TESTIMONIES

There were some wonderful experiences of the people attending Sunset Rock Church

The case of Kate McSkimming        

Life was happening as planned. The usual highs and lows.

I grew up in the ’60s, my father a hard working salesman, with an even harder working stay-at-home mother to me and my seven brothers and sisters. My family was the centre of my world. I was taught to share, to stick up for myself, to care for others, be honest, truthful, resourceful, and to know the value of a dollar. Love and belonging created a binding force in my life.

For the final four years of secondary school I headed to an Anglican girls’ school. Regular chapel services were mandatory. My parents took me to church and Sunday school for a while and occasionally I’d decide to walk there of a Sunday on my own. We said grace before our evening meal, but that was more a habit than a prayer. It was an indication that we could start the meal. My family were never particularly religious but we were encouraged to know Bible stories and to be aware of the major tenets of the Bible and to lead a good life.

I became a teacher and married Ian. We had two great children and were both working in good jobs and running our own business. We had bought and renovated a couple of old houses, been on holidays overseas and followed our own dreams.

We’d just sold our hobby farm, realising that our tree change dream was going to be too much hard work, and had bought another ‘renovator’s delight’ turn-of-the-century home in Aldgate. Things had been a bit stressful with shifting ideas but nothing we weren’t able to cope with.

Then, out of nowhere, bam! The world I was so sure of was changed forever. I couldn’t fathom what it all meant. Images that will stay in my memory forever.

I went to bed early that night. Ian sat up watching TV. It happened. He was stunned and horrified. I didn’t see or hear anything until the next morning. He quietly told me as I woke.

I remember him saying, “Last night I saw something I hope I never have to see again. I thought it was a trailer for a horror movie.”

But see it again we did; over and over and over again. Aeroplanes full of people being flown into skyscrapers full of people! The horror we could only imagine in a movie was really happening. The vision of people scrambling to rooftops, running from dust clouds, smoke and fire, jumping. Messages from captives in buildings and on board planes. Horror. Terror. The world was never going to be the same.

I checked my family. My heart went to the victims, my thoughts to the impact. That day felt eerie. I was shaken to my core. All security and peace seemed under attack by such evil.

It took a while for me to come to the knowledge that such evil would not rule, nor win. There was something even stronger. Hope was not lost.

I knew I had to reconnect for real with that hope in order to give this life meaning. To find what it is that gives this life purpose and direction, hope, security and, most importantly, love.

It was because of the atrocity of September 11, 2001, that I sought the opposite of it, and I again found hope. Through listening to others of faith, conversing with Jesus in prayer, the wonder of creation revealing itself to me and noticing ‘God moments’ big and small, I came to realise that I have always been blessed and guided by Jesus. He has always been with me, loving me, even though I’d been going it alone. I didn’t have to any more. I opened my heart to Jesus once again. Jesus was the answer, the reassurance, love and omnipresent friend I was seeking. Jesus reclaimed me and gave my life new meaning, love and hope for the future, in eternity with him. Because Jesus took upon himself the sins of the world, including mine, and in return gave me eternal life with him as Lord God, I rediscovered that peace, security and assurance of love and hope while here on Earth.

Since then I’ve grown, learned more and lived more meaningfully and purposefully than ever before. I read. I pray. I share with others. I know Jesus and talk with him everyday. I know Him as love and hope. What could be more meaningful as a reason for life?

The case of Rae                                        

There are unexpected ways we need to learn and re-learn to claim the forgiveness won for us by Jesus Christ. Rae is now happily married. But when she was a telephonist in the 1960’s, away from her family, she fell pregnant through a fleeting relationship. It was the time when you did not usually keep the child.

Offered a place in a home for unwed mothers, Rae went interstate, to Geelong. Instead of entering the home, she found her way to live for nine years as a helper for a single mother of six children. The woman proved to be a most chaotic person with multiple personalities and no idea of budgeting. She fell pregnant yet again, this time to her priest. Despite all this chaos, Rae was able to keep and love her own child.

She was determined that she would not let her child down, but she did feel that she had let God down.

Her father died. Her mother suffered a stroke and was cared for by Rae’s sister. And Rae was interstate feeling totally alone.

Then her sister wrote. It was springtime in the Adelaide Hills, and Rae was even more alone.

She found herself praying in a park in Torquay, “Lord, I’ve reached the end. I can’t keep going.”

She saw a grey tunnel with no light. There was no positive future for her child.

She heard a voice cut through her sobbing: “Rae, I did not tell you to be here. You can go home.”

Things fell into place. Her mother provided a home. One morning, after the years of living hand to mouth, bills unpaid, living by candle light when the power was cut off, Rae found herself putting out the bin and thinking, “This is what it’s like to be part of a normal community.”

She prayed for a husband who would be a father to her son, who would care for her mother, and who would sometimes have to go away with his work! A fine man married her. Her mother lived with them. Her son had his own Dad: “It’s meant everything to him.” And, yes, he had times away with work.

She knew Christ had forgiven her everything: “I know he has.”

So what did she still have to learn? After all that it came as a surprise when her mother died. Rae was looking at the stars on a cold June night, thinking of her mother.

