FAITH NEWSWIRE – When you think of a pastor and a bodybuilder, you don’t normally combine the two. Pastors read and are scholarly, while bodybuilders are thought of as being more about brawn than brains.
A generalization, yes, but at the same time it’s a unique situation for a pastor. One such pastor is Neil Emerson, the author of 16 Providence Road. His book tells the story of being a senior minister for thirty-two years in Wentworth Falls, an area in the far west of Australia’s largest city, Sydney. Providence Road has a two-fold meaning, and hence the title of the book.
“I grew up in Providence Road in the Sydney suburb of Ryde,” states Neil. “But for me personally, ‘Providence Road’ was not just a physical place, but it also became a spiritual journey. That is, I believe God’s love and care for me has guided and protected me always. It also led me to take on challenges that I never thought I would be able to navigate my way through.”
Through a series of comings and goings, Neil eventually ended up in Moore Theological College in Sydney’s Newtown to study for the ministry. “This was hard going for me,” he states, “for I always tended to lack confidence in the academic sphere. However, I got there in the end. The Lord brought me through and I was able to commence my ministry in various churches in the Sydney metropolitan area.
“I was even eventually able to complete a Ph.D, thus mastering my fear of academia once and for all. For me, this was like conquering Mt Everest. “
16 Providence Road tells the story of a long road and sometimes a very difficult road to take. Long ministries are often like that. In the final section, the book tells of the highs and lows along the way and pays tribute to those who supported the author and helped him the most, especially his wife.
“Throughout this time, I always maintained a sense of ‘call’ to the ministry, despite my battles with depression and various other tribulations and struggles,” he said. ”It is my hope that whoever reads the book will be inspired to take on challenges which they might previously have felt reluctant to pursue. All things are possible with God.
“16 Providence Road is first and foremost a Christian book; the product of a Christian heart. But it contains a lot of humor, as well as a lot of serious pondering. I also try to give a little advice to any would-be ministers along the way, hoping they may benefit from my own experience.”
Part of Neil’s ability to cope with the pressure has been his love of bodybuilding. “I have always pursued the sport of bodybuilding and this has often been a good talking point in ministry ventures today,” he says.
“There are not many ministers around, I believe, who would take such a sport so seriously. Hopefully, many will exercise to keep themselves fit. But I was always a little further along the line in my pursuits with the sport than that. It continued on and off throughout my ministry years. I still train hard today.
“I have suffered from depression for most of my life, even though in early times the word ‘depression’ was never really mentioned much in family or friendship circles. I didn’t even know that I was suffering with depression in my late teens when it seemed to hit me hardest of all. No one seemed to know or understand much about this condition. But this has been part of my journey as well. God has been good to me and despite bouts of severe tiredness at times, I have always been able to keep my depression in check.
“The Christian life and Christian ministry is not without its struggles. There are struggles with sin and self-doubt and there are also struggles with situations and people you encounter along the way. To remain in the one place for so long and to see it grow and change throughout that time, despite the “downers” along the way, is a remarkable thing. It is a testimony to God’s character and grace. If he ‘calls’ you to do something, he also gives you the grace to carry it through. That is, he can do extraordinary stuff with ordinary people.”
16 Providence Road is available globally.