Our Australian Tour (3)

We are now ready to furnish some details concerning the New Zealand section of our tour. 

After a couple days’ rest in the charming Fiji Islands, Mrs. Hoeksema and I arrived in Auckland, New Zealand on the evening of Wednesday, June 18. No one knows, unless he has experienced it, how good it is to arrive in a foreign country, pass through immigration, and then see a familiar and friendly face waiting just beyond the desk of the immigration officer. Everywhere on our tour we had this experience; and if it had not been for this, it would have been extremely difficult to make our way in these foreign lands. At Auckland our good friends, Mr. and Mrs. William van Rij, were waiting to greet us. Mr. van Rij is production manager for General Foods in New Zealand; and he managed: to be in Auckland on business at the time of our stay in this area. His home is in Christchurch, on the South Island. (Please refer to the map which appeared in the October 1 issue if you wish to note the location of the various cities mentioned from now on.) There were a few friends with the van Rijs; and we soon became acquainted with them, too. Until this time, they had been only names to me—mentioned in correspondence; now we connect faces with these names. 

Our gracious hosts in Auckland were Mr. and Mrs. John Starrenburg. Again, this couple and their three lovely children were total strangers to us; but they gave us the “red carpet” treatment and made us feel thoroughly at home during the few days we spent with them. This, too, happened repeatedly on our tour. And it was a real advantage for us that we might enter the homes of various people. Not only is this much superior to the loneliness of a motel room, but it also furnished an excellent opportunity to become acquainted with the people, with their way of life, and with the church situation and spiritual conditions in the various communities which we visited. And let me add immediately, lest I forget, that we are very thankful for all the hospitality extended to us along the way and for the friendships which were established. Many of the names of our New Zealand friends keep popping up in our conversations from time to time, and we shall not forget them.

Auckland is a large and rather beautiful city, with access to the Pacific Ocean on the east and to the Tasman Sea on the west. And while it is a harbor city, it did not impress us as having some of the unattractive characteristics common to port cities. It is clean, spacious, and probably not as busy as an American city of comparable size. Our contacts were all in suburban (satellite) areas, however, and we did not get the opportunity to see a great deal of the city proper. 

Our meetings in this area—and this was characteristic of our entire tour—were of three types. We held so-called cottage meetings. These were meetings held in someone’s home, with 15 to 20 people in attendance on the average. These meetings were informal in character. Usually we would be asked to introduce a pertinent subject (and the choice of subject was most often left to the people being visited), and this would be followed up by questions and informal discussion. Meetings of this kind often lasted three or more hours. There were also public lectures, usually followed by a brief question-period. And, wherever we had the opportunity, we preached on the Lord’s day. For us, as representatives of our churches, this presented many new situations. Except for some acquaintance with us through our literature, we were strangers to the people we were visiting. They had to become acquainted with us, therefore. But we were also at a disadvantage: for the people were strangers to us. We did not know their specific interests; we did not know their degree of understanding of the Reformed faith and their capacity and receptivity. And while we had been rather thoroughly briefed by friend van Rij as to the main interests and the general areas for discussion, and in some cases had even received a list of questions and suggestions as to subjects for discussion, we more or less had to feel our way and try to gauge our audiences even while we were speaking and discussing. In some instances we did not learn the actual subject for, discussion until we arrived at the meeting and asked the people point-blank what they desired. This involved a measure of extemporaneous speaking, and sometimes involved a great deal of reaching back into one’s memory and drawing on one’s backlog of knowledge and experience. Once in a while it gave rise also to totally unexpected questions, as when in Tasmania we were suddenly confronted by a question about supra- and infralapsarianism. All in all, however, we found this method to be highly successful. We could, of course, have made our tour with a fixed list of subjects for lectures and talks, and allowed people to choose from that list. But with the method which we followed we were able to speak directly to the needs and interests of the people and to treat subjects in which they themselves expressed an interest. One might think that this restricted us severely, and that it did not always furnish us the opportunity to say things which we thought were in need of being said. This, however, was not the case. For there is no area of doctrine or life which is not related to our rich Reformed heritage and on which we do not have something to say from our specific Protestant Reformed stance. We had abundant opportunity to bring our Reformed viewpoint to bear, therefore; and I am sure that those who heard us will also bear witness to this. 

Our very first meeting in New Zealand was a cottage meeting on Thursday, June 19, at the home of Mr. and Mrs. A.R. Storm in Howick. There were about 20 people present; most of them were from Reformed churches in the area. After introductions all around, we sang and prayed together. And what do you think was the very first subject on which I was asked to talk in New Zealand? Thousands of miles from the homeland and the home churches, I was asked to give an introduction concerning the origin and stand of our Protestant Reformed Churches. Amazing! And yet, on second thought, it was not so amazing: these people were in effect asking the good questions, “Who are you, and what do you stand for?” This, of course, very naturally furnished an opportunity to speak about the Three Points and about common grace, and to emphasize the truth of sovereign, particular grace. There were many intelligent questions and much Scripture centered discussion on this subject. There was a very good spirit. manifested throughout the meeting, and there was also no little degree of agreement expressed. Well, that was a good beginning; and at the end of that evening we could only feel elated and thankful to God for this opportunity to speak of things which are close to our heart in that meeting so far from home. If you had asked me when I entered the ministry—no, even if you, had asked me five years ago whether something like this would ever come to pass, I would have responded that the very thought was preposterous! 

