A few months ago I had the very great privilege of staying with Rosemary Thorburn and her husband Tim in Perth. Rosemary has been meeting with women one to one for a few decades now across a variety of contexts, so I thought I would ask her about it. Here are some of her highlights challenges and tips.

Me: Rosemary, first of all tell us about how you became a Christian?

I grew up in a church-going family and thank God for giving me that background. For confirmation classes, a godly man took us through the articles of faith of the Anglican church and backed it up with a series of Bible verses supporting each one. A couple of weeks ago I had a look at that book – 50 years after we did it. It is brilliant! I think I worked out I wanted to be Christian back then through that.

High school was a lonely place for me as a Christian but God brought me into contact with Christians at Beach mission and then at Uni. They taught me God’s word and the gospel and helped me to take off as a Christian.

Me: When and where did you start doing one to one ministry?

I started meeting one to one with other students at UNSW in the late 70’s. I’m a slow learner – still at it!

Me: You currently work alongside your husband Tim doing one to one ministry at UWA, but you haven’t only done one to one with uni students have you? Can you share some of your other ways of doing one to one in different contexts of life?

We lived in a country town in WA for nearly 4 years. I didn’t like it much. WA country towns aren’t big – ours was 4-500 with 800 people in the wider community the town served. There weren’t many Christians. One Lent we ran a course explaining Christianity and we asked as many people to come as we could. About 8 came. One was a mum who ran the kid’s gym club. After that ended I started meeting with her one to one to continue investigating Christianity and then consolidating her faith. But she was very busy, so we met while she was at work! She looked after a dress shop in our town. We met there, and read and chatted about it. If someone came into the shop (rare in a town so small – especially if you avoided school pick up) we downed tools and looked after them, then picked it up again when they left.

My daughter Sarah attended ballet classes when we were back in Perth. At one stage we moved house but I still took her back to the same school. What can you do for the hour/hour and a half while you wait for your child? Well you can do the shopping if the shops are still open or you can meet someone to read and pray. You just have to find someone who lives nearby or who will meet you there. Over 5 years I usually managed to find someone to make good use of that time.

I remember trying to talk to a group of wives of the students at our local theological college about one to one. I sent them off to have a go there and then. I won a mum who had a very active toddler in tow! We managed to read the passage and talk about it on the move and with the child climbing all over us. It is worth persevering with someone on the bad days as well as the easy days!

Me: Any funny stories for us?

I’m not funny!

When my first child was about 8months old I started doing “Just for Starters” with a new Christian lady at our church who had been converted through a messy marriage break up. We met while Andrew had his sleep time. It took us a whole year to get through the studies. Boy Rosemary, you must have dragged it out! No, but she did teach me how to leave Andrew to put himself off to sleep. One time I insisted on going in to look at him – only to discover he was hanging on to the rail on the outside of the cot!

In that year we worked through the yes and no of whether she wanted to get back together with her husband, how could she ever trust him again when he had betrayed her trust and how to build a different relationship. When we did the study on church she talked about the love and acceptance she had found at her Bible study group but also the value she had gained from my challenges to her on the tough area of returning to her marriage. All that happened in amongst those studies on the basics of the Christian life!

I still have that sinking feeling at the beginning of each year or semester when I want to start one to one with someone new. Why would they want to meet with me? Other people seem so much better, more interesting, younger, etc. But I usually end up with too many, too quickly. Then there is no room to squeeze in someone who comes along.

I have had the awesome experience of having to follow meeting one to one with a uni student after my daughter Sarah had met with them. That was daunting and I wondered if I would live up to the standard she’d set. Ridiculous really because it’s my one to one with the girl and Sarah had moved on! Get over it Rosemary!

Me: What are some of the highlights for you of one to one ministry?

Highlights are the privilege of getting to know someone really deeply around God’s word and seeing them grow and change. It’s even better than teaching piano or chemistry– when the penny drops, or change comes, it’s much more meaningful and eternity-lasting! What a privilege to be influential in that change and to see it up close.

The privilege of being the person God uses to read a gospel with someone and see them meet Jesus, grow to love Him and submit to him as their King.

Everyone is unique, though we might have similar issues and questions. This means I am never sure where God might take us and what He will be achieving through us meeting.

Me: What are some of the challenges?

It’s a challenge to keep being on the lookout for people to meet one to one with; finding people to link up with one another to do it and imparting the vision to someone of doing one to one themsleves. So changing the culture in a church or Christian community where it is not the norm is a good challenge to set yourself.

Now I’ve been doing it quite a while and am usually three times the age of a lot of the students (!!!) it is harder to make it mutual. I have to work at getting the younger ones asking me questions and challenging me with how I am going christianly. I need to train them and give them permission to ask me. So, in the last couple of years I have worked at getting some of the students to come each time with a question – anything! – to ask me. Three students in a row asked me: what was my favourite meal, what I thought about homosexuality and how Tim and I as leaders could say we were blameless/above reproach!

I find talking godliness and progress in godliness challenging. I might decide to read a passage like 1 Tim 4:11-16 or Galatians 5:13-26 or talk about relationships with everyone I meet with that week and see what conversations God opens up and where we might help each other to make progress.

It can be distressing when someone moves in an ungodly direction, or away from God, or does something you don’t want them to do. But I don’t want to tell people what to do and I must remember that I am responsible for myself and my actions and can only encourage others and speak plainly to them. They shouldn’t do anything to please me; rather they are responsible for their actions to God. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it.

Me: Any other tips?

The value is always two way! – I often think I am more dependent on meeting with women to keep me going than they are on me. Certainly I find my Bible reading goes way down in the uni holidays! And I miss my partners!

Don’t over think or prepare – be natural as much as you can, simple and inquisitive. And it’s crucial to spend a lot of the together time reading God’s word or talking about the ministry you are doing together. God’s word is powerful. The normal diet should be focussed there.

If I’m reading the Bible with someone I don’t prepare. I want to model reading and how to understand the passage as we go, and I often know more than my partner anyway. I might work out some questions for the genre we are working on – I have borrowed Michelle’s idea of business cards with a few basic questions you can ask of any passage on them. That’s been so good.

Don’t answer a question, work out how we can find an answer together.

Pray heaps for each other and your time together.

If Rosemary’s thoughts on one to one in this interview have inspired you and you would like to be trained in one to one ministry, please drop me a line.