“I had a vision of my mother as a nineteen year old, young and happy — joyous. I saw all of this, yet I could not forgive myself. I saw such a vision of joy, yet just then all I could feel was self-pity.”

It was one more thing she had to learn about forgiveness: to forgive herself. To take hold of Christ’s forgiveness and to forgive herself for her ungratefulness at that joyful and precious gift.

“I am still learning. I am learning to yield to what the Lord says. I’m really made aware that when Jesus told Peter that Peter would deny him, Jesus knew beforehand that he would. Yet he forgave him. So he knew about me beforehand, and how I would run. I feel he foresaw my sin, and he forgave me. He is concerned and interested in his children.

“The other day we were doing a crossword. I said, ‘What does exculpation mean?’ My husband looked it up. ‘It means free from blame — acquit,’ he said. That’s it! That’s what’s happened to me!”

The case of Rob                                        

You meet a big man with a big voice when you meet Rob. He has made his living in the business of trailer and chassis equipment. But he has not always put his energy under the direction of Jesus Christ. He used to recognise Jesus as real, but not fervently enough to go to church of a Sunday.

“I thought I could do it all myself. I’m older now and I’ve realised that for some purpose Jesus has patiently watched over and guarded my life until I’ve understood that it’s his plan for me, not mine, that’s important.”

In 2003 he and his wife moved to the hills and thought they should go to Sunset Rock on Good Friday.

“The service blew our socks off,” Rob says. “We just had to be there Easter Day.”

They joined a home group where Rob, never having been able to pray aloud, learned to do so and no one laughed.

“The patient support of my home group is a real blessing and greatly cherished.”

Now prayer is so important to him that he has initiated Prayers at the Rock, an open time of prayer late on Friday afternoons, where people can speak with God with great freedom in a variety of ways.

It arose from following through on what he saw in Indonesia: a room in an apartment complex devoted to prayer 24/7. People coming and going, music a part of it, led to pray as the Spirit of God leads.

Certain things have opened up for Rob and his wife since they sought to let God put things in their minds. They have been to Indonesia four times in mission teams, building structures in orphanages and training carers. “Every time I’ve prayed we’d have the people we need with the skill set we needed. Every time the Lord provided us with the money, or more than enough. Last time we only had five in the team, half the usual number. We still got the job done, thirty minutes before the plane took off.”

It has been the same with work they have been led to support among Syrian women refugees. Rob is treasurer of the work. “One time we needed $3000. We had $460 twenty-four hours out. I prayed. By the time the transfer needed to happen we had the money and then some.”

And he loves the relationships he has been led to form, deep relationships with men who have done it tough in prison, who have their own profound insights into the ways of God.

This life is a far sight from the way life went before he really engaged with Christ. He will speak of prayer. He will speak of reading the Bible with daily helps. He will speak of the life of his study group. But how God uses these things to direct a person also needs the ingredient of the person being expectant, tuning into God’s leading by making yourself available.

The way it feels in practice for Rob is like this: “I receive ideas that come to me out of the blue that I haven’t been thinking about. This alerts me to think, wow, this must be from God. Affirming that it is from him comes from what follows, and from prayer. God is well aware that I need strong affirmation that the idea is from him and that he wants me to act on it.”

In that sense the whole matter for the person willing to be led is quite experimental: step out in faith when God seems to lead, and see where he takes you.

The case of Pauline Overbeeke

Art teacher Pauline Overbeeke discovered that all relationship is reciprocal, even relationships with the things around us, and especially relationship with God.

She found it in the hardest possible way.

“I did not relate to God or Jesus. Growing up, I went to Sunday school. I remember taking communion for the first time. It was just the thing to do.

“I asked my mum when we had children, ‘Do you believe in God?’
“‘Yes, I do.’

“But I did not know the next question.

“We were good people with a sense of propriety. I had friends who were Christians. We only went to church Christmas and Easter. They went between.”

Fresh out of college as a teacher in the Barossa Valley, Pauline joined a Bible study group of fine young women. She freaked out when she felt she may have to pray aloud, and could not make any sense of the little passages they read. She soon fled the group.

The next ten years were spent teaching overseas in New Zealand and Canada.

On returning home she thought it was time to settle down. She did. She fell in love, married, and had two children, who she enrolled in a catholic school. She even approached the Orley Avenue Church in Stirling and offered to teach Sunday school (after all, she was a teacher), so that her boys would know something about God.

She found that teaching about God and not really knowing him was hypocritical. So she left after a short time.

Their busy family life was filled with camping trips, sport, work and school holidays.

Pauline went on an art trip to Melbourne, and, while there, received the devastating news of her oldest son’s tragic death.

“The days that followed were surreal. I contacted Brian Zeitz, the minister at Sunset Rock. (I found later that my son and his friends used to sit on the rocks watching the sunset.)

“During a sleepless night I was writing things in the dark that I wanted for my son’s funeral. I wrote down the name of my communion song, O Lamb of God, I come. I had always loved this song.

Then a strange thing happened. I got this weird feeling there was something in the room, a presence, and an iridescent blue light. If I shut my eyes I couldn’t get rid of it. Then I sensed a voice saying the words, ‘Peace, Joy, Love… this is the Holy Spirit.’

