Small acts, big impact: a conversation with Joel Slade

  Hi there, everyone. I'm Jared.

And I'm Zenita.

We are your hosts of Record Live, a podcast where we talk about church, faith, and living well.

We believe as followers of Jesus, faith is more than just a set of beliefs. It's a way of life, something we put into practice.

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  Hello, everyone, and welcome to yet another episode of Record Live. Today, we have a cool young guy with us on the show who has recently moved to Africa to do some mission work in Zambia and He's currently visiting his hometown in Australia. So we thought we would grab him while connection is hot and while we're on the same time zone.

So welcome to the show, Joel.

Yeah, thank you so much. It's so good to be here. And I can honestly say that I haven't been called young for a while, let alone cool. So that's, yeah, that's much appreciated.

I don't think you're too much older. I think we're in high school or around the same time. So I'm just trying to keep myself in check too, I guess.

Love it. Yeah. I think it's legacy from the youth department for sure. Just being around teenagers too much. Yeah. I've felt very old for a very long time.

Um, Joel, you're only in Australia for a few weeks. What is your favorite thing to do when you're back home?

I love surfing. Yeah, I'm just enjoying surfing every day.

And it's been, it's been pretty big actually. And I haven't been paddling for like six months and so it's been testing me out for sure. , a few muscles haven't been used for a while, but I'm enjoying it. Yeah, just getting out every day and regardless of the conditions, just trying to find, find something, get wet, refresh.

Yeah, it's awesome.

Yeah, I hear Kelly Slater flew over recently for the surf because it was so good. He's been spotted.

When he flies in, I go out. So, yeah, generally speaking.

Recently, Joel, you founded a project called Penny Projects and we'd love to hear about that a bit later in the show. But before we get into that, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

And I guess what was the journey leading up to Penny Projects? How did you find yourself there and so on?

Yeah, sure. I'm more than happy to share that. So I've been, , I've been in pastoral ministry for the last nine years. And,, while I was going through, I studied at Avondale, and while I was going through Avondale, one of the things that kept me sane, in mid semester breaks and semester breaks was getting overseas and doing short term, , international mission trips.

And so, yeah, I was in the Philippines on three times in a year, we were taking teams over there and, , preaching evangelistic campaigns, doing building projects and that sort of thing. One mission was really formative in those years for me and my involvement in that. And so,, yeah, it's always been a part of my journey.

International missions and, and that sort of thing. And, yeah, so I've been a pastor now for nine years and in coming into the youth department in the last four years, I was really excited to be able to facilitate some trips. It's a good position to be able to do that. And then, yeah, first year in, it was just finding my feet and second year was COVID.

So I didn't get to do any international trips during my time, but we were able different service projects while we're there. So, uh, team went over to Kangaroo Island helping out after the bushfires there, and there were a number of other local storm cos and other trips that we were able to facilitate, and encourage from from that department.

So it was, it wasn't all lost, but certainly missed out on that opportunity to facilitate international missions. And then, more recently, I've had the opportunity to do that. So that's been really exciting. And Joel,

I understand the last place you were working was in South Australia, my home, my home state.

So shout out to any South Australians watching. , what leads a guy like yourself from obviously apart from your passion for overseas ministry, but how did you break from sort of pastoral ministry to. Moving to Africa, starting a new project. Like it seems like a rather large transition from a stable job where you get to still pursue your passion.

You get to do a mission trip here and there and work with young people to really changing, everything about your life. It's quite a huge thing. Can you tell us a little bit about that transition?

Yeah, for sure. This was a counseling session. I'd be happy to share more with you, but it's live. And so I probably probably won't, but, yeah, no, I'm only joking.

, yeah, look, look, it,, it came about as a result of, as I said, I was in pastoral ministry for nine years. The last four of those were in the youth department and., yeah, as a result of those nine years as a professional minister, , you're constantly trying to be professional or , you're constantly,, interested.

Your focus is on how to be better at your craft. And one of the things that, , yeah, I've really poured my heart into pastoral ministry and,, administration in the last four years. But one of the things that I was noticing was. I got into ministry because I'm passionate about it. I got into ministry because I feel called to, , to be in ministry.

