Mother’s Day 2015

Rodney Mum 1984

I don’t remember anything remarkable about the last Mother’s Day we shared with mum before the illness that consigned her to hospital for the rest of her days, but then we weren’t expecting it to be the last. As far as we knew there’d be many more days to celebrate mum.

Mum’s last couple of years were spent in hospital after suffering a brain aneurysm. For most of that time she was unable to communicate with us. Occasionally she was able to say a word or two but there were other signs that would show us that she knew a lot of what was going on. Mum was pretty much paralysed so even making movement to communicate was difficult.

There were several times that more bleeding in her brain would cause doctors to tell us that mum only had hours or maybe days to live. We would all begin to grieve our loss only to find the days turning into weeks or months until there was another medical setback and the whole process would begin again. You can imagine the kind of emotional toll that took on each of us, not to mention how it would have been for mum who was trapped inside a body that no longer did what it was meant to do.

Rodney Mum 1964When mum finally left this earth I experienced a mixture of relief, sadness and joy. There was relief that she didn’t have to suffer any longer, joy that she was now enjoying paradise but still the immense sadness of losing someone I loved so very, very much.

I’ve seen more Mother’s Days come and go without a mum than I have with a mother. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a sad day for me but Mother’s Day always brings moments of reflection among the moments of celebrating what an incredibly wonderful mother my own children have and celebrating with Pauline’s mum.

I know that for many, who have more recently lost a mother, the pain is just a little more raw today and I do hope that if that’s the case for you, you’ll be able to recall some wonderful memories and think about the influence your mum has had on you. I hope that in years to come the day will be a celebration of the memories your mother has left you.

On the 28th of February, 1987, my mother, Margaret Sadie Olsen, passed away at the age of 66. I was just 23 years old when mum died. Mum was 43 when I was born.

There is so much that I wish she could have shared over the last few decades. Mum wasn’t around to see me cycle across Australia for the first time, just 8 months after she passed away. She never lived to see me realise my childhood dream of working in radio.

By the time I met Pauline, mum had already been gone for close to 5 years. She never got to see her youngest child marry the woman he loves. Mum never got to hold Emily or James in her arms. How I wish she was still here to see our wonderful family. I desperately wish that Emily and James could have met their Grandma Olsen and that Pauline could have spent time with her mother-in-law.
Rodney Dad Mum
Mum never heard me tell stories of my trips to India, Canada, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea or Bangladesh and never had to sit at home and worry when I had to evacuate from Haiti during food riots several years ago. Although she never got there, mum had an interest in travelling to Africa. I so wish I could tell her about my journey to Ethiopia and Rwanda last year. She was long gone before I took up the challenge of working to see children released from poverty around the world.

She never experienced the thrill of seeing Emily and James top their classes or perform so well in so many areas of life. Mum wasn’t very tall so both Emily and James are taller than she was. They could have playfully leaned on their Grandma just as I used to do when I was younger.

I know that there are many significant events in the lives of my four siblings that mum has missed too. There have been highs and lows along the way but all of them would have been quite different if mum had been around to share them.

I know that the person I am today is very much a product of who mum was. I value the influence she was and continues to be in my life.

A Mother’s Decision

ThaiHouse

One of the greatest honours in my work is sitting in the homes of those living in poverty and hearing their stories. It’s impossible in the short time I have with them to really enter into their world but sometimes there are glimpses that give me a new respect for the courage they show in facing the kinds of struggles so very many people in our world meet each day just to survive.

A few days ago I travelled on winding mountain roads a few hours out of Chiang Mai, Thailand, with a number of fellow Australians. We arrived at a small village and it was there that we met an amazing woman. She welcomed a small group of us into her home. We sat together and she started telling us her story.

We asked a lot of questions about her home, which her husband had built from timbers he sourced in the surrounding jungle areas. It took around five years to gather the materials and a similar time to construct their dwelling. Her husband is a farmer, working at little more than a subsistence level.

It wasn’t long before she started telling us about the eldest of her four sons, who is currently about eighteen, and the brain tumour that he is battling. How do you cope with something like that when you’re already living in poverty? Thankfully Thailand’s health system has paid a significant amount of his treatment costs but the remaining amount is still a struggle.

Her youngest son is almost three. He seemed to be a happy and healthy little boy. In his old, worn grey t-shirt and red shorts he lay on the concrete floor, leaning his head on his mother’s lap. At the time of his birth his mother was suffering from a kidney disease. After breast feeding her new baby for just fourteen days the doctors told her she would have to stop as they needed to give her medication which would affect her milk.

Not being able to breast feed meant buying formula for her son. The problem was, their family couldn’t afford the ongoing cost. Having to regularly buy formula was simply beyond their means.

The solution was almost unthinkable. They would have to find someone else in their village to take their baby. To simply ensure that he could live, they would need to give him up to someone who could afford to look after him.

No mother should ever have to face that kind of decision. The most precious of all gifts, their brand new baby boy, would have to grow up in someone else’s family, calling someone else mum. Poverty is a thief and a destroyer.

Thankfully, that’s when the local church, partnering with Compassion, stepped in. Mother and son were registered in Compassion’s Child Survival Program at the church, meaning that the family would have the essential support they needed to stay together.

Mum’s kidney disease is now improving too. Instead of the 90 tablets she was taking each day, she’s down to just three.

In a few months that precious little boy will turn three and he will ‘graduate’ into Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program, meaning that he’ll get the opportunity of being released from spiritual, socio-emotional, physical and economic poverty in Jesus’ name. A sponsor, thousands of kilometres away from his village, will pay a modest monthly amount to secure his future and to let him know that he is loved.

