The turning points

My wilderness years as a young adult

If you study the Bible, you will notice that many characters there go through a time when they are out on the margins, as if they have been left on the shelf. Something has to happen before they can continue the journey. We speak of these as wilderness experiences. Often these are needed in order to put to death our selfishness and self-sufficiency. Moses was 40 years in the desert. David was 14 years in the caves of Adullam. Paul was sent for 14 years to his home city of Tarsus to be shaped and prepared for his calling. Even Jesus was 40 days in the desert, although he had no faults as the rest of us do.

During my last year of college, I reached a crisis point. No doubt, there were many unresolved things in my heart. At school, I had been very good at many things, and as a result I felt that everyone expected a lot from me. I myself set the bar too high, and failing to reach the standard made me miserable. I was a perfectionist, and I grieved even over the smallest failures. I took on feelings of guilt for things that I should not have felt guilty about. If something unpleasant happened around me, I would easily think that something I had done had somehow helped to cause it. Maybe my worldview was also quite narrow. I simply wasn’t able to deal with failure. Although God forgave me, I didn’t forgive myself, and I was also very self-sufficient, not seeing that I was making demands on myself which neither God nor any other person was demanding of me.

The rollercoaster of my emotional life continued, and I kept living every day at full speed. After my adolescence, there came my post-adolescence, because I didn’t really start to go through my adolescence until I was 16. In the end, the final result was that I lost confidence in myself, particularly with regards to spiritual things. I began to feel quite often that I had failed God.

The last straw came one day when I was sharing the gospel on the streets, as was my habit at that time. An old religious education teacher saw me doing it. He came over to me and said that by doing this I was causing great harm to the Kingdom of God. He seemed to think that it was only right to speak about spiritual matters in either religious education classes or in church, with the priest speaking from the pulpit and everyone else sitting and listening. My self-confidence at that time was already at a low, and so this felt like a cold knife being plunged into my heart. The end result was that I spent the next ten years wandering around in a spiritual desert, having lost all confidence in myself. I began to be more and more passive. It wasn’t that I had abandoned my faith, it was just that I no longer trusted myself.

I didn’t really have any problems in any other area of my life, such as my relationships with other people or my work. I fell in love, started dating, got married, and we had three wonderful children with whom it was a joy to spend my time. My children’s births were particularly wonderful experiences, and the fulfilment of treasured dreams. I also went to university, we bought a small apartment in the capital city, and I succeeded well at work. But despite all this, I painfully needed a fresh intervention from God in my life, without even fully understanding myself what kind of intervention this could be. I had somehow lost part of my identity.

God then acted in a surprising and completely unexpected way. At that time, we were living in the capital and we had started attending the evening meetings at the local YWAM centre, which we considered as our church back then.  My wife made friends with some people there, but it was very difficult for me to engage with them. I decided at one point, however, that I will go to the prayer meeting, sit on the back row, and listen to what they have to say. Once the talk was over, people were asked to get into small groups to pray. Nobody asked me to join their group, and they probably didn’t even dare to approach me. Before it came to the point where I would have been left alone and needed to push my way into a group, something in me rose up forcefully against this. I jumped up and fled out of the back door. I felt really miserable. Next to the meeting room, there was a cinema. I bought a ticket for a film, not even knowing what it was. I figured that since it was a film that was allowed for children, they couldn’t be anything terrible in it.