And I didn't want that to just be associated to a paycheck. And so I felt really tempted to see myself as a professional. Detach from the reality of calling. And I don't think that those two things are mutually exclusive by any means. But I know that in my own heart, in my own mind, I was drifting into a place of seeing myself as a professional.

At the expense of passion and personal, , vigor for, for the work. And so, , yeah, when I noticed that, I intentionally, , and, and this happened through a process, right? It wasn't just like a lightning bolt moment by any means., I sense God calling me to step out of the position that I was in, in South Australia, and, , I had to do that without anything else on the cards.

And so I was stepping out of something without going into something else. And that forced me into a season of rest, which I think was really healthy. , and then that led me to where I am now. So it was really that sense in my own heart of. And what it's become for me has been that challenge of, I want to stay passionate.

I want to stay relevant to where the needs of the people are. And I don't want my paycheck to, to be something that is detaching me from reality and becoming, , It can provide a sense of comfort, that, that is easy to fall into some bad habits and just the mindset in which you approach ministry, , can be a challenge as well.

And so, yeah, for me, I noticed that and so took that step. Hmm.

We had a conversation on here recently about people feeling called to ministry and being called to be pastors. So it's interesting that you say, I felt called to kind of step out of that, but I guess, do you feel like you're still pastoring in a sense?

In what you're doing currently.

Yeah, for sure. For sure. It, it was an interesting journey, just, , wrestling with the idea of calling in my own mind. And, and so for nine years, I've been accustomed to introducing myself. As Joel and a natural question that people ask is what do you do when I say that I'm a pastor?

Now some people think that i'm a plasterer and then they shake my hand and realize that i'm definitely a pastor Not a not a tradie by any means , but yeah, it's just so interesting to be in a position where I had to rethink about how I'm going to introduce myself, right? , I'm not currently pastoring a church.

I'm not currently employed by the church. And so how do I introduce myself? That's been one of the challenges. And so, , yeah, look in, in Africa, I'm based in Zambia currently at Riverside Farm Institute, and that has, um Yeah, people relate to me as a pastor there. I'm in ministry. I'm working in chaplaincy at a local school there.

When I say working, it's a volunteer position, but certainly people are relating to me as a minister. , but yeah, for a good 12 months there they weren't. And so that, that was an interesting situation to be in.

Joel, correct me if I'm wrong. I think I've seen some of your posts on social media and that sort of thing, but you went to Africa perhaps to, to visit sort of thing.

It wasn't necessarily permanent thing. You weren't going to live there as such. It was a trip. , I don't, maybe a holiday or even a service trip type idea, but it's changed. Can you walk us through that process? What happened? , you decided to go to Africa. What happened after that?

Yeah, for sure. So, so the original, , trip to Africa was for two months.

And one of the things that I was very intentional about was, okay, um, stepping out of pastoral ministry for a season, and I want to be doing things that are going to be equipping me to be a better pastor in the future. And so one of the opportunities that afforded me was the time and the space to be able to choose who is around me.

Because in professional ministry, I haven't always been able to choose those that are mentoring me directly and the people that I'm associating with on a daily basis. And I've been blessed to be around some incredible people in pastoral ministry. But in stepping out of that,, I was thinking, okay, This is my chance to surround.

I believe that people have a massive influence on us, and those that we associate with have a big influence on us. And so I wanted to select those individuals and choose individuals that I wanted to shape me in some way. And so that led me to Africa. Kim Buesel has been coming out to Australia to Rise for a number of years and his story and journey has been really inspirational for me.

And I, so I just chose to go and spend a couple of months with him. And, , that put me in touch with the director at Riverside farm there in Zambia. And, yeah, the rest is history that they offered me a position. And, , Yeah, it was very much in line with what I was trying to achieve during this season of my life in stepping into a ministry position, but not having that paycheck attached.

And, , yeah, one of the conference presidents in Australia was more than happy to give me that same opportunity to volunteer for them. But, , yeah, I took the opportunity to step into, into Zambia, into the role that I'm in now. Yeah,

so cool. So you went to Africa and you stepped into the riverside farm.

That's a school, correct?

