Great things to do in Penang for the whole family

Penang! Where to start? Only to say – I think I could live here!

One of the best things about travelling with kids is that you visit places you might not normally visit – and you are so glad you did. And the great thing about Penang is that I didn’t feel like the attractions were either for grown-ups OR for kids – they were just fantastic for everyone. We were there four days and we barely scratched the surface, but here’s what we loved:

 Little India

Butter chicken. Need I say more? We had it three days in a row and Picasso was in heaven. Little India is in Georgetown and is, indeed, Little India. We enjoyed the food, the music and the atmosphere, bought some gemstones and just soaked it up.

 Penang Municipal Park (Youth Park)

This is one attraction we probably wouldn’t have visited if we didn’t have kids and we would have totally missed out! It’s beautiful – positioned beside a waterfall and in the jungle. It has playing equipment, exercise equipment, three pools, soccer field, skate park, chess sets, archery range – and it’s ALL FREE. Yes, that’s right. There are monkeys everywhere and one cheeky fellow stole the bag of crisps from right under my nose and sat under a bush eating it, mocking me 🙂

 Penang Butterfly Farm

With 3,000 species of butterflies to see, this is one amazing place. They flutter all around you in the enclosure, and there are also other insects and spiders to see inside. The kids learned a lot and loved it.

Batu Ferringhi

The beach strip in Penang. We found a quiet little beach near Hard Rock Hotel and had a lovely time swimming. The water was so warm and the waves small enough for Little Miss to really enjoy.

Penang Hill

This was amazing. We took the funicular to the top, which provides breath-taking views over Georgetown and Penang. There’s heaps to do once you’re there, including a jungle walk where we saw a Giant Black Squirrel, an Owl Museum and places where you get Henna art done – which Little Miss was very excited about. There’s also a temple and other attractions but we didn’t have time for everything. It probably deserves a whole day on its own. My only advice would be to NOT eat at Bellevue Hill Hotel, which was an expensive and horrible lunch.

 Georgetown 3D Art Museum

Again, something we wouldn’t have done if we didn’t have the kids, and it was awesome. It’s an art gallery of trick images, which look like they are coming out if the wall. You can have your picture taken and it looks very cool. The kids LOVED this. Here’s an example:

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All in all, I highly recommend Penang as a family destination. I would definitely come again and this time stay for longer. We had such fun as a family here.

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The truth about travelling with kids

We’ve been busily travelling for a month now, so I feel it is time for an honest post about what it’s like to travel overseas with three young children.

Travelling with kids is like a distilled dose of parenting. Consumed straight up, neat, in a shot glass. The highs are higher, the experiences more intense, the lows are lower, and the frustrations are more frustrating.

There are several reasons for this. Firstly, there’s just a lot of stuff to sort out. While you’re in the middle of enjoying an ancient Buddhist monastery, someone will urgently need to go to the toilet. You sit down to lunch, and invariably someone doesn’t like what they’ve ordered. Someone has a sore finger or a bumped head or a question about mythology that must be answered RIGHT NOW. Someone doesn’t like their seat and no one will swap with them, or they’ve suddenly dropped their chocolate biscuit and there are none left; someone’s shoe hurts, and at exactly the same time someone else needs the toilet urgently AGAIN. Yep, it’s pretty time consuming and exhausting.

Secondly, there’s this universal truth – wherever you are, there you are. Sibling issues do not disappear just because you’ve paid thousands of dollars to travel to the other side of the world and experience something amazing. Sadly, my parenting skills or patience levels didn’t miraculously improve either. Picasso is still stubborn and annoys Bookworm. Bookworm still overreacts. Little Miss still gets tired before everyone else and takes out her grumpiness on her brothers. And of course, all this is exacerbated by the fact that you are in each other’s company 24 HOURS A DAY. No breaks. You eat, sleep, travel and play together constantly. This means you witness all the stupid fights that they usually have outside of your hearing. It also means bickering over small things takes on epic proportions. I kid you not, one of the most intense arguments occurred over the microbeads in hand sanitizer. I had no idea it was possible to even argue over hand sanitizer. This then of course led to a mammoth parenting fail on my behalf and I yelled at Bookworm beside the Statue of Lenin. (Bookworm has told me this has now negatively coloured his view of communism – if he ends up becoming a raging right-wing fanatic, I do apologise, everyone 🙂 ).

