When God writes straight with crooked lines…

Posted by on Jul 19, 2016 in Blog | 2 comments

Ever heard someone’s story, scratched your head and thought – ‘that doesn’t make sense. Surely this story is not over yet’? Sometimes you get to hear the sequel, sometimes not. When it’s not, you simply have to trust that God is fully competent, and makes God sized decisions based on significantly fuller knowledge than you or I will ever have access to. But on those occasions when you do get a glimpse into the next chapter, it helps you to trust a little more.

In my recently released book When Faith Turns Ugly  (Paternoster, 2016) I interview Becky Oates about what seemed so perplexing at that time – the Oates family journey to India to work with some of the world’s poorest and to help them to find career options outside of the sex trade. The cause was (is) so very worthy, and yet their endeavours were short and expensive, and produced none of the anticipated outcomes. They were back in Australia within a few months.

Here is the interview from the book (pages 186-189)…

In Conversation with Becky Oates

In 2014, Rebecca Oates, together with her husband Paul and their four children, moved to India to work with a not for profit group dedicated to releasing women from sexual slavery by providing skills that would enable them to embrace viable alternate forms of employment. After a few months, the Oates family realised that they would have to return to Australia. At present their plans to move to India, while not abandoned, are on hold. It has been a costly time for them – both emotionally and financially, and it has raised many questions about guidance. Here are some of Becky’s reflections on this time…

Becky, you are writing the answers to my questions in Australia – not India. Why are you here and not there? What happened?

Having spectacularly failed to move my family to India to serve the poor I am, as you say, writing this sitting at my mother in law’s kitchen table, given that we sold all our possessions and moved out of our home last year. Having come to the conviction that serving in India was what God was asking of us, we stepped out in faith after a 3 year journey of trying to disentangle ourselves from our life in Australia. I have a business here, and having attempted many scenarios that would free me from that responsibility we decided that we would step out in faith and go to India, regardless of our circumstances, and that God would (since he called us) sort it out!

We stepped out of our boat and onto the water with the faith that through him all things are possible and that he would catch us.

I must admit I had imagined that as I stepped out of my boat God would catch me on his high powered jet ski and whisk me off to a glorious life of serving and living on the edge with God *high five God*

But in actual fact he caught me in his dinghy and rowed me straight back to the shore that I came from.

What are your dominant emotions when you think about both going to India and then returning so soon after leaving?

At the core of who God created me to be, that deep place that only God knows, my heart is screaming and writhing with disappointment that I am not in India. I see Jesus in the poor, and it was the biggest privilege of my life to serve them and live in community with them.

When we realised that in fact God hadn’t caught us on his jet ski, but that we were going to have to thumb a ride back to Australia we were physically ill for a week, and have been restless and discontented ever since. How could God so clearly call us to something and then not ‘enable it’?

So where do you think God is in the midst of this?

I lost many things during my time in India, but the most remarkable and perhaps valuable thing I lost was my sense of entitlement. I grew up with the understanding that I was entitled to a certain life. I am entitled to a happy life, a healthy life, a marriage, children, I deserve to feel safe, to have a nourished body, a long successful and rewarding career… the list was endless. With that sense of entitlement came disappointment with God when life threw me a curve ball. When God didn’t deliver what I was ‘entitled to’ God became disappointing to me.

It seemed to have escaped my attention that I cannot take a breath without God’s gift of life and that I have no control whatsoever.

I now understand that God actually doesn’t owe me an explanation.

I understand that life is a struggle, but that God is good.

Any observations on God’s guidance?

It has occurred to me that I had lived most of my life with a fairly limited approach to understanding God’s guidance.

I had adhered to the ‘doors opening/ doors closing’ type approach. If God opened that door it must be his will, and if the door was closed well he clearly isn’t leading me there, and I am absolved of any further responsibility.

It was rubbish really.

Our journey to India has been confirmed through scripture, through messages, through our Christian friends, through songs, through words of prophecy and a multitude of other hits in the head from God with a plank of wood. And yet the door will not open. We have pushed, and shoved, tried to squeeze under it, tried the fire escape, and yet it won’t budge.

As an observer you could understandably question whether God was in fact guiding us to serve in India, perhaps we had it wrong.

Or perhaps God is asking us to step back into his dodgy dinghy and sail back to the poor he so deeply loves, because I don’t need a jet ski, and neither does he, because he created the water.

Life is messy, but God is good.

You have lived in close proximity to extreme and desperate poverty. How has that changed you and what does it make you want to say to our readers?

It’s a bit like having new glasses. I see the world through a different filter.

Being poor isn’t just about not having enough food or shelter, although that is part of it. It is about not having hope, dignity or freedom. As I write this in air conditioned comfort, there is a woman in India who is selling her daughter into a lifetime of abuse, because she is so desperately poor she has no choice.

As an entitled foreigner I can look at that and think ‘I would never do that’. It is unthinkable.

It is unthinkable to us because we have no concept of a life without hope, without the freedom of choice.

It is my conviction that God wants to bring freedom. Freedom to those trapped in poverty, and freedom to those trapped in numbing, devious, all consuming wealth.

If we say we follow Jesus, but live in excessive comfort whilst our brothers and sisters are suffering unimaginable poverty, are we missing something? Is that how Jesus lived?

My Sunday school teacher taught me a song when I was 5.


Jesus first, Yourself last, and Others in between. I think she nailed it.


Well, that’s the end of the interview, but not the end of the story. For the Oates family recently announced that the obstacles that had led to their having to return to Australia have been sorted, and that at the end of the year they will again set off. What will the next stage bring? God alone knows… But this story is not over yet… and its ultimate author is the One of whom it is said: God writes straight with crooked lines…

So here’s to the Oates family as they again set out… trusting that God’s compassion is even greater than theirs, and that they are about to enter the next chapter of a ‘not business as usual’ story…



  1. Brian, thanks again for including such thought provoking material in your blog. Your writing or the materials included often prompted one to reflect on their assumption about God and self. Thank you so much

  2. Actually this comment is from Drew Smith – for some reason the site wouldn’t let him post it so I am doing it for him. Thanks Drew..

    ” Wow, I am a little gobsmacked reading Becky’s account. That is a great testimony of faith. I am not sure why God did that; I guess I too, am a door open/shut person. Before reading this, I am not sure that I would have the confidence to strike out again, once I got turned back. I guess this is one of those times, where I would of just had to not understand. Becky, if for no other reason, you being humbled has encouraged a brother you have never met, probable never will; I thank you. “

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