My wife Milena
PREVENIENT GRACE COMING TO HER
I take great pleasure in introducing Milena. I have talked about Milena in earlier articles on this website, but, in this article I wish to emphasize some of her highlights and achievements in life. I saw Milena blossom and really come into her own when we were in the UK in 1989, but more about that later as you read on.
In her younger years Milena was a German, History and English teacher having taught, in high schools, in Melbourne and Hobart. She was loved by her students. Milena also organized visits for the best of her students to Germany through the Goethe Institute, being an award winner herself. Ever since her stroke a few years ago, she has been experiencing more short-term memory loss and has become more timid, wanting reassurance frequently. Milena never complains about my cooking or the take-away foods, but will, on occasions, remember hurts. She hasn't entirely forgotten hurtful relationships.
I sometimes remind her of the wonderful cruises she has been on. On our first cruise, on a modern liner, when I retired in 2004, we went around New Zealand on the Sapphire Princess. Our family always welcomed us home. It felt good to be back in safe Australia where we could always rely on cheap and quality health care. New Zealand was also a safe haven, but we felt vulnerable elsewhere, particularly in the USA, Asia, Israel and the South Pacific.
I have lost my wallet three times overseas; identity cards, passports and all travel documents twice, but each time they were returned within three hours. We would have been without a penny once or identification documents, in London, without insurance. I remember 1971 when we would have been stranded in San Francisco without a visa or working visa, and only with a few dollars in our pockets, for similar reasons, with two small children on our hands. God has been good, exceptionally good. I think we gave our folks back in Australia many scares over the years. Then there was the occasion when my son took it into his head to impersonate me to cancel a credit card I lost in Cannes, France. I was too confused in France to know what to do. He risked the bank shutting down all my funds but he managed to rescue me.
1976 - AFTER MY CONVERSION TO CHRIST
During the turmoils that immediately followed my conversion to Christ, in Melbourne, way back in 1976, Milena became angry and bewildered at my sudden changes in lifestyle. I started giving away all our savings and gave donations building up debt, attended all bible studies available and spent hours conversing with Christians.
She needed support and all I did was to say that I am doing it for the sake of saving our families from hell. I could have said it differently, but, in the first years I was determined to follow Christ zealously all the way. However, the Lord foreknew that I would bungle many things in our life. The Lutheran Church and relatives stepped in where I had left huge gaps. Milena continued attending the Lutheran Church, but I opted for an exciting charismatic church. I am told that 1976 was towards the end of a decade when God was moving in a mighty way with signs and wonders amongst some of the churches in Australia. I genuinely saw a tooth cavity being filled and a leg being lengthened. I thought it would continue like that all the time and was disappointed when these miracles stopped happening.
The Lutheran chaplain Pastor Koch and members of congregation were of enormous help and comfort to Milena and especially the children who could overhear our endless fights. The situation would, sometimes even end in a wrestle.
Milena’s sister, brother-in-law and her mother, (who lived with us), comforted Milena during periods of depression. Milena laughed afterwards, on a regular basis, for having visited a psychiatrist about her depression when, one day, he opened the door to the waiting room to let another client out. He remarked to Milena, as he invited her in, ‘Phew! What a terrible case she is. I love having you. With you, all I have to do is listen’. Milena stopped spending her teacher’s wages on him after that.
The situation came to a head once I received media attention, in the 1980’s, because I denounced general evolution theory in the press. Although Milena enjoyed the publicity on TV, it also caused a lot of embarrassment at her school. A former student of her's, Joan Rosen, sent her a wallet containing encouraging scriptures and testimonies. The fellowship at the Lutheran church ministered much comfort to her when I went on my own to work in Washington DC for 6 months.
Milena decided to come with me, but only two days before I was to leave. Poor timing on her part did not allow her to come anymore. The family had been hesitating to come with me until it was too late. I left as much money with her as I could spare, budgeting $200 to buy a cheap car in Maryland.
