It was a case of stepping out in faith with ten thousand hours preparation. It’s been an ongoing burden of the LORD in my heart for some time now to visit the church fellowship in Sydney some 3800 kilometres away. COVID regulations meant that they hadn’t gathered for Sabbath worship since May last year. Thus I left Western Australia by motorcycle [still unable to fly there] on 20th February 2022 having planned this trip for several months.
I cherished those three weeks spent in Sydney, in weekly worship and fellowship. There were numerous café catchups. Sydney has good coffee! God blessed me in so many ways; in fact, all my prayers in every way were answered. I had prayed for four specific things: safety, favour, health and providence. During the first week of torrential rains, work was more restrictive to indoors, and then having to vacate accommodation because of COVID; otherwise all worked well.
I left Sydney almost a week ago, staying the first night in Braidwood NSW, then Robinvale VIC and then at Kimba SA. This is now where my testimony begins:
A long ride from Kimba where I stayed last night to Border Village on the Eyre Highway. Throughout this trip there have been numerous favourable moments; people who showed extraordinary kindness. Like the lady at the motel in Robinvale who was simply extraordinarily helpful in finding alternate accommodation.
I was grateful to have had tail winds all day. The bike used less fuel, and the riding was easier. I experienced head winds and a dust storm on the Hay Plains days earlier, so I was grateful for favourable wind. Late in the afternoon, I noticed two foreboding storm clouds in the direction I was riding. But, in both instances, the storm downpour was to the right, and though the road in place was wet, I only got a faint drizzle at one stage.
But arriving at Border Village was a different story. I had been meditating on what it might look like and what I might say to the police checkpoint, as Western Australia still has a “hard state border” that up until recently prevented most traffic from passing. As I approached the border checkpoint, a scripture came to mind, “Don’t meditate on what you’re going to say, for the Lord will give it to you in that very hour.” That notion in itself made me feel at ease, as earlier I had noted to a friend that my heart would probably be pounding in anticipation on arrival at the border.
Thankfully the policeman who met me was empathetic but firm, saying I could not cross into Western Australia. “Ride back to find a doctor who can give you a medical exemption; if you camp out at night don’t get cold.”
Thus I wondered what to do. Another scripture came to mind as I contemplated my next step. “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.” I didn’t know what that would mean in this narrative, or what I should next do or not do. So I stood loitering there about ten metres from the police checkpoint. I stood there for a long time, returning later with a chewy bar and some water. What do I do now? The thought seemed to reoccur, “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.”
I stood for several hours outside the quarantine/police checkpoint, only to finally have an unfriendly sergeant tell me to move on. He was a complex, unsympathetic and unkind man. He didn’t buy into the compassionate, helpful and caring scenario. He especially didn’t seem to like religious folk. He refused my offer to join in prayer together. I mentioned that there is State Law, Federal Law and Divine Law. I noted that Federal Law states that all Australians have freedom of movement between states, which he acknowledged. I said, “You and I are brothers.” “No we’re not,” he retorted. In the conversation, his aggressive stance seemed ready for an arrest – there was nothing redemptive or reconciling about his demeanor or attitude. Another sergeant just stood there and from his body language seemed baffled and unconvinced (perhaps even in their role of what they were actually doing there.) Yet the first police officer I encountered on arrival did exhibit a common decency and concern. God does grant favour.
In our energetic and somewhat confrontational conversation with the sergeant, I told him that “one day every knee would bow to Jesus.” He said that his religion was to himself and so should mine be. What really left him rattled was when I said, “One day Jesus will call your name from the grave.” At that moment he seemed as if he momentarily lost his train of thought. Again he threatened what arrest might look like. I explained that as I work for the International Ministerial Congress, that wasn’t an option, and left peaceably. As I left with the bike to organise a cabin for the night, the first police officer I encountered waved to me and shouted, “Safe riding.” Then when I went to buy a bottle of water, I encountered him again as he was there getting a coffee, and he acknowledged that I was staying the night.
“Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.” Still not clear where to proceed. But to witness the gospel message in the name of Jesus at the police checkpoint with the two sergeants there was an honour and privilege. “The word will be given to you in that very hour.”
I was so brain-and-body tired, but this time on a deeper level. It was a hard afternoon. I really appreciate the rallying of the brothers and sisters in Christ who are joining in prayer across Australia and even overseas. I appreciated hearing Rebecca’s cheerful voice over the phone.
