The
Inspiration
Project

WITH BRENDAN CORR

GUEST Mike Gore

Mike Gore

Episode 30

Episode Description:

On this episode of ‘The Inspiration Project’, Brendan Corr talks to Mike Gore the CEO of Open Doors Australia about faith and persecution, how you can identify your purpose and what it’s like confronting the stories from suffering brothers and sisters in Christ.

Mike Gore Episode Summary

  • Mike Gore’s story from Hindu to Christ (11:00)
  • What Open Doors does to support the persecuted church (29:03)
  • How Open Doors Started (01:32)
  • Faith and persecution (21:24)
  • Identifying your purpose (40:24)
  • What it’s like for Mike to confront stories from suffering brothers and sisters in Christ (05:38)
  • Confronting racism in our culture and society (16:17)
  • Why fear is the genesis to hate, discrimination, violence and racism (18:12)
  • How we can support the work of the persecuted church (43:09)

Mike Gore Episode Transcript

Sponsor Announcement:
This podcast is sponsored by Australian Christian College, a network of schools committed to student wellbeing, character development, and academic improvement.

Introduction:
Welcome to The Inspiration Project, where well-known Christians share their stories to inspire young people in their faith and life. Here’s your host, Brendan Corr.

Brendan Corr
Welcome to another episode on The Inspiration Project. We’re bringing you stories of people who found God in their life and their sense of purpose in that calling. Today we’re talking with Mike Gore. Mike is the Chief Executive of Open Doors, an organisation that is committed to raising awareness, and providing practical support for persecuted Christians around the world. Mike, thanks for your time today.

Mike Gore
Brendan, it’s good to be here.

Brendan Corr
It’s really important work that you’re involved in the organisation. How long have you been with Open Doors?

Mike Gore
I’ve been with the ministry now for about 10 years, but I’ve been in the role of CEO for about five.

Brendan Corr
Yeah, okay, so for those that aren’t familiar with the particular work that Open Doors does, can you give us a little intro into the key essences?

Mike Gore
Yes. Persecution is a word that’s kind of come to a little bit more awareness in the last 10 years with the war with ISIS in the Middle East, but for listeners today to dispel some myths around persecution upfront is that number one persecution as we talk about it is not always violent. And number two is not always committed by Muslims.

Brendan Corr
Yeah. Good distinction.

Mike Gore
I think that’s a really important distinction, but we would say Brendan, that Open Doors basically works wherever Christianity bumps heads with culture or religion and there’s a fallout, we work. And now started in 1955 by a guy called Brother Andrew who wrote a relatively famous book called God’s Smuggler, and I’m sure many of the parents listening to this have probably read that book. But look, you come forward 65 years now and we’re working in about 90 countries around the world from right across, let’s say Southeast Asia through the Middle East, into Sub-Saharan Africa and all over the place. But persecution, Brendan, does look vastly different depending on where you are. So a believer in Asia would tell you it’s a smash-squeeze paradigm. At one end of it, you’ve got squeeze. Now squeeze is where culture is so oppressive that outworking your Christianity kind of just squeezes the life out of you. It doesn’t hurt you, but it restricts you from access to medical or from healthcare, schooling for children. They called it a civil death, where you’re alive but dead. And for many believers, I say it’s a fate worse than death. And so that’s a squeeze into the paradigm. But at the other end, and often indicative of the Middle East is what we call smash, where acts of violence kind of meet Christianity. And again, I would say for our listeners that acts of nonviolent persecution are far more effective at suppressing the church or someone’s faith than violent persecution.

Brendan Corr
It’s interesting. I’d love to come back and explore this a little deeper in our conversation, Mike, but the notion that I think everyone has some awareness that Christianity is by definition counter-cultural and that in some regard all Christians are bumping heads with culture, I’d be interested to hear where does it tip over to that notion of, “Well we’re counting the cost and we’re being disciples.” Where does it become a point of persecution? Is there a line? Is it a grey area?

Mike Gore
Yeah, I think it’s a really interesting and probably multilayered question to tell you the truth. I think that the reality is that the persecution in so many ways, it’s one of the things that sets Open Doors apart, is that persecution, we’re not here to end it. Most cherries would say they’re here to stop…

Brendan Corr
Yeah. Stop poverty, yeah.

Mike Gore
And that’s a noble pursuit. But I would say that persecution, it’s a consequence of successful Christianity. Wherever the gospel is being shared, persecution exists. And for our listeners, I guarantee you persecution exists in Australia, just try talking about Jesus. Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen tolerance at an all time high for things like minority faith dubbed transcendental meditation, sex, food, all those kind of cultural things that trajectory of tolerance has just been skyrocketing upwards. But the one thing it hasn’t been is for Jesus. In fact, the name Jesus is often met with scepticism, critique, ridicule. And I think that’s the thing, is that we talk about what’s the line that tips over into persecution. And often the misunderstanding behind that question is that the line is often associated with violence. But as we heard before, it’s about cultural oppression as well as violence, and it depends where you are. So Australia, I think we’re far more likely to fall into a place of non-violent persecution than we are violent. And to be honest for our listeners, I think some of them would have experienced that. Yeah. We’re in a multicultural society now. Many of your listeners will have come to faith, but from a different cultural background, and for their family it’s probably quite an insult. And so I think persecution and cultural oppression exists. The wrestle is, we often would measure our proximity to God based off his provision of safety. So what we do is we say, “Hey, when life is good and things are going well, God, you are good.” And by thinking that, or by leaving by that, what we do is avoid sharing Jesus. And that is the line. The moment you share Jesus is when persecution will come.

