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Childlike Faith & Saving Kids - An interview with Bob Goff


You’ve probably heard the phrase, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” Sure it sounds simple, but grabbing hold of that idea’s roots has revolutionized the way Bob Goff lives. He’s cracked a simple code for finding God’s direction for your life with his new book Love Does. How does God feel about (fill in the blank)? And what are you good at? Cool, now go.

So what exactly does love do? We caught up recently with Bob to ask just that…

Family Christian: Hey Bob, could you start by telling us a little about how you grew up?

Bob Goff: I was raised in California. If you read the book you’ll know that I slanted all [of my answers to] aptitude tests to make it absolutely clear that I was supposed to be a forest ranger because I wanted to live in the Redwoods and hang out. Then I went to the Redwoods and I saw where forest rangers live on cots, the neon lights and all that and how they give people tickets for parking in the wrong places (laughs) and I said, I’m out. So I moved to southern California (totally disenchanted) to just surf and went to San Diego State and had a terrific time. And it was in that whole process that I bumped into this outfit called Young Life and they do just a terrific job with high school kids. At the time that I first got acquainted with them I was in high school and it made all the difference for me.

FC: So how many redwood trees did you drive through?

Bob: (laughs)

FC: Ya know, because that’s a thing. Where you can veer off highway 101 and drive through a huge tree…? It’s like a side show or something…

Bob: Right, with a big paper mache Paul Bunyan or something? (laughs) Yes! I went to school at Humboldt State because I was going to be a forest ranger and I used to drive by that place all the time. So for all those years I drove by, I never stopped until just a couple of years ago. My son and his friend and I started in Mexico and we bought some Harleys and said, we’re going to drive all the way up to this place we have in Canada. And when we got up to northern California we actually drove through that stupid tree. (laughs)

FC: Good for you. I grew up in Oregon and actually had a similar experience. My dad decided to lasso all of us together, threw us in a van and we all drove down to Southern California to Disneyland.

Bob: Oh! My favorite place in the whole world! How was your trip?

FC: Oh, it was great – but it was many years ago…

Bob: Isn’t it a great place? Actually a pastor from Uganda came a couple of days ago, and I think he was thinking we’d meet in a boardroom and wear suits and ties and everything. And I said, “do you want to go to my office?” And he said, “Yes.” So I put him in the car (laughs) and we drove to Disneyland because my office is on Tom Sawyer Island. It just is. I mean, Disneyland doesn’t think it’s mine, but I think it’s mine. So we met out there. It was terrific!

FC: Bob, so tell us about your transition from Young Life to Restore International. When was it that you saw, perhaps, a greater need going on around you?

Bob: I really kinda backed into it because every outfit that I wanted to work for, Young Life, World Vision, International Justice Mission, it seemed like everybody didn’t want me to work for them. (laughs) I got out of college, and I’d raised all my support so I asked Young Life if I could go on staff and they said no. And I thought “rats!” (laughs) I knew it wasn’t because they couldn’t afford me because it wasn’t going to cost them anything, and then I went to these other outfits – really doing terrific things all over the world, and because no one would have me I just felt like – I’m going to make a difference and I’m not going to be head-faked by all of these inexplicable no’s. I’m just going to pick something and do it. It’s like picking a fight. You don’t want to pick a fight with just the guy at the deli, [you want to] pick a fight somewhere in the world and just run towards it. Run because the fight is going to go on without you if you miss it. So that’s where Restore International was born. It was born out of a desire to make a difference. A lot of people see things like this as “open doors” or “closed doors” and I don’t really see Jesus that way. I see these doors [as situations where] you sometimes have to find another way in. So we started Restore International and started chasing bad guys in India using India’s laws to prosecute them and we ended up in Uganda shortly after that (probably ten years ago) and started making differences there.

FC: I’m thinking about all of these organizations saying no to you. What would you say to a person who is in similar shoes? What does a person do when they’re in a world of no’s and they’re beating their head against the wall because they thought they were pursuing things they thought God was calling them to?

Bob: I think that is such a common feeling – I’ve sure had that as well. But I just decided I’m done spending my life doing the things that I’m able to do. Because (like a lot of people) I’m able to do a whole bunch of things. And so [why not] try to tease out what it is I’m made to do? And then to do a bunch of that. So we go to organizations (and there’s nothing wrong with organizations, they’re terrific) but Jesus didn’t have one. He said, let’s just go do stuff. Love God. Love people. And do stuff. That’s my punch list everyday. (laughs) Ya know, somebody says, what’s on your to-do list? And I tell them the same thing, Love God. Love people. Do stuff.

