When the War (on COVID-19) is Over

There will be an end to the current crisis. Plan now to do something amazing to celebrate when that time comes.

Ride for Compassion Coast to Coast 2021 is a one-month, 4,000km cycle across Australia from Perth to Newcastle, to help raise money for children living in poverty.

Check out the video below for a taste of what the ride will be like. (It’s even better if you watch it in full screen.)

You’re one ride away from changing lives.

I’ve mentioned before that the most vulnerable in any crisis are children living in extreme poverty. Why not plan now to ensure that when our lives start to return to normal (whatever that is) that those in the greatest need aren’t left behind.

We’re currently registering both cyclists and support crew.

For more information, or to register your interest, head to the Ride for Compassion website.



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The Most Vulnerable

I was only away for a week, but I came back to a very different Australia to the one I left.

Before I left, concerns were growing rapidly over COVID-19. Even at that stage a lot of travellers were cancelling their plans. There was nervousness in the community.

People were starting to stock up on what they considered to be essential items.

In the days before I flew out, hand sanitiser was nowhere to be found and there were empty spaces in shops and pharmacies where there used to be face masks.

I left Australia bound for the Philippines on the 3rd of March to see Compassion’s work in action. Within a couple of days, people back home seemed to be ratcheting up the panic.

Social media kept me up to date with life in my home country … and it wasn’t pretty.

To be fair, COVID-19 is a pretty big deal and will continue to be for quite some time. There’s a very real need for concern and more than that, for action. I can’t blame people for protecting themselves and those they love.

The difficulty for me was sitting with beautiful, courageous families who are living in makeshift shelters, with no electricity, running water or toilets, and then seeing videos in my Facebook feed of people in Australian supermarkets fighting over toilet rolls.

COVID-19 is stripping away our choices. It is tearing at our security. It is bringing unquestionable pain in the form of job losses, failing businesses, loss of connection and so much more.

When life eventually returns to normal, it will be a radically different kind of normal.

For many, there won’t be the opportunity to pick up where we left off. Unemployment is likely to be the long-term reality for many who previously had secure jobs. Many businesses will be unable to weather this storm and simply won’t be around when the virus has been defeated.

On top of all that comes the anxiety and the disconnection that comes with our isolation. Video catch ups don’t give hugs.

Many of us are likely to either be infected with the virus or be close to people who will suffer from COVID-19. Even worse, some of us will lose loved ones to this horrible virus.

In the midst of all of this, my heart is breaking for the children Compassion serves. Together with their families they are facing even greater risks.

In a time when we’re all feeling vulnerable, I really hope you’ll spare a thought, a prayer, and maybe even a gift for these children. They are the most vulnerable of all.

Past President of Compassion International, Wess Stafford spoke about the vulnerability of children in his book, Too Small to Ignore. While we are hearing that this virus is most deadly for the elderly, I think the paragraphs here still carry a lot of weight.

No matter what the setting, children seem to be a second-rate mandate. No matter what the ill of society, it tends to spiral downward and eventually land with its cruelest and most smothering impact on our littlest citizens.

Small, weak, helpless, innocent, vulnerable, and trusting, they are the waiting victims for our simple neglect and most evil abuse.

No matter what goes wrong, the little ones pay the greatest price.

When hunger and famine strike a nation, adults become weak and hungry, but it is the children who most often starve to death. When disease arrives with all its fury, adults can become very sick, but the first to die are usually the children.

When war erupts over ethnicity or boundary lines in the dust, it is the littlest victims who pay the most tragic price. The wars of the last decade killed more children than soldiers.

Far more children were injured or permanently maimed by our battles. The tragedies go on for years after the last gunshot or grenade blast, as land mines and booby-trapped toys keep wounding, terrorizing, and killing our innocent ones.

The ritual sacrifice of children has been taboo for thousands of years. Yet tragically it is practiced every day across our world.

We sacrifice children on the altars of our most destructive sins. When the sickness of pornography has run to its most evil and destructive end, it takes the form of child pornography.

When prostitution reaches its sickest, most depraved form, it becomes child prostitution. Perhaps a little closer to home is the reality that children are the sacrificial lambs when our homes break up through neglect, anger, hostility, and eventually divorce.

Kids frequently blame themselves for the destruction, carrying deep scars on their innocent spirits for a lifetime.

The last thing I would want to do is minimise the situation we all find ourselves in right now. We’re here through no fault of our own and we are not in control. That’s scary … and it’s pretty much how a lot of those in extreme poverty live their entire lives.

I would simply ask that as we face this unprecedented interruption to our lives, we consider those most vulnerable in our world. Children living in extreme poverty.



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A Transforming Hope

Beyond the countless palm trees and green fields, amongst the sounds of jeepneys and motorbikes, there are lives marked by heartbreak and lost hope.

Many of the people I’ll meet over the next few days have heard the voice of poverty saying, you are worthless. You don’t matter. Your situation is settled and unchangeable. Things will never get better.

I’m in the Philippines with a handful of others, once again seeing the work of Compassion, releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name.

Thankfully there is a hope more powerful than the lies of poverty and I’ll be hearing about how that hope has invaded their lives, bringing transformation and the promise of a very different future to the one they were facing.

As I sit in a sparse hotel room with its peeling wallpaper, looking out the window at a Philippines flag fluttering proudly atop a tall flag pole, my mind goes back to another moment, thousands of kilometres and many years from here.

I remember gazing out an aeroplane window as we gathered speed and eventually took to the skies above Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. It was April 2008 and we had to leave hurriedly as riots took over the city.

It was the time of the Global Financial Crisis, resulting in the Global Food Crisis. Parents had no way to feed their families and in their frustration took to the streets.