I didn’t realize that, even in the USA, for that money, one would have to push the car out of the caryard. A very generous American, Bill Shifflet and his wife Laura, saw my dilemma and bought me a car for $800 to use on the motorway while I remained. This helped me to visit him and the churches in Virginia regularly over weekends. That I didn't have to buy a car helped Milena and the children a great deal back home.
Six months later I had worn out the tyres and I prayed wondering where I would obtain money to return the car to Bill in good condition. The Lord stepped in again! Without me prompting him, Bill phoned and requested I return the car as is. He wanted to give it to Teen Challenge anyway.
The photos are of Bill's snow-bound home, in Hillsboro Virginia where I spent my weekends visiting the Virginia Full Gospel Churches. One night, we had to unfreeze his sewer system with a blow torch. Laura's pancakes were great for breakfast.
The Wynn family, an eldership couple shown below, invited me over for Christmas. One morning, we tapped a maple tree with a large nail in his backyard to obtain fresh maple syrup for the pancakes. Every time God was helping me He was really helping my family back home. God has been so faithful over the years! I pray that the Wynn family is doing well.
On my return Milena’s mother asked, ‘Why don’t you attend his church'? I was delighted, but didn’t want to force the situation so we agreed to go alternately to each other’s churches, but that simply did not work. It began to irritate us, at both churches, when people remarked on our regular absences. Fortunately, around this time, the university in Melbourne sent me to the UK for nine months to be trained in molecular biotechnology. I went ahead by three months to search out accommodation, in Norwich, but it was surprisingly difficult to obtain accommodation in the smaller English towns. I found a tiny but comfortable flat in Cringleford, a 30 minute walk from work at the John Innes Research Laboratories – although, it seemed much longer than that, tramping through the snow in the dark in both the early mornings and late afternoons. The occasional glow of soft lamps and quacks piercing the thick fog added to the mystery. I lodged in the house of Einier and Alan Williams where I was much comforted also. Alan had written ‘The Black Knight’ which became a film and they loved to talk. There were many interesting conversations on history because she was English and he was Welsh.
In England, I tried out two churches through contacts and decided that the Brethren church was a little too sedate because their young people preferred to go to the Assemblies of God down the road. They were very welcoming though. The Reformed Trinity Church, in Unthank Road, was the right mix for us.
A Scottish eldership couple, the Grants, took us under their wing, while the Welsh minister, wearing a long, old-fashioned button-up black coat like a sea captain was a pleasure to listen to. Once Milena arrived, we became involved in activities through these very dear friends, Alex and Aileen, who gave us lifts in their car until we bought our own. The husband was President of the Norwich Caledonia Club. We were invited to attend the Burn’s Supper and found ourselves sitting beside the President and his wife at the high table. After the haggis was piped in we heard a rather lengthy speech which created much laughter, but neither we nor the President nor his wife, could understand a single word. It was delivered in a rare, very broad Scottish accent, but we all smiled and joined the clapping. The couple had a good friend who had been in the RAF during the war who took us to the home of an old commander where we had dinner at the same table that the actor, Jimmy Stewart, used to sit at. Major Stewart used to be in charge of the airstrip on the property.
We spent a humorous time with the Grants touring the north of England. Once we stayed in a Tudor-style Bed and Breakfast. Booking the accommodation over the phone, the landlady said that she hoped we would not mind the occasional train coming through. In fact, about eight or ten coal trains came through in the middle of the night shaking us in our beds. One could feel a train approaching in the bathroom.
The Tudor house turned out to be the old railway station and was only 3 metres from the track. I personally didn’t mind because I love trains and have an all-weather G gauge, remote controlled train set in my backyard in Melbourne. Little things like that in life make one laugh and even enjoy the situation. The breakfast was marvellous (photo of four of us) and we looked forward to visiting the Cotswolds and Yorkshire where ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ was filmed. All of this helped to bond and confirm our marriage. It was surely God's doing!
Milena especially loved the fish and chips at the quaint Norwich market with its colourful tents.
I occasionally visited the Brethren church where I had already made faithful friends, the Shackcloths, but it was impossible to continue going to both churches.