Finally, travelling successfully with the same five people day in and day out takes two things – selflessness and the ability to practice delayed gratification. Yeah – two things kids are REALLY AWESOME at doing. They don’t seem to understand that at the airport our priority is finding the right tickets and getting on the right plane. Why? Because their priority is making sure they have a turn wheeling the new suitcase RIGHT NOW. They have to work really, really hard at putting each other first, with countless reminders from us, and most of the time it feels like an uphill battle.

So, with all of this – why would anyone travel with kids??

I’ve thought about it a lot, and my answer is this – travel makes the most sense when you do it with children. Doors open when you travel with kids – particularly in Asia. Everyone has a smile or a present for them. Everyone wants to chat to them or take their picture. It gives you a unique perspective you wouldn’t get as a single person, or as a couple. And if travel is about expanding horizons, then that is magnified a hundred fold in children. You see their world view growing and changing right before your eyes. Kids don’t have the same prejudices and hangups we do. They encounter something they don’t understand, or something new challenges the way they think or what they know – and the process to acceptance and understanding is very quick. It’s fascinating to watch. Travelling with kids also opens up the most amazing conversations with them about all kinds of things – politics, religion, poverty, government, family, obligation, deformity, sex, drugs, disease – you name it, we’ve discussed it in the past 4 weeks. It also forces you to really work through some of your relationship issues quick smart. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself as a parent in the past 4 weeks, which has been somewhat confronting, but very useful.

So, if you are brave and foolish enough to travel overseas with children, I’ll share some things that the past month has taught me:

Lower your expectations and let go of unrealistic ones

As an only child, I really struggle with the sibling bickering thing. I just don’t get it. I can’t stand listening to it. It makes me feel like I’ve failed as a parent, which I know is ridiculous, but I can’t help thinking it anyway. Travelling has brought me face-to-face with some of my unrealistic ideals and forced me to just embrace the moment as it is. They WILL argue, whether you’re in your own home or on the Eiffel Tower. Just be prepared to try and ignore it as much as possible and not rise and fall with their emotions (this is a real struggle for me).

Spend a bit more for hotels with good breakfasts and a pool/outdoor area if possible

The times we scrimped on hotels and had a crappy breakfast, we had a crappy morning. Kids are happier if they are not hungry. Also, it depends on the season you’re travelling in, but kids need to burn off energy, and pleasantly strolling through unknown streets doesn’t count. They need parks, pools and play areas.

 Understand they won’t necessarily like the same things you do

We’ve been pretty lucky with this one, because the boys particularly have really enjoyed the museums and touristy sites we’ve gone to. Little Miss not so much, but I keep reminding myself she’s only six. However one of the most delicious memories I have is being in Lake Como with Soul Sister and reading in bed for hours on a cold, rainy day. When faced with similar weather in Hue, spending the day like that would have been wonderful. Unfortunately, and while the kids were pretty good most of the day, everyone was climbing the walls by bedtime.

Split them up on occasion

When the personalities start to grate, it’s a good time to split up. We have found it works more naturally for Little Miss and Bookworm to come with me, and Picasso with Souljourneyboy.

Appreciate the good moments when you have them

In some moments, I did despair. But then there were these moments too – Little Miss writing on a beautiful card she bought at the night markets for her brothers about how much she loved them. Picasso offering Bookworm money when he lost his wallet. Bookworm giving up his window seat in the plane for his little sister. Its important to appreciate them when they happen, and remember that these shared experiences are good for them to soften some of the sharper edges of their personalities as well.

Find the technology balance that works for you

I’m sure there are parents out there who could entertain their kids on a four-hour bus trip with a set of teeth and an egg carton. I am not one of those parents. With that in mind, we decided to buy the kids an iPad mini each for Christmas before we left. We are really happy with the balance we’ve found – the iPads do not come anywhere with us when we are sight seeing or out to eat or playing. They are for the hotel room and long trips only. They have honestly been a godsend – they’re not just used for games, but we also downloaded a couple of movies and TV shows, as well as books, and apps that tell you all about the country you’re in. With all the travel we did in Vietnam – traversing a country 1650km long – they were invaluable. Also, when you have five people living in one room, they’re a good way of each person having some space.

