Riding the Storms

The rain is coming. Storms too. It might get pretty wild over the next week in Perth but I’ll just stay inside.

Warm. Dry. Safe.

I wonder what it might be like for people who don’t have that option.

Sometimes when I’m drifting off to sleep I think about some of the people I’ve met who don’t have the luxury of a comfortable bed and the security of a locked door. The anxieties of the day might sometimes keep me awake but at least for those nighttime hours, I am relatively safe.

I’m not kept awake by rain falling through holes in a grass roof or localised flooding surging through my home. I’m not wondering if this is the night that someone will toss aside the iron sheet that serves as the only barrier between my family and the rest of the world, intent on stealing, destroying and causing personal harm.

This October I’m doing more than thinking about the terrible situations that many are helpless in changing. I’ll be taking on a 500 kilometre Ride for Compassion from Albany to Perth to raise funds to provide new homes for children living in dilapidated shelters in Uganda.

These children are currently living in deplorable conditions that are unsafe, unprotected from the weather, and at risk of collapse.

Staff at Ochegen Child Development Centre regularly visit the homes of Compassion assisted children to provide support. From these visits, staff have identified an urgent need to improve living conditions for 14 Compassion assisted children and their families.

I know that you and I don’t have the capacity to provide a shelter for every child living in extreme poverty around the world, but together, we can make a massive difference for the 14 families who will benefit from the funds we will raise through the ride.

The need is real and urgent.

You have the opportunity to make a tangible change for families who need your help now. Follow this link to donate now. Gifts are tax deductible in Australia and with the current financial year rapidly drawing to a close, now is the time to take action.

Projects are always based on children’s most critical needs, as determined by the local church who knows each child and their situation individually. This project was identified as essential to children’s healthy development for the following reasons:

• Most of these families earn less than US$4 per month; two families are led by single mothers who are struggling to make ends meet, relying on casual labour like gardening.

• Currently, children live in grass-thatched shelters that cannot protect them from varying weather conditions, increasing their risk of pneumonia, flu and other airborne diseases. One child describes how food often rots in their family’s house because of its damp conditions.

• Most of the families have seven members who sometimes share a shelter with their livestock. Children often share sleeping mats with their siblings. Without privacy or adequate resting space, the current living conditions have affected the children’s psychological wellbeing, emotional development and academic performance.

• In its current state, these shelters are unsafe and susceptible to collapse. The homes are constructed with grass roofs, causing poor ventilation and a daily reliance on firewood for cooking, which exacerbates the risk of fire.

Ride for Compassion 2019 will take place from the 19th to the 26th of October with around 22 cyclists and a dedicated support team travelling from Albany in the south west of Australia to Perth.

I hope that by helping to provide more suitable shelters, both you and the families who will benefit will sleep easier at night.

Please follow this link to donate now.

If you’d like more details about Ride for Compassion, just drop me a message or visit the Ride for Compassion website.



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Who’s Thinking for You?

Are you someone who thinks for yourself or do you just go with the flow? Are you prepared to move in a different direction to the crowd around you?

We’d all like to think we’re the kind of person that thinks for ourself and makes our own decisions, but experience would suggest that we often just toe the line without even knowing it.

Would you like a dollar off a record?

My first paid job was standing in the Hay Street Mall, at the time the main pedestrian mall in Perth, quietly handing out advertising vouchers for a record shop.

Each voucher offered one dollar off the price of an LP record or cassette at Wesley Records, just behind Wesley Church on the corner of Hay and William Streets. It was back in the days when it was all still vinyl albums and audio cassettes. The Compact Disc wouldn’t hit shelves for another five years.

With the minimum employment age being 15, I would have only worked the job for the handful of months between my birthday in July and starting my cooking apprenticeship in December 1978. I worked on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. I remember picking up some extra work during school holidays too.

What might have been a spectacularly mundane job, passing out small pieces of paper to passers-by, actually taught me a lot about people. I learned how to ‘read people’ to some degree to ensure I gave out as many vouchers as possible.

I learned that people will follow the example of others without thinking and without realising. Those they would follow would be nameless others in a crowd that they didn’t know and would probably never see again.

I used to stand just in the mall near the traffic lights on the corner of Hay and William Streets. A crowd would build on the other side of the road, waiting for the WALK sign to light up. As soon as it did the group would start heading in my direction and I’d have to pick someone to be the first one offered a voucher. That choice would determine whether I would manage to quickly distribute thirty record shop vouchers … or none.

FOMO isn’t something new.

If the first person I approached was happy to take a voucher, I was more or less assured that I could hand one to almost every other person in that group. In fact, there were times when people who saw others take a voucher would be so afraid of missing out, they’d line up to grab one before heading down the mall.

If the first person I offered a voucher politely declined, so would everyone else unless I could quickly find a second person who would go against the flow and take one.