As we prepare to celebrate Mother’s Day tomorrow, let me encourage you to consider making the burden for a mother living in poverty a little lighter by sponsoring a child through Compassion. Let’s together honour the mothers in our own lives as well as those mothers who, through no fault of their own, are facing the kinds of struggles and decisions no one should ever face. (If you’re reading this after Mother’s Day it’s not too late to make a lifetime of difference for a child and relieving some of the burden for their mother through child sponsorship.)

A new day in Thailand

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(Click the photo for a closer look.)

They might have million dollar views but the family we met yesterday are certainly not ‘living the dream’. Some might even say they’re facing a nightmare.

It started years ago when the husband of this small family in Thailand started cheating on his wife with other women. Then there was the drinking and the gambling. Part of that dangerous mix was also the physical abuse he handed out to his wife.

On Saturday afternoon the whole situation escalated when the husband and father to four children gathered his belongings and left to live with another woman. How does a family living in poverty cope in that kind of situation? Where do you turn when there’s no social security or safety net?

Sunday was a new day.

Thankfully two of the young children in this family, a ten year old boy and his four year old sister, have already been recieving care from the local church. That local church is partnering with Compassion to see children released from poverty in Jesus’ name. Because those children are reigistered with Compassion, there are benefits for the whole family.

Sunday was a new day because while the children were registered with Compassion, they hadn’t yet found sponsors. Yesterday, when one of the group I’m traveling with in Thailand heard that these children needed a sponsor he agreed to sponsor both. At that point he had no idea of the trauma the family had been facing.

We visited the family’s modest home and the little shop that provides a small income for them to tell them that the children were being sponsored. When their story poured out so did the tears. We had opportunity to pray with the family and assure the mother of ongoing support. It was a powerful moment and it pointed to God’s perfect timing.

Of course this is not the story of someone from the western world flying in to make all things right for a family in poverty. This is a story of the local church being there for a family in deep need. That church is partnering with Compassion. Now, on the other side of the world, a man from a local church in Perth is also partnering with Compassion. Through that chain there will be a brighter future for a mother and her children. It’s about partnership and it’s a big part of why I love working for Compassion.

Today you have the opportunity to be a link in another chain, bringing hope and healing to another family. Will you consider sponsoring a child through Compassion?

Lest We Forget – ANZAC Day 2015

Olsens in Uniform

ANZAC Day, the 25th of April, has been described as Australia’s most important national occasion. While many public holidays are just about getting an extra day off, ANZAC Day has real significance for many Australians.

It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. While the date is aligned with that event in the First World War, the day is a remembrance of all those who have been to war to protect our freedom.

ANZAC Day goes beyond the anniversary of the landing on Gallipoli in 1915. It is the day we remember all Australians who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations. The spirit of ANZAC, with its human qualities of courage, mateship, and sacrifice, continues to have meaning and relevance for our sense of national identity. On ANZAC day, ceremonies are held in towns and cities across the nation to acknowledge the service of our veterans.

Sadie OlsenMy parents served in the Royal Australian Air Force during the Second World War. (You can click on any of the photos for a closer look. As well as the individual photos of my parents, the top picture shows my dad on the far right with his father and two of his brothers.)

I’ve watched television coverage of many ANZAC ceremonies over many years. After all these years the support for these commemorations continues to grow as the stories of heroism are remembered. As I look at the faces of those who served our country I see the pain as they remember their service during the dawn services as well as the joy of being remembered as they travel the route of the marches along city streets.

When they see the faces in the crowds and hear the cheering as they pass, they know that this country is grateful for their sacrifice and the sacrifice of those who didn’t make it home.
Tom Olsen
This year will be a little bit different. It’s the one hundredth anniversary of the Gallipoli landing and together with my wife and my son, we’ll be volunteering to help at today’s ANZAC March through Perth. It’ll just be a small way for us to say thank you to those who have risked it all on behalf of others. I don’t know what well be doing but whatever it is, is won’t even begin to show our gratitude for those who have given their lives.

War is a terrible thing, and I’m glad that I’ve never had to fight, but I am grateful for the courage and sacrifice of those who fought for our country. I shudder when I imagine what it would be like to face a hostile enemy, knowing that any moment could be my last.

I would hate to have to go to war. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to say goodbye to my loved ones, not knowing if I’d ever see them again. Having kids of my own, I don’t even want to think about the parents that have seen their children go to war. My hope is that we will continue to work towards finding better, peaceful ways to overcome conflict. War should never be the answer.

ANZAC Day isn’t about glorifying war, it’s about paying our respects to those who put their lives on the line for their countrymen and the generations to come.

Do I Miss It?

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There’s not usually a week that goes past without someone asking me if I miss it. It was such a big part of my life for so many years you can’t blame people for wondering.

I started working in radio on the 8th of May, 1988. That’s almost 27 years ago. It was my full time job for almost twenty of those years and something I did part time for most of the years in between. Towards the end of November 2013 I took the leap from working in radio to working for Compassion Australia as a Relationship Manager.

At the moment I’m on the Gold Coast where this week I’ll be representing Compassion the Christian Media Australia Connect 2015 Conference. I’ll be surrounded by radio people and others involved in media. No doubt some will ask me if I miss working in the industry.

Even after all these years, nothing beats the excitement of being live on air, knowing that anything could happen. Being able to communicate to thousands of people through such an ‘immediate’ medium is both challenging and rewarding. And let’s be honest, when it’s all working as it should, it’s a lot of fun. It can also be an opportunity to communicate important, even life changing truths.

Well maybe ‘almost nothing’ beats working in radio. When you have the chance to play a part in releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name and seeing that difference that can make, I can easily say I don’t miss radio. Yes, there are times that I hear of someone interesting heading to Perth there’s a moment where I wish I could interview them, but overall, what I’m doing now is what I want to keep doing for a long time.