Faith Moves Mountains with Pastor Luise Berry
Luise Berry is my women's ministry pastor at The Vine Church in Hong Kong. I joined women's ministry during a season where my heart was extra tender, and have experienced God's love in so many ways through her, the women's ministry core team, and the other sisters. Recently, Pastor Luise announced she and her husband would be following God's call to Portugal... and I, as I was about to move to a new country as well, had a number of questions for her! How did God speak to Pastor Luise (a Brit) about serving in Asia? How did she go from teaching to ministry? Why did she hesitate when God spoke to her about leaving Hong Kong for Portugal? Why Portugal? What will she be doing there? Should we make a big country move if we don't know exactly what we'll be doing when we get there? If you're going through a season of change and wanting some encouragement that faith in God moves mountains (Matthew 17:20), I pray this episode encourages you.
Watch on YouTube or listen via Spotify or Apple Podcasts. Keep up with the latest updates by following You Are You Podcast on Instagram! For those that like reading interviews, below is a condensed/edited transcript.
Good morning, Pastor Luise. Thank you for being with us today.
My pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.
So I just am so grateful to have gotten to know you first through women's ministry but then as you have shared a little bit more about your upcoming God-given dream and move because it's very similar to what I'm going through. And I had all these questions to wrestle with God about. But before we dig into that, I was wondering if you could maybe start us off by telling us a little bit about yourself. You’re British, but then you felt God gave you a dream for Asia. And then you've been here for the last… over 15 years?
That's right. So when I was 12, I read Jackie Pullinger’s book Chasing the Dragon and to be honest, it terrified me. God said to me “Luise, one day you will serve me in Asia.” And I was really scared by that because I didn't really want to work with drug addicts because I found them very scary at 12.
So I forgot all about that and then fast forward 20 years and I was married to my husband, Graham, and his company asked us to move to Hong Kong. We needed to pray about it. And I did, and I felt that God was confirming it in different ways. We talked with family, we talked with friends, and obviously I prayed and God then gave me what I felt was confirmation because I was a teacher at the time and I was supposed to give a year's notice with my contract but there was a typo in my contract. There it said only one term’s notice. And so I felt that was God saying “Yes, I do want you to move to Hong Kong.” So I gave in my notice and we moved to Hong Kong in January. And if God hadn't told me to resign then we wouldn't have been ready.
Then it was only when Jackie came to preach at The Vine many, many years later — once we'd moved — that I remembered God had told me that I would serve him in Hong Kong. God had not forgotten, even though I had.
So you are my women's pastor, but you also lead the Chinese ministry, the Filipino ministry, the men's ministry, missions, refugee and asylum seekers along with community groups. I think that’s quite rare?
Over the years, I have been involved with all the other areas you mentioned, but currently I am only overseeing Tribe (women’s ministry) and the Filipino ministry.
So sorry! I was just reading your bio on The Vine’s website.
But even having experience in so many different areas, when you joined The Vine and followed God’s leading to serve in Hong Kong, did you have a specific vision of which area, or was it something that grew over time as you continued to obey him?
Hmm. Yes. That's a really interesting question because when I started at The Vine, I really didn't know what God was asking me to do. I just knew he was asking me to get involved. When I was in England, I went to a church in Wimbledon, where the tennis is, and my friend Sue had been saying, “I really think you should get involved with women's ministry.” And I had done everything I could to not be involved with women's ministry.
During my first year at The Vine, I became very involved with women's ministry. And so when I went back to England for our first trip back to see everybody, I told Sue and she spent a long time laughing at me when I confessed that I had been very involved in women's ministry as she had been trying to encourage me. So she got the memo from God but I didn't. And that's why it's really important to have friends who can lead you and guide you. And it's important to listen to your friends as well.
My mom mentioned to me, now that I've become a little bit more involved with women's ministry in various ways, more online. But my mom said “Oh, do you remember this conversation that we had maybe five years ago where I told you that you should.” And I said, “Oh, what was my response? I don't remember that at all.” And she said, “You basically just said, ‘No!’” It's so true. God doesn't forget and God is patient. But was there a reason for you, why you initially didn't want to do women's ministry?
I don't think there was necessarily a concrete reason, but I was already very involved with pastoral care and I was already very involved with the worship team and I was teaching full time and I was married and I just didn't feel that I had the capacity to do all of that and then do women's ministry too.
That’s very relatable. Even when we feel that God has given us a mission, sometimes it's quite difficult to pursue it wholeheartedly. We want to but there are other things that God has also placed in our lives and then seeking him on that balance, I think is quite important and a skill. Do you have any advice on that?
