Recently I returned from Australia. What a tremendous time I had seeing the land down under!
A visit to the Healesville Sanctuary, a natural zoo set in the bushland of Victoria, allowed me to get up close to such creatures as wombats, dingoes, platypuses, Tasmanian Devils and other native animals. A bird show in an amphitheater there was incredible. Birds such as a Red-tailed Black Cockatoo and a Wedge-tailed Eagle came flying in and performed as directed by the trainers. I watched in awe as a Barking Owl glided on command right past my head, its large yellow eyes gazing ahead as its wingtip slipped silently by my right ear.
On another day, I visited Kennett River and had King Parrots and Crimson Rosellas perched on my arm and eating out of my hand. We watched koalas munching away on eucalyptus trees. Mait's Rest, a rainforest area near Apollo Bay with a wooden boardwalk, transferred us to another world as we walked in the silence provided by towering gum trees and dew-covered large ferns. A delightful drive along the Great Ocean Road was made even more beautiful by the numerous iridescent rainbows that kept appearing and reflecting on the water.
And of course, I also saw kangaroos (and, to my surprise, even ate one - a rooburger is quite tasty as the meat is lean).
Yet, without doubt and without exaggeration, the most beautiful site I beheld in Australia was the church. God's people in Australia may be few in number but they are mighty in spirit. Let me share three highlights to give you a glimpse.
The Reformed community in the Melbourne area is vibrant and enjoys healthy interrelationships with other churches across denominational lines and even oceans. I was in Australia to speak at the Geelong Bible Conference the first weekend in July at the invitation of the Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPC) there. Held on the Geelong campus of Reformed Theological College on Friday and Saturday then moved to the Geelong RPC for the Lord's Day, we enjoyed a rich time of fellowship as the conference was well-organized and well-attended. Not only were there representatives from the the three RPC congregations in the Melbourne area, but attendees came from other churches such as the Christian Reformed Church of Australia, the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia, and the Southern Presbyterian Church located in the island state of Tasmania. Gifted local men such as Allan Harmon and Philip Scheepers, who minister in Australia as well as other countries, gave encouraging presentations on Saturday.
The Australian church is connected to others across the seas as well. The Reformed Presbyterian Church, having been formed through the missionary endeavors of the Scottish and Irish churches through the mid 1800's to early 1900's, continues to be blessed by its roots. Andrew Stewart, an Irishman, has pastored the Geelong congregation for over two decades. Robert McCollum, a young pastor from Ireland, began a six-month pulpit exchange the week I was there and, though having just arrived a few days before the conference, gave a refreshing workshop on church revitalization. Families from the United States have intentionally moved there to bolster the church. Also, a short-term mission team from the American church was in Australia for five weeks to serve alongside the saints there. The church prays for and has a clear knowledge of and deep interest in the work of God's kingdom in other nations. The Melbourne area, a sprawling metropolis of immigrants from many lands, presents a rich mission field the churches are seeking to engage. Tasting of the international spread of the Lord's church while there was soul-strengthening to me.
_**The church has a high regard for theological and mission training. **_The conference displayed a church knowledgeable and eager to learn further, discuss, and apply Biblical truth. In addition, in the middle of last century several reformed churches established the Reformed Theological College (RTC) in Geelong to equip the church in doctrine and ministry. Wanting to tap further into the much larger city of Melbourne located an hour away, RTC took a bold move and recently opened up a campus on the third floor of an office building that features up-to-date classrooms and the ability to provide distance learning. After touring the campus, I sat with Dr. Scheepers and Brandon Fisher, an elder and student at RTC, in one of the hundreds of coffee shops in Melbourne. They discussed the growing desire for theological education not only in Australia but in a number of Asian countries in that part of the world. Their faculty is busy not only working to bring international students there or provide distance learning for them, but also traveling to them to teach in order to have those important face-to-face interactions essential for true training. Christian schools, like Covenant Christian School, and other seminaries, such as the Presbyterian Theological College and Melbourne School of Theology, are providing education for the church as well.
The saints there are hospitable, hard-working, and hearty in their love. From the time I stepped off the plane to the early morning when I got back on, I was met with the love and warm hospitality of dear brothers and sisters in the Lord. They hosted me, carted me around gladly, showed me the sights, and fed me fully. Yet this was not just a one-time display, but clearly a lifestyle of the church. As I witnessed or heard of them opening their homes to others for an evening of Bible study or a meal to having people live in their homes for weeks or months, sharing vehicles and possessions gladly, or gathering together to serve on a project or help a family move, I was reminded of the display of love by the early church in Acts 2. They also have a heart to reach beyond themselves as I heard further of their efforts to witness to friends, neighbors, and immigrants around them.
These encouragements of the Aussie church are given so that you might pray for them as they are relatively small and face the challenges of living in a hardened, secular culture. They need additional laborers, so ask the Lord to raise up further workers for this part of his harvest fields. But let me conclude this brief travelogue by saying that I found many things right side up down under!