I was required to travel from Phoenix, Arizona to Sydney, Australia for work this April. I was working on a large project and they needed support on site for the go live. Although, in some ways, I looked forward to the trip, there was a steep personal cost. Not only was I to be away from my lovely wife for 2 weeks (I couldn’t convince her to come with me), but I was going to be away from my local church for 2 weeks. This meant would I miss 2 weeks of:
- Sunday Worship with my brothers and sisters at my local church
- Teaching the Sunday morning apologetics class
- Tuesday men’s Bible study at Mimi’s Café with about 20 other guys
- Wednesday night AWANA, where I’m one of the leaders. I have six 4th grade clubbers who I dearly miss:
- Thursday night men’s Bible study with 6 brothers from my local church. When I’m not there, no music is played, so I know they’ll be missing that, but I certainly have missed them and their fellowship. We really go deep with each other and hold each other accountable.
- Daily walks at work with the one Christian Brother I have at work. On those walks, we normally talk apologetics and do role playing with large lists of objections to the Christian faith – I really miss him and those daily walks on work days.
- Feeding the homeless at St. Vincent de Paul (2nd Saturday of the month) – I will miss Rosanne (the volunteer leader) as well as all the other volunteers. I will also miss the opportunity to serve those less fortunate in the name of Christ, while being confronted with the fact of homelessness and hunger.
But, I really had no option to say no to this work trip. Many would think I was crazy for even wanting to say no – its Australia! While this was not going to be a pleasure trip, I hoped that at least I would have some time off during the trip for sight-seeing. The flight to Australia was 15 hours and 20 minutes long (from Los Angeles to Sydney). I was dreading that long flight. I’d requested an aisle seat and when I boarded the plane and got to my seat, I saw that there was a couple sitting in the same row – 3 seats and they occupied 2 and me in the other one. They were a very pleasant couple. I did find out they were Christian. After small talk was over, I started reading the book “Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith” by Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler. The husband of the couple noticed the book and made mention of it, so I asked him if he was a Christian and he said yes, so we talked about our mutually shared faith, which was great. As the flight went on, I realized that this was going to be very uncomfortable for 15 hours, because the seating was very cramped. This flight attendant I think noticed my situation and mentioned to me, “Hey, there’s an open seat in row 30 where you’d be the only person in the row – you’re free to take it if you’d like”. Well, I’ve got to tell you, that was God taking care of me through her! I quickly took her up on the offer. The husband of the couple had already fallen asleep and I said a quiet good bye to the wife as I moved my belongings back to row 30. Wow, it was great – I could stretch out my feet, I had room to store my stuff. This row only had 2 seats in it, but the row ahead had 3 seats, so I had plenty of leg room. Plus, since the row was kind of “indented”, I wouldn’t get my elbow bumped by people or carts going by. It really made this long flight tolerable. This was also the type of airplane that had plugs in the back of the seat in front of you which meant that I could plug in my phone and play audio or video on it without fear of running out of battery. So, I did a lot of reading and listening to various sermons and podcasts. It was a great time of feeding as I made use of the time rather than wasting it away. I did have sleep too – I think I got about 5 hours – in and out. As we got close to Sydney, I started to look out the window to see if I could see land. I was finally able to see the first glimpses of Australia from the plane:
I knew it wouldn’t be long and we’d be landing. I was full of hope, joy and thankfulness that I’d survived through that long flight. I told that flight attendant several times during the flight how grateful I was to her for giving me the opportunity to sit here, how it really made my flight experience a pleasure.