I think knowing what God's asking you to do in the current season of your life is important because when you know that you are able to say yes to things but you are also able to say no to things and know why you're saying no. And that gives you that confidence to say, “Thank you for that opportunity. I'm sorry, I don't have time at the moment.” Or “I don't feel I'm the best person for that. Maybe you could talk to..” and then give them someone else that they might be able to talk to. I think it's important to try and do what God's asking you to do and just focus on that.
That’s really wise. When you started sharing about your upcoming move, you also mentioned that you had assumed maybe that you were going to be in Hong Kong for another 20 years. You love it here. Moving was like a “one day” plan. Like “Yes, I'll do it, but I love my life right now.” Could you talk us through how that journey was with God — going from your inner God dream and how he was changing your heart to be open to something new?
I have to confess that when God first said to me about it, I was like “LA LA LA LA. I'm not listening. I don't want to listen.” A little bit like my response to him asking me to serve in Hong Kong, when I was 12. So Graham and I had been talking about when we would leave Hong Kong and I had been thinking, you know, that would be in 20 years. We'd been talking about whether we would go back to England, because that's where we are both from or where else we would go.
And we talked about Canada because my grandfather's Canadian. We talked about Malaysia. We talked about Australia. We talked about New Zealand. And we talked about Portugal because we both enjoyed it when we'd been there before. And to me, Portugal was bottom of the list but we talked more and discerned more. And so we decided that Portugal would be the place that we would relocate to. But again, I was still thinking in years, not months.
Then during a sermon, Pastor Promise preached about Caleb following God wholeheartedly. God did a heart stopping moment for me and he said “Would you follow me wholeheartedly to Portugal if I led you there?” And that was the point I was like “No, not all.” And then later on, I thought “I'm gonna have to talk to God about this.” And so I did, and he said, “Luise, do not make The Vine an idol.” And I realized that I was very much in danger of doing that because of course, an idol is something that takes God off top spot.
And because I love Hong Kong so much, because I love The Vine so much, it would've been very easy for me to kid myself. “Yes, I'm doing what God wants me to do because I'm a pastor and I'm serving him at The Vine. So of course he wants me here.” But because he'd used my name at the beginning, “Luise, do not make The Vine an idol,” I knew he was really, really serious. So I felt “Right. Okay. This is not my timetable. God's moved this timetable up.” Graham was delighted because he was ready to leave Hong Kong, but I wasn't. And so over the last year, because it's taken time to do all the paperwork and get the visa application in, it’s given me time to get ready.
My friend Fiona said, “Oh, it sounds as though you are grieving as you are leaving.” And I have been grieving over the last year, you know? And so I'm hoping that when I get on that plane, I will be going wholeheartedly because I will be ready to leave Hong Kong and the amazing community of believers that we have here at The Vine. It's a very special place and God is doing incredible things here. (Note from Jenni: I wholeheartedly relate and agree!)
As you were speaking, I was thinking about learning to hear from God and discerning his voice to the point where like you're willing to obey wholeheartedly. Could you maybe walk us through how you first learned to hear from God and how that has matured as you have grown in your journey?
Yes. I think that is a lifelong journey, Jenni. I'm 51 now and I am still learning. I think when I was little, I relied very much on my Sunday school teachers and what they taught. And what it said in the Bible. That was very much my kind of understanding of God and what he wanted me to do.
Then I met Holy Spirit probably when I was about 12. And then he started speaking to me more in words. And then through the rest of my life, there've been different things. I call them “Godincidences.” Some people call them coincidences, but I call them Godincidences. So for example, I was waiting to know when to get involved with The Vine and a postcard came under our door, which is very unusual in Hong Kong because we have post boxes in the ground floor of our apartment buildings. And it said “Delay no more.” I felt that that was God saying “It's time for you to get involved.”
Or I might hear things three times. You know, someone mentions it in a conversation and then I read it in my devotional and then I hear it in a sermon. So I think, “Oh God is engineering things” because sometimes I'm a bit slow to hear him and realize he's talking to me. So he's very kind because he kind of says, “Hello, hello. Yeah, I'm leading.” Other ways… he's used maybe a song on the radio or an advert on a billboard that can take my attention and I think “Oh yes, that’s something I should be doing.”
But then the other thing, which is probably less easy to define, is when you just know in your knower. You know in your heart that God is asking you to do something. So that was the Portugal thing. I just know deep down that that is where God is asking me to do what to go and what he's asking me to do. And that's much less, easy to define. But I have found that when I've made decisions or when I know in my knower that it is right with God, I have peace. Even though people might be saying “You're gonna do what?!” I still know in my knower and I still have that peace, that that is what God is asking me to do.
Obviously I talk with family. I talk with friends. I have one special friend, Julie — she's my accountability partner. She tells me off if I need telling off. She tells me if I'm not thinking about things right or if my thinking's got a bit wonky. So she's probably my go-to final discerner with big decisions. I'm not talking about what I wear in the day but big life changing decisions. I will discern with Julie as well.
