Ordinary

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A committed father who regularly attends church, pays tithe and organises family worship. What an incredibly exceptional person he is!

“It’s a little complicated.” That’s how I respond when people ask me where I’m from. Which they do. Often.

Accents help to fit the people we meet into a box. Nation, region, in some cases even education level or economic class. But my accent doesn’t quite fit in any box.

For good reason. I’ve lived in Australia, Asia, Europe and North America. From kindy through to 12th grade, I attended nine different schools in five different countries. I first left home at the tender age of 13 to live with an American family in remote northern Thailand. And each experience and location left its sonic mark. In Australia I’m called American. In the US, it’s confusing—Vermont maybe? Or is it New Brunswick? Wherever it is, it’s definitely not here.

This astonishingly varied upbringing came about because my parents were missionaries. At the time, missionaries were the action heroes of the Adventist world. Not paid like them. Not rewarded like them. But they were the stars of the stories we told ourselves.

And not without reason.

Move your family to a foreign culture to share Jesus? Face race riots, a communist insurgency and violent crime? Our family went through it all. Our home was robbed by knife-wielding thugs, a bomb went off across our road killing six people, my dad was held at gunpoint by communist guerillas, we lived through military coups, wars on the border, disease outbreaks and physical threats. People with exotic diseases were healed; children in desperate need were helped; amazing conversions occurred. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

I thought of this when a friend related a conversation he’d had with his son. The son commented, in the casually cutting way teenagers can, that his father had never done anything remarkable for Jesus. Sure, he talked a good talk. But where is his backpack full of stories of danger and derring-do for Christ? My friend is just one of those guys who perfects his profession, gets married and remains loyal, gives his children a stable, loving, supportive home, pays tithe, gives offerings and volunteers around the church.

No mission stories here, folks. Just keep moving. You’re looking at just another ordinary Adventist.

But, it turns out, there is nothing ordinary about a Christian life well lived—no matter where it occurs. And if you don’t believe me, consider the probabilities for a minute.

First, there are the fathers who are responsible for a nonexistent or failed marriage. Of fathers who remain in marriage, there are those with substance abuse problems, violent, gamblers or aren’t excessively keen on work. Put it all together and being a loving, committed father who provides for his family is something that’s very far from ordinary.

But that’s only the beginning. According to McCrindle Research, only about 8 per cent of Australians attend church once a month. So if your father is not only committed to your mother, but is also committed to God, you are in very rare company. And even among Australian Adventists, only two-thirds return tithe. And only one Adventist family in three has family worship. 

A committed father who regularly attends church, pays tithe and organises family worship. What an incredibly exceptional person he is!

And, it turns out, absolutely vital.

You see, all the mission stories you will ever hear; all the church growth statistics, the new initiatives, the future plans. All of them are built on faith in God and the contributions of the exceptional people we call “ordinary” Adventists. If every Adventist decided to pick up and go paddling canoes down jungle rivers tomorrow, the mountains of good our community does in this world would rapidly evaporate.

And this has been true since the time of Christ, when “ordinary” people provided the food, accommodation, finance and, ultimately, the tomb.

It’s people like my friend who are the solid trunk of the Church that everything else hangs from. He volunteers tirelessly to keep the local church healthy. He is raising his children in the fear of the Lord. He contributes financially and steadily year after year. He loves God with all his heart and strength and lives out the life he is called to. It turns out, “ordinary” Adventists are not ordinary at all. Quite the opposite. They are remarkably extraordinary. 
 


James Standish is editor of Adventist Record.