And my final, most important piece of advice? Travel as a single person (I’ll forever regret I did not do this). Then travel as a couple. Then, make sure you travel with your kids (and bring some valium along for the ride 🙂 )

 

 

 

Ho Chi Minh and the Mekong

Our last stop in Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City, and we’d also planned a 2-day homestay tour in the Mekong Delta (a couple of hours from HCMC). We stayed 3 nights in Ho Chi Minh, which really in hindsight probably wasn’t enough. One site I was really disappointed to miss was the Cu Chi Tunnels, but there are just some things you don’t get time for. The weather was so hot and sticky that the kids tired pretty easily and we couldn’t pack that much into a day. I think too after 3 weeks of full-on travel, they were just a bit tired and unwell. Here are some of the things we did:

 The War Museum

This was an incredibly powerful and heart-wrenching experience. The War Museum does not pull any punches in detailing the graphic nature of the Vietnam War, the atrocities which occurred, and the devastating effects of Agent Orange. The first floor was OK for all the kids, but the second floor was quite disturbing. I didn’t allow Little Miss to go into any of the exhibitions – fortunately, there is a separate kids’ play area for just that reason. Picasso and Bookworm went into a couple of the exhibitions and looked at some of the photos, but were too upset to see much of it, and I made sure they didn’t see any of the really graphic images – pictures of deformed foetuses, for instance. I’m still not sure if we did the right thing in taking them – but I think we did. Outside the museum are big American tanks, a plane and guns – and when we first arrived, the boys thought they were the coolest things ever. After being inside the museum, I asked Bookworm if he wanted to walk by the tanks one last time before we left. He said, “Mum, I don’t even want to look at them, now that I’ve seen those war photos.” I think it’s important to understand the reality of war. I think it was a difficult, but necessary visit.

The Reunification Palace

More of a government house than a palace, but still quite interesting. It’s pretty much remained unchanged since the fall of Saigon in the 1960s and is quite impressive. Unfortunately we were a bit depressed after seeing the War Museum and didn’t stay too long because Bookworm was feeling sick as well that day. The kids liked the Guest of Honour seat in the President’s office, which had an enormous pair of buffalo horns extending out either side.

 The Dam Sen Amusement and Water Park

I don’t think you can beat Asia for cheap, fantastic amusement parks. This was an absolutely enormous place – maybe 5 times the size of Lunar Park – for a fraction of the price. The kids’ tickets were just $6 each! There were stacks of rides, and a big water park inside as well. Unfortunately the day we went was a holiday in Vietnam and I swear every single person in Ho Chi Minh was there was well, so it was very packed. We only saw one other western family though, so if you’re travelling and picked a normal weekday, you’d probably have the place to yourself. The slides were kind of wild and Little Miss wasn’t allowed to go on many, but she really enjoyed the children’s section.

  Saigon Opera House

A last-minute decision saw us buying tickets to the A O show at the Opera House, and we were so glad we did. It was amazing – the kids were transfixed. Created by a former member of Cirque de Soleil, A O tells the history of Vietnam through dance, music and acrobatics, with just bamboo baskets and poles as props. The feats they achieve are quite incredible – human pyramids, flying across the stage doing cartwheels in bamboo baskets, and somersaulting off swinging ropes, to name just a few. Mesmerising.

The Ben Than markets

A huge marketplace with everything your heart could possibly desire. You have to be prepared to haggle though – which personally I found exhausting. Bookworm excelled at it, so I made sure to keep him close by 🙂

The Mekong Delta

We booked a one-night/two-day homestay through Indochina tours and Cruiseabout Travel, and weren’t exactly sure what to expect – but we were absolutely blown away by how fabulous this turned out to be. We had a private guide – Vien – who was amazing. She taught us so much about Vietnamese life, and was so knowledgeable, and kept the kids amused with games in the car and taught them how to make bracelets and rings with coconut leaves.

We drove into the Mekong and then took a boat up the river where we stopped off to see how bricks are made from the river clay, how coconuts are processed into oil, sweets, mats and handcrafts, and we also saw bamboo mat weaving. We visited a gorgeous place right in the mangroves for lunch and stayed overnight in a beautiful French villa and learned how to make spring rolls. We were going to bike into town to see the markets but the kids were pretty exhausted by then so it was nice to just hang out at the villa and enjoy the gardens and the very cute puppy they had living there. We also met a lovely Australian family who were on the homestay as well, and we really hit if off. Travelling is so great for making new friends! All in all, a wonderful way to finish our Vietnam experience. In the way back into Ho Chi Minh, Vien and I talked for hours about the differences between Australia and Vietnam – it turns out the difficulty of balancing work/career and family/children is a universal experience felt by women everywhere 🙂

 