So when you identify with an organization and you want to do stuff [but] you get this inexplicable ‘no’ – a lot of people get off the end and think, Well, God must have said no to me. No! The organization just said no to you. Find what it is that you were made to do and get on it! Go do what you were made to do. So for me, I knew that justice was something that has always been a big part of my life. And I know that Jesus is nuts about kids. He doesn’t seem to think much of lawyers (laughs) which really lands close to home, but He’s nuts about kids and loves justice. So I said, why don’t we go do that? And do a lot of it? And if you get a no from somebody, don’t say, ‘I’m going to take this as some big cosmic signal.’ No, you just got a no, deal with it. Just go to the next step. I never know what all of the steps are but I do know the next step. So the next step for me was to engage a country (just pick one, there’s nothing mystical about it, just pick a fight), and then run towards it. What’s the next step? Buy a ticket to Uganda. What’s the next step? Find a judge. Where do you do that? The courthouse. Ya know, the next thing you know you’re sitting in the office of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I know that’s nuts, but I think Jesus does that to blow our minds. He doesn’t want us to think that we’ve got all of these plans laid out. I love that Jeremiah passage [when God says] – the plans I’ve got are good. And I keep doing my plans. The problem with my plans is that all my plans work and I get these puny little returns that go with my plans, but when you do this cannonball – did you do a cannonball when you were a kid? Where you just grab your knees and jump in? I love that! So when I think of faith, I’m thinking of a cannonball. You pick a fight – wherever it is, in the Congo or down the street from you and you run toward that. I love that scripture in Joshua of him headed toward the fight and he meets this big angel with the sword drawn, and I think Joshua had some lawyer in him because he said, ‘whose side are you on?’ And the angel said ‘neither, take off your shoes.’ I love that! So like, instead of picking sides on this thing, keep picking Jesus and keep running toward the fight.

So that’s a long way around the bush but I just decided I wasn’t going to get head-faked by an inexplicable no and I just did the next thing, which was doing justice things in Uganda. From there we ended up trying cases. I bought the entire Ugandan law library – both books. (laughs) And I just tried cases, and people were like – were you invited? And I said, ‘no, but as followers of Jesus we’re invited to everything!’ (laughs) It doesn’t seem polite but I’m telling you, you could show up at my house for dinner, man, you’re invited. And I think Jesus is saying that about all these fights out there – you’re invited. Bring your hook shot; bring what you’re good at. I’m good at law stuff, so bring that. So when we tried the first hundred cases of kids [who were] stuck in jails without a trial, we dropped off 98 at home, with all of the charges resolved. And I go, Man! I don’t need to have a memo from God on that. I know God loves them and justice, and then there’s this idea that you and I can be part of that…? Ya-hoo.

FC: So whose responsibility is justice? Is it the state’s or the church’s?

Bob: I’d say it’s all of the above. We each are stakeholders. It’s government and the various people in positions of power – they have a responsibility. But I think of the church as this bride of Christ, who is incredibly capable of doing amazing things. And so where we see injustice, we come, not with fists clenched but with palms up. And we say, what’s the next thing we can do? And the stuff we do is the stuff we were made to do. I know that sounds so circular, but for you, what you were made to do, is different than what I was made to do. But instead of spending all of our time having Bible studies about what we were made to do, go do stuff and you’ll figure out what you were made to do, because you’ll be great at some things and you’ll be terrible at others. And I say, do less of what you’re terrible at and more of what you’re good at. I don’t know if that sounds too simple, but it’s been working for me.

FC: No, I don’t think that sounds simple at all. I think it actually sounds quite profound. It seems that sometimes we can over complicate our value system so much it almost prevents us from doing anything good.

Bob: Yeah, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for getting together with men and women in small groups around Scripture and letting it just wash over us, but for me, I’ve been meeting with the same ten guys for like 15 years now, but we don’t have a Bible study every Friday, we have a Bible doing. We say, let’s not just agree with Jesus about this stuff, let’s do something – so what’s the next step? You know those [studies] where you’re reading about Lazarus and he’s raised from the dead and they say well, dead in Greek means this, and dead in Hebrew means this, and dead in Aramaic is…? And then the compelling question is “when was the last time you were dead?” (laughs) and I’m thinking like NOW. (laughs) And what I want to say is, let’s go do something! Let’s either head to the morgue or let’s pick the next thing to read that we’re actually going to do something with because Jesus never got all of the disciples together and said, guys I just want you to agree with Me. So I mean, I get it, Jesus won’t think we’re swell if we do a bunch of stuff, He already thinks we’re swell. He’s just nuts about us, our pictures are in His wallet. So now that we’re done with that can we just go do whatever the next thing is… So for some person, doing stuff with the court systems and justice, that would be a train wreck, it would be the worst thing they could ever do because it isn’t what they’re made to do. They’d be able to do it, but it wouldn’t be what they were made to do.

