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Following Jesus

Encounters: Dave Waters – Open Your Paddocks, Part 1

March 19, 2019 by

“I hate not being able to speak. But the lack of speech does not define me. God does.”
—Dave Waters

As a young man, Dave Waters looked every bit the professional rugby player that he was. The son of British army parents, he and his two brothers lived and breathed sports; coming of age in Sydney meant rugby and surfing for Dave. Then cancer struck, changing the course of his life forever. He was not yet twenty years old.

It was at this juncture that Leigh entered his life. She tells of visiting Dave in the hospital early in their relationship. Dave was connected to all kinds of tubes and wires, while monitors flashed and blinked and IV lines dripped, slow and steady. Not exactly a pretty sight, nor was it easy for Leigh to navigate this new reality. Her foot tripped on one of the wires, and Dave instantly let out a gasping moan, his hands flying to his throat.

Leigh was terrified, fearing the worst. But it was merely the TV chord she had torn from its socket. And though Dave was unharmed (and unrepentant of his practical joke), six weeks passed before Leigh returned. She has stuck by Dave’s side ever since.

Even as his body grew crippled under the onslaught of chemo, Dave discovered his calling to the ministry; people became his passion and pastoral care his vocation. While raising two daughters, Leigh fulfilled her own gifts as a teacher and counsellor through years of service in an Aboriginal girls’ school.

“I hate not being able to speak. But the lack of speech does not define me. God does.” 
—Dave Waters

Two years ago, cancer struck again, likely caused by elevated levels of radiation decades earlier. This time surgeons removed Dave’s larynx, and he became a voiceless pastor. An oxymoron? Periods of depression followed the operation, but Dave’s determination to continue in his role and Leigh’s steadfast love and support won out in the end. We saw this in action as Dave toured us through World Vision’s offices last year: high fives, thumbs up; the loud bang of Dave’s fist on an unsuspecting co-worker’s desk; a strong thump on the back of a colleague’s chair; and always that big smile and his message board that conveyed what he so much wished to voice but could not.

Last month Dave and Leigh traveled the long distance to the Danthonia Bruderhof in NSW’s Northern Tablelands, a chance to “say” goodbye because the cancer had spread more aggressively than ever. But cancer does not define Dave. God does.

Aided by “Bazza,” the Aussie-accented voice of his text-to-speech app, Dave told how the drive from the airport through the drought-ravaged landscape hit him in a new way:

We saw the drovers with their cattle, scouring the roadside for nourishment. The cattle looked so hungry, searching for any small morsel to eat. Wandering in desperation for something to satisfy. They couldn’t, however, get into the paddocks, some of which seemed to have a lot of grass. That grass could provide nourishment. It could provide life.
Australian landscape from the window of a vehicle
When I read scripture, the kingdom of God is compared to a banquet. A party. Why wouldn’t you want to be part of that? But unless we throw open the paddocks of our lives, our friends and neighbours will still be scouring for morsels of life.
I do not say this to promote myself. All I have ever tried to do is to allow God’s spirit to work through me. But in the last two years in particular, by opening up the paddock of my life, by being vulnerable, by trying to think of others, people have found nourishment.
Let me say clearly: It is not me that people are attracted to, but Christ! Listen to what Paul says, in Galatians 2:19–20: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
How good is that! Friends, in these days when society is so lost, so misguided, and searching for morsels, Christ is attractive. And we need to show people Christ, in us.
I urge you throw open your paddocks.
Allow people to see how Christ helps you deal with struggles in your marriage, your parenting. Allow people to see how Christ helps you cope with disappointment. Allow people to see how Christ helps you deal with death and dying.
Now, notice I didn’t say “tell people”? You can tell people from a distance, but showing people – well, that means proximity. To be near and vulnerable.

Dave went on to tell us what he has learned over the last two years since losing his voice.

It has been a huge two years. I have learned so much.
I have learned to lip read. Did you know that? Well, I haven’t really. But a few months ago, I was in the chemist, picking up a prescription. I had my little writing board to communicate on. My name was called, and I went to the counter. I signed to the girl that I could not speak. So she grabbed my board and started to write instructions for me. I stopped her, and signed that I could read her lips if she spoke slowly. So she proceeded to give the instructions, with exaggerated mouthing of the words. Nice and slow. All the while, I squinted, as if I was concentrating, and nodding in acknowledgement.
Little things keep me amused!
I have learned that to waste time just sitting together is not a waste of time.
—Dave Waters
Seriously, in many ways it has been a gift. I have learned things that I never would have without this disability. I’ve learned that communication is so much more than words. We limit ourselves by just using words. I have learned that every interaction is a divine appointment. I have learned that so much of society is set up to make life difficult for people with disabilities. I have learned that to cry without any noise coming out of your mouth is like being ripped off, and that laughing, too, is not the same without really letting it fly.
So, friends, cry and laugh loud! Both are good for you.
I’ve learned that I wish I had spoken words to those close to me years ago, because writing it is not the same. I have learned that to lie in bed next to your partner in the dark, and to not be able to tell them you love them, is like a dagger being thrust into your heart. I have learned that to waste time just sitting together is not a waste of time.
I have learned that singing is such a gift. I have learned that so many people waste their voice by not using it as they walk past you. A simple hello is so disarming and welcoming. I have learned that eyes reveal so much. I’ve learned that those who speak the loudest and the most, are often the most fearful and insecure. I have learned that you don’t have to be by yourself to feel alone. I’ve learned that to be safe is to be boring, and that to be risky is essential for life.
Mostly, I have learned about God’s grace.

About the author

photograph of Bill and Grace Wiser

Bill Wiser

Bill Wiser lives at Danthonia, a Bruderhof in New South Wales. His daily activities include teaching and pastoral work...

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  • Thanks Bill for sharing the article about David Waters. He is an absolute gem. No wonder God wants him to be with him. Another name that comes to mind is Keith Green the famous song writer who was went to heaven very young. We wish that such people of God would love a little longer on this earth and testify to the great things God does in this life. It is so true when David says that we try to tell people about God rather than show him in our lives. That is the greatest tragedy that so many who profess to know him don't portray his reality in their lives. They even say that look to Jesus and not towards me, trying to appear humble. But the fact is that they are saying, we have failed and you have no chance either but somehow still insist that they are doing great service to God by evangelising the world. Austin

    Austin Dayal