Hue in the rain and Hoi An

Overnight train to Hue

After Hanoi, we decided to take the overnight train to Hue. It was an experience! Two three-bunk beds crammed into a tiny space, one toilet per 7 cabins and paper-thin walls. Still, it was pretty clean and we were so thankful the toilet was a western one. Before we left though, the toilet door wouldn’t open. A Japanese couple and I were highly concerned about this (and managed to have a worried conversation about it despite no shared language) but the Vietnamese train conductor just kept waving us away when we tried to talk to him about it. Luckily the door opened once we were flying along. It was a rattly sleep, and Bookworm has written his thoughts about it at campbellwhale.wordpress.com (I can’t include the link because the internet connection won’t let me!). When we arrived in Hue we were all tired and cranky, and so Souljourneyboy and I decided to splash out on two interconnecting rooms instead of just one room, which was a good idea after a solid week of us all in each other’s company 24/7.

Hue

Hue was a city I’m glad I visited, but I probably wouldn’t go to again. It just felt like we were on the point of being rorted all the time, and I haven’t felt like that in other places. Picasso got scammed out of some money by some sweet-looking Vietnamese women who did a currency exchange trick on him, which really pissed me off. He’s a 9-year-old boy for crying out loud. The cyclo peddlers and street hawkers are way too persistent and the prices are jacked up ridiculously high for tourists, which forces you to haggle vehemently, which I don’t like. Also it rained a lot and it was cold to boot, which made sightseeing difficult. Still, these were the highlights:

Imperial City

I think the kids would have enjoyed this more if it hadn’t been raining. Also, it looked close to our hotel on the map but the map was oddly scaled and it was actually quite a long walk away, which Little Miss got over towards the end. But it was pretty amazing seeing where the Emperors had lived.

Cyclo tour

This is one place I would recommend a cyclo tour as there are hidden sights to see that are quite spread out. Our drivers took us to the house where Ho Chi Minh had lived, and a spot looking out high over the city that had been bombed in the war, and a garden house with bonsais that were hundreds of years old.

Dong Ba markets

The haggling is exhausting but the markets are the largest in Central Vietnam and absolutely amazing. The kids loved them and Bookworm learned to bargain like a pro – Picasso and Little Miss are too softhearted 🙂

Hai Van Pass and Marble Mountains  

Three days was enough for Hue, and we had booked a driver to take us to Hoi An and see some of the sights on the way. It was a beautifully scenic trip, although we got a bit car sic”k with the hair pin turns. Hai Van means “Sea Clouds and it is an approximately 21 km long mountain pass. Its name refers to the mists that rise from the South China Sea, reducing visibility. The pass forms an obvious boundary between North and South Vietnam, and you can stop and see the fortifications built by the French and then later used by the South Vietnamese and the Americans. The kids found climbing down into the bullet-ridden bunkers very interesting. The Marble Mountains were also very interesting but we’d run a little late on our taxi ride and didn’t have enough time to explore properly. I’d recommend an overnight stay in Danang to give them enough time.

Hoi An

Then it was onto Hoi An. We just loved this place. We stayed in Rock An Villa which was a little out of town, so quiet and peaceful, and such good value – two big rooms, our own bathroom with 2 showers and a bath, and full breakfast daily for about $90 per night. The villa also had a pool, a yard with swings for the kids to play on and bikes and scooters available for free. The kids enjoyed riding the bikes along the streets around the villa, and we all rode together to the beach. This was slightly hair-raising – after all, you’re sharing your road with cars, motorbikes, bicycles and buffalo) and there are no helmets or road rules in particular. Picasso did accidentally crash into a motorbike at one stage but was OK. You’ve got to take a deep breath ad go with it 😉 Hoi An’s old city was too far away to ride to, so we ordered taxis when we wanted to go in, which was easy enough. I can’t express how beautiful the old city is. It’s Asia’s answer to Venice and I think I enjoyed it even slightly more. I spent a fortune on lanterns, and we also got shoes made – I got knee-high handmade leather boots for $60. The kids loved this – you pick your own style and colours. There were plenty of day trips and things to see in Hoi An but we took it easy, strolling around the old city and taking a boat ride up the river, enjoying the lanterns and the markets at night. We had a rainy day where we chilled in the villa which was nice too. We found a great place called Cargo Club to eat and enjoyed my first good coffee in 2 weeks.

This is what I really loved about Hoi An: IMG_2075

Its definitely a place I would love to visit again 🙂

Taking flight and first impressions of Hanoi

We’re here in Hanoi!

After two train rides, two plane trips, a 6-hour layover in an airport in the middle of the night and a hair-raising taxi ride, we are here in Hanoi. And we love it.

