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Mike Pilavachi on risk

By Mike Pilavachi

We caught up with Mr Mike Pilavachi, founder of Soul Survivor, for a quick chat on risk, failure and keeping going with Jesus. Being the storyteller he is, had had a few tales to tell. Here’s what went down – this is a longer version of the interview that features in an old edition of our little magazine, The Cost.

What sort of risks do you take for Jesus?

Occasionally my friend Andy and I will get inspired to go and see if God would use us to speak to anyone in the centre of Watford. We go into town, sit down and we pray, asking God if he’d give us words for people. There’s more failure than success. I once went up to a lady in a green top in Primark, and as soon as I explained I was a Christian, she shouted at me and ran off. Andy got told to ‘F’ off by a bloke outside a shop!

When I was younger, just after I became a Christian I heard someone saying how they felt God lead them to a specific table in a cafe. They struck up a conversation with the first person they met, and that person became a Christian. I was inspired to be like that. So one morning I prayed and I felt the Lord say to me ‘Go up to the front gate’. So I went up to the front gate. I felt the Lord say to me ‘Turn left’. So I turned left and then I followed what I felt were the Lord’s directions. After 3 hours I have to admit I was completely, utterly and totally lost – I had to ask someone for directions to get back home!

It was my adventure in listening to the Lord and all I was listening to was my imagination. I came back feeling gutted. But now looking back I think the Lord was smiling, saying ‘my silly little delinquent kid, bless him, he didn’t know what he was doing, but he had a go’.

I want to feel a bit more like Peter. When he got out of the boat and started sinking that was a bit of failure, but he had the joy of walking back to the boat, on the water, hand in hand with Jesus.

So, how do you deal with failure?

I have no problem dealing with failure because I’ve had loads of experience with it. Lots of people I meet, especially Christians are afraid of failure – the antidote is to fail enough times to realise it doesn’t kill you – or anyone else. The Lord looks at our hearts and our intentions. It does matter that we seek his will, but you know what, if we go for something and it doesn’t happen, at least we’ve gone for it.

I want to feel a bit more like Peter. When he got out of the boat and started sinking that was a bit of failure, but he had the joy of walking back to the boat, on the water, hand in hand with Jesus. I’d rather experience that, than be like the other disciples who never got out of the boat.

If not success, what is God looking for?

First off he wants us to receive his love so that we can share his compassion and his heart for his world. He’s looking for us, in humility, to serve. Some of the most Godly people I’ve met are those that are serving Jesus no matter whether anyone notices or not. They’ve learnt to serve in obscurity as well as on a platform. We need to keep pursuing Jesus, and part of that means obeying him. In John 15, Jesus said if you love me, you’ll obey my commands. God’s love language is obedience. Ultimately he’s looking for us to express our love for him by obeying him.

Who are you heroes?

One has to be Brother Andrew. God’s Smuggler was was the first Christian book I ever read. I was 15 years old, it was about a month after I had chosen to follow Jesus and it was gripping. There were stories about the Iron Curtain and how the Lord had called him to go to the persecuted church, and the miracles and the faith lessons that were learnt. And I read it and was mesmerized. I loved it and it still speaks today.

I heard he was due to speak at Westminster Chapel. So, my friend and I went to go and hear him. As we got out of the tube station there was this guy walking along very fast, and I said to my friend, I think that’s Brother Andrew. So we walked up behind him and I plucked up the courage to talk to him. In the end I could only say, ‘Excuse me, do you know where the Brother Andrew meeting is happening’. He looked at me and replied, ‘Follow me, as I follow Christ’ and walked on! Brilliant.

I didn’t meet him again for maybe 35-36 years. I was in Holland and I got a message saying ‘Brother Andrew would like to invite you to come for tea’ so I went and had tea with him Over a few years when I was in Holland I would go to visit him at his home.

I’d listen to stories and ask questions. When I first met him, I asked him ‘What do you do now Brother Andrew?’ meaning, what do you do in your retirement. I was expecting him to say ‘I do a bit of gardening’ or ‘I like watching old movies with my wife’, but he said ‘I make friends with terrorists’. Well, I though he’d lost it… I was thinking ‘here was a man of God who’s gone a bit ga ga’. Then he showed me photos of him arm in arm with Yasseh Arafat and the leaders of Hamas. He told me how God broke his heart for those who were completely outside of church, those who were even persecuting Christians.

God’s love language is obedience. Ultimately he’s looking for us to express our love for him by obeying him.

I was really puzzled. I said to God, ‘Lord, he’s an elderly man now, why send him, why pick on him, why not someone younger, someone else?’. And he said to me, ‘I’ve asked many others. He was the first to say yes’.

What I admire about him most is that he said yes to God’s will all through his life, and is still is, no matter what the personal cost. He knows that it’s all about obedience.

What can we learn from persecuted Christians?

When we’ve met folk from the persecuted church we see a passion and a determination to follow Jesus. There’s a weird thing, some have suffered, so there’s a sorrow. But there’s joy. And it’s a joy that says ‘you know what, I’m giving my life completely to a cause that’s bigger than me, to a God that’s bigger than me. There’s something more important in my life that I’m living for, and that is Jesus. We’ve got to learn that. In our comfortable western world, we’ve turned Jesus into an addition to our already busy schedules. But he doesn’t want to be that – he wants to be our everything. That example of completely giving it all to him is the gift that our family in the persecuted church can give us.

What next for you?

The danger for someone my age (I’m now 59) and with my experience is to settle. I’ve been leading a church a ministry for over 20 years and it’s easy to settle with what works and to settle with what seems to be ok.

The Lord is challenging me and saying, ‘will you take risks for the next generation? Will you take risks for the sake of those that don’t know me?’ And that means sometimes not doing the same things that we’ve always done.

As a local church, and for the Soul Survivor events, we’re looking to step out and do things a differently in order to reach people with the gospel. We’re constantly asking how best do we encourage and disciple people to be missional. Even after all this time, the way we are doing it isn’t enough, there’s got to be something more. For me it’s about being obedient, listening to his voice and doing what he says when he says it. It’s simple to say, harder to do!

The Author
Mike is founder of Soul Survivor, a series of festivals for young people that happen across the UK each summer. He's also a leader of a church in Watford, author and travels about the place speaking about Jesus. Sadly, he's a Manchester United supporter, but we won't hold that against him.

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