[What if the] body of Christ said, “What are you good at?” And people responded, “Well, I’m good at this”, and we said, “Ok, are you doing a lot of that?” “Well not really,” so ok, “Why don’t you do some more?” It probably wouldn’t feel so complicated. And don’t ask guys like me, ask my wife “What is it that Bob’s good at? And what does he stink at?” And she’ll know. I would say to all men, listen to your brides! The stuff that they’re saying is really good. These are words of truth to you. Maria Goff and I have been married for 26 years, 1 month and 23 days, I kid you not, I’m counting. I spent so much time trying to get that girl to like me that I’m going to count every single day. (laughs) And you know what she’s been telling me the whole time? Bob, work the plan. She never tells me what the plan is, but I know what she means when she says that. It means like all this stuff that Scripture says you’re supposed to be about? Do that! Ya know that stuff you were made to do? Do that. And this stuff over here on the other side that you kinda stink at, or it kinda feeds your pride – not that. So it’s really been terrific. I’m so glad she got dropped into my life and tells me to ‘work the plan.’ I think that’s really a beautiful way of viewing the Christian faith. Jesus is saying work the plan. You want to know what the plan is? Read what I wrote about it and then go do it. Then overlay it with the stuff you’re good at and do less of what you stink at. And as to your pride and selfishness, try to arrest that. As to compassion, try to enhance it. And that, that’s the plan.

FC: Before we talk about your new book Love Does, we’re curious what you think about the church here in the United States. Are we in a healthy state?

Bob: Oh I’m nuts about the church. Have you ever gone to a wedding and brought a card with you that says “7.5” like the Olympics? (laughs) And as the bride passes by you say, Oh, I’ve seen better…? Not at all! We’re the bride of Christ, and what makes the bride look so great, at least at the weddings I’ve gone to is, not only is she dressed up nice, but the groom – you just sense his anticipation. He knows everything about her and he picked her and he said, I’m in. So when I think about the church, I’m just nuts about her. She’s looking good, she’s got this Groom that’s just crazy about her. Does the church have all kinds of problems? You bet, because it’s made up of people like me, so I get that part too. But all I need to know about the church is that Jesus picked her. Wouldn’t that be lame if you were trying to talk me into what a swell gal your wife was? I mean, all the information I need to know is, you’re married. With that comes all the information I need – that she must have taken you by storm. You must have given up everything. I bet you would have given up food if she would have gone on a date with you. Like that kind of thing, that’s all the information I need to know about the church, Jesus picked it. And so instead of me telling the church how she would really look better if she had this in her hair, or that over there (and I’m not just being shallow here), I think I’m just respecting the Groom’s pick. The bride is going to do great things, and has the ability to. I think one of the times the bride looks great is if she is just trigger-locked on the groom. Wouldn’t it be weird if the bride was just looking to the right and the left the whole time she was just walking down the aisle? Distracted by this and that? What if a bride came down the aisle reading a list of all of her opinions? “This is my opinion about this…” wouldn’t that be a screwed up wedding? I mean, really?! (laughs)

So one thing I do is (and I realize this might sound nuts), every month or so, I try to take like an Etch-a-sketch [so to speak], and I clear my faith. I go to zero, clear the deck. And I start adding things back to my faith, one at a time. What would be the first thing I’d add back? Jesus. It sounds a little bit like a Sunday school answer, but that’s what I do. Then what’s the next thing? And I’d say, well, loving people. And then the next… and what’s crazy about it, (just try it yourself) what would be like the seventh thing you’d add back to your faith? I bet you won’t get there. I think you’re really going to have a hard time even getting back to seven things. And we start sometimes talking about number 80! Like, this opinion about this, or that. If the bride is looking to other things, we’re [essentially] talking about number 80. I want to say, just as an illustration – what’s number 7? Because I think if I can get number 1 and number 2 right, and then number 3 and 4, those will instruct what my number 5 and 6 are – and I’ll probably never get to 80. But if I do, it will probably be so instructed by those other numbers that then it’s just trigger-locked on Jesus. Just eyes focused on Jesus.

FC: Bob, what was your goal in releasing Love Does: discover a secretly incredible life in an ordinary world?