Brendan Corr
Yeah. It must be in lots of ways very confronting to be involved every day, running up against these examples around the world of intolerance to Christian faith or the suffering of your brothers and sisters in different parts of the world. What’s it like day by day confronting that?

Mike Gore
I think probably for the first five years of my time here at Open Doors, it was quite draining, quite gruelling. But then I realise that to be honest, it’s a sign that Jesus is still feared and respected the world over. And in many ways for me, that’s a beautiful confirmation that the gospels are true and accurate.

Brendan Corr
That’s an interesting perspective. How does the suffering of Christians in China or in Africa, how do you reframe that to be the respected for Christ.

Mike Gore
Yeah look, as Westerners, for too long we would see suffering or persecution as an absence of the gospel, or betrayal of the gospel is probably a better word. But suffering a persecution, that’s the essence of the gospel, and the moment you understand that everything changes. Because for me, I realised that if I am going to live by what I believe, which is that persecution is a consequence of successful Christianity, well the people we serve, they’re bold enough and courageous enough to share their faith. And they have a trust filled relationship with Jesus. There’s a big difference, Brendan, between knowing of Jesus and truly knowing him. I spent 30 years of my life knowing of him. I knew all the Sunday school stuff. I grew up in church, all of those wonderful things, and it was good and healthy and right. But this church that I’ve bumped into through Open Doors, there are people who tell me things like a Central Asian believer who said, “We look at reading our Bible as our opportunity to walk hand in hand with God himself through the Garden of Eden.” He says, “Mike, I don’t understand why in the West who you have seven translations on your shelf, but you don’t want to read them.” He says, “This is my chance every day to walk through the Garden of Eden with God himself. Why wouldn’t you go to those scriptures?” And Brendan for me, that’s just the difference, man. It’s like one of them truly knows him, and then there’s me that knows of him.

Brendan Corr
Yeah. Is that an example of you don’t know the value of something until you lose it? Is that part of just that notion of you long for what you can’t have?

Mike Gore
Yeah. Yeah, maybe. I think if your faith doesn’t cost you anything, it’s probably not worth anything. And I think it’s hard to know the cost of something or lose it when you probably don’t value it in the first place.

Brendan Corr
Yeah, become presumptuous.

Mike Gore
Yeah. Well, there’s a lot of there’s a lot of people who ask me about birthright Christians in Iraq. There are people that, for our listeners, have been born into Christianity for generations. And for some reason, Westerners often think, “Well, they’re less of Christians.” Because they haven’t been born again as such, well, they’re just birthright Christians. I remember being in Iraq with a friend who said to me, “Mike, I get that, but I don’t understand why they more willing to die for Jesus than I am.” And I think for me, the reality is we’re always trying to position the persecuted church as a spiritual mentor.

Brendan Corr
Yeah. That’s interesting.

Mike Gore
I actually wonder how much a birthright Christians we are.

Brendan Corr
Yeah, that’s interesting the notion that the persecuted church is of a particular denominational perspective or the halt of narrow range of doctrinal professions. It’s not the case?

Mike Gore
No. Well, that’s one of the most frustrating, compelling things I think in what we do, is the people you want to fit the Church into the framework of understanding you have. But one of the most beautiful things about the Church is the diversity of the Church, and the world over, whether it’s Coptic Orthodox, whether you know what, it’s Jesus-Professing Catholics, whether it’s Evangelical. Whatever it is, I’ve seen the Church exploding around the world in growth and effectiveness in community from all shapes, sizes, walks, and I love going toe-to-toe to people in Australia who will say, “Oh, well they’re just happy-clappy Pentecostals.” I’m like, “You know what, man, Jesus, he went to the cross for his love for you, me and ISIS.” It doesn’t mean we worship the same God, but what it means is no one’s beyond salvation man.

Brendan Corr
Amen.

Mike Gore
And I think too often we will say, “Well, this one’s right or this one’s wrong.” No, no, no, no. The beautiful thing about the gospel is that there is a multitude of ways to walk it, to outwork it, it may be a narrow road, but I’ll tell you what, there’s a lot of beautiful ways you can walk it.

Brendan Corr
Yeah. That’s a beautiful thing, Mike, isn’t it? Because I think you’re right that we can say, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” But once we make a profession, then it’s only for that particular doctrinal position or that denominational perspective and the others, can you really love somebody who’s not of our kind? And we realise if we’ve got it right, if we’ve got it wrong, if we’ve got emphasis right, if when called to know Jesus, that’s the thing that’s going to be the only ticket that’s needed.

Mike Gore
Absolutely.

Brendan Corr
Mike, you mentioned a bit about your own story and the experience that you had in your own life. Can you tell us a bit about what it was? You said you grew up knowing about God. How did that happen? What was God like in your home and your childhood?

Mike Gore
My journey started a long time ago. I don’t know how long we got this podcast, but look, we’ll race through it and see how we go. So I was born as a Hindu. I was abandoned at birth in India because from what I understand, my biological mother had fallen pregnant with me out of wedlock. Now within the caste system, it’s a really insulting thing, and the Hindu religion, that’s a really insulting thing to have happened. So I was declared what you call a dalit and untouchable and placed into an orphanage. I was unable to be adopted because again, within Hinduism, they believe what you’ve done in your previous life-

Brendan Corr
Yes, the karma.