Once landing in Sydney, I was able to quickly get my luggage (praise God) and it was very painless getting through customs. Getting out to the curb it was a little difficult to find where the taxis were, but I finally found them and there was a big line, which I waited in and finally after the guy assigning people to taxis had an argument with a taxi driver who I was to go with :), I was able to get into the taxi and make the 45 minute trip to North Ryde where my hotel was. I was staying at the Courtyard Marriott in North Ryde, which was in walking distance to my work as well as a church that I’d found online – North Ryde Christian Church. I arrived at my hotel at about 9AM Saturday morning (I’d left Phoenix 7PM Thursday evening). Whew! What I really needed was a room and a nice hot shower. My plan was to go down to the Sydney Harbor area and stay moving all day long, just sightseeing. Was I in for a rude awakening… As I was waiting for my room to be prepared in the hotel lobby, I checked my work email ( first mistake 🙂 ) and saw that they actually wanted me to attend a 9:30AM meeting at the office. Well, I emailed back and told them I just landed and needed to get to my room, take a shower and then I would be able to come. So, after showering and unpacking, I used my pre-printed walking directions to the office and walked over there. It turned out that I worked a full day – I think I left the office at 7PM that day! Well, so much for sightseeing. But it was the go live weekend and there were rather urgent tasks we as a project team had to do. However, it was a surprise to me that there were still that many things left to do that close to go live. In any case, I made it clear that I would be going to church tomorrow, so no one even asked me to go into work on Sunday, although several of them would be working on Sunday. On Saturday, I went out to lunch at a Malaysian restaurant with several of the guys from China who’d traveled to Sydney for the go live as well. During the lunch, I mentioned that I’d be going to church tomorrow. One commented that China is communist and “we don’t believe in God” – he kind of chuckled. Another guy said “I’ve never been to church”, so I invited him to come with me, but he declined the offer – I made it clear to everyone that they could come with me tomorrow, but no one took me up on the offer.
So, Sunday morning I got up and ate breakfast at the hotel. I knew from the web search that church started at 9:30 am and it was a 23 minute walk, so I targeted that I wanted to leave the hotel at 9:00. But, interestingly enough, I’d forgot to pack white socks for the trip, so I figured I would take the time I had to go to a local Target store and buy some socks – that as quite an adventure in and of itself, but bottom line, I ended up buying 6 pairs of white socks – enough to get me through the trip. I also needed to stop at an ATM and withdraw some cash so that I would have money to give at church. I figured out what I normally give at home and translated that via the exchange rate and took out the necessary amount of money at the ATM – it worked out well. I arrived at the church at 9:25 – perfect timing! I took several pictures along the way. The first one here is actually a cool looking tree that was out in front of the church. You can see the church sign on the right side of the photo:
Here are a couple of cool trees I saw on the way to church walking there:
The worship service was great. Everyone was real friendly. Since it was a very small church, I stood out like a sore thumb 🙂 I think I just about talked to everyone in attendance either before or after the service. This is definitely a Spirit filled, Jesus loving church. The speaker spoke on the topic of “What’s Jesus Like?”. It was a great topic. He’s documented to contents of this talk here: https://georgesjournal.net/2016/04/04/whats-jesus-like/. The church does not employ any pastors, so each week, there is a different speaker – I believe normally an elder or possibly a missionary report. There is a lot I could report about the church and its differences to ours in Phoenix and I really found it to be a great experience, I would definitely return there. One couple in particular I met there invited me back to their house for lunch and gave me lots of wonderful advice on what was a best plan for sightseeing the rest of the day. With their help, I decided to take a ferry to Manly, which would allow me to see a bit of the downtown area (Circular Quay) and the harbor, the bridge, the opera house as well as the great little town of manly including the beach! I could not believe that this couple actually provided me with an OPAL card (with money on it), which is needed to take the trains and ferry. But, more than that, they even dropped me off down at Circular Quay and told me exactly where to go to catch the ferry! Unbelievable! Well, it was a wonderful day. Here is a picture I took while waiting for the ferry arrive from the wharf:
As you can see, the opera house is on the right and the harbor bridge is on the left. The ferry is the smaller ship coming into the harbor in the middle of the picture. It was an absolutely beautiful day – about 70° – 75° F, which is perfect! As we left the harbor, I was able to get great pictures of the opera house as we cruised by it:
So, the ferry made its way over to Manly, which is out at the edge of the harbor. I don’t think it is technically an island, but it certainly has the feel of an island. The ferry landed at a wharf and after getting my bearings straight according to the map my new friends printed for me, I decided to head for the beach. It is a very small town and you can very quickly walk from the place where the ferry lands, through the little town and over to the beach. The little town is somewhat reminiscent of Coronado Island in San Diego (minus the infamous Hotel del Coronado of course) in that it is small enough to walk across, and one side, there is a harbor and the other side a beach, with a lot of quaint little shops in between and a very safe feeling place. So, I spent several hours there – out by the beach, took off my shoes and walked in the sand and the water, up and down the beach for quite a while.
