First time veteran

Friday, January 7, 2011. 8am. Sydney’s Kingsford Smith International Airport…..

Ten expectant faces looked at me. “Okay, this is it”, I thought. This was quickly followed by a tumble of other thoughts….

“Do I have the tickets and my passport?”

“Do I have enough spare batteries?”

“Do I have enough clean underwear!!??”

With the help of a quick prayer, my attention turned back to the faces before me. Though this was my third mission trip to Thailand, it was my first as Team Leader and, as the LCA Board for Mission (BfM) Program Co-ordinator for Thailand (Volunteer)….. a first-time veteran!!!

“Okay, team!!! Grab your gear and let’s get in the queue!!!”

So began the “MT2011: Beyond Borders” trip to North East Thailand. Fourteen days of travel, fellowship, work and growing in our relationship with God.

Admittedly, I was a little scared by the thought of leading the team. We had all met for the first time less than 12 hours prior to getting to the airport. There also was a substantial spread of ages and experience among team members. Twelve months of planning and prayers had got me to this point and I didn’t want to “trip at the last hurdle”. I didn’t want to disappoint God – or the team!

To understand how I ended up leading the team, a little history lesson is required. I was christened by a Lutheran pastor in my grandparent’s home. That was about all involvement I had as a Lutheran, except for the odd time I was taken to a Latvian Christmas or Easter service.

This all changed about six years ago, with the impeding birth of my first son. My wife, Louise, had lived in Epping when we met and, during our courting and early marriage, we must have driven past St Mark’s Lutheran Church practically every day. Often I thought, “I really should check out what this Lutheran stuff is all about”. Six months before Cailan was born, Louise and I discussed getting him christened a Lutheran. Louise asked me “why?” My honest answer was “I don’t know, but it’s the right thing to do.”

Louise said “okay” – and I did nothing for six months.

Not long after Cailan was born, I finally emailed St Mark’s, asking how I could arrange for my son to be christened in a private home (as I had been). We had a visit from Mark Simpendorfer, who explained we couldn’t get a private ceremony. He suggested we visit a Sunday service and see what it was like. Sliding into the back row, we witnessed one of the first Sunday’s that Pastor Mark Schultz was preaching at St Mark’s. We sat through the service, mumbling along to the songs and prayers, nervous, aware of the occasional look from other worshippers. It came to an end and Pastor Mark approached us and told us we were on his list of people to contact. We made a time for him to come to discuss our christening plans. Again, we were told no private ceremony. More importantly what we were about to do was a commitment, not something that was “the right thing to do”. By the end of conversation, not only had we decided to still go ahead with getting Cailan baptised, but Louise decided to be baprised. We also both decided to have our first communion. By the way, Louise was brought up in an atheistic family. Little did we know what God had planned for us.

Fast forward six years: We have been blessed with the birth of two more sons, Aidan and Ewan. With three very active boys under five, Louise and I are both very active within St Marks and the wider church. Louise has become the Ministry Assistant at St Marks and I am the LCA BfM Program Co-ordinator for Thailand (Volunteer).

So we come back to the start of the story, Sydney International Airport – and Thailand.

We had a slightly “disastrous” start to the trip after a safe flight and arrival in Chiang Rai. First, I discovered my mobile phone had not been set to “roaming”, so I couldn’t contact my family or Pastor Simon Mackenzie. Then I found out Christine Paech, who was meeting us in Thailand, couldn’t join us because she had come down with a chest infection. A little later, one of the vehicles in the convoy got “geographically misplaced” on the way to the villages and the little CB radios I had organised for each vehicle didn’t work as well as expected. So, as I was driving across northern Thailand with some team members, I again found myself praying that the others were following behind and weren’t to “geographically misplaced”.

At a re-fuelling stop, I was able to call Pastor Simon, a little stressed out and worried. Much to my relief, he advised that the “geographically misplaced” vehicle had contacted him and he was going to meet up with them. After this early drama, we had an amazing 14 days in Thailand. The worries and doubts I had about the team, and myself, soon disappeared. Why? Because of the faith and trust I had in Jesus. What further proof did I need than God keeping an eye on the team and making sure we all arrived safely in the village?

I feel particularly blessed by the team I was entrusted to lead. On every single task we attempted – whether it was mixing concrete for a road, digging a ditch for a culvert or praying for a sick villager – the team enthusiastically took up the challenge. Even when I had to get more cement or paint, I knew that by the time I returned, the team would ask “What is the next task?”

So to Kate, Tara, John M, John P, Vic, Helen, Maree, Tim, Colin, David and Christine (who I know was praying for us, even though she couldn’t be with us), it was an honour and a privilege to serve as your Team Leader.
Now we are back in Australia, I know all team members were changed by the trip. Whether it is realising that God’s grace is given to everybody (especially the poor), or realising the trust we have in God is something that will never be broken. More importantly, the trip allowed me to see the love of God brought into focus in the simplicity of two different cultures praying together.

This story was also published in the June 2011 edition of Border Crossings, the magazine of LCA International Mission.

If you, your school or your congregation, would like to know how you can connect to the mission of God through a LCA International Mission partnership, you are invited to phone Erin on (08) 8267 7300 or email For more information, go to

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