“We’re safe.” I thought to myself as the buildings below grew smaller, while at the same time wondering about the millions left behind. That’s when I knew that I had to be a voice for those who have no voice.

If I were a better man I might be helping those in poverty in other ways, but I know that stories are powerful and so I will tell the stories of those I meet. I’ll tell their stories, hoping to connect the need of these incredible children and families with those who have the capacity to share a voice of hope.

In the coming days, I’ll share some stories of courage amidst hardship with you. I hope and pray that you’ll have the courage to respond by reaching across the oceans to let a child know that there is a hope more powerful than poverty.



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More Than Happiness

It’s over. 2019 is gone and 2020 has arrived. We’ve now entered the twenties.

Over the last few days, there’s every chance you’ve been exchanging the customary greeting of “Happy New Year” with anyone who happens to cross your path.

Even while you’ve been trying to grab a bargain at all the post-Christmas sales you’ve probably had complete strangers not only hurriedly scanning your discounted items from the other side of the counter but wishing you happiness for the next twelve months.

We wish each other happiness as we draw a line under the year that has gone and look forward to the fresh beginnings of a new year.

We want the next year to be better than the last.

Each year I hear a lot of people talking about how tough their year was personally. Reading through Facebook I see so many describing 2019 as one of their hardest years ever. Some have described it as a roller coaster with some real highs as well as deep troughs.

I’ve heard many people despair at happenings around at home and the world with everything from the massive fires of the recent weeks in Australia (which are still destroying all in their paths) to terrorist attacks, natural disasters, political instability, inhumane treatment of asylum seekers and other heartbreaking situations.

Others have spoken of the many great lives we’ve lost during the past twelve months. It’s no wonder we want a little bit of happiness in the new year.

But is happiness what it’s really all about?

Of course, I want to wish you a happy new year but I don’t want it to end there. I want more for you than happiness as you launch into 2020.

Happiness comes and goes and we all know that you’re not going to sail through 2020 with a smile on your face the whole time. There will be struggles and disappointments.

I’m not wishing you difficulties but I’ve been on this planet long enough to know that each year will bring a mixture of good and bad.

Sometimes there’ll also be extreme highs and devastating lows. With that in mind, my wish for you goes deeper.

I wish you joy for 2020.

Joy is different than happiness. It’s more. It’s not so dependent on circumstances. There’s a strength in joy that goes beyond the happy times. It’s a confidence that no matter what we’re facing, we can go on.

I wish love for you in 2020.

Love means a lot of different things for a lot of different people. We’ve all been let down, even by those closest to us. That’s not the kind of love I’m talking about. The kind of love I wish for you in 2020 is a deep, abiding love that never changes, leaves or disappoints. That’s the kind of love we need during the tough days in 2020.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow, not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below, indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39

I wish grace for you in 2020.

What is grace? It’s been described as undeserved favour but there’s more to it than that.

Grace is not only God’s disposition to do good for us when we don’t deserve it. It is an actual power from God that acts and makes good things happen in us and for us.

God’s grace was God’s acting in Paul to make Paul work hard. So when Paul says, “Work out your salvation,” he adds, “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Grace is power from God to do good things in us and for us. – John Piper

And more than wishing … I pray these things for you in 2020

I could pray for a happy year for you. I could pray that whatever you do, all runs smoothly. A great job, a close family, healing from illness are all wonderful things that I want for you, but more than that, I pray that 2020 will be a year that draws you closer to the one who created you.

I really can’t go past this prayer that Paul prayed for the Ephesian church.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. – Ephesians 3:14-19

Wow. Being filled with all the fullness of God? That sure beats ‘Happy New Year’.

There are many other things I could wish for you in 2020 like hope, peace, strength, and wisdom but I’d be interested to know what you’d like to wish for others as we begin a new year.

(This is an updated post from previous years.)



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Beneath the Wrapping

(This is based on a post that I republish each year around this time.)

While you’re unwrapping your gifts this Christmas I wanted to take a few moments to unwrap the real Christmas story.

We all enjoy giving and receiving gifts on Christmas Day but it’s important that we take time to remember what Christmas is really all about. It’s more than just the gifts and the jolly man in the red suit. It’s more than a ‘feeling’ or ‘spirit’ that makes us feel warm inside. It’s more than time with family enjoying good food and good times.

I find it interesting that any time someone suggests removing the word ‘Christmas’ from our celebrations at this time of year there are cries of ‘political correctness gone mad’ yet we still pay so little attention to what that word actually signifies.

While it’s generally accepted that the 25th of December isn’t the actual date that Jesus was born, it’s the day that has been chosen for celebrating Jesus’ birthday. That means Christmas is really a big birthday party.

So why should we be invited to the birthday party? Jesus was born around 2000 years ago. Why do we still celebrate his birth?

Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God. In fact, and this is where it gets tricky, according to the Bible, Jesus is actually God in human form so this is no ordinary birthday.

Here’s a little bit of the Christmas story from the Bible. This account is from a book of the Bible written by a guy named Luke.

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no vacancy for them.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.’

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.’
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

Aha! So that’s where the manger and the shepherds come in.

That’s pretty much the story of Christmas. God living among the people he created. It’s an amazing thought but it’s even more amazing when you thread the whole story of Jesus’ life together. After all, usually when we celebrate someone’s birthday we don’t just remember the day they were born, we celebrate who that person has become and what they’ve brought to the world.

If we’re still celebrating the life of someone born around 2000 years ago, we’ve got to assume that they lived a remarkable life. If you want to find out more about the remarkable life of Jesus, I’d encourage you to grab a Bible in an easy to read translation and then read one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John) to find out about Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection.



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