As I watched the film, I suddenly began to very strongly sense God’s presence, something I had not felt for a long time. The film spoke of a young man named Joe who had lost his passion for life. The whole environment in which he lived and moved around was grey and dreary. There was a wildflower that grew up between the rocks on the dismal street, but even that got trampled on by someone. Joe felt that he was ill and went to see a doctor. The doctor told him that he had a terminal illness and had one year left to live. Until then, he could continue living as normal, but after a year it would all be over. After coming back from the doctor, Joe decided that in this last year he was going to live to the full. He met a businessman who had heard about Joe’s situation, and this businessman offered Joe the opportunity to spend his last year living to the full at the businessman’s expense on one condition: before the end of the year he would go to a volcanic island and jump into the volcano there in order to prevent the island (where the businessman had some large economic interests) from being destroyed. Joe set out towards the island in a small boat together with the businessman’s daughter. By the time they arrived at the island, they were so in love with each other that when the moment came to jump into the volcano, they held hands and jumped in together. At the same time, the volcano began to erupt, flinging them out up into the air. The island sank into the sea, but Joe and the girl were saved by climbing onto a raft made of luggage cases. When Joe explained that he only had a little time left to live, the girl explained that this wasn’t true, and that in fact her father had used the doctor to deceive Joe. They actually had their whole lives ahead of them. A huge moon hung over them, and they drifted along past an island made of luggage cases, wild and free.

I was crying through the whole film as I experienced God’s healing, comforting love around me the whole time that I was sat there. When I came out from there, I could strongly feel God’s love surrounding me as I danced my way home. I knew that my ten years in the wilderness were over and that God wanted to bring me back and establish me on a new, stronger foundation. It was in a way a return to my childhood, when I had found safety in God’s presence and his unconditional, selfless love. But at the same time, I felt that He was calling me to step forward in my life into new plans which He had prepared for me.

During the following months, I lived my life immersed in worship music and God’s healing love. I cried a lot, and the Almighty God healed me with his great love. Soon I felt once again that it was natural and easy for me to be together with other people in spiritual contexts. Not only did it feel natural to be involved in praying for others, but I also felt that at the same time God was making me into a spiritual father figure. Soon after that, we had our fourth child. I took up the habit of putting him to sleep every evening by laying him on my belly and listening together to worship music, leading him into the presence of God and to experiencing the love of Father God even as a baby. This brought me back to something which I had experienced in my early childhood, when I had found security in the presence of God and Jesus, and it also reawakened dreams of what the church and Christian community could be. I had never forgotten my dreams of the Kingdom of God, of a life where people live in close connection with each other, helping each other and all those around them in every area of life, but I wanted to get a wider understanding of these things and to get inspiration from people who had the same dreams. Back when I had become a believer, I had prayed a lot for China, and the Chinese underground house church movement fascinated me, because I felt that they were living out a life of love for one another under intense pressure.

Before I knew it, I had become a central figure in the Dawn movement which was taking shape in my country, helping to establish the foundations for a house church movement. I also made friends with many house church pioneers from other countries, which was something very important for me. I felt that we shared the same kind of dreams for the things that we read about in the book of Acts.

I am grateful for the way that, as I have progressed on my journey, God has always brought the right people to me, starting right back in my early childhood with those playgroup ladies.

I have felt that there has been a common thread running through my story. God has always led me onwards. I myself hope that I can fulfil those dreams which God has for me. Most of all, his dreams for who I become as a person, but also his dreams for carrying out those things which he has planned for me to do. I know, however, that all of this is by the grace of God, and that without this grace and this connection with God and other people, no one can do anything.

There is one thing which I felt God said to me which continues to stir me right to this day. I felt him say that just as He was first two days in the grave and then rose on the third day, in the same way his bride, the worldwide Church, has also been in a kind of grave for two thousand years. Not in the sense that there would not have been believers that have shone out and have been and drenched in the love and presence of God, as there certainly have been, but rather in the sense of the community as a whole, and the dynamic between people and the whole community. When Jesus comes, the bride will have risen from the grave collectively, as a worldwide community. When the bridegroom comes, the bride will be perfect in her beauty. I want to be part of that bride, and to work towards making the bride worthy of the bridegroom. This is certainly what will happen in the end. I can see that image clearly in my mind, and I think about what must take place for it to come true. It is clear that its fulfilment will involve many kinds of transformation, some of which will be painful ones. But all this can be endured if one can see the goal for which it worth suffering, even suffering greatly.

I am praying that God awakens in your soul the spark of hope as you read this. If you are in the wilderness, I pray that the bright light of God’s love would reach the deepest recesses of your heart, heal all your old wounds, and awaken you to love God, other people, and yourself.

Frank Hill