Friday, June 20, we traveled by auto with the van Rijs to Rotorua, some 150 to 200 miles southeast of Auckland. This was a delightful trip through the countryside of northern New Zealand. The lush green paddocks, dotted with thousands of sheep or large herds of Black Angus cattle, spread out over the hilly terrain—all this was very picturesque. Needless to say, the trip also gave us a good opportunity to become reacquainted with the van Rijs; there was no shortage of conversation. Along the way we also had opportunity to discuss our plans for the remainder of the New Zealand tour and to be briefed with respect to various local situations. Hamilton, New Zealand, is about the mid-point on this trip; both on the way to Rotorua and on our return we stopped for some personal visits in that city where the van Rijs formerly resided. Rotorua is one of New Zealand’s tourist attractions, partly because it is a thermal region, reminding one strongly in sight and smell of the geyser area in Yellowstone National Park, and partly because there is a Maori village there. The Maoris are said to have been the earliest settlers of New Zealand; they seem to have been of Polynesian origin. They still have their own distinct culture to a large extent; and they have never been fully assimilated into New Zealand society. Mr. and Mrs. Derek Bound were our hosts in Rotorua. Our meeting in Rotorua was held in the Lutheran Church. I was asked to lecture on “The Need for Confessions in the ’70s” a subject which again gave me the opportunity to stress our Reformed heritage and to emphasize our calling in the light of the fact that creeds not only serve to unite but also bring separation and division. There was a small audience of 13 present, and they came from all backgrounds—Free Presbyterian, Orthodox Presbyterian, Reformed, Particular Baptist, and Lutheran. At this same meeting Mrs. Hoeksema was asked to give a short talk on covenantal education—something on which she had not planned at all! This, by the way, happened more often during our tour. When those whom we visited discovered that Mrs. Hoeksema is a veteran teacher and the author of a book on child training, they wanted to hear more about Christian education from a Reformed point of view. Mrs. Hoeksema had accompanied me on the trip “for the ride,” so to speak; but this turned out to be one of the bonuses of the tour. The auditorium where we met that evening was almost unbearably cold. Hence, our discussion period was held to a minimum; and after the meeting several of us adjourned to the Bounds’ living room for coffee and more discussion. At Rotorua we had the opportunity to meet the Rev. Jack Mitchell of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church at Whakatane. Here we also met a couple .of people with friends and relatives in the Grand Rapids area. 

By the evening of Saturday, June 21, we were back in the Auckland area. My second driving lesson in New Zealand (they drive on the left and in right-hand drive cars) was on a dark, windy, rainy evening and on a rather narrow, winding, unfamiliar-highway; very exciting! However, we arrived safely at the manse of the Rev. George McKenzie in Manurewa (another satellite of Auckland). Mr. McKenzie is pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Manurewa. We had tea (supper) with the McKenzies, and Mr. McKenzie briefed me concerning the order of worship at the OP Church, where I was scheduled to preach on Sunday morning, and concerning plans for the lecture scheduled for Sunday afternoon. By the time we returned to our hosts on Saturday evening, we were ready for some rest and quiet, as well as a little opportunity to collect our thoughts and to prepare for Sunday’s labors. 

Sunday morning brought a new experience. This was the first time I ministered the Word outside our Protestant Reformed pulpits. What should I preach on? What would be the receptivity of the audience? Would I be able to preach to these people of God as to our own people? As I told the congregation that morning, I decided to preach as clearly as possible, trusting that if I delivered to them the Word of God, they would understand and receive it. And this proved to be true. I took as my text Isaiah 3:10, 11; and while I did not preach as long as in our services at home, I had ample opportunity to expound the text and to draw the antithetical line so plainly expressed in this passage. There was an attentive audience of 40 to 50 people present. Pastor McKenzie led the service. The singing was from the Scottish Psalter. The meeting place was a classroom of the Clendon Park School. After the service many of the congregation expressed their appreciation for the sermon; and we met many new acquaintances and engaged in conversation for a long time. After dinner with the McKenzies, we made our way to the Intermediate School at Papatoetoe (try to pronounce that Maori name!), where I lectured to an audience of 23 on “The Reformation Faith In Crisis.” Opportunity was given for questions afterward; and there were several pertinent questions from this audience composed of Reformed, Presbyterian, Brethren, and Orthodox Presbyterian people. By the way, one of the questions which came up repeatedly at our meetings was that concerning Bible versions and translations. This seems to be an important practical question to many people in New Zealand. The people were very receptive to my remarks on this subject; and I believe that there is room for more of our literature on this subject in New Zealand. Some of our Standard Bearer reprints on this subject could profitably be distributed there. 

Our first Sunday in New Zealand was rounded out by a cottage meeting in the evening at the home of the Starrenburgs in Mt. Wellington (another satellite of Auckland). This time the subject was Christian Education; and rather unexpectedly it fell to Mrs. Hoeksema, because of her background as a teacher, to introduce the subject. Needless to say, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut long. We had a very good discussion that extended to almost midnight. There is almost no Christian education in New Zealand. There is opportunity for some religious instruction in the public schools, but this amounts to little. There is a real need for Christian schools among Reformed and Presbyterian people there.

During the day on Monday, June 23, we had an opportunity to see downtown Auckland, do a bit of shopping, and make some airline reservations for the next part of our tour. In the evening we had a cottage meeting at Mangere (still another Auckland suburb) at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Suurmond. Present were 21 people, of whom 16 were men. Most of the people were from one of the Reformed churches of the area. “The Need for Confessions” was the subject for the evening. There were many questions and much discussion about the need for doctrinal instruction along confessional lines in pulpit and catechism class. And again there were questions about Bible translations and about Christian education. 

Thus ended the first section of our New Zealand visit. Tuesday morning bright and early we headed for the airport, after we said our goodbyes to the Starrenburgs. By 8 o’clock Mr. and Mrs. van Rij were airborne on their way back to Christchurch; and ten minutes later Mrs. Hoeksema and I were in the plane going to Napier, southeast of Auckland. But the rest of our New Zealand story must wait until the next issue.