Bob: Oh it’s a terrific caper. Thomas Nelson asked if I would write a book and I said, “Oh I don’t know, would you build a school?” (laughs) And they said, “How big’s the school?” and I said, “260 kids and 40 teachers in Gulu, Northern Uganda.” Many of these kids are child soldiers and they said “Wow, big school!” And I said, “I don’t know, big book!” And so we did it! It was everybody together, Donald Miller, Thomas Nelson, me and everybody just said, let’s go build this school, and it’s built! You can build a school out of a bunch of pages of paper. That’s amazing to me.

FC: And is that what Restore Leadership Academy is?

Bob: Yes! Isn’t that great?! And get this, they’re the number one school now in all of Northern Uganda. We’ve sold a couple more books than we thought and this thing hit the New York Times [bestseller’s list] a couple of times and we’ve got seven more buildings underway right now. We’ve got a library with 5,000 books in it, already. It’s the first one in Northern Uganda. It’s nuts! So, that’s what we set out to do. We said, what if there’s nothing on the other side of the equals signs? Just Jesus. We don’t even really tell anybody until the last page of the book, and then it’s hey, do you know what you guys did? All of the proceeds of this thing go to help these terrific kids.

FC: We won’t tell anybody either… well, not until the end of this interview.

Bob: (laughs) Ahhhh! Terrific!

FC: Bob, at the end of your life, what do you want people to remember you for?

Bob: (laughs) Well, we had all of these pets growing up – did you do this as a kid? Ya know, the rabbit would die or a squirrel or a canary. Well, I never wanted to tell the kids that their pet died, so we’d always say, “it got away.” (laughs) Isn’t that crazy?! They’d say, well, dad, where’s the bunny? And I’d say, well, it got away.

Actually one time I was too chicken to say it… We had this long-eared rabbit called Ben, so I found a replacement rabbit and I put it in the cage and everything because Ben “got away.” But it was a little bit bigger and the spots were in different places (laughs) and when they got home they said, “Where’s Ben?” And I said, “This is Ben” and they said, “Dad this is NOT Ben.” So we named him Bennigan. (laughs) So I’m flaking on your what’s-on-your-tombstone thing… I hope it just says “He got away.” (laughs) I know that’s what the kids will put. But I hope that I leave a legacy of capers and mischief and joy. And there’s a difference between a caper and a prank. A prank is like playing Ding-Dong-Ditch, you know, you ring the doorbell and then run and hide in the ditch. That’s a prank. It has no shelf life, like reassembling the principal’s car up on the roof of the gym. It’s cute and everything but there’s no shelf-life, and it can actually be kind of destructive. But a caper is different. It’s something where everybody has made it in. so I hope that I can leave a legacy of capers. We have a thing around the Goff house. The first one to make dad cry around Christmas, they’re the big winners. And all I want are photographs of the kids. And so anything flat… if the kids pick up something flat and start walking toward me – I just start crying because I know it’s going to be a picture of them. (laughs) It could be the Beatles White Album, but if I thought it was a picture of them, I’d start to cry. So the kids this past year put together a book of all the capers we’ve done in the last 15-20 years and there’s a lot. It was a pretty thick book, and so I’m just weeping, turning the pages from one caper to the next. And at the end of this book there was an envelope with three letters in it. They were letters that the kids had written to the children that they don’t have yet. They’re not even going out on dates yet (laughs) but they wrote their [future] kids. And so to read this letter from my son Adam to his kids talking about a life filled with whimsy, filled with joy, filled with adventure that he’s looking forward to, and then to see at the bottom of the letter signed, “your dad, Adam…” that just took me out. That’s what I want to leave behind. That kind of legacy where the kids are already plotting and planning for their kids, and I think that’s what the church did. They had all these hopes for us early on. They said this is who we could be. This is this big God that we follow. They were hoping, they were just rooting for us. That’s that ‘great cloud of witnesses.’ Rooting for us, hoping we’ll live into the people that God meant for us to be. The people that God made us to be. Not just [who we’re] able to be.

FC: Are you a book reader?

Bob: I am! I tell you, every time I read a book now though I think, here’s a guy or gal who did their job. (laughs) They finished the book! It took me so long to do it. Sometimes with reading it’s hard to make the time. I think Don Miller’s probably one of my favorite authors of all time because he just writes with his heart. He’s just a good guy. I’ve learned a lot about love and friendship from how he lives his life.

FC: How about music?

Bob: Oh, probably Brandon Heath is one of my closest friends and he’s releasing a single called, get this, “Love Does.” Isn’t that fun? He totally mugged me. Like he played the song for me, and I’m crying and he’s like “Bob I put this on the album, I hope you don’t mind.” And I’m like what? And he played the song and I’m like NO! (laughs)

And to learn more about Bob’s ministry around the world – visit Restore International.

Love Does

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