“Suddenly I was washed over with a feeling of joy that I’d never known. I had known happiness. But this was pure joy. As all this was happening I felt levitated. If I was standing I’d have fallen over.

“Next morning I heard a blackbird sing so beautifully, in a way I’d never heard before.

“I wrote a letter to the congregation before the funeral saying we had a sense of peace. When I came home and looked at the trees it was as if I saw them for the first time. Everything was new. I suddenly was aware of a fulness and a knowingness. I thought I was the wisest person in the world. My husband was concerned that I might be having a breakdown, but I knew exactly that I wanted to get to know God.

“After the funeral a friend came to me and said, ‘You know that I’ve just found Jesus. What about doing BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) with me at Sunset Rock?

“I found Jesus. I couldn’t see what was real before. I tuned in and I still tune in to get to know Jesus more. But how is anyone going to believe me if I say that this is the best that ever happened?

“I could see the workings of the Triune God. The Holy Spirit (I need visuals) I could see as a constant little flame, always there, and when God says something to us… woosh! The flame blazes! Jesus is the one who sent the Spirit. He convicts me.

“And I picture God the Father. Jesus takes an obedient stand as the Son. He delivers us the whole message of God through the workings of the Spirit.

“Sometimes it’s hard work. There are many of the old ways that cause stumbling blocks. But what I love about my journey with Jesus is that I’m justified. I’m convicted.

“I want to honour Jesus in action. That’s Godliness. I feel I’m surrounded by Godliness.”

The case of Danial Andaveh

There are central things in Danial Andaveh’s life where he would like to see the mighty hand of God displayed, and where it hasn’t happened yet. He is still waiting for permanent residence in Australia. He has lived here for nine years, since the age of fourteen or fifteen, having fled with his family from Iran. He lives with daily uncertainty. So life is not always happy.

“I’ve fought with God, been angry with God, have childish arguments with God. I say, ‘Come on, if you can do it, why not do it now?’ But in the midst of that, deep down, I get this image. It’s David, the king of Israel, trapped in a cave, his enemies attacking him. The mighty hand of God rescues him at the last moment. God helps him as he’s crying out to God. God showed up in the last split moment. I’ve had moments like that: I think I’m going to give up. Every time, at the last split moment, God has shown up.”

Once someone told Danial that God only helps you through other people. But he has experienced miracles without human explanation.

Soon after he became a Christian, when he was driving, a voice told him to slow down. He did. A motor bike shot out from a side road so close he saw the rider’s eyes.

“If I’d not slowed down I’d have killed him.”

He was sure the voice was the word of God.

In his early days as a Christian believer he was far from sorted in his lifestyle. Many of his old habits still stuck to him. Yet he reckoned that God did intervene clearly at times. Once as an eighteen year old he had drunk too much. He was headed for an RBT. What to do? A conviction could land an asylum seeker in deep strife.

“I said to Jesus, ‘Help me. I’ve picked you. Let me get through this. I’ll try better than to do this again.’”

He was not expecting prayer to work.

“All the cops hung around another car. They let me go. So I said, ‘Thanks be to God.’ Next day I totally forgot it.

“Would you believe a month or so later the same thing happened? I said, ‘Jesus, I know I promised last time. This time I promise truly.’

“The cop was choosing which car to stop and he didn’t choose me. I prayed, ‘I’m gonna be a good kid now.’ I didn’t do it again!”

In 2019 he gave a year of his life as a pastor at Sunset Rock, with a heart for young people.

“The help God gives me comes in many different forms. I look at Jesus and at what he went through, his not happy moments. He was killed for my sins. This works as a sort of medicine for me. God went through this. A Middle-Eastern man with a beard (like me), a refugee, slapped, humiliated — I’ve felt like that. He really resonates with me. It calms me down.

“This help comes in many forms. I don’t have equal rights in my situation. Yet if it wasn’t for that I’d not have been a Christian. God used my brokenness. Without my brokenness I’d have walked from Jesus by now. So, really, he’s always helping me.”

BOOKS

Check these books by our minister and his wife. Contact Greg on pearces@adam.com.au

Gregory Pearce, Almost Schmidty. A novel, Ark House Press, 271 pages. “This sly story moves me at many levels,” Ann Bartlett, author, Knitting, Penguin Books.

Gregory Pearce, Saying Grace. Mealtime Prayers. Pray as often as you eat, Morning Star Publishing, 96 pages. “So much more than a book of prayers, it presents a snapshot of the Gospel on every page. Thoughtful and clear, and yet short enough to be used every meal…”  Rev Dr Tim Hein.

Gregory Pearce, Five Good Reasons to Live, Ark House Press, 52 pages.  I thought my life meant nothing at all… All this energy we have been given: what is it for? Five people tell five stories of five good reasons to live.

Raylene Pearce, Night Journeys, Ark House Press, 292 pages. “An exhilarating and dangerous ride taken by a single woman… beautifully written with humour, empathy and passion. Prepare to be informed, entertained and amazed,” Dr Rosanne Hawke, author, The Truth about Peacock Blue and many other titles.