Recently here at Ashburnham Place in our weekly celebration service, one of our General Directors, Paul, spoke about leaps of faith. He talked at great length about Matthew 14, a verse well known to most of us as an important demonstration of how our lives as Christians will often play out. God calls us to constantly be walking in faith, but from time to time those walks need to become sprints, and sometimes even leaps. To be brave and daring is not easy, especially for those of us who love the feeling of the comfort zone. For me this sermon was a challenge on my own dependency on sticking to the familiar, but in many ways it made me reflect on my initial arrival here at Ashburnham.
For the sake of background, I am one of the very few volunteers currently working here that originally come from England. Many of us are from far away places like South Korea or Brazil, others from closer to home in Italy, France or Germany but all of us have some very important things in common. Firstly that we all came here to serve God, and the many guests that come here through the year seeking His presence. But also we were all bold in Christ and took an important leap in our walk of faith by coming here. For others the leap was more daring, to come from Asia or South America and leave behind everything that is familiar and your culture for a year is not an easy thing. For me at least my home is only a few hours up the road in the north of England, but ultimately we all made a sacrifice.
I am a person who has always clung to the familiar, change is far more frightening to me than anything else I have encountered. But in my fear of change I found myself trapped by my own inability to step out into the open and take risks, I had been unemployed for over a year and was struggling to find my place in a world that didn’t make sense to me. To take a leap like coming to Ashburnham was not just difficult, it was impossible for my character. But as many of us know, when God is working in our lives it is the impossible that we are called to. When Jesus calls Peter out onto the water, he is not asking him to accomplish anything that he could do without assistance, and so it was for me as well.
I had never even heard of Ashburnham Place until after my mother had returned from a holiday to Spain. She had heard of it through a local church there (one of their congregation had come here, and was here until just recently) and thought it might be of interest to me. At first the idea of it was laughable, but my situation felt desperate and in the suggestion I could feel the tugging of my heart. Jesus was there in that moment, holding out His hand to me and saying: “Come”. I am sure that at many points in my life I have had a similar call, but this is to my knowledge the first time that I have not only recognised the call but also answered it. In a moment of madness I stepped out, I sent off an e-mail to see if it was even possible that I might be able to come at short notice. I am a pessimist by nature, so it seemed to me like the answer would be a negative one. I thought I was asking too much. I should never have doubted that the reply would of course be yes.
When we are following the path that God has laid out for us, it is easy to tell the difference. Our hearts are filled with joy and a purpose that nothing else on Earth can even come close to, and that is how I felt in those days. I had told my pastor about my plans, encouraged him to fill out a reference for me along with one of the elders of the church who I had been very close with. I shared with them at great length about my excitement and how perfectly it all seemed to fit, to me and them it was clear that God was moving in my life. My plans to this point were to apply for a bible college, but it would be a long wait before I could finally enrol. This seemed like the perfect way to fill the gap, to prepare for my time learning more about God through studies by learning about Him in practice through serving. When I finally received the call three weeks later to tell me that I had been accepted to volunteer, and that I would need to come as soon as possible it was almost too difficult to believe.
To have faith is one thing, and as a Christian I have found it very easy to pray and to expect great things to come from it all, but when it actually happens it can be an overwhelming experience. To stand on the water even though everything in your head tells you that it should not be possible is empowering, it gives you the courage you felt you could never have. Psalm 139:13 says “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” God knows us better than we know ourselves, He knows the places where we are weak and how to make us strong in them. In me He knew that I lacked courage to step out of my comfort zone, so through His plans not only did I accomplish that, but I am all the braver for it.
I could speak also about my experiences since arriving here on that first day, stepping into a room filled with people I had never before met. People from different cultures and with different languages, filled with anxiety and fear, but also brimming with excitement for the coming adventures that God had for me. I arrived here in April of 2014, and next month I will have been here for a year. In that time I have learned a great deal about myself, not only that I can be brave when times call for it, but that I can also be charismatic, I can teach and I can preach better than I ever thought I could. I have made a great many friends, and learned countless things about God, about faith and nameless other things from them that I would never have known had I not taken that first step out of the boat.
One of the most common questions we are asked when we leave Ashburnham is: “What would you say to someone who is thinking about coming here to volunteer?”
To that question, my answer is written here in this testimony. God blesses those who take leaps of faith, who come when He calls them. If you are considering coming then the chances are He is already calling you. Be bold, be brave and remember that through God all things are possible.
Written by Jamie Roberts