“I was diagnosed with blood cancer (myeloma) in October last year. It was picked up in a routine blood test. I didn’t have symptoms then, and I don’t have symptoms now. But with myeloma, you don’t start treating the cancer (with chemo) until the symptoms begin, because treatment is only effective for a short while … and they want to prolong life as much as possible. So I keep going back for tests, and I wait. There’s lots of uncertainty. Will this phase be short or long? When will treatment begin? And why has God given me blood cancer, especially now?
Sixteen years ago, God gave me an idea, and I started a Vocational Bible College (VBC). It’s an exciting, new initiative – a hands-on and practical approach to training ordinary people for ministry – people who wouldn’t fit in normal Bible colleges. God gave me the idea while I was at Bible college myself. My mate, Trent, was a carpenter and he was studying with me, but he was finding essays really difficult. The feedback he got was like a kick in the guts. And yet I knew that Trent was exactly the kind of guy we need in our churches. How could we train people like Trent in ways that suited their gifts and abilities?
There was a whole bunch of other things. I found out that 75 per cent of Australians haven’t been to university, and yet our churches don’t reflect those proportions. In Australia, generally, the people we meet in churches are professionals who have been to university. That means there’s a big unreached people group in our communities – people who’ve gone straight into the workforce from school. It was like God opened my eyes to a lost part of the body of Christ. Who is speaking their language?
So we started what has become VBC 12 years ago, and we’ve had hundreds of students. The main difference is that we don’t rely on reading and writing for learning. It happens through discussion and debates in the classroom, and through doing ministry in local churches. Assessments are done through presentations rather than essays. We’re trying to do what Jesus did. He trained his disciples for ministry as they walked along, and as they had conversations.
For us, there have been so many highlights – seeing the students flourish. These students who have previously had a negative experience of education have been growing in their love for God. We’ve seen God transform them. One of our graduates has just been ordained as a deacon in the Sydney Anglican Church. Hopefully, there are more to come.
It feels like the work is so important, yet here am I with myeloma. A lot of the work is dependent on me, even though I’ve been trying to train up others. Why has God given this to me now, when the work is just getting off the ground? I don’t know. But this week, I’ve been reading 2 Chronicles. It’s the summary of the kings of Judah. I’m reminded that the thing that mattered most to God was that the kings walked with him their whole lives. Some of them started off well but then they became proud. In chapter 26, for example, Uzziah was like that. He sought God and he did what was right in his eyes, at first. But then, “after he became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God …” (v16). Uzziah started off well, but he didn’t finish well.
It’s so important. Just because we start off well, doesn’t mean we’re going to finish well. I want to finish well! I’ve been thinking that maybe God has given me this time to keep me aware of my mortality and my frailty – to keep me close to him, dependent on him and to make me more prayerful. It’s made me more thankful. I’m still fearful of the future, in terms of what it might mean for my wife and children, but I am learning to trust that God knows all things. He’s going to look after them.”
Andrew’s story is part of Eternity’s Faith Stories series, compiled by Naomi Reed. Click here for more Faith Stories.