‘Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”‘
The words of Isaiah 6:8 have particular relevance for Wayne George, lead pastor of St John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bundaberg. The now 43-year-old has followed the voice of the Lord from South Africa to New Zealand and on to Australia as he ministers to others.
‘By God’s grace, I was born into a loving Christian home’, he said. The second-eldest of four children, Wayne grew up in Cape Town, South Africa. His dad was a schoolteacher and his mum was a housewife. ‘We were a close-knit family and the openness always existed to speak to our parents about anything, for which I am eternally grateful to my Heavenly Father’, he said.
‘As I was growing up, we went through a number of struggles as a family. A major one was financial; however, God’s faithfulness shone through at all times.
‘My childhood years saw me experiencing the diabolical system of apartheid. While I merely saw the tail end of this system (my parents and grandparents would have borne the brunt of it with forced removals, etc), I do remember vividly the “whites only” signs on trains, parks, public toilets, etc.
‘I even remember us being chased off a beach as a family because we were people of colour. (I think the policeman who ordered us to leave was just jealous of our awesome tan!)’
Wayne grew up in the church (Assemblies of God/Pentecostal). ‘At a young age in Sunday school, I realised the gospel truth that my salvation was not determined by the faith of my parents but rather through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Saviour’, he said.
With his sights set on becoming a medical doctor, he began his studies at the University of Cape Town, before plans changed.
‘I soon realised that my lifelong dream of being a doctor, while being a good idea, was not a God idea’, he said. ‘The Father had other, greater, plans for my life. At an Easter convention service in 1994, I found myself on my knees at the altar, responding to God’s call upon my life to enter his ministry. In order to prepare for this calling, I left UCT, surrendering my own medical endeavours, and embarked on a four-year Bachelor of Theology at the Cape Theological Seminary, after which I served as an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God.’
Wayne was not able to minister in a ‘full-time’ capacity, as churches he was involved with were not financially affluent. As a result, during those early years of ministry, he had to minister on a ‘tent-making’ basis. ‘The most exciting job saw me serve as an air traffic controller for a while’, he said. ‘I used to think this was the most stressful job in the world – until I became a Lutheran pastor! This has broadened my horizons and experiences and has resulted in me growing in a number of areas, enabling me to communicate with people on all levels of society, professions and cultures.’
In 2009 he came across an ad for a family and community worker with Mountainside Lutheran Church in Auckland, New Zealand. ‘I felt prompted to apply’, he said. ‘That day was in fact the closing date for applications. Within a week, a call was extended to me, and so began my journey with the LCA/NZ.’
The move didn’t just affect Wayne. He also had to consider his wife Samantha and their then nine-year-old son Liam.
For Liam, it was a case of mixed emotions. ‘I was sad to say goodbye to friends but excited about the adventure ahead’, he said.
Samantha said moving away from the familiarity and safety of family and friends was huge. ‘I knew things would never be the same again. I didn’t realise that as I said good goodbye to my beloved granny, it would be the last time I’d see her in person.’
But God had even more changes in store for the family.
‘While serving as a lay worker in Auckland, I sensed the Holy Spirit’s prompting me to apply to become a Lutheran pastor,’ Pastor Wayne said. ‘After discussions with then NZ Bishop Rob Erickson and Australian Lutheran College, my family and I embarked on a short stint in Adelaide, to follow through with some studies. I was ordained as a pastor of the LCA in December 2011, and assigned to my first Lutheran parish: Greenock, South Australia.
‘Being a South African in the Barossa Valley came with its set of challenges on a personal front’, he said. ‘We had to deal with a number of comments from folk who were well-meaning but ill-informed. Comments like: “Why are there different shades of you?”
‘Being sensitised by our upbringing under a racist political system made some of these encounters pretty difficult. However, by God’s grace, we used these occasions as opportunities to help people understand other cultures.’
It was during this time that Ezekiel was born and Samantha became pregnant with Nathanael. The family became Australian citizens in September 2015, before the call came in December of that same year to serve in the Bundaberg Lutheran Parish.
Samantha was eight months pregnant when the family moved to Queensland.
‘We had a bumpy start on a personal front, with Nathanael being born with an 8mm VSD [hole in the heart], for which he needed open heart surgery’, Pastor Wayne said. ‘Thankfully he is now the loudest family member, and we look back that season with gratitude for the sufficient grace of our Heavenly Father.’
In Jeremiah 29: 11 it states: ‘”For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.’
Where Pastor Wayne’s ministry leads is in God’s hands.
‘Ministry is not always a bed of roses – never has been and never will be’, he says. ‘However, knowing that one is making an eternal difference, despite the lack of evidence thereof at times, is what encourages one to keep moving forward.’
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