Mal Garvin: the Aussie preacher who founded a global movement

Mal Garvin

Mal Garvin 1941-2023

Mal Garvin was not expected to make it to Easter this year, but the founder of the global Fusion movement died this week after months of Facebook posts on calmly, joyfully facing death. He was an outstanding example of a man who, knowing how to die, was then being worthy of life. 

Many followed his last days played out on Facebook. A typical message from one of his “bonus days” which we have left intact: “When I first was told the nature of the growth,….and would be fortunate to make it to Easter… I wait to see,…will make it to Father’s Day it. Seemed at the time to be more than a little presumptuous…..what is the difference between faith and presumption….?it’s good to know that it’s not the strength of our faith…but the promises of the one we have faith in….ask and you will receive…that your joy be full, it’s amazing the power the collective fellowship…love and prayers….jer 29:7”

And the responses flowed in, thanking him for fellowship and mentoring from years, even decades ago.

Fusion, a youth movement “Helping young people find their place in the world,” was founded by   Garvin back in 1960 and has grown across the world. Others will remember Garvin’s “Breakthrough Generation” radio program, which was on air for 40 years – which can be listened to by searching “Break-Thru” on a podcast app. Together with YWAM and the Churches of Canberra, Garvin’s Fusion drew 50,000 to gather in Canberra when it was announced there would be no prayers at the launch of the New Parliament House – the Christians surrounded the new building and bathed it in prayer.

Mal Garvin’s greatest legacy might be the people he influenced directly, including the leaders of Fusion. Marty Wood’s A Willing Spirit was published during Garvin’s “bonus days” Here is a tribute from the book that hopefully he got to see.

“When I’m asked, “Where did you learn the skills you have in men- toring?” My answer is always the same, “I worked alongside Mal.” Mal not only taught the theory of mentoring; he showed me how it worked by mentoring me and inviting me to learn as I watched him mentor others. Mal invited and trusted me to work with him in a discipleship school.

“I recall the first time we met in 1985. We were sitting in his living room. He listened deeply as I shared my vision. Then he did

something I have never forgotten. He placed his hand on my knee and said, “Marty, you are one of us!”

“In that moment, I felt seen. My dream of a transformed Australia wasn’t strange to him. He’d been working on it for years. I’d found my tribe. I belonged. He’d encourage me to find my

expression of mentoring. He trusted me in caring pastorally for some of our workers.

“The greatest gift Mal gave was to introduce me to my spirit. I had a feeling of something within me. I’d been moved by my spirit but didn’t know what it really was. Mal helped me see beyond a feeling to discover a whole new reality within me. It was like my ears were stuffed. Mal helped unblock them. In hearing and under- standing my spirit, I connected more fully than I ever had with the Father. I recall thinking about my spirit; so you’re the one who’s been there all along.

“It changed me totally. It became the basis of my mentoring. I grew in listening and trusting it. I could hear the spirit of others and help them see it. I am thankful for this gift from Mal. We worked closely together and I got to see him up close. He would deal with issues head-on. “It’s better,” he’d say, “to take people on when you first encounter the challenges.” I never forgot that. I observed him caring for those who others could miss; little lambs. Somehow, he managed to find time for everyone.

“Mal was committed to the Kingdom. He gave everything for the transformation of Australia. He was an inspiring speaker. Yet I recall how, rather than talking to a thousand people who would clap him, he’d prefer speaking to three or four people who wanted to do all they could to transform their community. I’d watch as he’d rise above any swirling noise. Many wanted his time. Despite the demands on him he remained relaxed, managing his world. He lived life at another level … in kairos.

“I recall a friend saying of a talk Mal once gave. “That was the best talk I’ve ever heard. What did he say?” I watched him defusing challenging situations with humour. Whenever we’d run our com- munity festivals, I’d observe him dancing the Hokey Pokey as if for the first time. We invited him to preach at our wedding. Like Rod, he played a significant role in my life as a father figure.

“Mal was wise. I appreciated listening to the truths he’d share. They now have become part of my trade. I share them often with those I mentor and smile when I hear my mentees share them with others. He would say you don’t learn from your mistakes; you only learn from reflecting on them. It’s why I spend so much time asking questions; helping mentees see what is going on for them. He would tell us we know we are chosen when we discover how God won’t let us get away with anything. I see that in the lives of so many I am working alongside and in my life. Mal generously shared his wisdom.

“This wisdom overflowed into helping me understand what was going on within me. I had an active parent tape, noises from a replay of my past. He helped me to talk about it, then to see it. It was invaluable for my growth. His finding time to listen to me led to me trying to make myself available with mentees and those I work alongside.

“Mal invited us to move overseas to grow Fusion’s international work, beginning in the UK. He stood with us as we piloted a way through many challenging situations. Mal was incredibly gifted. He shared his gift with many others. Many of the truths I share here, I watched him living out. I was like a sponge, often taking notes. I wanted to learn and he was happy to teach me.

“He warned me there were times he could, and would disap- point me. He too had clay feet. I couldn’t imagine that at the time … but I was glad he was honest about his human frailty, because he was right; it happened. I had him on a pedestal. I learnt that you can only have authentic fellowship when you can move beyond pedestals. It was a painful lesson.”

You can download A Willing Spirit for free, or buy a print copy here.

Image: Mal Garvin video screenshot from his series The Millennials