The kids coped so well with the travel and the crazy airport queues. I did laugh when Picasso bounded into our first plane and into the business class area and said, in awe of the large and spacious seats – “can we just sit anywhere Mum?”

Um, sadly not. We eventually found our seats and Little Miss asked – “is this third class, Mum?”

We took an overnight flight to Kuala Lumpur and then did this for a couple of hours:

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One aerotrain ride and a flight later, we were in Hanoi. While they’d been amazing, the kids were exhausted, and I think I underestimated the impact of cultural shock on them. We came to our hotel – clean and comfortable but pretty basic –  and took our first walk through the Old Quarter. The traffic really is as manic as everyone says. No one stops. To cross the road you just have to walk out in front of bicycles, cars, and motorbikes and trust that they will swerve around you. And footpaths are not for walking – they’re for eating and cooking and selling and sitting and parking.

Little Miss was absolutely terrified of the traffic and the boys were worried about the pollution. They were concerned that the food looked so different and they didn’t understand what it was. Bookworm, his lip trembling, told me he felt “out of control”. That night we had some money stolen from Souljourneyboy’s wallet and the kids were understandably scared and worried. I fell asleep knowing  we had done the right thing in choosing a holiday that would stretch and challenge them – but wondered how they would go.

I needn’t have worried. The wonderful thing about kids is how they just acclimatize. They’re so resilient. We spend our first full day exploring beautiful Hanoi – such a city of contradictions. In the middle of the chaos is the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake, where it is said the Golden Turtle God took a sword from invading Chinese to save the Vietnamese people. Tourists scams abound, and yet most Vietnamese are such beautiful people. They kept coming up to us and bringing their children to meet Little Miss. Within a couple of hours the kids were crossing roads like they were locals. We visited the water puppet theatre, a truly wonderful experience, and the kids adored it.

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Then we hit the night markets – an absolute must-do if you are ever in Hanoi. The atmosphere is incredible. Everyone is out and about and the city and lake are lit up with lights. We had a wonderful time and on the way home, Picasso announced, “this is way better than Australia, Mum!”

A pretty good end to our second day 🙂

 

 

The lives we might have led…

A strange thing happened to me the other week.

There I was, idly reading the various reports of Amal Alamuddin’s marriage to George Clooney, when I suddenly became aware of an odd feeling. A kind of a weird mix of envy and disappointment.

Well of course, I hear you say. What sane heterosexual woman wouldn’t be jealous of whoever finally married George Clooney? What you experienced is an entirely natural response!

Only her marriage wasn’t the reason I felt that slight pricking of envy. Actually, I think George Clooney is just about the least interesting thing about her.

No, as I delved deeper into my strange state of mind, I realised this was all about the fact that in another life, in another version of me, I am Amal Alamuddin – a kick-ass international lawyer who fights for truth in the International Court of Justice and is asked to sit on UN commissions.

We’re the same age, Amal and I. She has the kind of career I imagined myself as having at certain stages in my life. She has achieved goals and dreams that I myself once had.

And yet, I am not her. I don’t work in London or New York, and didn’t become an international activist. I made different choices. I chose to stay in Australia instead of travelling and working overseas. I chose to have a family young, at 25. I own all of these decisions; at each step of the way I chose this path and this life, and I love it. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with incredulity over how blessed I am. I married my first love. I have three amazing, healthy, smart, creative children. I have a wonderful family and extended family, and more friends than I know what to do with.

And yet, even in all of that, there’s still a small, sad sense of knowing that in making these choices, I’ve cut myself off from other choices I might have made. In choosing one kind of life, you inevitably cut short the other life you might have had.

I used to wish I had a couple of concurrent lives. In one, I’m doing exactly what I’m doing now. In another, I’m working for the UN in Africa and I probably don’t have children. In another, I’m living a subsistence lifestyle on a farm and writing the Great Australian Novel. And in another, I’ve chucked it all in and I’m travelling the world.

I’m not sure how to reconcile all these different parts of who I am in the one life. It seems like such a short space of time. I was talking to a very dear friend today and we both agreed that reaching the ages we are now means, in part, coming to terms with the fact that life doesn’t really work out the way you thought it would. I’m not going to be able to give life to all of those people who lurk inside me; I’m not going to do all the things I thought I would or could, when I was a teenager. I’m OK with that, mostly; it’s just sometimes you see the life that might have been, and wonder about it.