Over the years, there have been different things. And sometimes someone will ask me to do something and I'm able to kind of just check in with God and if I feel peace then yeah I will say yes, but sometimes if I'm not quite sure I'll say, “Let me get back to you on that” or “Let me check my diary” because I may not actually know if I'm free or not. You know, just very practical things as well. And if it lines up with God's word, then yes. If it doesn't line up with God's word, then no, I'm not going to do it. That's a very basic one that started in Sunday school but it's still at 51, it's still a very good baseline thing.
I love when you shared about your relationship with Julie and in this past Sunday’s sermon as well because I think a lot of times, people want accountability. Sometimes I get messages if I share about my community group or mentor and a lot believers might want a spiritual accountability friend but are not sure where to start. Do you just ask somebody — how exactly do you get one and build that trust? Should they be older? Should you have an older mentor and peer? There are so many different questions and I was wondering if you could give some advice on that?
Yes, absolutely. I have a little thing. So many people say ASAP to mean “as soon as possible” but my thing for that is “always stop and pray.”
I love that.
I think it's a good thing to have in the back of your head. I would say if you realize that you need a mentor or you need a spiritual friend, or you need an accountability partner, or you need all the same thing, ask God. God created you. And only you can be you. He gave you your gifts. He gave you your talents. He gave you your character. So he knows the perfect person to be your mentor or your accountability partner or your spiritual friend or all in one. So ask him who he wants for you. In that way. And that's exactly how I found Julie.
Pastor Tony preached about having a spiritual friend. He called them a prayer partner. And so I thought, “Oh yes, I should have one of those.” And so I asked God, and God said, “Julie.” Now I love Julie. But Julie was probably not the person that I would've thought would've been the right person. We come from very different backgrounds. We're about the same age. And we had very different life experiences, but it's because of those things that we work so well together. We are very different characters. We approach things in very different ways. Whereas in England, Deb and I were best friends and Deb still tells me off when I need it, but we were very, very alike. People were always mistaking us for sisters and we have very similar backgrounds. So it's interesting how God brings different people in your life at different seasons because they are who you need. So yeah, not very scientific. But I would always say always stop and pray and ask God who it is because he will lead you and he will guide you.
And it could be someone you haven't met yet. It could be that you are going to meet them in the next couple of weeks and you will just know in your knower that this is the person. And you know, speak to them. Most of the time, people are really flattered to be asked and don't be disappointed if they say “I need to think about this” because if they need to think about it or they need to pray about it, that's actually a good sign that they're gonna take this really seriously. And if they are going to stop and pray, that's very encouraging because you know that it will be a spirit-led, God-led, God-breathed relationship. So be encouraged by that. And if they say no, ask God for someone else.
The current series that we're doing in women's ministry is all about finding your people, the Jennie Allen series. And one of the things that I struggle with is, um, this is gonna sound very honest, but nurturing my relationships enough. Life can be really busy, we can have a lot of things going on, but when God brings friendships and mentor relationships, I'm praying and trying to learn more and more about how to nurture them. Do you have advice on how to nurture your relationships?
I think be really intentional and be really available. I have time built into my diary for the people that I am being really intentional in nurturing a relationship with. If they WhatsApp me, I will answer it very quickly.
I think it's important to tell people that you appreciate them and tell people what you appreciate about them. Be very transparent, be very open. And if you're having a bad day, tell them, ask them to pray for you. Because if trust builds trust. Often if you trust someone with something, they will then trust you with something. And then that trust is built and built and built. And so you become closer now. I know that's scary and I know it's daunting to take that first step but I think they're the things that are important to nurture that relationship and nurture that friendship time.
Time is so important. You don't have to do anything fantastic. You can go and have a coffee. You could go for a walk. You might like to read a book together. That's been very useful for me to develop a friendship with someone, Because again, we often come at it from two different viewpoints and I love it when that happens because then I don't get stuck in my “Luise world.” I then am able to see something from someone else's point of view and I think “That's really good way of doing that.” Eating together food is always fantastic. We live in Hong Kong, right? So yeah, all of those things I think are really important.
Speaking well and encouraging if you are an encourager. I think that's an important way to build a friendship as well.
What about when let's say our parents or our best friend or our boss, what if they are not believers and we're trying to follow our God-given dream. And we believe we know in our knower that this is what God is saying. We don't want to disobey God, but we want to carefully manage the pressures. Do you have any guidance on this?
