Fuzz Kitto has one of the biggest beards in Christendom. It’s not the only remarkable thing about him. Three ‘conversion moments’ have shaped his ministry among churches and organisations – and given him an unusual view of the global Church
You may never have heard of Australian missiologist Fuzz Kitto, but hundreds of thousands of Christians worldwide have felt his influence. Working as a ministry consultant in diverse contexts from Egypt to Korea, via the US and UK, he has a uniquely global perspective on the church. A regular speaker at events around the world, he is also one of the founders of the Black Stump festival in his homeland, a Christian arts festival that attracts over 20,000 each year.
Constantly on the move, his work ranges from shaping youth ministry in Alexandria, supporting reconciliation ministries in Gaza and helping to lead a Korean church. Behind the ministry, though, is a fascinating man on an equally intriguing journey, with informed yet controversial ideas on mission, unity and church.
I’ve been privileged to call Fuzz a friend for the last five years; we grab lunch together every time he makes one of his regular trips to the UK. Each time, I find him absorbing company because of the stories he has collected; because of his warmth and good humour; but most importantly because he lives so dramatically – throwing himself 100% into God’s heart for justice while somehow also remaining an evangelist, a cultural commentator and a minister in the Spirit. He is described best by his own mission statement, a man desperate to ‘spread rumours of hope’ in a hurting world.
Fuzz...it’s hard to start anywhere other than your name...
Well, yeah, my parents first named me, they’d only known me for a couple of days, so they called me something that was most unreal. Then when I reached puberty, Fuzz grew on me and everybody called me Fuzz. And so I figured there was a long biblical tradition of God changing names – Abram to Abraham, Simon to Peter, Saul to Paul, so I figured that this a great tradition, that they were named for who they were. I changed it by deed poll, so it’s actually my legal name.
What were you like before the beard started to grow? Were you always a free spirit?
I was born into a family that went to church. I started Sunday school at a very early age. I held the record at the Sunday school for the most attendance, right through my childhood years. It sometimes felt like Paul, you know, I was the Pharisee of Pharisees.
I remember one of the first times I got asked to give my testimony and, because I’d heard a few, I’d gathered an understanding of how you were supposed to do this. So I told the church there that before I was a Christian I was in the outlaw bike scene and very much into violence and drugs and sex and a decadent lifestyle. I was an anarchist, you know, just lived a horrific lifestyle. But then, when I was five years old, I gave it all up and gave my heart to Jesus.
Actually, I was five when I made my first response to God at a Billy Graham crusade. I was there with my parents and I remember tugging at their coat sleeves and going when Billy Graham said: ‘Come forward if you want to give your heart to Jesus.’ I do not remember another thing he said, but at the end, the idea, as a five-year-old, of giving your heart to Jesus was the most beautiful thing and I wanted to do it. It was such a shock to my parents that they went forward and gave their hearts to Jesus too. It revolutionised our family which brought us into conflict with the little, quite conservative church that we were a part of, and they eventually left it.
Now the interesting part is that so many people have this phenomenal faith story where they live these decadent lifestyles and hang out with gangs and so forth, and then they become a Christian, leave them and join a church. I did the opposite.
You are someone who operates beyond the Church as well as within it. So, was there a moment when you got switched back on to Church?
When I was a young man, a few of us started to believe that the institutional Church was not going to be around for much longer – that in five to ten years it would be completely dead. So we started having our own church. We wanted to get back to the early church, and it was the hippy era, so I started growing a beard and all those sorts of things. But, a wise old kook, came to me and said, ‘Fuzz, you need the Church and the Church needs you.’
I said: ‘I don’t know how you reason that.’
He said: ‘Well I think you’re looking for the perfect church.’
I said: ‘Well, we read the scriptures, we look at early church history. We see the institutional Church and we don’t see much similarity between them.’ And he repeated: ‘Fuzz, I think you’re looking for the perfect church.’ And then he said – and this was the clincher – ‘Fuzz, do you realise, if you ever find the perfect church and you join it, then it will no longer be perfect?’