After getting hungry, I got off the sand and put my shoes and socks back on to go across the street to eat. I found a little open air Mexican place called Mex & Co, where I had some fajitas:
Around that time, one of the poor guys that was still at work that day contacted me on WeChat (I’d installed that while back in America, being advised that it was a good way to text with the Chinese guys). And luckily Manly has city Wi-Fi, so, I didn’t have to use any of my data to answer. I was able to answer a question that got him out of a jam – he was happy for that. After eating and answering his question, I took the walking path to the right of the beach to walk along the rocky part of the coast line:
After quite a long while walking along there, the sun was starting to get lower, so I thought it was a good idea to start getting back. I didn’t want to get back too late… So, I made my way back to the center of town, stopping to have a banana split on the way 🙂 After that, I made my way over to the ferry waiting place and boarded the ferry to get back to Sydney. This time I went to the open air in the front of the ship. As we were heading back to Sydney harbor, there were stunning pictures of the sunset behind the harbor bridge:
Excellent day – now it was dark and I was in an unfamiliar city knowing that I was at Circular Quay and needed to get back to MacQuarie Park, thanks to a note from my friends. In hindsight, I should’ve downloaded an app for trains. A few people and workers were able to help guide me to the correct trains / platforms. After 3 train / platform changes, I finally made it back to my stop and took the 2 block walk back to my hotel – I think I as back in the room by 8PM. Great day. I would need it because the rest of the week was to be very rough indeed.
Monday morning I walked to the office. One thing I noticed is that there are a lot of cool birds in Sydney and surprisingly, 2 of the most common birds are Cockatoos and Lorikeets. The Lorikeets were much too small and fast to get a picture of unfortunately, but I was able to get several pictures of the cockatoos:
There were also a few other assorted birds that seemed quite different than Arizona birds to me, for example, Ibis:
And these other birds that I saw almost every day on the way to work:
The first 2 days of the week were rough. On both of those days, I worked until at least 10PM. Subsequent evenings, I was able to get out by 8PM and 7PM, which seemed like I got off easy 🙂 Fortunately, the US team was able to pick up the slack during our daytime, so we would just hand off to them. Then, as the week wound down to a close, I started to feel myself getting sick. Because of that, unfortunately, tourism was not a viable option on the weekend. I had to just hang around the hotel and try to get better. Since I had my friend’s OPAL card (and you shouldn’t throw those out, because they’re refillable) I felt that I needed to get the card back to them. So, I did go to church again although I was sick. Again, the people were happy to see me back and I was happy to see them. If there was anyone I hadn’t spoken to in the whole church, I probably spoke to them this time when I went. There was a family, who last weekend had invited me out to lunch, and since I wasn’t able to go, I took them up on their offer this time (even though I wasn’t really hungry). We went to a shopping mall where I was able to purchase medicine at a pharmacy, which would hopefully help manage my symptoms. After a meal at a Chinese restaurant (for which they insisted on paying), they dropped me back off at the hotel. Both weekends my interaction with the church was a great opportunity for fellowship and getting to know brothers and sisters in Christ half way around the world 🙂 After that, I pretty much just rested the rest of the day and tried to prepare myself for Monday of work. Unfortunately, my health just kept going downhill. It got to a point Monday afternoon, that I left early and worked the rest of the day from the hotel room. Tuesday, I worked all day from the hotel room. Tuesday evening, the coughing was so bad in the middle of the night that I determined in the morning I was going to find a doctor and make sure I didn’t have pneumonia. So, when I got up, I started to research doctors. I found one a few blocks away, within walking distance and went – cost was $50 AUD, but the doctor confirmed that I didn’t have pneumonia, which was good – rather, I was diagnosed with Acute Bronchitis and given a “script” for antibiotics and told that I was “unfit for work” for 2 days. So, I just stayed in the hotel for Wednesday and Thursday, eating room service food (not too great by the way). Finally, I emerged “alive” from the tomb of my room 🙂 Friday morning with plans to go to work. I went into work and everyone was really concerned about me – apparently the word spread far and wide because even friends from back in the states were contacting me and asking if I was ok. I still had a cough, but it’d definitely gotten better.
