My father walked out the door before my 9th birthday.
So reflects Michael Mavromatis, Bachelor of Counselling graduate at Tabor. It's a sad reflection, but unfortunately an all-too-common story in our society. In Michael's case, however, God guided him and his father toward reconciliation, leading Michael into an important avenue of ministry for men struggling to find their place in an uncertain world.
After his father walked out, Michael’s mother remarried and moved with the family to Holland. It would be another 35 years before Michael returned to Australia with his own wife and children to live. But throughout Michael’s difficult upbringing, God was at work preparing the way for his return to Australia and a surprising call to service.
I grew up with an alcoholic abusive father. I walked around with a question mark hanging over my head: who am I? I had no idea how to be a man, how to behave, communicate, or interact with women.
In my 30s I got to a point where I realised I really didn’t know what I was doing in life. I’d grown up thinking I was worthless, because that’s what I’d been told. I lived with that for 30 years. In church, I struggled with the concept of God being love. The image of God as a loving father didn’t make much sense either. So, I’m crying to God, alone in the woods, and that’s when he intervenes. He says, Mike I am your true father. I love you.
When God spoke to me it was just like hearing his voice. It transformed me, helping me to realise that my spiritual journey wasn’t only about what happened between me and my own father. Instead, it’s about what God wants for my life.
Having learned the importance of journeying with God, Michael continued to listen. And sure enough, God continued to speak:
God told us to go. About 9 years ago I had this feeling of being really unsettled in my business and not spending enough time in the Kingdom. God made me shift focus…
For a long while, Michael had been losing interest his business, certain that God had something else in mind. Then one day, someone knocked on Michael's door and asked him if he wanted to sell his business. Not long after, Michael met a friend in Colorado whom he hadn't seen for years, who asked him out of the blue, “So when are you moving back to Australia?” Michael remembers feeling totally shocked by the question:
Why would he even say that? He knew I had an Aussie background, but as friends we had always lived in the Netherlands.
After much prayer and conversation with his wife, Michael and his family made the move to Australia. It was then the opportunity for reconciliation first presented itself, as Michael recalls:
I sought my father out, along with my brother. It was a strange encounter. I didn’t have any affection for Dad, who was always very opinionated. He hadn’t changed much in that respect, but I forgave him.
Next morning, doing my run, I felt Jesus ask me, What did you think of that? Well, I think I found that really awkward. He’s so opinionated and just a hard man to love. Do you know why that is? No, I don’t. Because he’s had an upbringing like you.
After that I followed up again with Dad and discovered that he had also had a really difficult upbringing.
Making peace with his father was the just the beginning, however. To make ends meet, Michael fell back into what he knew best – running a business. But, again, the prompting of the Holy Spirit was directing Michael toward a new path.
Reading John Eldredge’s classic book, Wild at Heart, proved a turning point, as it resonated powerfully with Michael’s own childhood and faith journey. Importantly, he came to realise that we can’t do Christianity without the relationship side of things, and that this is something a lot of men struggle with. Inspired by Eldredge, Michael began organising retreats for men aimed at helping them connect with God and the journey he calls them to:
The retreats are all about story, context, intimacy, healing, restoration, friendship. It’s all about spending time away from it all and connecting with God, to discover the true heart he has given you as a man or woman and who he is as a Father.
We read scripture, tell personal stories, and watch movie and video clips… We try to link those 3 elements: scripture, personal stories, media. That’s my passion. I used to think I help men, but no, I walk alongside them as they journey with God. Doing that is the most beautiful thing I can do with my life – to be that conduit.
As the retreats started to grow in popularity, Michael recognised the need to expand his skills and deepen his own understanding. A short search of the Internet led him to Tabor and eventually to the Bachelor and now the Master of Counselling. Reflecting on his time at Tabor, Michael says:
What really stands out are the people – they’re all so respectful. The understanding nature of the lecturers is inspirational, in that they allow you to be.
Regarding the Counselling Program, Michael recalls:
It’s like an excavational dig into your own story! We had to choose a restorational project, so I chose to build a motorcycle. But we also had to incorporate a part of some relational restoration into the project. So I chose to do it with my dad. It was such a profound experience!
I remember taking Dad for coffee and a walk on the beach. We sat down on a bench and I told him: I wasn’t the son you wanted, just as you weren’t the father I needed. He told me how after we left Australia, he had stopped drinking. That conversation marked a transformational shift in our relationship and we became a lot closer. About a year ago, when Dad was dying, my son Josh and I prayed at Dad’s bedside and he accepted Christ before he died. It felt like we’d come full-circle.
Michael’s study at Tabor has helped him to understand how healing and restoration are possible. In a broken and increasingly uncertain world, what could be more important?
Now more than ever we need a Lord and Saviour who can bring restoration. Our retreats are about re-calibrating your faith. In these times it’s so hard being a Christian. We can hold to so many different opinions, but is that really what God says?
I love helping people, whatever that means. The passion for me is being on retreat – it’s the best time ever, being there praying, knowing there are others around the world praying. I see a broken man come in, break down, and then I see them singing! When you’re able to align your goals and your heart with God’s, it creates a beautiful environment where you can see God at work.
For more information about The Goal is Life ministry and retreats run by Michael and his wife, Landa, visit their website: www.thegoalislife.com
Opinions expressed by content contributors, interviewees and writers in articles do not necessarily represent the opinion of Tabor Institute of Higher Education.