Interestingly, it went further than that.

If I copped some kind of abuse from my first choice recipient, I would get a heap more from everyone else in the crowd. One snarly person would create a small angry mob, each one more incensed than the last that I dared offer them a discount.

Not knowing what I was handing out, some would assume it was ‘religious material’ and would decline saying that they had their own religion. Of course when that happened, many in the following group would tell me the same thing.

Some shoppers would suggest ‘shoving the vouchers’ in impolite places with so, so many others thinking that it was funny to say that they couldn’t read.
(I’m sure that each one was convinced that they’d been the first one to use that line.)

Making the choice.

There would be a fresh group of people waiting to cross the road every few minutes so I got pretty good at picking my first ‘target’ each time. Looking at faces, body language, and clothing, as well as relying on a gut feeling, I could distribute a heap of vouchers before heading back to the record store to grab another bundle.

Without anyone else knowing it, I would be secretly conspiring with some random person to help me do my job. Not even they knew they were part of the plan. I was a teenage profiler. I could work the crowd to get what I wanted.

So who’s really thinking for you?

I’ve thought about those days a lot over the years. If a 15-year-old boy can manipulate people at a basic level like that, what hope do we have against the sophisticated machinations of those who spend their days attempting to shape our thoughts and lives?

I’m not a conspiracy theorist who thinks that the government or some secret society is manipulating us all but I do think we need to employ critical thinking skills to ensure we don’t end up as simply another pawn in someone else’s game.

When we buy something is it because we need it or because we’ve just been played? Who made the decision, the marketing company or us?

When we reply to a post on social media, chat with friends about politics or consider spiritual matters, are we speaking from reasoned thought or are we ‘taking the voucher’ because we just saw someone else take one?

Even with all the available information in our grasp, we can still be swayed by elements beyond our control.

Knowledge isn’t enough. We need wisdom.

Wisdom has been described as being a combination of knowledge, understanding, experience, common sense and insight.  That’s a good place to start but biblical wisdom goes further. It lets us lean on the Creator of the universe to guide us and direct our path.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. – James 3:17 (ESV)

The good news is that we can have access to that kind of wisdom simply by asking for it.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. – James 1:5 (NLT)



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ANZAC Day 2019

Olsens-in-Uniform

It’s here again. ANZAC Day. A day of major significance in Australia when we remember bravery, courage and the ongoing pain of war.

I do hope that this ANZAC Day we’ll honour those who have gone to war in the name of our country but also let the day remind us that war has no winners. Even those who make it home from war return as different people. The scars of war are not only physical.

As our world once again finds itself on the edge of escalating conflict we need to remember the lessons of past wars and commit to doing everything possible before taking up arms against others. The wars and conflicts that are continuing around the globe right now tell us clearly that violence is not the answer.

ANZAC Day, the 25th of April, has been described as Australia’s most important national occasion, a day of 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.

I’ve watched television coverage of ANZAC ceremonies many times. After all these years, the support for these commemorations continues to grow as the stories of heroism are remembered. As I watch I see the pain of ex-soldiers as they remember their experiences during the dawn services as well as their joy of being remembered as they travel the route of the marches along city streets.

When they see 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

Together with my wife and my son, I’ve volunteered to help at a couple of ANZAC Marches through Perth. It’s sobering to look into the faces of those who have risked so much for our freedom. It’s so sad to think that they had to go to war in the first place. Their lives and the lives of those connected to them will be marked by war forever.

Seeing the memories of war in the faces of those marching year by year isn’t the only place I’ve experienced its effects.

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’m sure that my father especially would have been a very different man had it not been for his experiences in war. Though he never liked to talk about those experiences I know that they coloured the rest of his life and in turn the life of our family. He was a good and caring man but I know that war changed him.

I’ve only seen a shadow of a glimpse of war but that’s enough for me to know that it’s a horrid experience where no one really wins.

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 children 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.

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Considering Easter

The long weekend is almost here. There’ll be chocolate, hot cross buns, time with family and friends. I’ll enjoy it all this Easter.

Easter can be a busy time of eating and catching up with people as well as all the usual things that fill our weekends. Our lives are already crammed so full and long weekends can tend to be overflowing with activities and life’s distractions.

That’s why, amongst the busyness, I’ll also take time over the weekend to block out all the distractions to focus on what Easter is all about – Jesus – who came to earth as fully man, fully God.

I’ll reflect on his cruel execution and celebrate Jesus’ resurrection which defeated death once and for all. The resurrection says our past doesn’t have to determine our future. The past can be over for those who believe. That’s incredibly good news.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

The thing is, it’s not only seasons like Easter that fill up with activity so quickly. That’s why blocking out all the distractions is something I need to do every day. Every day there are more calls on my time and attention.