It was great getting to know the people in the office who are using the software I helped to write. I’ve had roll-outs of this tool suite in North America, Europe and now Australia and this was the place where I got to interact closest with the end users of my software. There was one user in particular, who happened to also be staying at my same hotel. She was from out of the country as well (not the US). I saw her while eating breakfast one day and she was wearing a cross. I asked her about the cross, whether she was Christian – she said she was catholic (and she lives in a majority Muslim country). We talked a little about church stuff when I first saw that cross and asked her about it. But on the Friday morning (my last business day in Australia), I saw her again at breakfast and again, as we ate breakfast, we started to talk about faith. I asked her where she thought she was going to go when she died. She said she didn’t know. I asked her why… She said, well, I think I’m a good person, and I’m really trying hard. I asked her why she said she was unsure, because I reminded her of Jesus’ words – “Whoever hears My words and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned – he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24). She said the reason she was unsure if she’d go to heaven is because she may have to go to purgatory. I reminded her, that one of the last things Jesus said while He was on the cross was “It is finished!” That meant that all the sins of those who would believe in Him are paid for – no further payment is needed. She said, well that is what the catholic church teaches. I gently said, yes, but that teaching is not found in the Bible. I think you ought to base your thoughts about what will happen when you die based on God’s word, not on man’s word. I then showed her a passage on my phone and had her read it – it was Ephesians 2:4-9, which says:
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions –it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith –and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.”.
She acted like that was all new information to her. I asked her if she knew what the biblical word grace meant. She didn’t. So I went on to explain that it is unmerited favor from God. You can’t earn your salvation by doing good or being a good person – you could never be good enough anyway. She then asked me doesn’t God want us to be good – doesn’t He want us to obey. I said yes, but this does not contribute to your salvation – salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone – look at Ephesians 2:9 – it says “not of works, so that no one can boast”. She seemed like a light bulb went off and she actually started crying. I then prayed for her that she would understand the message of grace that salvation is a free gift from God that cannot be earned, but must be received by faith. Again, she cried, she felt like I was an angel, a messenger that God sent to tell her what I told her. I encouraged her that if she trusts in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, that He paid for her sins on the cross and rose from the dead, God would indeed save her and bring her to heaven one day. She thanked me for that. Later in the day, I also sent a followup email to her and included this passage, Luke 18:9-14:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
That conversation just made my day and my whole trip worth it! So, Friday, I left the office at 4PM because I had to go back and pack and make arrangements for a trip to the airport as well.
I hoped to visit this national park that was in close walking distance to the hotel, so I did go and visit that before my driver arrived at 8:00 AM on Saturday morning. Here are some pictures:
And finally, the last trip to the 7-11 for the breakfast of champions!
Then, finally, another grueling long flight back to home. I’m so glad to be back. Even though I got sick and I only got in one day of sightseeing and missed my wife and family and church, I still think the trip was worth it – if nothing else, for:
- Meeting the group at North Ryde Christian Church and getting to know them
- Meeting all the users of the software I created
- Talking about the free gift of salvation with someone who didn’t really understand it
- I also was able to memorize several verses while in Australia:
- Psalms 116:15
- Proverbs 14:2
- Proverbs 15:28a
- Deuteronomy 8:17-18a
- 1 Peter 4:1-5
- And all the cool birds I saw…
Hopefully, one day, I’ll be able to go back to Australia on a pleasure trip – it seems like a real nice place with great people. I felt really safe the whole time I was there. In fact, I cannot remember seeing even one policeman the whole time I was there. So, overall, I’m happy I went – it was an experience that I will not forget – I and I’m quite sure I’ll see several of the people I met in Australia in heaven one day. Meanwhile I’m encouraged by the words of the apostle Paul to Titus:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldy passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Titus 2:11-13