This is a story by Gordon Moyes in the book Australian Stories for the Soul.
In mid-1975, while ministering at the Cheltenham Church of Christ in Victoria, I had a strong conviction that the church should purchase the large double block of land and house at the end of Pine Street, a street that divided our very extensive property. I wanted this house and the large double block for the church to build a child care centre. We had four young children at the time, and it seemed with over 300 children in our Sunday School, that a day child care centre was what was most needed.
The need was simple: we wanted to bring glory to God by servicing the needs of the community. The problem was, we had extended our property enormously and had no money in the bank at all. We had just finished building a large retirement village near the church and had purchased several houses for demolition for the building of a further retirement village. We had assets but no cash!
I stood on the road, faced the house and the double block of land and prayed: ‘Lord, I believe you want this land for development of our church—to minister to the needs of others. I claim this land now for your work. Thank you for giving it to us!’ As I stood in the middle of the road I felt really stupid. With no money in the bank, it was to all intents and purposes a foolish prayer.
I thought laterally for answers. One was to get the Whitlam Government to buy the land and house for us. I approached the Children’s Commission to get a grant to cover part of the cost of a huge child care complex. Eventually a grant was promised. We were excited. Then everything went wrong: Gough Whitlam was sacked on 11 November 1975. The Fraser Government stopped all grants. The Children’s Commission was closed down and we could not purchase the property. I was jut as if our prayers had been in vain and God was allowing us to be mocked!
We then discovered that one of our elders, George Daff, was related to the lady who owned the property. She was his wife’s aunt. So we commissioned George to negotiate with her. We agreed on a price, placed a small deposit, and arranged that when she was ready to sell we would borrow and pay her the remainder. We rejoiced at how God had enabled the plans to be worked out.
Soon afterwards, a man stood at the door and handed me some money. It was the wealthy builder who lived over the back fence from the property. He gave me back the money we had placed as a deposit and simply told me he had made a surprise cash bid for the house and it had been accepted. The papers had been signed before we knew it.
A wave of anger swept over me. God had let us down. We’d been robbed. I looked hard at him.
I looked hard at him: ‘Damn you, Bill Marshall! You knew we wanted that land and house to minister to other. You would have read that in the church paper your kids took home. And knowing we’d put the deposit down and were about to sign the papers, you went in and confused the old lady with cash and pushed us out!’
The builder looked coldly at me. ‘I bought it for my daughter to live in. You’ll be marrying her in a couple of years, and we want her to live next to my wife and me. Sorry about your plans, but in this life cash always wins.’
We had no cash so Bill go the property. He then rented it our for a couple of years until his daughter was married in our church.
I had wanted that property for the right reason—to help children in need. But we soon discovered our plans had been for the wrong age group. The great need in our area was not child care but aged care. Before long we had over a hundred people on our waiting list for our Christian Retirement Centre. We had two centres and opened a third, but the waiting lists grew even longer.
Then two years after the night the builder told me he had bought the property, he was once more standing on my doorstep. ‘I’ve got a problem,’ he said. ‘You know I’ve been renting out that property at the end of Pine street. Well, it’s brought me nothing but trouble. The first crowd in there were all drunks who threw their bottles over into our swimming pool. Then there were those motorcycle people who repaired their bikes in the lounge room. Then it was those young people with the rock band and we couldn’t get a wink of sleep. And now it’s my daughter; she and her husband don’t want to live so close to us!
He paused and took a deep breath. ‘I’m not going to rent it to anyone else. I’m, wondering if the church would do a deal. I’m short of work at the moment, and I know you have a lot of people on the waiting list to get into the Christian Retirement Centre. If you gave me the contract to build another retirement centre for you, I’ll give you the land-free! You could lease the units so it wouldn’t cost you any money, and you would own the property without it costing you a cent.’
Carefully controlling my words and trying not to appear too eager, I replied, ‘Well, I’ll get our people to consider if we still want it.’
I had prayed for a ministry on that block. New we got the house, two large blocks of land and a purpose-built two-storey brick building to complete our ministry to the aged—and the whole project was completed without the church having to borrow or raise a cent! I couldn’t help but think of the assurance I had forgotten when everything went wrong: ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28)