Yeah, so riverside farm. It's the second largest producers of bananas in Zambia and so they use Their production of bananas, wheat, soy, and other primary produce to be able to then fund mission projects. , and so they've got a full time, dental clinic.

They've got, , another clinic, a medical clinic on, on their campus. They've also got an elementary school, a high school. They've got a soap factory, a Kuna soap. And then, they've also got a wellness retreat there as well that people come in and, They deal with diabetes and other lifestyle, , diseases and things like that.

And so depression and anxiety and that, and so, yeah, it's, it's quite composite. So Riverside Farm Institute, there's kind of two wings. There's , the production side of things, and then, what they're giving back to the community as well.

Sure. And so when you went there, what were you initially doing?

Like, how did Penny Projects eventually come from that?

Yeah, good question. So I was spending time with Kim Bussell and, he stepped back from operations at Riverside. , he's spending more time across East Africa, launching projects, supporting projects. And, , yeah, they're under an umbrella organization called OCI Outpost Centers International.

So they encourage lay ministry all over the world., and so. One of the things that he does in his spare time when he's not working for OCI is doing local impact projects , in our community there. And he's since started in other countries around Africa and the world as well. But, yeah, that really inspired me just seeing the work that they're doing.

I met a guy named born face. He's blind. He's, , yeah, became blind 20 something years ago. , he's been at Riverside for 30 something years. , and so when he became blind, his marriage fell apart, his wife left him and that left him with a bunch of kids and a lot of responsibility. He was trying to put food on the table and that sort of thing.

But one of the other things that it did was provide an opportunity for him. To think, okay, there's other people in my situation that don't have capacity to work. And so how do I be a blessing to them? And so he started identifying people with disabilities in their local community to be able to help. And we've got about 60 people in the network at the moment that he's helping on a monthly basis.

And so when I was there, I met him. I saw the work that they were doing. And I was trying to think of how I could add value to the work that they're doing. And that's where penny projects came about. The idea behind penny projects is very simple. It's just the little things that we have or do.

Can have a big impact on someone else. And that's where the idea was birthed. It doesn't take much to make a difference in someone's life. And so,, it's been a blessing to not only start that, but see it, kind of grow into what it is today. And, yeah, it's having a real impact in people's lives.

And so I'm really excited about that.

Can you unpack a little bit more about Penny Projects, the name. So why Penny? Why not Penny? Or, you know, what was the, what's the currency in Zambia? What's, it's cool alliteration,

but it's just alliteration. But, , yeah, the idea is something small, a small increment, something that's seemingly insignificant to us.

And., yeah, I remember when I was thinking about the name and that sort of thing. I was speaking at a high school here in Australia and I was thinking every one of these kids could give a dollar if they believed in the project, if they thought it was going to make a difference. Everyone here in Australia has access to a dollar.

And so I was thinking about. The impact could be had on the neighboring community where I'm based. And even here in Australia, I believe that, , when we put our little together, it can actually have a big, it can make a big difference or have a big impact. And so,, that's the idea behind it.

We're doing small scale projects, things that don't cost much, for example, Yeah, there's,, some girls that live outside of our community in, in the neighboring village there. They come from single mother homes and that sort of thing, and they can't afford school uniforms to, go to school. They, schooling is free, but their uniforms, their backpacks, their shoes and that sort of thing, the family provides.

And I think it's costing us around 15 a child to be able to provide those things. , And that has a massive impact in their life. And I was talking to some of the girls. We have some young girls in high school that did a tailoring course that have been making those uniforms for us. And they were telling us like, yeah, when we were going to school and not having a uniform, it's so embarrassing.

Like all of the older kids pick on you. They know that you're poor. They know that you can't afford to be there. They understand the type of background that you come from and they make fun of you for it. And so they were really excited to be a part of this project where they were able to make these uniforms for, these young girls.

They're in primary school and. It's just such a small thing for them. It took them a couple of days to make these uniforms and it'll have an ongoing impact in their life. And so that's the idea, like 15 for me, it's a very small investment. I can't even get a meal in Australia right now for 15. It's gotten so expensive.

