inform - inspire - unite
INTERVIEW - FRANK CUNNINGHAM
My life’s journey has been rocky but with God’s patience, guidance, and the love of Southwest, I’m standing firm today.
Please share your life story and your journey towards Christ.
I was born in England of Irish Catholic parents. Their marriage didn’t succeed and they separated. At four, I was placed in a boy’s home. Mum came most Sundays and took me to Sunday school and church, where I gained a belief in God. When I was 11, Mum came and told me she was moving to Australia but couldn’t take me with her. As you can imagine this was upsetting to me at such a young age. I prayed hard for God to stop her from leaving for Australia. He didn’t – she left. From then on, I believed God didn’t care about me and I told God I didn’t want anything to do with him. Instead of going to church I would hide or go to the park. I was moved to a foster home when I was 12. This wasn’t the happiest time and it convinced me even more that God really didn’t care about me
I moved into a bedsitter at 17, lived alone, and spent most of my time working, partying, and playing soccer. Paid on Thursday, broke on Monday. God was not in the picture at all. I met a girl at a pub who became my wife. We migrated to Australia in 1973. We found Australia much like England, and we spent our time working and partying.
Eventually we had two beautiful girls: Stacy and Emma. I decided it was time to become responsible – the partying had to stop. I was able to change but unfortunately my wife wasn’t able to. She went into rehab in 1983 and received the help she needed. She’s still sober today! After rehab she searched for God, going to a number of different churches. In her search she met Sheila Hartman at our local neighbourhood group. Sheila invited her to a Bible study and worship with the Southwest Church of Christ.
My wife and girls enjoyed the church group and began attending services. I was invited to go but I wanted nothing to do with it: ‘once a Catholic always a Catholic’. But my family’s interest in the church stirred something in me and I started going to the local Catholic Church. My wife was baptised in 1985 and I was asked what I thought about it. My response was ‘ok for her, not for me’.
I soon learned that the Southwest church people were normal, everyday folks, and I started coming to activities and worship services. Then at a church family camp I was moved to ask someone to help me understand the Bible. Dale Hartman invited me to a Bible study which helped me understand the Bible, Jesus, salvation and, most importantly, that God did care about me. I was baptised in March 1987 – a great day. My life’s journey has been rocky but with God’s patience, guidance, and the love of Southwest, I’m standing firm today.
You served many years working as the full-time minister at Southwest. What were some of the challenges after the US team returned home? What have been some memorable moments in the work there?
The challenges were numerous. Losing strong, influential Christians such as the Hartmans left big holes to fill. Keeping the congregation encouraged and together was another big one. Being outwardly focussed – rather than on what we had lost – was another. Memorable moments: the joy on the faces of those baptised! Seeing babies grow up to adults, baptised, and remaining faithful. The youth and young adult camp we started in 2002 is still going strong 17 years later. Our paved footpath at the building was stolen overnight – that was memorable!
In more recent years, you have reconnected with your family in Ireland. How has this impacted your life?
As I said earlier, Mum left for Australia in 1963, when I was 11. In 1991, I found Mum again in Sydney. We spent the next 20 years trying to reconnect. In 2011 Mum died. However, I was aware of one sister that she had. Through God’s help I was able to contact her. I then received a letter from a cousin in Ireland who wrote and told me about my family. In 2012, I took Mum’s ashes back to her family home in Ireland. The impact on me has been incredible. From a boy’s home, not knowing any family or family history and feeling unconnected most of my life, I now feel very much connected. I feel I belong. I’m more grounded and confident than I have ever been. Praise God.
You’ve supervised many HIM (Helpers in Missions) workers over the years. How do these programs help congregations and what advice would you give to a congregation considering such a program?
From my experience, HIM workers help congregations by bringing energy and fresh ideas. They encourage younger and older Christians and are great examples of getting involved in church work and community outreach. The main advice I would give is: remember they’re ‘helpers’ in missions. They’re not here to do all the work! Give them a structure to work with but allow them to express their own ideas, try new things and, importantly, remember what they’ve sacrificed to come and help your congregation.
Reflecting back on the many trials in your life, are there any important lessons learned that can encourage Christians on their spiritual journey?
There are two things. Hebrews 12:2 encourages us to ‘fix your eyes on Jesus…’. Taking my eyes off Jesus when trials come is when I get into trouble. Jesus is our best example when trials come: Jesus did not look at the obstacle but the goal. We ought to do the same. And when we do fail, remember 2 Timothy 2:13. ‘…If we are faithless, he will remain faithful…’. Our God is always ready to forgive and welcome us back.
Frank Cunningham was interviewed by Jenny Ancell. firstname.lastname@example.org