Norwich was God-sent and brought Milena and myself together. Before departing from Melbourne, Milena was asked to bring her Czech recipes with her and anything else she would need to also teach the Norwich choir hymns in Czech for the World Women’s Day of Prayer. It was Czechoslovakia’s turn to host that year. The choir in their beautiful red and blue gowns gave an outstanding performance before a packed church. The Mayor of Norwich and other honourable guests sat in the front pew, which added to Milena’s joy of accomplishment. Milena welcomed visitors in the foyer wearing a traditional costume and playing her accordion.
In accordance with Czech custom, visitors were offered salted bread to taste. The local radio station interviewed Milena at length and she even made it into the press. The Lord used Milena remarkably for a few months. She became friends with another couple, the Drummonds, who had been missionaries in Africa. Rosalind Drummond took Milena on a local hospital tour, speaking at bed sides, going from ward to ward. Milena felt very royal that day.
While we were in England, she finally received a visa to visit Czechoslovakia, which had been forbidden to her during the Iron Curtain days because her father had been on the black list under communism.
Milena visited Czechoslovakia three times during the space of a few years and the Lord was with her wherever she went. She brought back a photo of an advertisement she saw in a shop window in Prague advertising an Australian evangelist, Steve Ryder.
Milena on another visit years later in Hrabova where her family used to have a house and a potato patch.
In the Czech Republic, she visited her birthplace in Starec, Moravia and renewed friendship with relatives in Hrabova. She also visited her former 'Nanny' in Trebic that satisfied her longings to renew childhood memories.
Our bond was further strengthened when she accompanied myself and the Hammonds to Indonesia where we visited several churches presenting the scientific case for creation, as opposed to evolution, for the origin of life. Milena found great encouragement from church friends such as Jeff and Annette Hammond, and Arja and Add Korteweg.
When they are not pastoring their huge church in Indonesia, Jeff and Annette Hammond spend three months, in Victoria, mentoring church leaders and others on a property that was partially funded by the Indonesian church. Their next mentoring session will be in March 2019 for which free accommodation and meals are provided for several days (https://www.abbahouse.org.au). I have the regular privilege of presenting two talks on 'Creation and Evolution' as part of their mentoring program at Abbahouse in Kialla, near Shepparton, Australia.
The month planning the Czechoslovakian Women's Day of Prayer, in Norwich 1990, UK, was Milena’s high point in life which brought much healing into our relationship, so much so, that when we returned to Melbourne Milena decided to get baptised by immersion in our previous non-denominational church at Wonga Park surprising all her friends and relatives. We are now attending Life Ministry Church in Chirnside Park, Victoria.
In my own opinion, though Milena had a long association with the church and was one of the foundation members of Calvary Lutheran Church in Eltham and Greensborough, Melbourne, and had taught Sunday School over the years she did not yet have a real personal relationship with the Lord.
As we look back over the years, there is no doubt that the Lord was continuously encouraging her forward and giving her support through people when most needed. Her journey strongly contrasted with mine. She grew slowly and progressively while I was catapulted into the church through an Acts chapter 2 experience and witnessed physical miracles through prayer, that Milena never really understood. We are now at peace having long attended church together. As a final statement on 'Prevenient Grace' we could say, 'all’s well that ends well', with all our thanks to the grace coming to us through our Lord Jesus Christ!
IN MORE RECENT YEARS
Milena now finds it difficult to smile and has come to appreciate jokes even less than before. She has become indifferent to many things but enjoys reading. When asked, she hardly remembers the content of the book or the film we just saw, but enjoys everything while she is immersed in it. On our last cruise from Seattle, where we visited old church friends, she enjoyed much of the trip back to Australia. One particular photo taken in Seattle with our lovely friend La Donna in 2016 reminds me of the lovely smile she used to have. The other photo with our tour guide Andre, in Thailand, was taken as she was watching me ride bare-back on an elephant through the water. The elephant occasionally submerged entirely and then came up and squirted a trunk-full of water at me.
Her long term memory is better than mine however, and frequently surprises me with things she brings up - names of people I have long forgotten or rarely thought about. I don't want her work and her influence in my life forgotten, so I wrote this article during 2017-18 while she can still read.