Leaving for Vilnius, Lithuania for study leave this Friday has sparked me to think upon the last time I was in this city.
It was between 1992 and 1998 when I was a pastor and aid worker in Moscow, Russia. I went there to preach at a friend's Church a number of times and to take a break with my family.
In that context, it might be worth sharing the story.
After finishing university (UNE, Armidale NSW) in 1979, I did the bohemian thing, travelling and working around Australia for about 18 months and “searching for the truth”...the done thing in those days. After spending time as leading hand on the tapping floor at the Kambalda Nickel Smelter, I ended up in Perth and was invited to a Christian outreach concert by a stranger in the Hay Street Mall. I went, listened, and was profoundly converted to Christianity. My life really changed. My friends from the eastern states couldn’t believe it, but that’s another story.
It is an awkward thing to say that there are times where you feel touched by God. (In fact in Russia, it is a phrase to describe mental deficiency, as in, that person has been “touched by God”). But there are a couple that I lay claim to: becoming a Christian is the first… and then another time, it was when I was asked to take responsibility to serve other people in a Christian context.
Initially I felt very self-important, it was kind of a rapid advancement and I went home (single man, 24 years old) feeling quite full of myself. As I lay to sleep that night, I felt an unforgettable sense of God saying to me, “Rod, any person you help, talk to, or have any involvement with, in fact any person at all…I died for them...that is their true value.” I instantly stopped feeling self-important.
Over the years, my wife Suzanne and I have served people through starting and building churches. I have had the opportunity to preach, and minister in many parts of the world and every continent except South America. This is what led us to go to Russia in 1992, when our twin boys were nine and our daughter was four. Six years later we returned to Australia…absolutely exhausted. Our family needed a change.
I did my Diploma of Education, dug ditches in the morning and stacked shelves at Coles in the evening and my wife cleaned the church. I began teaching in 2000.
At the very core, I see no difference between a calling to serve people in ministry and serve them in Christian education. In fact, I love teaching and love the privilege of knowing and working with young people (and yes, even their parents).
A was a teacher for about seven years and then moved into more full time pastoral care and finally Dean of Students. I also started and pastored a church in Mundaring during that time. About 11 years ago, when I was 46, I had a heart attack. I remember being taken by ambulance to Royal Perth (parts of this story are very funny, but more suited to a face-to-face conversation) rushed into an operation, told it was “serious” and was operated on while I was fully conscious and watching my own heart on a TV screen above my head.
Two things happened: 1) I fell in love with the doctor. 2) I had nothing to do during the operation - which could have been final, but lay there and think back on my life which might be ending.
I thought about the years in ministry and in teaching. The opportunity to serve people, those that had been helped and changed and those that had become Christians. I had a very profound sense of “Well it’s a shorter life than I was planning, but thank you God for the opportunity to have played a part in the lives of others. It is You and serving others that has made my life have meaning”.
So anyway, to cut a long story short, I lived and now am healthy and strong. Now I find myself a principal, but the story essentially hasn’t changed. People are most precious, they are profoundly loved by a real and living God, the same God that has helped me and serving people is what I truly believe makes life worthwhile.
Sorry if this is out of the ordinary, just thought I’d try and let you know where I’m coming from just as I’m leaving. I’m really looking forward to three weeks of learning and thinking and planning for our school’s future.
Mr Rod McNeill