

Rob went through a “honeymoon” period of new faith in God, during which time he met missionaries from Papua New Guinea, who told him stories of their trials and tribulations as well as their joys. For the first time the thought occurred to Rob: “Maybe I could become a missionary”.

Rob left Darwin, working on stations and farming until he hit Geelong. During that time, he hooked up with old mates and was drinking to fit it. It was a motorbike accident that kicked him into gear again, and showed him how his possessions had come to mean too much to him. “I got to thinking, ‘what am I doing with the gift God has given me?’ I learned at that time that as a Christian, I was called by faith to obedience. Continuing to live my pre-Christ, God-dishonouring life was the wrong thing to do.”

So Rob got rid of everything except his motorbike and what he could carry. He ended up in Mackay in Queensland, wanting – needing – to do something with his time that gave glory to God. He volunteered with the Salvation Army driving a truck and says, “It was the best job I ever had, working for nothing, but helping people – helping proclaim the gospel through God’s love.” At the same time, Rob was encouraged by his pastor, David Whittaker of Mackay Baptist church, to enroll in the Global Discipleship Training. As he prayed about it, “every single thing worked out”, and he found himself leaving for Townsville.

“It was the most awesome part of my life,” Rob recalls, “growing in Christ, exploring who he is and where he wanted me to go.” The course wasn’t without its challenges: “As a truckie, I had only really needed to write street names occasionally. But the course required 2000 word essays, so I had to learn to write again.” He also had to learn how to use a computer for the first time.

Following the course, Rob left for missions work in Malawi, Africa, where he taught people how to grow sunflowers and blue gums for sustainable firewood. Rob says, “From the time I was in Malawi, I knew that this was the work that God was calling me to do. When I came back I dedicated my life to service in missions. I wanted to stay, but I had to come back and do some sort of formal training.”

For the last seven years, that’s exactly what Rob has been doing. He’s completed theological training, and gained practical ministry experience. Now Rob has his next step: South Sudan.

Rob connected with Sudanese refugees while working for Diversitat in Melbourne, teaching them how to drive so they can have mobility and find jobs. “From there it snowballed,” says Rob.

Rob will head to South Sudan at the end of this year as a missionary with SIM. His role will be practical, using mechanical skills to construct ministry buildings, missionary housing and maintenance work. But it’s more than just that. Rob’s heart is very much for the leadership development and discipleship that he will be involved in, as he works as a part of an international team of South Sudanese workers.

Rob’s not too worried about living in isolation – “I don’t mind living with nothing, I’m a bushy at heart, it’s how I survive”. Rather, the challenge for him is in discipling leaders and growing God’s kingdom.

“We’ll pray together, grow together in trust, and solidify the foundation of Christ in their lives.” Rob is looking forward to building up moral leadership, which is desperately needed in South Sudan. “If I can help develop God fearing Christian leaders who will go on to lead their people, it’s an awesome thing,” says Rob. “And also if I can help instil life skills in the people who will need to build their nation – if I can play a part in that – awesome. I believe that’s what God’s called me to.”

“I used to wish that I was a doctor, a nurse, or an accountant, so I could do that work on the mission field. But God has shown me that what I can do is the support their needs – the housing, the clinics – so they can perform their calling.”

“We’re all moulded by God, every single day. Ephesians 2:10 says we’re created by God to do good work. Our character, skills and gifting are for a particular time and season; that’s the challenging thing, to make sure that I hear God’s calling and understand what he wants, what’s honouring to him and blesses him.”

“We’re all called to be missionaries in our families, or work place, and to all nations. The body is made up of many parts – the Christian family. Everyone has a different part to play. We must play that part. Through faith comes obedience: we know who God is, and know his will for our life. Through that faith comes deeds, the fruit of who we are.”

Rob has done many things in his life so far, and is looking forward to working to honour God in South Sudan. He refers to James 2:14, emphasising the importance of being a Christian of action and not just words, and also Colossians 1:10: “ live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” According to Rob, whatever we choose to do in our lives we should remember that, “It ain’t worth nothing if it ain’t for the King.”

Header image: flickr_United Nations Development Programme

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