Preaching in Australia (IV)
Robert F. Turner
These articles form a chronological narrative of preaching in Australia. They are presented neither as a travelogue nor as detailed history, but as an effort to give the reader a preacher-eye view of the work of the Lord in that great country. I have nothing sensational to report. The "natives" of Australia are more English-speaking Anglo than are we; a practical, down-to-earth people. As independent thinkers, they are skeptical of the American "palaver" (as several called it) and are not likely to he moved en masse to obey the gospel. But this very characteristic gives me high hopes for independent conservative churches in Australia. We must seek to understand and encourage our brethren there.
On April 5, 1 traveled 520 miles north of Inverell, to begin a two-week mission in "Bundy," a coastal town of 25,404 people, situated at the mouth of the Burnett River. Thousands of acres of sugar cane are grown in this rich wet country, and the economy rests upon raw sugar, rum, and cane harvesting equipment. In early 1959 four members of the "Associated" church renounced digression and began meeting in a home. Through the paper, Truth in Love, contact was made with brethren in Melbourne, 1,513 miles to the south, and Brethren Harris J. Dark and Carmelo Casella came to Bundy to encourage these faithful few. Brother Dark remained for, several months, preaching here and in Rockhampton, 218 miles to the north. For several years the brethren met in various halls, during which time a young man (Roland McDowell) was converted, and began to preach. With money from the U.S., some lots were purchased, and in 1963 a small brick building was constructed. In 1964 brother McDowell, began preaching here "full time," supported by funds from the U.S., and is still working in Bundaberg. The church now has 35 active members, including some fine young couples.
I stayed in a travel trailer, parked behind the McDowell home, and greatly enjoyed my association with Brother McDowell. We spent hours together on textual studies, and "thrashing over" various problems and arguments. Rolly has a fairly good library, and is capable of independent study but was understandably hungry for a fellow-worker with whom to discuss such matters. At the time he was engaged in correspondence with a liberal U.S. preacher who followed the usual pattern of preaching "love" while he defended Claude Guild's mail effort to "stop Turner."
Eighteen non-members attended the Bundy meetings, and four were baptized. An unusual case was that of the Mormon who asked about the "Melchizedec priesthood" and insisted the Bible taught that the church had such a special class. We came to a stalemate on the matter: I said there were no scriptures that taught such, and he said there were, but that he could not find them. Finally I suggested we go on to something else, and if he found the passages we would give him opportunity to read them to us. He did not return the next night-but much to my surprise, was back the following night. At the proper time I asked for comments, and he arose to say he could not find the passages, and felt honor bound to return and let the people know he had been mistaken. Such integrity and self-respect could well be emulated by all.
"Rocky" is on the Tropic of Capricorn line, 218 miles north of Bundaberg, in an urban area of 45,349 people. Bauxite and precious stones come from mines in the vicinity, to add to the Imp cattle and farming economy. One of the world's largest meat processing plants is there, as well as forest and pineapple plantations, and large coal mines. About fifteen saints meet regularly in an adequate frame building, and are determined to spread the cause of Christ in central Queensland.
Brother Arthur Johnson left the "Associated" church in 1954, because he was unable to accept their "Faith Only" preaching, and recognized the error of the growing inter-church organizations of these people. During these early years brother Collin Smith visited with the Johnson family, and challenged the use of the piano in their worship. Brother Johnson agreed to leave it off while Smith was there, but said that when he was gone they would search for authority, and if they found it they would continue to use the instrument. They searched-but they did not find-so they now "sing and make melody in their hearts" to the Lord. Brother Smith also taught them they should not sub-rent a proposed church property through the week, because the church had no authority to enter the rental business. Later, Brother Johnson wrote to Smith ' asking for the authority by which the church in Brisbane conducted a foot clinic in one of their class rooms. (Selah!)
There was one surprisingly different feature in the Lord's Day worship at Rockhampton. At the proper time, all worshippers came to the front and stood about the Lord's Table to be served. I later asked Brother Johnson if they thought this was the only way to partake of the memorial feast, and he said they did not. He realized that as the congregation grew this would become impractical, but said that at this time they liked it this way. I could not deny their right to do so, and must admit that it was a reverent heart-warming event, wholly in order. Another indication of "Rocky" independence is found in a letter which Brother Johnson wrote to Brother Morr, regarding my coming there for a mission. He said, "The men of the church do not approve of personal work by saturation visitation. Personal work goes on all the time here." I got the distinct feeling that these men were saying I need not bring an Ivan Stewart "Campaign" to Rocky. We had 21 non-member visitors and a very interesting and profitable mission throughout my time there.
Following the Rockhampton meeting, I boarded a small plane and was flown inland about 170 miles, to Emerald. Bros. Morr and McDowell had preceded, me there, and had been busy pawing out tracts and invitations for the mission, which was to be conducted in the town Band Hall. Emerald has a population of 3,720, and is very much like one of our small western towns, with its cattle and mining economy, broad streets, and rough-dressed good-natured people.
In 1967 Bob and Jenean Gable moved here from the U.S., and began to clear and establish a cattle and grain ranch. For a time they drove 170 miles east to Rockhampton for worship, but later they determined to establish a local church in Emerald. Ray and Cheryl Ward, Australian converts from Bundaberg, moved here to work with them, and these two families (4 saints) have maintained a constant effort to reach others with the gospel. Bros. Jim Everett and Sam Binkley (U.S.), and bros. A. M. Johnson and Roland McDowell (Australians) have conducted minions here, but have baptized none. There were no baptisms, and only 6 non-member visitors during my work there, but the Gables and Wards said this was their best attended effort thus far. With that kind of spirit, those saints have already won a victory.
When I arrived in Emerald I was told that I had been scheduled to debate a Jehovah's Witness on Wednesday afternoon: subject, The Immortal Soul. But when we kept our appointment we found only two JWs. neither of whom wished to honor the arrangements previously made. Finally it was suggested we simply take turns making an argument, which the other must answer. The J.W. speaker made his first argument -- I replied; but then he was unwilling to hear and reply to my argument. He said be could not have such a study with an American "they talk too loud!" So, I suggested he answer the argument to Brother McDowell, an Australian. He gave Rolly a hard look and said, "Oh no, he is an American too. I can ten by the look in his eyes." We never let ol "Aussie" McDowell forget that.
The close fellowship with those Emerald brethren will never be, forgotten. The pioneer spirit seems so close, so real, out there in the "bush"; and one comes to appreciate the faith and courage that some of our earlier saints in this country must have had as they planted the cause of Christ in the hearts of our fathers. It is so easy to read a book, or see a movie about the early west, and come away thinking that if we could have lived in those days -- we too would have been such great heroes -- so steadfast --- so courageous. But somehow the whole scene changes when we are up against the real thing. The dust storm on the screen is somehow, oh so different from the one blowing across a real paddock, where our cattle need water and green gram. And the battle with Satan -- the hard struggle to plant the cause of Christ in virgin territory -- somehow it just does not seem so romantic, and we are not nearly so faithful in real life, as we think we would be as we consider earlier history.
In Australia one lives in "early history" - and brave, true men are needed to plant the cause of Christ. But the call is not for those who shun the same sort of problems here. The need for men is universal, and the specifications are just about the same wherever one goes. Only men need apply!
(In our next and last article of this series, we plan to offer our summary and conclusions regarding the work of the Lord in Australia.)
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 38, pp. 5-7