Don’t look back … up close with Aussie evangelist Christine Caine
As a former journalist, I have always held to the maxim that everyone has a story worth telling. They don’t have to be a celebrity or a so-called influencer. In fact, your 80-year-old neighbour could have the richest story of all.
On the other hand, some people have such big, extraordinary lives that I, as the writer, worry that I cannot do justice to such a story.
And so, I sit here fingers on my laptop, pondering exactly how I begin synthesising a one-hour, freewheeling conversation with Australian evangelist Christine Caine into 1000 words of copy.
For those who might not know of Christine, let me give the short bio. Born to a Greek woman in Sydney in 1966, adopted as an infant to another Greek woman, raised Greek Orthodox and living in a government housing commission house in Lalor Park, Sydney, Caine was marginalised because of her ethnicity and gender.
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As a child, Christine was sexually abused by four men for 12 years. She had her throat slashed (her words) in 2014 to remove a cancer growing on her thyroid, along with nodules on her voice box and has a visible scar at the front of her neck as a permanent reminder. Christine and her husband Nick set up The A21 Campaign in 2008 to combat human trafficking around the world. It now has 19 offices in 21 countries! With their two daughters, the Caines moved to the USA just over a decade ago. She launched Propel Women to equip Christian women leaders (which Christine describes as ‘the passion of my life’) in 2015.
Her first degree was an Arts degree at the University of Sydney. Recently Caine completed an M.A. in Evangelism and Leadership through Wheaton College, Illinois.
Apart from telling us that this woman sounds resilient and a high achiever, this bio tells us nothing of the person of Christine Caine. Who is she? What drives her to undertake these endeavours? Perhaps the best word to help you understand a little about Christine, is ‘passionate’.
Where does one start?
Prior to preparing for this interview, I had seen Christine speak via video at Bible Society’s inaugural Bible Conference. Her energy and speed of delivery were gobsmacking. Her message, compelling. I then read the final draft of her latest book, Don’t Look Back: Getting Unstuck and Moving Forward With Passion and Purpose, and finally watched the video of the launch of Propel Women on the homepage of the website. I suspect what I watched was vintage Christine Caine, running on all cylinders. I was hooked!
Christine Caine loves Jesus, and she loves life. Her encounter with the Risen Christ transformed her in every possible way and she wants to ensure everyone else is availed of the same opportunity. For her, everything is about people accepting Jesus as their personal saviour.
As she explained, “I’m not like a trained professional counsellor or therapist, but I am a woman with a testimony. And until my dying breath, I will continue to declare that there is freedom in Christ.”
For Christine, all roads lead back to Jesus, and she knows where she would be without him.
“I grew up in a staunch Greek Orthodox culture. Women were not encouraged to dream that God would have a plan for their life. There was the cultural thing of being Greek, as well being in the 60s, 70s, 80s in Australia – it was a different era of what the possibilities were for women.
“And so, there is no logical reason why I should be doing what I am doing today around the world, but for the grace of God. For me, to tell my story without weaving Jesus as the very foundation and fabric of it would be disingenuous. I mean, you know, it is what it is.
“It wasn’t going to Blacktown High, it wasn’t getting an arts degree with Sydney Uni. Ultimately, those things don’t qualify me to do what I’m doing today.
“It’s the grace and mercy and the call of God and that ultimately when I’ve wanted to quit, when I thought it was too hard, he alone is what has kept me going.”
Like most of us, Christine has plenty of hard times in her life, and these hard times have helped make her who she is today – a funny, feisty, straight-talking evangelist who is in a hurry for everyone to love Jesus, who wants women to shine and who is driven to rescue women and girls from the horrors of trafficking.
“Without the cross, I could never make sense of it.” – Christine Caine
When asked about whether there are certain places where she feels in God’s presence more than others, her response was telling.
“It would be in the survivors, those who come out of human trafficking. They’re my heroes. And you see in them the face of Jesus, you truly do, I think, in the brokenness, in pain and in suffering. There is no doubt about it.
“And definitely when I am out in his creation, there is a sense of the beauty, the grandeur. It helps put everything in perspective. I just realise that none of us is anything great.
“He is great. He is awesome. And it also helps me not carry the burden of the work we do. I’m able to put it back onto the shoulders of Jesus who bore the burden at Calvary for man’s sin and evil and a fallen world.
“I think that’s what helps me keep perspective. Otherwise, I would be crushed by the weight of the evil and the injustice and the depravity that I see, because I don’t think any human being can actually bear that burden.”
That thorny question of why God allows evil
Such a conversation can’t help but turn to the ultimate question that can stop people seeking God, why does God allow evil and suffering and injustice?
“That is the age-old question,” Christine says.
“But to me, without the cross, I could never make sense of it. It is only because of the cross and the fact that Jesus himself became a suffering servant. And Jesus bore our sin and bore our shame and bore all. He who knew no sin became sin. It’s the only framework that helps me not go crazy to be honest.”