God asked us to honor our parents and honoring looks different for each one of us. So neither of my parents are believers yet. So I can't say to them, “God's calling me to Portugal” because they won't understand. But I have tried to explain, you know, “We don't feel it's right to come back to England, but we do feel it's right to come to Portugal and we'll be closer to you.” I've always tried to answer all their questions. They're both disappointed by us not coming back to England and I've said “I'm sorry you’re disappointed it's not England. But this is where I feel we should be.” And they kind of understand that. That was my way of honoring them. I feel God is asking us to go to Portugal so I need to obey that because obedience is God's love language. So we need to go to Portugal, but I also want to honor them and their feelings and their thoughts and their grief in a way as well.
My pre-believing friends, they understand and they get it and they think it's really exciting and they're looking forward to coming to stay with us. That wasn't as difficult, but we have had to have tough conversations with our parents and with our family. I hope we've done that in a positive way. And you know, their concerns, we have sat and we have thought about their concerns and we have circled back and said, “I know you are worried about this, but we've thought about it.” So that's how I've tried to honor my parents in this decision. Does that make sense?
Yeah, it does, knowing the context of your relationship and how they work and being sensitive to that. So maybe one last question if that’s OK. You mentioned on Sunday that you feel like God is leading you, like after being a pastor, to be a sheep in this next season. I think for me in my current change, one of my questions is like, “Okay, God, I feel like I've seen the next step and I have the dream. How do I go from here to there? I mean, I know I need to seek you and do it one step at a time, but it would be great if you gave me more guidance.” Could tell us a little bit about your journey?
Yes, sure. We weren't sure about where to be in Portugal. And so I said, “Where do you want us to be, Lord?” And he said, “I don't care. Just get to Portugal.” And I was like, “North South, East, West?” Nothing. So Graham and I talked and we decided we'd go to a town called Tavira which is on the south coast. It's the first big town in Portugal after you come across the Spanish border. And we decided to go there because we'd been there. I think we planned to be there for three days when we went on our holiday there and we ended up staying five because we liked it so much. I felt that that was a good sign and so did Graham. So that's where we've decided to start. And as I said, it's that peace. Have I got peace about that decision? You know, and I have complete peace that that's where we meant to be.
And then those Godincidences I was talking to you about. I have a very good friend called Fifi. She and I led a community group together for many, many years, and we had lunch and she said, “Oh my best friend from London moved to Portugal. I think it's that area. I'll find out.” And I was telling her about a church that I found as well, that I like the look of, but I'm still thinking about. And Fifi called me back in the afternoon and she said “It is that town and it is that church that my friend from London goes to!” So again, I feel as though that's a signpost. I don't know if that's actually the church that I will go to in the end. I don't know if that's God just having a bit of a laugh at my expense or if that is where he wants me to be, but I will find that out.
But I certainly expect to spend the first three months or so just spending a lot of time with God, not getting too involved with the church, reading Psalm 23 a lot and letting it really soak deep. I'll journal about it. I'll pray about it. I'll really soak in that. I think there'll probably be a bit more grief, you know, the valley of the shadow of death. I think I will need to process a bit of grief in that time. So. Yeah, sorry, Jenni, I don't have any definite plans or anything. I just know that we need to get there and we need to just settle. And then I'm sure God will make ways and lead us and guide us to where we are meant to be.
I think that's wonderful because you know how when you testify honestly, you never know how it will hit somebody else. And I think what you've just said makes me feel really comfortable. Comfortable and comforted. It's exactly how I feel. I know I'm supposed to go. I know I'm taking the summer off. I know I'm gonna be grieving after I leave Hong Kong for various reasons. And that's okay. And to take that time, because I believe that that is my next step. Even if from a worldly perspective, it's like, “Don't you have this lined up and that” if we follow God, God will answer. He does lead us. And we can have that faith, even if we don't know yet, we've got enough to make the next steps and it's always walking in faith. We never get “This is your checklist for the month” even though sometimes I think that would be cool.
That would be really handy at times.
To close in our last couple of minutes, please could you pray for just everybody that might listen and the God dreams that he's placing in our hearts?
Sure. I'd love to.
Loving God. Thank you that you are a God who speaks to us today. Thank you that you are a God who is interested in every area of our lives. And Lord, I pray that you will help each one of us to come deeper with you into intimacy with you so that we know in our knowers where it is that you are leading us and guiding us and drawing us to. Holy Spirit, come and speak to us. Come and be with us. Help us to know your voice because you promise that your sheep will know your voice.
Lord, thank you that you gave us our gifts, our talents, and our characters, and you know us better than we know ourselves. Lead us to people that will support us, that will teach us. And Lord, lead us to people whom we can support. We can encourage, and we can teach from the things that we have learned so that we can be all that you have asked us to be.
Thank you, Lord, that you love us because you love us and you love us and you can never stop loving us. So in Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.
Amen. Thank you so much for being here, Pastor Luise, and for sharing your life and your testimony with us.
My pleasure. Thank you, Jenni.