Mike Gore
… it determines the circumstances amidst which you were born. So that was in 1981. In 1977, a family in Australia that had two biological daughters of their own applied for an adoption. And they had a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of red tape over the following four years. After four years in 1981, they decided give up on adopting a child, it just being too hard, and as a way of closing that chapter and moving on, they booked a trip to America with their two biological daughters and, “So we’ll close that chapter and move on.” Anyway, during this time, one of the ladies in the orphanage took a liking to me. She was a nurse. And she was caring for me one night, she grabbed me and she smuggled me across the state line. She went to a to some nuns and she bribed them with cash, from what I understand, to say that I was dumped on their doorstep-

Brendan Corr
How incredible.

Mike Gore
… and that my birth certificate could be changed so I could be adopted under that state’s law.

Brendan Corr
Unbelievable.

Mike Gore
Now this family got back from the holiday and they got a phone call saying, the adoption’s going through, your son will be at the airport in the weekend.

Brendan Corr
Oh my goodness.

Mike Gore
They’re a Christian family, and as you can imagine they were fairly shocked. And they said, “Look, we don’t have the money.” And that night they were praying about it. The next day, my mum was driving a car with the two biological daughters. She had a car crash, wrote the car off without a scratch or a bruise to anyone in the car. And then she said to me, “Mike, what was a miracle was that two days later, the day before you arrived in the airport, the insurance money had been returned to her bank account, and it was to the exact dollar that was needed to pay for my adoption.”

Brendan Corr
Unbelievable.

Mike Gore
Not and not at all less. And so that’s how I ended up in Australia, Brendan. But by then I grew up in the southern shore. I have to say-

Brendan Corr
Has anybody made a movie of this?

Mike Gore
Look, one of the things I am passionate about saying is that we love to place hierarchy on testimony. We love to sort of say, “Look at the power of that story.” But one thing I’ve learned over my 39 years is that it’s God’s story. As a culture we desperately want to elevate or make a story a hero, but if you grew up in a Christian home and you had a relatively plain or placid life, that doesn’t make your testimony any less worthy.

Brendan Corr
Yeah, that’s good.

Mike Gore
And I really want particularly the students listening to this podcast today, to know that it’s not about being smuggled across borders, it’s not about many risks in your life, it’s not about travelling to crazy places. It’s a reality that God is ultimately in control of all things.

Brendan Corr
Yes. Amen.

Mike Gore
And that there is no hierarchy in testimony. And one of the keys to knowing how best to serve Jesus, is simply to be able to articulate number one, who is Jesus to you? And number two, what has he done in your life?

Brendan Corr
Amen.

Mike Gore
Because I think whether you have grown up in that Christian home, or whether you’ve grown up in an abusive household and you need to know Christ, that the key in the power is that your story, it has most power to those who know you best.

Brendan Corr
Yeah, That’s so good.

Mike Gore
And so we can push into some more of that sort of stuff if you want. But I grew up in the southern shire of Sydney. I was the only brown kid in school until I was 16. I had heaps of racism growing up, so I know again for our listeners today what it’s like to be discriminated based on skin colour and all sorts of stuff. But one of the places I found most belonging in was St. John’s Sutherland Anglican church.

Brendan Corr
Shout out to St. John’s.

Mike Gore
That’s right. In that church, I wasn’t seen as the Brown kid in a white family, I was just seen as part of the Gore family. I wasn’t treated any differently, I was disciplined as much as anyone else, and for me, I found a real sense of identity and belonging. So that provided some of that social belief, self-belief, and spiritual nurturing. But to your question at the beginning, as I got to Open Doors, I realised, “Man, I know a lot about Jesus.” But when I meet with a persecuted church, it’s like they know a different Jesus. And so it’s nothing to sledge the Australian church, it’s a part of that whole. Maybe it’s a birthright thing, maybe it’s just that over time, things become more complacent. But Open Doors has allowed me to see a far bigger, a far more colourful picture of the gospel.

Brendan Corr
Yeah. Yeah. Would you have said that you did know Jesus when you were growing up?

Mike Gore
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, confirmed in the Anglican church. I would call myself actively a Christian. I would read my Bible and pray-

Brendan Corr
Doing his work-

Mike Gore
… do all that sort of stuff.

Brendan Corr
Out at church, all that sort of stuff.

Mike Gore
All that sort of stuff, yeah.

Brendan Corr
But an encounter with a God that was not contained by the cultural norms or-

Mike Gore
No, it’s probably more a faith that costs you something. So I was baptised-

**Brendan Corr **
Because it didn’t cost you much to be a Christian in Australia?

Mike Gore
No, not really. And it still does not I think…

Brendan Corr
Cost you more for your ethnic background. That was…

Mike Gore
I mean, that costs me a bit of… and it made me stronger. I think that being one of those really lucky ones that it could really push you. It pushes you one of two ways. It pushes you into your shell and out of society and really downtrodden, or it can build you bigger, better and stronger. And I have been lucky enough to be able to grow through racism, but the faith piece, I’ve always been a Christian, I’ve always been an active Christian. I just feel like working at Open Doors, the understanding of what it means to follow Jesus maybe, is where it all changed. Because faith didn’t cost me anything. Faith was happy. Faith was a good job, I had a comfortable life, a solid family, healthy kids, whatever it might be. But the persecuted church, they almost have diametrically opposite experience, it cost them everything, their life sucks. There’s no two ways of putting it, and that’s a totally different Jesus, because I’m saying, “Oh God, aren’t you meant to be good and give me good things?” And that’s when I realised now I’ve rendered him to be a mix between Superman Santa Claus, and that’s a big, big risk.