And so it's just this idea that these little things that I do can have a big impact in someone else's life. And I still believe I'm committed to the idea. That it's not just relevant in Zambia. I'm committed to the idea that there are little things that I can do here in Australia, with my neighbors, with those that I have influence over, that can have a massive impact in their lives.

Yeah, such a good point. I love that concept that these things that are seemingly insignificant to us can have a really big impact. , you mentioned one story just with the uniforms, but what are some of,, the big things that have come about, , as a result of small gifts or little things from other people?

Yeah. One of the, one of the really cool opportunities that we've had, and it's just been incredible to see how God has, So last year when I was there just on my two months, I didn't have any plans to stay long term. , I met a girl in a restaurant. We were sitting at tables next to each other. I was with Kim and Joyce.

We were on a trip. , And we're sitting there and this lady sitting there next to us. And we got talking about what she does. She's from Germany. She's a prosthetic specialist. And so she's able to, ,, come over to Zambia every year and run a clinic with prosthetics. , and I was like, Oh, that's really cool.

We, we ended up connecting on Instagram. I was really interested in what she was doing and the work, , the impact that she was having there in Zambia. Anyway, fast forward, six months I'm in Zambia. And, , I met this young boy with down syndrome who has, both of his legs were removed. I think it was around when he was one years of age, they weren't developing properly, and he had to get, he's a double amputee.

And so, , I just posted a short video. I wanted to get some food for the family and just see if I could support., his sister, who's his full time carer with schooling and,, in doing so, she responded to the video , and said, Hey, I'm going to be in Zambia, next year running a clinic. I'd love to see if we could get him some legs.

And so it's like that hasn't that conversation hasn't cost me anything. , and yet it could result in not only him getting a set of legs, but also since then, she said, Hey, there's other people, , ,that, yeah, we could see if you had anyone in your community. And so been going around knocking on huts going, Hey, does anyone know anyone with any amputees?

It's a bit, it's a bit interesting, but yeah, door knocking, it's a bit of a different strategy to door knocking. , but yeah, so so that's been incredible being able to meet some amazing people with some incredible stories., and. So when I get back to Zambia, we'll be able to.

, take them to the clinic and, yeah, they're going to do an assessment and, it looks like they'll be able to, to get legs as well, which is super exciting.

Can you give our viewers a little bit of an insight into what the community around this institute is like? Like, what sort of conditions are you working in? what conditions are people living in? How would it differ from, say, Australia? What are some of the needs that you see are prevalent in those communities? Thank you.

Yeah, it's one of the major challenges, , is in working with people with disabilities here in Australia through NDIS and these other schemes that are available, there's so much support.

in stepping into Africa, it was one of the, in Zambia in particular, it was one of the things that was so confronting was These individuals , there's no social welfare system. , you're dealing with families that are sleeping on a dirt floor. They're lucky to have a bamboo or a straw mat to be able to put their family on at night.

, one of the ladies that we helped didn't even have a front door. So you've got wild animals, snakes, and that sort of thing, just coming in. And so, it's, it's very confronting being in a society where these people have absolutely nothing. And so it's up to the generosity of the individual family to support, these family members with disabilities, which is a massive burden like you can imagine, a mother that's walking up to three kilometers.

One way to get water for a family, she might have to do that three and four times a day to be able to get enough water for the family to bathe, to cook, to wash and that sort of thing. , and then you multiply the energy required to be able to support a family member that isn't contributing in any way.

It's like having a child for life. Now, normally by the age of 10, these children are contributing in a very meaningful way to the family. They're helping out in the field, they're helping to grow food, they're helping with the washing and a lot of those domestic duties. By the age of 10, they're very self sufficient and contributing to the family.

, these members of the family with disabilities, I haven't met anyone that's past the age of probably 40. But yeah, if you've made it to 30, it's only because your family has been gracious and they've been willing to sustain you., and even then it can be. a source of pain and bitterness for the family and just having to continually care for your needs when Their own children are going hungry or their own bellies are empty at different times

I guess that that Those needs those physical needs.

They're not like a stranger to us. Like we're kind of aware that in africa People have less than S and they're a lot poorer, but something that I'm often interested in is, like, we also hear that places like Uganda and Zambia are the happiest places in the world. , and so I guess in, in your time being there, like, how have you seen people are going?