And who knows? Maybe there are a few versions of me out there – living different lives, kind of like Sliding Doors. I’d quite like to think so.

On the AOG abuse allegations…

It was with a multitude of mixed feelings that I read today about the Royal Commission investigating former Assemblies of God Pastor Frank Houston for alleged child sex abuse, and the response of the church – including mega-church Hillsong – to the allegations.

I am no stranger to this scandal. For many years – perhaps 12 all up – I went to a Hillsong “sister” church and I remember sitting in the congregation when it was announced that Frank had had a “moral failing” and would no longer be an AOG pastor. “Moral failing.” It kind of says everything and nothing all at once. A very dear friend was actually in the Hillsong congregation when the “moral failing” was announced by Brian Houston (Frank’s son) himself. It was a judiciously worded announcement, constructed with care. In fact, my friend walked away believing it was about financial mismanagement, and was later shocked to learn it was actually about child sex abuse.

I could have written a blog post about the appalling way churches of all flavours – Catholic, Anglican, Pentecostal – handle child sex abuse. But after reading this article: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/abuse-boz-tchividjian – I don’t have anything more to add on that score. Churches are crap at calling out abuse when the culture of that church prioritizes the institution over its people. And that’s what I want to write about – because I know what it’s like to be damaged by a church culture whose primary goal is self-protection.

As I mentioned before, I was part of a Pentecostal church for my formative teenage years and half my twenties. Sometimes, I think I’m still recovering. There were many things I enjoyed about being part of such a powerfully inclusive subculture. The sense of belonging is unlike anything else; you feel as though your life has a grand and meaningful purpose, you are swept along in something that is dynamic and wonderful and at times transcendent. Any nagging doubts you have are swept under the rug because something that feels this good must be right.

Until you realise that it’s not anymore. Until the doubts get too loud and you begin to verbalize them. This threatens the institution – then you are quickly reminded that belonging to this subculture comes with a hefty price of obedience and conformity.

And when a culture is built around obedience and conformity, dissent is silenced in increasingly destructive ways. At first it’s quite low-key. Virtually non-existent. Like something you catch out of the corner of your eye, and when you turn to look at it directly, it’s gone. “Things will go best for you if you obey authority,” you are told kindly when you question something one of the leaders has said. “She really has a rebellious spirit,” you hear one pastor say in a worried tone about a member of the congregation who has dared to query the status quo. Then it becomes more malignant. You’re called into a leader’s office and told that you are the problem, your faith is in jeopardy because you are not conforming. Or someone has the misfortune to witness clearly inappropriate behaviour in one of the leaders – and they’re the one whisked into an office and threatened that they’d better keep their mouth shut. When the thing you’re creating is more important than the people who sustain it, this kind of behaviour gets easier and easier to justify.

I experienced the full force of this when I spoke up against the relationship between the AOG and the Family First political party in the 2004 election. My issues were not just ideological – there were things happening in the volatile church/politics mix that were blatantly wrong. I spoke up – and I paid the price. I was ostracized and ignored. I lost friendships that I’d had for years – decades even. I had committed the ultimate sin – I didn’t protect the institution. I ended up leaving the church and moving suburbs, the only way I felt could actually move on from the whole ordeal.

Now, ten years on, I’m done with anger and hurt. When I think about my experiences, I mostly just feel – sorry. Sorry that I spent many years subjugating myself to an institution that was so morally lacking.

I‘m sorry that so many young people I saw coming to faith left jaded and burned out and psychologically damaged. Some were really, terribly damaged. And I’m sorry that for many years I was a blind but willing participant in all of this; incredibly sorry for my part in it. I’ve since tried to apologise to many of the young people in my sphere of influence who I failed by being part of an institution that did not have their welfare as its primary concern.

I think this particular church has changed a lot since then; I hope so. I go to a different church now, although I doubt I’ll ever be a member of another church ever again. After many years I have reconciled myself to the fact that the messy, difficult, ever-changing faith that I have is OK. And I see clearly that no church – no institution – is truly representative of faith anyway. After all, prioritising the institution over its people was exactly what Jesus railed against when He saw what Israel had become.

And, despite the media reports, I do hope – I really do hope – that the AOG church leaders did not attempt to bribe Houston’s alleged victim in an attempt to hush up the child abuse allegations. However, as I’ve seen, a church that must protect itself at all costs is capable of justifying some pretty terrible behaviour. I do have faith though that there is power in truth, that truth really does set people free. Because this really is a chance for the church to show that people do matter more than anything else.