Brendan Corr
Yeah. And that’s the big danger in our culture, when we’ve lost touch of the power of the gospel to redeem, to face those challenges. Can I ask you Mike, hearing you make that comment about your early experiences and what racism meant for you, what have you seen involved in the persecuted church and knowing that it’s a subculture in those countries where it’s happening? What’s the difference between persecution because of a racial culture, versus persecution of a spiritual?

Mike Gore
Yeah, I think to be honest that there’s not much other than fear. Fear is often the the genesis to so many of the instances of discrimination, human rights abuses, persecution, bullying, because it’s so funny, fear is such a great driver and conformance to behaviour. If I look around the society and culture today, to be honest, persecution often comes because governments are terrified of Christians. Because other religions are terrified of what Jesus offers Hindus who are completely ensnared by caste system that is generational and oppressive when it comes to poverty or Jesus offers them freedom from that well-ingrained religious structure. So it’s terrifying. Fear is the genesis to both of those things, whether it’s racial abuse persecution, or whether it’s religious persecution, fear is the genesis.

Brendan Corr
Yeah. So I can see that the perpetrators, from somebody who’s experiencing each of those things, is there a difference in what you find as your solid ground, your sense of self, your reason for carrying on?

Mike Gore
Yeah, I don’t think so. I think for me, one of the things that probably was my solid ground during the racial stuff was actually the fact that I was a Christian and I had an identity in Christ and a community of support. I mean, we can never underestimate the value of a well-functioning church in providing community and support to people, whether that’s in Sydney or in Syria. And so for me, again, one of the reasons maybe that it didn’t push me into my shell and really affect me with mental health sense, was that I had a community, I had a belief and I had a solid ground in Christ. And Brendan, for so many people, they don’t have that. They don’t have a faith belief. They only have the society and cultural view of themselves. And that’s a heartbreaking and a worrying place to be because you have nothing to find value in other than the words of others.

Brendan Corr
So that then introduces another thought to my mind in our conversation. You’re dealing with communities and families and individuals that are at the pointy end of some ruthless attempts to obliterate their culture, their standing, their faith, their belief, and yet they persevere. Have you found that there’s a common thing, common understanding, revelation that they hold?

Mike Gore
I love that question because it’s one part, and this will sound insidious one part naive and it’s one part powerful. Because what we’ve been talking about is the difference between knowing of and knowing Jesus. And so the perseverance piece is almost a non-event, because when you truly know him, it’s not an issue of perseverance.

Brendan Corr
Yeah, that’s good.

Mike Gore
It’s an issue of just what you do, and it’s just part of the gospel. It’s what following this guy will cost me. And so again, it’s a great westerner question.

Brendan Corr
Yeah, that’s good.

Mike Gore
And I would ask the same one, so I’m not trying to be insulting at all.

Brendan Corr
No. Not taken

Mike Gore
It’s just that we go, “How do they persevere?” Well, they know nothing else. I remember being in China and I’d smuggle Bibles into China. China is a great part of the world, but it’s part of the world where faith comes at a great cost. And I was meeting with maybe a 60, 70, 80-year-old believer. I mean, he was a guy that grew up in the face of communism and had a powerful faith story of his own. But as I was talking to him, I asked him, “Well, can I pray for you?” And he says, “Yeah. I want you to pray that persecution never leaves China.”

Brendan Corr
Wow. That’s ridiculous, isn’t it?

Mike Gore
I think this was in my second year working for Open Doors. And I was still in that moment where I thought we were there to end stuff. I remember thinking to myself, “Man, I think he got the answer wrong.” I’m pretty sure free.

Brendan Corr
Yeah. Take two.

Mike Gore
That’s right. Or maybe he’s just lost in translation or English or whatever it is. And then I said, “Well, brother, would you pray for me?” And he says, “Yeah, I pray that you be persecuted.”

Brendan Corr
Thanks.

Mike Gore
And then I’m thinking, “Man, I really hope he got that answer wrong.” But he said to me, look, we look at the Australian church as a prophetic example of what happens when faith becomes free.

Brendan Corr
Yeah, right.

Mike Gore
He said the value of Jesus drops. That means I want you to pray persecution never leaves China, because what he’s saying, Brendan, is ultimately, “I want you to pray that we always have a cost to our faith.”

Brendan Corr
Amen.

Mike Gore
Because when we have a cost to our faith, the issue of perseverance, man, is a none event, because I’m there to simply follow Jesus no matter the cost. And again for me, that was a wonderfully-

Brendan Corr
Yeah, that’s powerful.

Mike Gore
… sort of mind blowing and table turning kind of event to say, “Man, that’s a gain of the culture.” And be my God, I’m sitting here going, “No, isn’t faith meant to be free?” And this dude is saying, “No, no, no. Faith is meant to cost you everything.”

Brendan Corr
Yeah. And I appreciate your care for my sensitivities in asking that question, but I do really see the insight that you’re sharing, that it’s not about persevering because you’re not trying to hold on, it’s just who you are. It’s just living-

Mike Gore
And it’s who Jesus is.

Brendan Corr
… the new life in Christ.

Mike Gore
Yeah, you know this Christ, yeah.

Brendan Corr
Living with the power of the gospel manifest in your life. And you’ve got no choice-

Mike Gore
That’s right.