Mentally and emotionally,, are they really struggling? Obviously in Australia and other Western countries, we're rife with depression and anxiety, but , it doesn't really make sense because they're suffering in such, , bigger ways,. So, , how have you seen things there in terms of, ?

Their mental states and their emotional states.

It's incredible to be honest like people are so communally minded. It's it it's amazing. So for example i'm with kim and we're at a school and , one of the things like i'll take some photos from time to time and , they love to see themselves in the photo, right?

And so you take a photo they're looking at it They're all giggling and laughing and one of the things that kim loves to do Is Is to ask them all who is this? Who is this? And they can always tell you who all the others are. But one of the things that he noticed was that always go quiet when you ask them who they are, that they actually don't have a concept of what they look like.

And so it's just this illustration of the fact that they are so communally minded. They don't even have it. An image of themselves. Like you can imagine as a teenager, how much time you spend looking in the mirror, like it would take me a week to recover from a haircut, if I'm honest, like just thinking about, Oh man, my head doesn't look how I want it to look.

And I don't feel comfortable being in public. That's a pretty, yeah, I'm exaggerating there, but it is true to some degree. Right. And so to think of my upbringing, I'm so focused on myself. And then to look at these kids that are so focused on others that they don't even have a concept of what they look like.

Like imagine just removing the amount of time in your day. Thinking about how you are presenting yourself, how people are perceiving you and that sort of thing. It's just, it's freeing, and these guys are thriving as a result. Like , you can genuinely see them enjoying life now., yeah., you turn up into a village and, they're playing.

They've got a game that they play in the dirt. They draw squares on the dirt. We have a board game. They just have games that they play in the dirt and that sort of thing. And yeah, the men are sitting around talking and the children are playing. It's incredible to see just the family unit together.

They've got three generations typically living in the same house and they all get along. They all work together. They all support each other. It's a beautiful thing to observe. Yeah.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned?

Yeah, it's a good question. , I think one of, one of the biggest things that I've realized about myself is just how selfish I am. , and I, I've become really aware of that just coming back to Australia in the last couple of weeks. It's, I've just been confronted, I've been living on my own for some time now.

Just become very self sufficient. , and especially living in Africa, like money can literally solve a lot of problems for you there. , and so, yeah, it's just so challenging, coming back here and I'm staying with my parents at the moment. And so just having other people around all the time and being in someone else's space, it's just, it's constantly revealing.

It's giving me this feedback of how selfish I am. And it's one of the things that I've noticed, I remember, yeah, just. Times where I've driven away from these villages and I've just wept just because of just it's so easy to complain about my Circumstances like I'm living in a pretty average apartment if I'm honest in Zambia I'm living in like it's I've got these bright green curtains that I wake up to every morning and it's like There's nothing aesthetically pleasing about it and I'm a bachelor.

So I literally don't care but it's just Like my shower socks and there's just things about my kitchen that I would change. And yeah, it's just, but then you're going out and you're seeing these people in the dirt and you're like, I have nothing to complain about. And then coming back here to Australia and it's so natural for me to just Become selfish again and become used to just all of those comforts of life.

And I genuinely believe that I was born for this life. Like I wasn't born for that life over there, right? Like I wouldn't last two seconds in a hut. I wouldn't last two seconds sitting on the ground with absolutely no options of getting off the ground. It's just, I'm not built for that. My psyche isn't built for that.

And it's amazing how quick I rebound back into this lifestyle here. And it's just something that is so evident in my mind that I can so quickly forget about the need that exists around me when I have my own creature comforts met. And it scares me if I'm honest.

Yeah. Yeah. If anyone's looking for life lessons, go to Africa with Joel.

Just for a minute. It's all you need. Yeah. But the honest truth is Zanita, like there's just so much need around us here. And I think the thing that's is beautiful for me in Australia is it's evident and people know their need and they're willing to talk about it and they'll even bring that need before you here in Australia.

We're so private. We try and keep things so close to our chest and it causes so many. Issues for us in society when we become recluse and we withdraw and, we become bitter and resentful towards other people. We don't deal with it. We don't have to deal with that. We just withdraw. And so I think they're the real issues that are plaguing our society here.