I’d been under an illusion about what Church was. I thought, ‘These are the people who’ve got it together. These are the ones who are so Christ like.’ I hadn’t realised – particularly in the context of Australian white history: we were a prison camp to start with – that it’s almost like someone has put the key in the door and opened it, and they meant to. We’ve got no right to be free, but we are, and so the church is actually made up of a whole load of people that blow it and keep on blowing it, but know that they live under grace and forgiveness and know that therefore, they can work with others, live with others and share humanity. It’s not that they’ve got it exactly right, but they know where it is and they want to journey together towards it.
Donovan, the great Catholic missiologist, talked about his great ministry with the Massai people: after years of living with them, he got invited in to meet with some of the elders. They asked him a question – a great question: ‘Do you know your God?’ Now that’s a fantastic question. And Donovan was about to answer and he sensed the Holy Spirit saying, ‘Just tell them what you really think.’ And he said: ‘I don’t fully know my God, but if you and I travel together, we’re probably both going to know my God.’ And the elders said: ‘We will go with you on this journey.’
When he came back to the States, he said to the Church there: ‘Do not take young people back to where they’ve come from. Neither take them to where you are, as beautiful as that might be. But risk the way of Jesus, to both go into the new place where God is calling you.’ That’s my understanding of Church and of working in church. So I fell in love with the Church, institutional and independent. I work across the board from Orthodox, Catholic, Church of England, Anglican, Reform, Lutheran, Protestant, Pentecostal and Independent and emerging and because I love all of them. I actually see God in all of them, working in different ways.
You’ve talked about two conversions, your conversion to Christ as a boy and then your ‘conversion’ to the Church. Was there a third?
The third one was that I fell in love with people. When I started in ministry, we ran a Christian community house and we had young people off the streets living with us; young people who were kicked out of home. As they came to live with us, all of a sudden I think I was converted in the heart, to God’s heart, which is for the poor and the disadvantaged, for those who are struggling, for those who are trying to work out what life’s all about. You know, we had young people with schizophrenia living with us; kids who had been abused sexually and physically. I began to see just how important people are to God, and how it seems the more disenfranchised, the poorer they are, the more God’s heart goes out to them.
We see that throughout scriptures; we see that through Jesus; we see that through the prophets. It just continually comes through. My best friend, who I’m married to, put together the Poverty and Justice Bible with World Vision and The Bible Society in Australia and when you look at it [passages about justice are shaded], you see that so much of the scriptures are about poverty and justice, about God’s heart being for those. And I think that was my third conversion. I continually have conversions because I think that the Christian journey is about God growing you in generosity – towards God, towards others, towards yourself.
One of the expressions of that in your life has been having a home which is open to others...
It’s what Jesus talks about. I believe that we were created to be in community. I really think that this ‘nuclear family’ is not a biblical concept. Household and extended family and village and community are what the Bible talks about. So what we’ve tried to do is to live that. So we have 92 people around the world who are ‘key holders’. Well, we call them key holders, but we’ve actually got a digital pad because it was costing too much to replace keys and send them around the world. You type the sign of the cross on the keypad to get in the house, so everyone blesses the house when they come in. These people can come and stay at any point, refer anyone else to come and stay with us and have a meal with us, or refer anybody else for a meal.
We try to live out ‘Christian household’ and believe that as God has given to us generously, so we are responsible to also offer generosity to others.
I ran into you recently at Soul Survivor, the big UK charismatic youth festival. A couple of days after that you went off to Greenbelt. You’re someone who sits entirely comfortably in the context of both of these quite diverse events. What do you put that down to?
I find myself in a huge amount of diverse places in terms of the theological spectrum. So, on the one hand I do stuff with the Evangelical Alliance, but I also work with the World Council of Churches, and also with the Catholic Church and Pentecostal churches. I think a lot of people really believe that it’s all about what you believe. I don’t believe it’s about what you believe – I believe it’s about God. I see God in all those places, expressed in different ways. I’m co-chair of the board, with my best friend who I’m married to, of Soul Survivor in Australia. But also I’ve helped run the Black Stump Festival for 20 years, which is another evangelical, radical kind of gathering. I’ve been coming to Greenbelt since about 1980 – I think I must have been about three at the time – but I just love all of them because I see God working through all of them. All of those have incredible strengths. The big thing is to work out what the gift is that God has given them and work towards that gift.