Brendan Corr
… because that’s life what it is. Mike, I think there is a… I don’t know whether it’s Open Doors, I think it is. But I certainly know that there is an index of persecution around-

Mike Gore
That’s right.

Brendan Corr
Is that something that I can do as…

Mike Gore
Yeah, the world watch list.

Brendan Corr
I’ve walked on to your website and seen the hotspots and the colour coding. Coming in from that perspective, is there a counter ideology or a counter worldview that is more cleanly opposed to Christian faith than others, or is it just a degree of expression of those things?

Mike Gore
Yeah, look, I would say that’s called the world watch list, it’s an index ranking of the 50, most difficult places to follow Jesus, something Open Doors has been renowned for doing for now 30, 35 years. Early ’90s it began. And what’s funny is I look at that as almost it’s the map of where Christianity is really working best. And one of the great questions for us is as you said, it’s an index or coloured ranking system. One of the great questions for us is, well, why is Australia grey? Does that mean the gospel isn’t being promoted, pushed, shared? Because what we see is that every time it is, faith comes at a cost. To your question, it is undeniable that the majority of the top 10 countries that are most difficult to follow Jesus, the key driver to persecution is Islamic extremism. That’s an undeniable fact, and I said at the top of the podcast persecution isn’t always committed by Muslims. I want to stand by that. But it is also in a large part committed where Islam and Christianity really do bump heads. But there’s also North Korea, the number one country for well over a decade. It’s not Islam, it’s communism. And so they still have vast array of leadership stalls, government stalls, religions. What we saw back in the ’60s and ’70s was an increase in the radicalization of Islam. But then in the ’80s, we saw an increase in the radicalization of Buddhism. The ’90s border increase in the radicalization of Hinduism. Now, most of the increase in the radicalization of these other faith was aimed at staving off the advancement of Islam, but as they increased in their velocity and their ferocity of persecution, Christians have been caught up in that. And so what we’ve seen is an increase in their radicalization of several other faiths, and because of that, Christianity taking a far bigger beating in different cultures and countries around the world.

Brendan Corr
Yeah. It’s interesting. So what I’m hearing is it’s not a particular set of ideologies that are strongly opposed or more strongly opposed, it’s varying expressions of those at different times and in different contexts. And

Mike Gore
I’d say it’s a great example of intolerant atheism. It’s where things around gender and all these kind of things are the drivers that says the church is outdated, antiquated, old school. It’s not communism, it’s not Islam, it’s a true cultural clutch.

Brendan Corr
Yeah. A bit more of a philosophical question, Mike, given the fact you’ve been talking about the radicalization of those different faith traditions and the need for Christianity to be at the cutting edge and pure in its expression, are we talking about the radicalization of Christianity? Is that what you’re talking about as a counterpoint to this other.

Mike Gore
Yeah, it’s a word I probably avoid because of the connotations that come with it specifically around Islam, but it is a great notion to think about. So I’m not saying that we should be radical Christians, but I am saying, what would it look like to be more radical? If you talk to the Billy Grahams of this world or even the Brother Andrews from our ministry, you ask them at the end of their lives, “What would you have done differently?” And unanimously they say, “I would have been more radical.”

Brendan Corr
More bold.

Mike Gore
More bold, more courageous. And I think it’s a really good thought. What would it look like to be a courageous Christian again, when you replace a word radicalised with courageous Christian in society and culture today?

Brendan Corr
Yeah. You’re right. You’re identifying the danger in any sort of culture or any sort of conversation about how terms can get appropriated by a particular consent. And back when I was young, the term of being a radical Christian, that was back in the ’70s, it was a very appropriate thing. We were sold out for Jesus, and it didn’t have the connotations that you very rightly recognise as how well in this conversation, we want to be really careful about misrepresenting and miscommunicating to people what is the power of the region you want to follow. Earlier in our conversation, Mike, you used a phrase, “This is what Open Doors does. What we do.” You’re here in Australia, you’ve got a team of people that are working here, serving globally, what do you do?

Mike Gore
Yeah, it’s a great question.

Brendan Corr
How do you help those people?

Mike Gore
I think the best way we could say it is there’s three buckets that we could talk about. So Bibles, we have historically delivered and smuggled Bibles into lots of different countries, but really focused on providing scriptures where possible. Discipleship and training is probably the key area of ministry now. One of the things that we identified as an organisation is it’s one thing to sort of evangelise, share the gospel, while it’s another thing to help people keep following Jesus. And for many churches across the world, the biggest challenge is what happens once people come to church?

Brendan Corr
Yeah, right.