All year round I need to choose to find moments that allow me to block out a crazy busy world to focus on who Jesus is, what he accomplished on the cross, and what that means for my life every day.

The story of Easter brings hope so powerful that it can change our own story for eternity. It’s a great time to focus on Jesus but each day we must choose to connect with the God who loved us so much that He held nothing back, not even His own son.

I really hope that you can enjoy good food and fun with those close to you this Easter but more than that, I pray that you can find some quiet moments to consider something more.



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25 Years on from the Horror

It’s been almost five years since I visited Africa. I was there around the time of the 20th commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. It remains a filthy stain on the history of our world. It was a time when voices were crying out but the world refused to listen.

While I was in Rwanda I met many people who are still suffering the effects of the events that turned such a beautiful land into a place of unspeakable horror.

While the killing had already been going on for some time, the 100 days of Genocide against the Tutsi began on the 7th of April 1994, ending on the 15th of July.

The world is currently remembering what happened in Rwanda and commemorating 25 years since the Genocide against the Tutsi.

In 100 days more than 1 million people were murdered.

But the genocidaires did not kill a million people.

They killed one, then another, then another….

day after day, hour after hour, minute by minute.

Every minute of the day, someone, somewhere was being murdered, screaming for mercy.

Receiving none.

And the killing went on and on and on….

10,000 each day,

400 each hour,

7 each minute.

Kigali Genocide Memorial 

My mind keeps returning to the Rwandan Genocide Memorial I visited in the hills outside Kigali. There are many thousands of people buried beneath the church and surrounding area.

I walked into the church and saw some of the belongings left behind by victims of the genocide including the blood-stained clothing they were wearing when the murderers took their lives.

I then walked down steps into the area below the church where I was surrounded by coffins stacked five or six high.

The church (pictured above) has become a permanent memorial and while everything I saw made the genocide very real, it became very personal when I met someone who lost most of their family in that building.

When the trip to Rwanda was planned I knew that I’d meet people who still carried the emotional scars of the genocide, but meeting a woman my own age who carries very obvious physical scars gave me a glimpse of what some people faced twenty years ago.

Even before she was introduced to us we knew that she had suffered. She carries a very long, deep scar down the left side of her face with other deep marks to the right side of her face and the back of her head. She now only has sight in her left eye.

Esther (not her real name) was a wife and mother. She had five children, the youngest just a baby.

Life as Esther knew it instantly disappeared on the 15th of April 1994.

Just over a week after the genocide began, thousands of locals sought refuge in their church, a place that should have been a safe haven. That only made their murder easier when the killers arrived and threw grenades into the assembled crowds.

Esther’s husband and three of her children died that day. She was injured and dazed lying among the dead. It wasn’t until the 18th of April that she finally made it out of the church building. She’d been left for dead but somehow survived.

That was just the start of her horror.

After crawling out of the church Esther found an empty home where she went to hide. The genociders returned and killed her other children in front of her in ways too graphic to describe here.

They then took their machetes to her and again left her for dead. Although she was suffering horrific injuries she survived and found another hiding place.

Some days later more killers arrived. This time it was people she knew. People from her own area. Neighbours. They told her to go away and die somewhere else. It took all her energies but she made it out, eventually finding another home in which to hide.

The next time her hiding place was discovered was in June. She was barely alive and weighed only 19 kilograms. She couldn’t walk because she had been hiding in a cramped position for so long.

Thankfully this time it was members of the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front), the group which was seeking to halt the genocide. They rescued Esther and took her to hospital where she stayed recovering for around six months.

Esther told her story with far more detail and while it was hard for us to hear her story, it was obvious that remembering the details was even harder for her.

Another place I visited in Rwanda was the Kigali Genocide Memorial. It tells the story of genocide in Rwanda as well as other genocides through history. If you’d like to know more about what happened over those 100 days in 1994 you can visit the website for the Kigali Memorial Centre.

The genocide resulted in the deaths of over a million people.

But death was not its only outcome.

Tens of thousands of people had been tortured, mutilated and raped; tens of thousands more suffered machete cuts, bullet wounds, infection and starvation.

There was rampant lawlessness, looting and chaos. The infrastructure had been destroyed, the ability to govern dismantled.

Homes had been demolished, belongings stolen.

There were over 300,000 orphans and over 85,000 children who were heads of their household, with younger siblings and/or relatives.

There were thousands of widows. Many had been the victims of rape and sexual abuse or had seen their own children murdered.

Kigali Genocide Memorial

Thankfully Compassion was working in Rwanda before the genocide and continues working there.

In fact, it was just after the genocide that the church where Esther’s family was killed called on Compassion for help. They were there within a few short months, ready to walk the the journey of recovery with local people.

Following the Genocide against the Tutsi Esther had another child, a daughter. When we met Esther, her daughter was in her final years of sponsorship with Compassion.



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