Because, when you love people, it actually doesn’t matter what they believe, it’s what you believe about them in God that’s the important part. I think a generosity of spirit allows you to understand how God might be working, and to look for what God is doing among each of these people.
You’re very positive. Yet with all the travelling you do into areas where injustice is prevalent, do you sometimes find yourself upset, struggling, wrestling with God?
It often starts off with tears. And out of the crying and hearing the cry of people, the response is: ‘God we know this is not what you want. How do we build this sacred ecosystem, the kingdom of God here in this place?’
There are a number of places I see so much hurt, so much injustice, so much that has gone on, people damaging people. I travel regularly to the Gaza strip to work with the Palestinian people, which is a great concern of mine. There it’s just absolute frustration, in the very heartland of biblical geography, to see the divides and the damage that’s done, the dehumanising things that are continually going on there.
It’s different in different places. But, most times, when people come up and tell me stories about what’s going on, I have tears in my eyes. And my next thought is, ‘This is just not right. What do we do next?’ Because I’m a strategist; because of this ministry of wanting to heal and make wholeness, the tears are often quickly dried by the ‘Ok, so what are we going to do about this?’
Have you ever gone further than that – had one of those moments when you think about packing it all in?
The only time is when I’ve had to fight church politics. They’re the only times I’ve ever wondered. And it’s never about getting out of ministry, it’s getting out of this ministry and not having to work with churches sometimes. They are the only times that I’ve ever thought: ‘I’ve got to get out of this ministry.’ Most of the other things drive me into ministry continuously because we’re change agents. The capacity that we have to change this world is what Jesus promised we could do. So therefore, we’ve got to do that. It’s how much do we trust God? How much do we trust this sacred ecosystem, this kingdom of God, that God brings in and says: ‘This is the best way’? How do we do this when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth like in heaven,’ – how do we not say: so how do we do this? From when I was very, very young that’s one of the blessings that God gave me and the great curses God gave me, which is that I look at a situation and cry and say: ‘So what are we going to do about it now?’
You try very hard to keep on top of global trends. What are a couple of the key things that we as the Church are going to have to get our heads around worldwide over the next few years?
One of the things that we did not expect with globalism, is a phenomenon I’m seeing around the world: the rise of localism. We’re starting to see a lot of movements, conferences etc – and Soul Survivor’s a classic – coming out of a church, rather than a big organisation. Holy Trinity Brompton would be another classic example of that. So it’s not a movement, agency or denomination, but rather a local church that is discovering something and sharing it with other local churches. So we see the local to local. We used to talk about ‘think global, act local’, but we’re now saying, ‘act global by thinking local’. So it’s the connection of local to local, which, because of the way our world has been made small, is now quite feasible.
Certainly that’s what’s happening in the aid and development area – churches are being connected to particular localities and projects. What they’re finding is that people, when they’re giving compassionately to mission and development opportunities, actually want to know the people they’re giving to – they want relationship out of this. They want a connection with it. Not just to give into a concept of helping others – they actually want relationship with the people that they are serving.
Finally, it would be fantastic to ask you about this tagline you use – you spread ‘rumours of hope’. That’s become a sort of definitive statement over your life. What does that mean for you?
I think Jesus spread rumours by telling stories. And rather than saying, ‘This is what happen so get on with it’, he enticed his listeners. He tickled their spirits; tickled their imaginations. What I see Jesus doing again and again in the Gospels is tickling people to the possibility of.
Paul is the same; that incredible story in Acts 17. He tickles the Athenians, he says: ‘Oh, you’re religious people, you’ve got idols to all these gods. You’ve even got an idol to an unknown god. Hey, I know the name of this god.’ He spreads this rumour of hope – he tickles their fascination.
So, I think there’s a spreading of hope, which leads to action, which leads to breaking into the kingdom of God. And then communities become rumours of hope. And people go, ‘Have you heard about...?’
FUZZ KITTO runs Spirited Consulting, an international agency working with churches, organisations and individuals in the areas of youth ministry, church planting and mission. As well as being a regular speaker and contributor to radio and print media at home and abroad, Fuzz ‘travels the world collecting stories, creating stories, and spreading rumours of hope.’