Mike Gore
Not how do we get people to church? And so discipleship and training is a really key part of what we do, whether that’s up-skilling pastors, whether it’s running counselling education facilities, all sorts of stuff in these countries. And then the third one is a large bucket, but we’ll call it practical support. Now that could look like micro business loans. In the Middle East, again, over the war with ISIS, when people look to leave the country, one of the best ways to keep the church together is through micro business loans, because people stay, develop an income and they don’t look to leave. And so, yeah, our work looks vastly different across the 70, 80 countries we work in. In fact, it’s one of the things I’ve always loved about Open Doors. I think often in Western cultures, we look at change as almost like an element of mistrust. “Hey, if you keep changing the things you do, maybe you’re not trustworthy.” I think it’s the opposite. In Iraq, a great example, Brendan, was that the first trip to Iraq I made was at the height of the war with ISIS. I mean, the place was a war zone and people arriving on foot, just the countless thousands. And what the church needed then was emergency food and relief and shelter. And so Open Doors fed, I think, 10,000 families and then provided camps. And then 18 months later when I was back there, well, the helplessness and the hopelessness of the situation had set in. And so what’s crazy was we stopped feeding people. And I mean that’s a mind-boggling decision to make because what you have in these refugee camps and war zones is what’s called the dependency psychology. Now, we needed to turn off that source of food to kind of motivate particularly men to get out, get up, get going. And so we shifted to doing things like schools in these refugee camps, because it’d been a year and a half already where kids just hadn’t had no education. Marriage counselling, because when you’re living in confined quarters with up to 30 other people, intimacy in marriage and communication is one of the first things that goes. Trauma care and mental health support for particularly parents who had been displaced by ISIS. So that was 18 months later, almost 180 degrees difference, but a sign of trust, not mistrust. And then 18 months later, again, when the camps had all but gone, ISIS was on their back feet, well, the church said to us this time, “Hey look, the way to keep our congregations together is micro business loans.” Because every step along the way, what I love about Open Doors is their goal has been to say, “How do we keep the local church functioning?”

Brendan Corr
Yeah. Good.

Mike Gore
Because we would say that the indisputable heavyweight of the world through world history and Christian, Brendan, has been the institution of the local church-

Brendan Corr
Amen.

Mike Gore
… when it comes to administering hope, aid, justice, safety, and relief. It’s not without controversy, but even Christian and non-Christian history say the presence of a church often has a net gain in community, and it reaches far beyond the walls of simply being Christian. And so as a ministry, I guess you could say, “Look, we exist to breathe life into local church.” Because what we say and what we believe is that a well-functioning church will reach far beyond the walls of Christianity. It will bleed into communities with a heart and the love of Jesus, equipping and enabling people to best follow Jesus, however that looks.

Brendan Corr Yeah. And you’re right, isn’t it? About the manifestation of the church as examples of individual reception of specific grace to people, so that saving grace, but its presence can also be God’s general grace-

Mike Gore
Absolutely, yeah.

Brendan Corr
… to that community when it flows. We’re also interested to hear that a little account you gave of the three years or so of how agile Open Doors was in its ministry. The notion of being the experts versus listening to the people.

Mike Gore
Listening. You have to listen.

Brendan Corr
Like in the crisis, you’ve got experience, you know what’s happened in the past. Is there a time and a place where you, not to be disrespectful, but you know what’s best for that context.

Mike Gore
Yeah. You have to surround yourself with trusted people. I remember being in Iraq and someone said to me, “Well, the thing we love about Open Doors is that you are reliable for food. We can depend on you.” Other charity and aid organisations have come in and they’re great at raising large amounts of money in a condensed period of time, but also spend it in a condensed period of time, because their models for some of the large scale charities are what we would call crisis-to-crisis fundraising models. So they are brilliant at raising incredible amounts of money, but what they do is they need a crisis and they need to move on to the next one. And so I’m sitting there with this person who’s saying to me, “Hey, the thing we love is that you haven’t stopped feeding us. You’re reliable and you’re dependable.” I’m sitting there thinking, “Man, I’m literally having conversations at the moment with people saying we’re about to stop this program.” So you sit there going, “That’s a really weighty…” It’s not my call to make, but it’s a really weighty goal.

Brendan Corr
Yeah, big decision. Yeah.

Mike Gore
So you must surround yourself with people on the ground who you can trust, who can say, “Hey, this is…” As a pastor or a leader or a significant leader, “This is what we’re seeing emerge, and here’s how we think you can change.” And then what I love about Open Doors globally in our field, is that they don’t sit there and go, “No, no, we’ve got this prescriptive method of doing this.” They say, “Hey, that’s what you want, here’s how are we going to deliver it?”

Brendan Corr
And how do you develop that trust? Is it time?

Mike Gore
Years and years and years. Yep.

Brendan Corr
Relationship?

Mike Gore
Yep.

Brendan Corr
Proven results somewhere else?

Mike Gore
Yeah. Look, I think that Open Doors is not largely known as Open Doors in most of the countries we work because of the risk around that. It’s through the multiple decades. I mean, you can’t be in ministry in my view for 65 years without a major controversy. Sorry, you cannot remain in ministry for this long unless you’re good at what you do.

Brendan Corr
Yes, indeed.

Mike Gore
We haven’t had major controversies. There hasn’t been issues around trust or stewardship or finances. You don’t last 65 years in this world in charity, Christian charity, if you’re poor at what you do. And I think the longevity to what we do is a great example of the trust that we have in so many of these countries.

Brendan Corr
Yeah, that’s good. The comment you just made raises a question for me about the anonymity that you hold. I know that you are very careful when you’re sharing stories to make sure you’re not exposing any of the people in the countries that you’re helping, not exposing them to undue risk or to be identified, tracked down, those sorts of things. But until just a recent comment in your last response, didn’t really think about what that meant for Open Doors in those spaces. How do you find the way to get in, get entrance, make connections with those places and do the work you need to do and not experience the same persecution as the people you’re trying to help?

Mike Gore
Yeah. Look, that’s a conversation for off air probably. As far as… But to be honest, the way we work in-country is incredibly relational for the countries that we work in. What’s interesting, you’re in an organisation here at Open Doors where most of the people I’ll meet in country will have no idea that we work for the same organisation. Because it’s just too dangerous and risky to make that link.

