This is John on his arrival back in Brisbane after travelling overseas on his first holiday in a very, very long time. When I met John on a fateful evening in March 2016 in a park in Aspley, he never thought he’d be where he is now.
John was just another local unemployed addict with an attitude, preaching a verbose message of hopelessness littered with cursing.
When I saw him, it’s hard to explain, but I saw clearly how God saw him. How he should be. Through the mess, I saw his hunger for more, and the purity and intensity of his desire and insatiable hunger for something greater, and this was manifesting with vulgar frustration at the dissonance of his current reality with: what should be.
You see it’s easy for us Christians to resort to “just love on them”. Which is code for passively, impotently, tolerating something substandard. Something evil. Anything less than Heaven. This ain’t love. It’s driven by fear.
Addicts on drugs are… intense… they’re scary. It’s easy to respond in fear. It’s easy just to agree with people, affirm their foolishness, and they’ll say and think, “Aren’t you a nice Christian.” Like Ned Flanders. Problem is, Jesus wasn’t nice. Jesus was kind. Jesus was loving. Jesus was bold. But there’s no way you can read about Him and say to be like Jesus is to be a “nice guy”.
He was a chippy who confronted the political leaders of his day, literally whipped them for profiteering off the poor, and then suffered crucifixion and while hanging on the cross said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus wasn’t a “nice guy”.
In English, the word nice came from the Latin word nescius, which meant “fool” or “ignorant”. Being “nice” is driven by someone who doesn’t know their identity and who is seeking affirmation from people to externally confirm their internal insecurity that they are a “good person”. Nice. Enough. Loved.
When we know our identity and we’re internally secure, we don’t require external validation. We’re free to love, because we’re truly dead to ourselves (Galatians 2:20). Then we’re free to love people and act from a place of deep true love: free, that is, not dependent upon a favourable response from the recipient.
I confronted John publicly. It was really awkward, because he’s old enough to be my father. Part of me didn’t like it — any bloke would get this, it’s just not cool to challenge an older bloke like this. But in that moment, I think it was God talking to him through me. When we met and he recalled this moment, he started to cry. He gently nodded and said this was the moment that everything changed.
In that park, on an ordinary Tuesday night a year and half ago, he told me how he hadn’t seen his children in years and had given up. He said some very negative things out of deep bitterness and frustration. Very directly, I said, “No wonder your kids don’t want to see you, no-one would want to be around that.”
He was surprised, hurt and angry at my very “un-Ned Flanders” accusation. We had both nearly dug down to that place of raw honesty.
I pushed further. I told him that he didn’t have any love to give, and so he was just taking love from them. They’re his kids. They’re not meant to give love. He’s meant to have his bucket full so he could love them out of the surplus of his love. This was it.
His eyes began to mist over. He shared the story of how his daughter got married. He shared how his whole life, he was looking forward to that day he would walk her down the aisle. His voice broke as he shared how she contacted him just before the wedding to ask him not to come. This was the last he had heard from her.
I told him God wants to connect with him right now. God was gonna fill him with love. His bucket will be filled and he will have surplus, so that he doesn’t need any love from them, but he will have enough love to really be a Dad to his kids. He nodded. I asked him if he wanted that, and he shrugged nonchalantly. This wasn’t enough. I asked him what the miracle was. What did he want God to do?
He answered again in a unexpected way. You know… like I was gonna go and pray hands clasped by my bed, like I was betting on a holy lotto ticket. I demanded he tell me what the miracle was that he wanted. He said he wanted a home, a job; and his voice broke as he whispered he wanted to be reconnected with his kids. We held hands and prayed these things into existence.
I remember arrogantly telling him that I have a good hit rate on my prayers, and I didn’t want him to ruin my strike rate with an unanswered prayer. Inside I was thinking, “I’m shooting my mouth off here… something better happen.”
When I prayed about the reconciliation with his kids, I asked for God to orchestrate a miraculous sequence of events to bring about reconciliation, so that John and everyone involved would know it was God who did it, and it wouldn’t be done by John working hard to make it happen.
A few days later, I was out the back of Cup From Above in the garden next to the graffitied wall, working on my laptop. I noticed John inching towards me nervously. From about five metres away, where he felt safe, he asked me, “Which God did you pray to the other day?”
I said, “The God of reconciliation. Why is that?”
He said, “The first weird thing was that when I went home after that prayer, there was an email…”
The email was from his oldest son asking him to move in with him. He said that his son had never contacted him. It was always him who contacted his son.
Then he said, barely holding back tears, but different tears, “My daughter contacted me. Today I’m going to meet her husband for the first time.”
I hugged him and we praised God. But this was just the start. I got an email a few weeks later…
The following week (within 14 days of the prayer), he got a job at Eat Street Markets as a cook. First job in many many years. He was so happy because he’d reconciled with his oldest son, daughter and her husband. He was living with his oldest son, but started applying for another place to live. Which he could legitimately for the first time because he had a job. Now here’s where it gets really great:
He got paid fortnightly and it was an old-school business setup where he was working at Eat Street. They paid him by cheque. He’s on the way to the bank with his first paycheque. He’s praising God because of all that’s He’s done in just a short few weeks after years of hell. He was reflecting on that fateful five-minute prayer that brought Heaven down.
He had the most turbulent relationship with his youngest son and they hadn’t spoken in many many years. He’s holding his cheque just about to get to the bank, and he looks up and sees his son. He was so filled with love and confidence that he didn’t think twice and just went straight up to him and said hello. Because it was in a public place and “random”, the son responded. Things were different now. His father’s bucket was filled with love, and his boy recognised the transformation. John asked if they could catch up again soon. He agreed and they’ve since reconciled.
It doesn’t stop there.
John got his own home so he could move out of his son’s place and alleviate any possible tension from living there. He didn’t want to jeopardise his newfound reconciliation. John then got another job. He called me up and asked me if knew anyone who needed a job. I’m like: “Yeh, always.” He gives one of my other young blokes I had been training his original job. It gets better…
I asked him to come and preach his incredible story to my little home church. He’d gone on his first holiday in a long time. He looks so good hey. He went to Ukraine. I think he has some heritage there, and I found out he speaks Russian, which is spoken in parts of Ukraine.
He now wants to start an English school in Ukraine. He’s connected with someone there who is training people who are teaching disadvantaged people English, so they can get better jobs. He was saying how intelligent people he met there, because of simple barriers like language, are forced to work in unsafe mines. He explained it’s like a form of modern-day slavery. He’s planning to move there and teach English in this school; he also has some connection with the tourist and hospitality industry there.
Apparently, with the pristine snow fields and local environment, there’s an opportunity to develop “ecotourism” and empower these modern-day slaves to develop this into a viable social enterprise. He’s planning to take the little taste of the heaven he received here in Aspley to Ukraine. I’m sitting here writing this, and I’m thinking if I had a million guesses, I would never have arrived at this.
Tonight, he also told us that he now has a beautiful granddaughter to his daughter, whom he loves to hold and be a grandpa to.
Ain’t God good hey? This is the ministry of reconciliation. This is the Gospel.
Originally published at Adam James.