I think there are financial burdens. I think there are a number of challenges that we're facing. There's so many different factors. And we go through life alone. We try and figure it out on our own. And the government steps in where they need to. It's very impersonal. , and I'm absolutely convinced that the same need exists here.

It presents itself very differently, but the same need exists. We all need community. We all need love. We all need acceptance. We all need belonging. And I believe that we as a church are uniquely positioned to be able to provide for those core needs. , it's just a question of whether or not we're in tune, with what is happening in society.

Hmm. I

was going to ask another question, but maybe I'll ask this instead, , because I feel like you're talking about it anyway, but I guess on the idea of there's just as many needs in Australia and On the idea of penny projects where small things can make a big difference., I guess practically what can people do here?

Like if you were to move back to Australia, what would you practically do different in our community? Like what needs are you kind of being made more aware of around us in Australia that you've noticed since going to

Africa? Hmm. Yeah. Really good question. I just think. First of all, I have responsibility over the impact that I have on other people.

And so just my being, just my presence has an impact on someone. And the question is. Do I always have a positive impact on people when I'm interacting with them? I'm not talking about whether I'm giving away 5 every conversation I have. It's not a monetary thing that I'm talking about. It's just , what is my being, what is my presence doing to those around me?

What impact am I having on those around me? And this is a need that we have is to be self aware of the impact that we're having. And, , yeah, I just think that one of the things. , that I've become very aware of is just my need to and my desire to always have a positive influence, always be a lifting presence and wanting to, even if I just have a few words with someone, is it going to, lift their day and have a positive impact?

Or is it going to add to their stress and their burden? Yeah, that's definitely one of the first things that I think about is just my personal influence. , and The other thing that I would say is that, there's a number of conversations that I've had where people, and I've been a pastor and so it's a little bit.

Unfair to say that this applies to everyone, but I still believe that people want to open up. They want to share their burdens, but most of the time we're quick to talk about ourselves in our own struggles and our own challenges and When someone shares with you ask them how they're going and maybe they share they break the mold and say That they're not doing too.

Well, It takes courage to take a step forward and say, Hey, would you like to talk about that one time? It might not be appropriate now, but, , yeah, let's catch up next week for a meal and just sit down and talk through that. If you want to, I think for so many of us, we want to be self sufficient. We want to remain private.

We don't want to bare ourselves., as an inconvenience to someone else, we need safe spaces to be able to open up. And I think for so many of us, we just don't have that safety. We don't find that safety in a lot of the people that we're associating with. And so I think the next thing is just, yeah, creating safe spaces for people to be open and honest and share their burdens and know that someone , is there to do life with them.

Yeah, that's probably the next thing that I'd be looking to tackle for sure. Yeah. Some awesome practical advice there. Joel's, , certainly look at stewarding your own personal impact on others and creating safe spaces, I think is something that our societies really need.

Joel, respect brother. It's been great to talk to you today. I'm glad that I will have the opportunity to edit the podcast version because I'll get to re listen to this. There's some things I need to chew over some more. , you shared some really great wisdom and insight and, we just wish you all the best and God bless, on your future endeavors , and with penny projects and the work that.

You and others are doing in Zambia. It sounds like, it's really necessary and really needed. So, God bless safe travels , when you do go back and thanks so much for spending time with us on record live.

Thank you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure. Thank you.

For anyone else, Joel, who is listening and wants to support Penny Projects or wants to learn more about what you're doing, where do they go?

, pennyprojects. org is one place. , the website isn't as up to date. It's more of a vehicle to allow people to donate through. We're more active on Instagram. , a little bit on Facebook as well., but yeah, Instagram, just pennyprojectsrs. Thanks, guys. You can also see what Riverside Farm Institute's up to on their Instagram and Facebook page as well.

A lot of awesome stuff happening there. Broader picture in terms of development on a large scale in Africa. , there are a few places that people can go, but Instagram's definitely the most up to date Penny Projects RS.

Nice. Awesome. Thanks again, Joel. Enjoy the rest of your time in Australia. I hope you get heaps more surfs in.

Yeah. Thanks guys.

Small acts, big impact: a conversation with Joel Slade
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