For Christine, the why question does not help. She can’t spend all her life asking why she was a victim of extended sexual abuse. She found asking why would send her into a tailspin.
“I have to put it in a bigger framework of ‘we live in a fallen world, and there are so many things this side of eternity that I don’t understand, but I do trust the character and nature of God.’
“It is the hope aspect that keeps me going.”
As we continued down this path of reflection, we talked more about how we hold these two aspects of God’s love and the question of evil, knowing that we can’t solve it on this side of eternity.
Christine said to me, “I don’t know Penny, how do we reconcile that? The very same God that could have stopped it [her abuse] is the God that I run to for comfort from it. So, it’s the divine mystery of the Christian life.
“Faith ultimately is predicated on trust, not understanding.”
“I think there’s that element of it, but the redemption story and the cross and the resurrection is the only way I can actually make sense of all the evil and suffering in the world.”
Christine has learned to put what she describes as the ‘collateral damage’ into the hands of God, saying that there are smarter people than she and me who have been arguing about this issue of evil and the fallen world for two millennia. For her, it comes down to trust.
“At the end of the day, I have encountered the risen Christ and because of that, I have to trust what I don’t know.
“And faith ultimately is predicated on trust, not understanding. And I think, you know, apart from the injustice that was done to me, and the work that I do with A21, we prosecute traffickers and try to deal with unjust systems that foster human trafficking on the earth. So you do what you can.”
Christine’s faith drives her to do more, not less. It is not a question of whether we shouldn’t be doing anything because what does it matter anyway.
For Christine, she is driven to more, she is held to action, not inaction, because of the resurrected Jesus.
Remember Lot’s wife
And it is that drive to do more, that has led her to write her latest book, Don’t Look Back, based around her discovery that Jesus spoke of only one woman in the Bible, and that was Lot’s wife, in Luke17:32. She is a bit ashamed that she had never noticed those three words before, “Remember Lot’s wife.”
“What actually struck me – it’s amazing that it would take me this long, 35 years of being a follower of Jesus – is that out of the 170 women that are either mentioned or alluded to in Scripture, there is only one woman that Jesus ever tells us to remember.
“For someone like me who does so many women’s conferences, I speak so much, I’ve taught about so many women in the Bible. You know, whether it’s Miriam or Deborah or Esther or Ruth or Naomi, I’ve taught about them all.
“But in 35 years of ministry, I have never heard a sermon, or spoken about, Lot’s wife. And yet there’s only one woman that Jesus tells us to remember. Now listen, if I was Eve, I would’ve been ticked off. Because I’m like, what do you mean ‘remember Lot’s wife’? I came first, out of a rib, and I’ve been blamed for the problem of humanity for my entire existence.
“Or if I was Sarah, I’d be like, I popped out a kid without an epidural at 90. Like, what is your problem? Or Mary, I’m your mother, I birthed you. You’ve got all these chicks going, ‘What about me?’
“And Jesus is like, ‘Lot’s wife.’”
Everyone knows Lot’s wife. Even non-Christians. But all we know is that she was the woman who was turned into a pillar of salt. We don’t even know her name. And what did she do? She looked back. Christine was on a mission to understand why Jesus wanted us to remember this one woman, and she had those two years of COVID to do her homework.
Going to the source of Lot’s wife’s story, Christine started to reflect on what the story might be telling us, and as she thought about it, she started to understand Lot’s wife’s anxiety, her desire for what she knew – “she lingered, she was longing to go back.”
“She got stuck in a moment that she should have only been passing through.”
Christine, in the midst of the pandemic, of all the uncertainty and pain of living in the US, learning daily of friends dying, she understood Lot’s wife.
“No one should throw shade on her,” Christine said thoughtfully, “because all of us, probably 20 times a day in different areas – relationally, maybe a business, a ministry, a past success, a past failure, a disappointment, a betrayal – we all look back and could easily focus on that thing, that thing we did or someone else did, or we said or someone else said, or that did happen or that didn’t happen.
“I think all of us could get into that place. And then she got calcified. So she got stuck in a moment that she should have only been passing through.”
This was a light-bulb moment for Christine. The circumstances that Jesus was talking about had similarities to our world. We felt the world was falling apart. And so Christine starts thinking that this could be a moment for the Body of Christ to remember Lot’s wife. She asked herself if maybe Christians have become stuck in a place we are only meant to be passing through.
“So if God’s the same yesterday, today and forever, and he is this hope we have as an anchor for our soul, even if everything around us is falling apart, our ultimate, eternal hope should not have changed. Jesus hasn’t changed, and the promise that God has for our lives, the purposes that God has for our lives, they ultimately have not changed.”
To quote Christine, “Yes and Amen.”
Penny Mulvey is Bible Society Australia’s Chief Wellbeing and Communications Officer.