Brendan Corr
Yeah. So you’re conscious all the time of the threat-

Mike Gore
I am, particularly when I’m there. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I’m more conscious of the impact it will have on those believers if I screw up, because it comes at a great cost. I mean, we are talking about lives, we’re talking about prison sentences, we’re talking about life and death sometimes, we’re talking about education and food and healthcare. These are really serious matters that if we’re liberal or laissez-faire with our approach to stuff, it does really make life difficult for people.

Brendan Corr
You go into these spaces, Mike, and you have a healthy respect for the context, the political context, cultural context. You may even from what I’m picking up on some of your conversation have a genuine esteem for the spirituality of these people. You come from a different space, different background, the principle of the unifying of the Body of Christ and the equality in the connection that you feel, is that a genuine experience when you go to these spaces and you feel even though we don’t know we’re working for the same organisation, we know where we’re serving the same God, we’re part of the same global Body of Christ?

Mike Gore
Yeah, it is. I would say that one of the most honouring parts of this ministry is to see the global church in all of its beauty and all of its faults and all of its challenges. What I wrestle with probably most is a flip side of that question is actually when you come back to Australia and reintegrating into church culture, I fear when I look around Western church or Western churches, that some of the greatest persecutors of the modern church are in fact Christian.

Brendan Corr
Yeah. Right.

Mike Gore
Because the way that we speak about the church, it so rarely brings honour, and more often than not tries to force a divide. And so re-integrating into church culture is one of the harder parts of our job, because there’s a big difference between coming back with an optimistic viewpoint and coming back with a bitter view point. And I think the moment that sort of seed of bitterness gets into your view of the church in Australia, you can become very cynical, you’re just contributing to the persecution. And so my desire and my goal is to always have a hope of field viewpoint of the church here.

Brendan Corr
That’s good. Yeah, that is good.

Mike Gore
Because, Brendan, pastors here, even congregational members here, we all wake up thinking, “How can we best serve God?” Not, “How can we wreck the world?” And too often, we love to pass judgement on others. So I think that’s the biggest challenge for me in this organisation, is when I have those experiences, how do I not let them come back and either make me an elitist Christian, saying, “Oh, well, I’ve experienced this and you haven’t.” And how do I make them inherently church unifying, as opposed to destroying-

Brendan Corr
That is so good. I can imagine the, the danger of coming back and being super critical of Australian church and saying, “Boy, if you guys only knew. If you had that, where you would be.” And to let the spirit of God retain a generous… It’s his church.

Mike Gore
Yeah, absolutely.

Brendan Corr
Whether it’s the church facing persecution or the-

Mike Gore
That’s right. There’s one body of Christ. That was, again, one of the greatest examples of story from the Middle East, was that I remember being in one of the refugee camps, five and a half thousand people, it was scorching hot day. And as we’re walking across this camp, out of the corner of my eye I saw someone walking up to me with real purpose, and I thought to myself… In any of those moments, you’ve actually got to start thinking, “Okay, if this goes off, how do I get out?” Anyway, he got up in my face and sort of said, “Hey, I hear you’re from Australia.” And I said, “Yeah, I am.” And he said, “I want you to know, at church, we pray for you.” I thought to myself, “Man, put that on” I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” And he started talking about in broken English, this chocolate thing. Anyway, we landed on the Lindt Cafe siege from several years ago in Sydney, and he said to me, when that happened at church, we stopped and we prayed for you. And I sort of thanked him profusely, and he says, “The wrestle is that in the West, you’ve looked at the body of Christ, his arms, legs, fingers, and toes.” But he said, “For us, we look at it as blood, bones, muscle and skin.”

Brendan Corr
Yeah. Wow.

Mike Gore
He said the bones are like the Catholics. He said they’re rigid and you can’t move them. He says, “But you take them away from the body, and the body can’t stand.” And he says, “Mike, I want you to remember when they’re dying at the hands of ISIS over here, they’re not dying because they don’t deny Mary, they’re dying because they don’t deny Jesus.”

Brendan Corr
Amen.

Mike Gore
And then he said the muscles, they’re like the Anglicans. He said they’re kind of rigid, but you can move them a little bit. And then he said the blood, they’re like the Pentecostals and charismatics, free-flowing and always changing. But he says, “You take away any one of those elements, and the body can’t stand.” And then he said, “And like fighting off a wound or infection, blood flow increases, muscles contract, and other parts of the body rush to that area to protect it.” He said, “Right now the body of Christ in Iraq is hurting and they’re rushing to protect it.”

Brendan Corr
Amen. What a great thing.

Mike Gore
That’s true. I think, man, that was literally the moment I thought to myself, “I’m in the body, but I’m not in the fight.” It’s almost like there’s a big cut on the arm down here, And I’m off in the left shoulder going, “Oh, everything’s good over here.” No, no, there’s one church Brendan, whether it’s Australia, whether it’s Iraq, whether it’s North America, whatever it is, we’re all in the body. And my pursuit now, when you talk about purpose, is to make sure that Christians in the West, we’re all in the fight, because the longer we hang off in the left-hand side of the body thinking life is grand, the other side is taking a beating. And there’s one body, and that beautiful analogy, like we know with our own bodies, blood flow increases, muscles contract. Pentecostals come together, Anglicans come together, the bones become like the church.

Brendan Corr
Yeah, provides a structure. Yeah, that’s great. So people listening, they can’t help, but be moved and challenged by the things that you’ve been sharing. How do they join the fight? How do they lean into this experience?