I’m now getting lots of messages from across the world. Some of my responses:
It’s a strange peculiarity creating a hard border that excludes the philanthropic accommodation of those who have made a personal informed decision not to take the COVID vaccine or to disclose their personal medical details. Please pray. I’ve been on the road for some 30 or so hours, riding 8 hours each day. There is no option for turning back, but that God grant favour and opportunity from His divine repository. We need the congregations of the saints to uphold this in prayer. Thanks Mike Thank you for PRAYERS. I often preach about faith, talk about faith, retell the great Biblical stories of faith and encourage others to have faith; now is the day to humbly stand in that moment. Sometimes all we need to do is to, “Stand still and see the salvation of the LORD.”
Sometimes it’s hard to see the silver lining when treading the difficult path. What do I do standing in no-man’s-land? A man of God, now a sojourner, unable to return home. My wife Rebecca some 14 hours away by road anticipating me coming home soon, but I’m blocked by an authoritarian, unscientific political narrative. I had wrongly presumed that the checkpoint would have had a COVID testing station. After all, the Government website informed travellers to bring their own Rapid Antigen Tests. I had bought a pack of six at a pharmacy in Sydney, just in case. But, there was no testing procedure. We now know that the vaccinated are just as contagious as the unvaccinated, so a testing mechanism at the border would have been a genuine complement to the State Government’s health emergency powers. It was conspicuously not. One can only conclude that the current WA policies are about control and exclusion, nothing more.
As the sun was setting, I decided to continue praying, and began to also think it might also be a time to fast. I’ve certainly lost some kilos on this trip; stress does reduce appetite.
I eventually checked into a motel at Border Village, and had a troubled night, my body inexplicably trembling from the stress. Again a Biblical theme pressed into my mind during the night. It was as if, again, “the word of the Lord came to me.” The thought persisted during the night of when a fleeing Elijah was fearful of his life. King Ahab sought to kill him too. Elijah was confused, felt alone, defeated and overwhelmed. Hiding in a cave, an angel of the Lord came and said to him [the paraphrase going around in my mind], “Eat, gain some strength, for the journey ahead of you is long.”
In rehearsing and pondering that scripture, I realised that now wasn’t the time to fast. That can happen later. If I were to ride the bike, especially maintaining control at very low speeds, I needed physical strength. (The first things to feel the stress from fasting are my weakened legs!) “Eat, you need the strength, for great is the journey ahead of you,” was the recurring theme in my head.
Thankfully I had some munchy bars and water, and felt somewhat in a better state of mind. Talking to Rebecca on the phone brought out a well-spring of tears and for a few minutes the choked incapacity to speak. Sometimes we get tested to the very maximum!
The short story is that the following morning, I took the phone counsel of two very different options. One qualified “good” advice was to ignore the police checkpoint and ride straight into Western Australia. At Norseman, the police would stop me, arrest me, issue a heavy fine, with then the scenario of a court case in Kalgoorlie. The source told me that others had been “successful” with getting back home to Western Australia this way. I spent some 25 minutes on the phone asking a variety of questions about the details of the pending operation. It seemed that it would be the only way to get home. After all, the Western Australia police were actually acting on South Australian soil, a mitigating technicality that could be presented in court.
So what do I do? I felt the stress like I’ve never experienced before. So I sought additional counsel from pastor Phil in Adelaide. We discussed what the potential news headlines would look like: WA COG7 PASTOR ARRESTED…” It would reflect badly on our part of the body of Christ, the church. The harder option would be to turn around and ride back the 16 hours to Adelaide. I’d rather suffer for righteousness and in the name of Jesus, (and not for my rights) than be tempted to find the quicker way home. It was a hard choice but one what was clear enough to me.
Thus I saddled up the bike, and quietly headed east again, on a road terribly familiar but one filled with tears. Again, I’d rather suffer for righteousness sake, than play by the devil’s rules. Then the word of the Lord sounded again, “For long is the road ahead of you.” I somehow understood.
Even a day’s journey begins to see events in their bigger perspective. Let’s go back a few years. When I was ordained as pastor, both anointing pastors prayed. The first pastor prayed for an out-pouring and anointing of the Holy Spirit. The second pastor prayed for strength for all the things “John would suffer in the name of Jesus”. The second prayer piqued my attention for reasons different from the first prayer. I’ve often wondered how that suffering might evolve, what it might consist of and the circumstances therein? I’ve tasted some of it now, and so has my wife Rebecca.
We are now sadly living in a post-Christian culture. The anchors and vestiges of morality and compassion are virtues quickly receding into past memory. I see that so clearly. The question remains: what will it take for return, repentance and reconciliation? Maybe there’s a harder and longer road ahead.
And, finally, what is the word that I keep hearing from above? “Blessed are those who put their trust in the LORD.“