Mike Gore
Yeah. Look, I think everyone who calls themselves a Christian should be doing something for the persecuted church, because it doesn’t take much to make a big difference. It can be five bucks, it can be prayer. But all of us should be acutely aware about the global church and what we can use in our freedom to support its ongoing survival. Because what you’re doing is by supporting the work of Open Doors, you’re investing into where the gospel is actually working. And my job is to then place the persecuted church as spiritual mentors to us, so that it can kind of encourage us to take that next step publicly to maybe post on Facebook that you’re Christian, or go Instagram post with a cross on the wall, to tell a girlfriend or a boyfriend that we’re going to church, or to invite the neighbours next door.

Brendan Corr
Yeah, that’s good.

Mike Gore
But if we can coax Australia into a more courageous expression of faith by using the persecuted church as spiritual mentors, we will grow around the world in courage. May not be numbers, but I’ll tell you what, it will be courage. And so my hope is for all of the listeners, you can go to the website opendoors.org.au. You can find us on social, follow me on… whatever you want. But what I would encourage you to do is be bold and courageous enough to put some skin in the game, actually help the global body of Christ because there’s people out there you’ll never meet who are everyday waking up and going at it for and they’re taking a beating for it.

Brendan Corr
Yeah. That is so fantastic that you’ve captured both of those things, be practical, find what you can do, start a conversation in your own church community about what are we doing for the persecuted church? But own it yourself, live that life, get in contact. Don’t just know about Jesus, walk with him day by day.

Mike Gore
Correct.

Brendan Corr
Let him lead you, let him prompt you. Let him give you words that you’re going to speak. That is fantastic, Mike. A lot of our listeners are in the early stages of forming their life’s direction, they have their future, and hopefully they respond to the encouragement you give them to say whatever stage they’re at, whether it’s at school or at uni, or just starting a career, how do they do that? In terms of a longer view, a longer term view of how they could make a difference, find their sense of purpose, you, I think know, have a sense of real call that this is where God wants you. This is the work that he wants you to be doing. Last comments about how any of our young people might feel, “This is how I know I’m where God wants me to be.”

Mike Gore
Yeah. Look, I think one of the biggest misnomers around purpose and calling and as Christians, one of the things that really gets me rubbed up the wrong way is when people link a calling with a vocation. Right now they say, “Hey, I’m called to work at Open Doors.” Or they’ll put language around that. Or, “Working at Open Doors must be a calling.” No, no. My calling is to love God and to love people. That’s all it is. I can do that stacking shelves at Target, I can do it working at Open Doors, I can do it at home, and I think that’s the biggest takeaway of anyone listening, particularly students on that cusp of year 11, year 12, going into university, whatever it might be, is that don’t ever let anyone tell you that your calling is caught up in what you do.

Brendan Corr
Good.

Mike Gore
It’s caught up in who you are.

Brendan Corr
Amen, that’s great.

Mike Gore
And I think that’s the most beautiful part about calling. I’ve had a life where I’ve been racially abused. I’ve had to learn what it means to have identity. I’ve had a life where I’ve been smuggled across borders, I’ve had all sorts of crazy things happen, but you know what? None of it shapes… It’s not what I do that matters, it’s who I am. And so I always say, “Hold on to everything loosely except Jesus.” Because the reality is that you can take Open Doors from me tomorrow, and it’s not going to affect my self belief or my spiritual worth. Because as I said to you before Brendan, I’m called to love God and I love people.

Brendan Corr
That’s good.

Mike Gore
No matter where on earth I find myself, I can do that. And so my hope is today for anyone listening-

Brendan Corr
And that is really good.

Mike Gore
Don’t worry about what you’re doing at uni. Don’t get caught up in the fact that, is this the right choice? Is it the wrong choice? In many ways, there’s no wrong choices with God, because it’s not about what you do, it’s about who you are.

Brendan Corr
That’s true.

Mike Gore
And we can share his love everywhere.

Brendan Corr
Yeah. And it’s such an imperative that message to say, you don’t have to wait until you arrive somewhere or until you finish your qualifications-

Mike Gore
Yeah, you never arrive, let me assure you that.

Brendan Corr
… or you get that dream position, or you feel, “This is my destiny.” It’s right where you are. The things that God’s put across your path, the people you meet today make a difference.

Mike Gore
Amen.

Brendan Corr
Mike, it’s been an absolutely fantastic conversation. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to hear what God’s opened your eyes to see, abut his truth, about his nature and his character, and to hear about the work that he currently has you doing. We will continue to pray for Open Doors, pray for you. The work you do over there and the work you do to provide awareness and responsiveness here in the church of Australia.

Mike Gore
Well, Likewise. Let’s do it again sometime.

Brendan Corr
Amen. I really look forward to it. God bless you.

Mike Gore
You too.

Mike Gore

About Mike Gore

Mike Gore is the CEO of Open Doors Australia and New Zealand and has been with the ministry for more 10 years. Mike lives in Sydney with his wife and two daughters. He has travelled extensively to meet persecuted Christians around the world.

Photo of Brendan Corr

About Brendan Corr

Originally a Secondary Science Teacher, Brendan is a graduate of UTS, Deakin and Regent College, Canada. While Deputy Principal at Pacific Hills for 12 years, Brendan also led the NSW Christian Schools Australia registration system. Brendan’s faith is grounded in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a deep knowledge of God’s Word. Married for over 30 years, Brendan and Kim have 4 adult children. On the weekends, Brendan enjoys cycling (but he enjoys coffee with his mates afterwards slightly more).