Our Australian Tour (4)

We interrupted our tour in mid-air, so to speak, on the way from Auckland to Napier-Hastings, in order to give our attention in the November 15 issue to some of the events in Wellington. We now resume our account in chronological order. 

If you turn back to the map which appeared in the October 1 issue, you will find that Napier (and its neighboring city Hastings) are located on the shores of Hawke Bay, on the east (Pacific) coast of New Zealand. This is beautiful country, and normally the climate is very mild. It is the fruit-belt of New Zealand. The only trouble was that we experienced some of the coldest, rainiest weather of our tour there. The cold was the more severe because the electrical voltage was cut down, which made the heaters well-nigh useless. However, the hospitality of our hosts, Mr. and Mrs. J. Braam, was warm. At Napier Mrs. Hoeksema had the opportunity to talk to a group of women in the afternoon about Christian education; and during the meeting, I had the opportunity to become acquainted with the Rev. L. Reurich, pastor of the local Reformed Church. Our evening meeting was in that church; but the attendance was greatly hampered by a driving rainstorm and the extremely cold weather. In fact, my lecture on “The Reformed Faith in Crisis” had to be cut short because the extreme cold in the little church auditorium was literally numbing for both audience and speaker. This was one of our smallest meetings, the audience numbering only eight. After the meeting we enjoyed fellowship and a warming cup of coffee with Pastor and Mrs. Reurich and with Rev. and Mrs. Graham Adams of the local Orthodox Presbyterian group. 

Bright and early on the morning of June 25 we took the bus across the island and to the southwest toward the city of Palmerston North. The trip across the mountains of the North Island ended in a winding drive—along a road which was actually too narrow for a large bus—on the very rim of a scenic gorge. The day was rainy and dark at first, and the heater of the bus was not working. So while we travelled with an overcoat wrapped around our legs for warmth and shivered most of the way, we were truly happy when sunshine greeted us just as we arrived in Palmerston North. At Palmerston we were greeted by a Mr. A. van Echten, our congenial host for a day-and-a-half, and by Rev. R. McKenzie, the conservative pastor of the local Congregational Church. As you may gather, this was one of the strange situations encountered on our trip. There is a group of people here who formerly belonged to a Bible Presbyterian Church—a group which originally separated prematurely from the Reformed Church in the Runia friction. However, the Bible Presbyterian group was smitten with dissension; and now this group of people is without an actual church home, although they fellowship and worship with the Emmanuel Congregational Church. The latter group is rather conservative and find themselves at odds with their denomination on several counts. The former group has some serious problems, not the least of which is some neo-Pentecostal leanings. However that may be, all of these circumstances afforded me an opportunity to speak to an attentive audience of about 25 on “Our Calling and the Faith of the Reformation.” The message was rather well received and favorably commented on by Pastor McKenzie and more than one member of his congregation. 

I should also note at this point that while we were at Palmerston, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Young, of the Christchurch Orthodox Presbyterian Church, flew up to meet us and to accompany us on the rest of our journey. They brought along a supply of our literature, much of which was disposed of at this meeting and various other meetings along the way. Mr. Young is one of the elders at Christchurch, a capable and knowledgeable leader there; and during our travels together we soon became well acquainted, so that “Mr. and Mrs. Young” became “Andy and Nola” to US. We truly appreciated their company.

After an early breakfast on Friday, June 27, the Youngs and the Hoeksemas met Mr. Bob van Herk at Pastor McKenzie’s house. Brother van Herk is a longtime friend-by-correspondence from Wellington. And he had driven up from Wellington early in the morning to pick us up for the 2% hour drive down to Wellington—the capital city of New Zealand, situated at the southern tip of the North Island. The drive to Wellington seemed very short—partly because of the beautiful scenery (every now and then we caught sight of the Tasman Sea), and partly because our time was occupied with busy conversation concerning the things of the truth and of God’s church. 

Meanwhile, Rev. C. Hanko had arrived in Auckland on June 26; and on the morning of the 27th he flew down to Wellington. Needless to say, we had a happy reunion when we met in downtown Wellington. I cannot stress too much the importance of having a co-laborer on a tour of this kind. It was not only a relief to have help with leading meetings and fielding questions. But I personally found it to be of great help and support to have someone with whom to share problems and to help make evaluations of the many new situations and experiences which confronted us. I think it is no secret that I have long been personally involved in contacts “down under”; and my sympathies obviously lie with our friends there. In such a situation there is always a danger that one’s sympathies color his judgments and evaluations. In fact, I frankly asked myself more than once in the early part of the tour, “Can this be real? Am I seeing things too rosily? Am I overly excited and enthusiastic?” It was a very good thing, therefore, to share things with Rev. Hanko, a veteran and experienced laborer in our churches, and to be able to weigh and evaluate our experiences together, so that upon our return we might make a sober and well-reasoned report to our Committee and to our churches. In a very real sense, therefore, what we are reporting to our churches is established by two witnesses; and our report and advice are the fruit of very careful and sober evaluation, not the reflection of run-away enthusiasm. This makes all the more serious the concrete questions which our denomination will eventually have to face as a result of the obvious fact that the Lord has opened doors to us in Australasia. 

What work was accomplished in Wellington? 

During the afternoon of the 27th of June we met with the three Reformed ministers of the Wellington area at the home of Rev. Kroon. Since my “open letter” to Rev. G.I. Williamson in the November 15 issue recounts most of that conference, I shall not repeat that information here. 

Late in the afternoon of that day Mr. van Herk picked us up at the home of Rev. Kroon and took us through the hills of Wellington to his home in the pleasant suburb of Wainuiomata. Mr. and Mrs. van Herk were our gracious hosts during our stay in the Wellington area. Mind you, they themselves slept in a “caravan” (house trailer), in order that we might have their comfortable bedrooms. After “tea” (evening dinner) with the van Herks, we all returned to downtown Wellington for the advertised lecture in the YWCA building at 7:30 p.m. To an attentive audience of 30-35 people I spoke on “Our Calling and the Reformed Faith.” There was a rather long question period after the lecture. Several of the questions centered on predestination and on the Reformed position over against the Arminian error. After the formal meeting ended, many of the people remained for a while, so that we had the opportunity to meet them and converse with them. The majority of those who were present expressed agreement with the lecture and said that they enjoyed the evening. 

On Saturday morning, June 28, we had a “cottage meeting” at the van Herk residence. Present were Mr. and Mrs. van Herk, Mr. and Mrs. J. Koppe, and Mr. Anton Vooys. Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Young were also present. The Wellington people are acquainted with Mr. and Mrs. Young through the fact that at the last couple of Council meetings of the OPC the Wellington brethren had participated. This little group in Wellington have been separated from the Reformed Churches ever since the Runia crisis. Since that time much of their spiritual nourishment has come by way of literature and taped sermons from our churches. For a long time Mr. Jacob Kuiper, Sr., of our Hope Church, has faithfully sent them cassette-tapes of the Hope services. The express purpose of our meeting on that Saturday morning was to discuss the future of this little group of three families. At this meeting each of the heads of families expressed his appreciation for the fact that we had come to Wellington and strengthened them. They expressed themselves very warmly and sincerely with respect to their desire to maintain the Reformed faith and to have Reformed preaching and instruction for themselves and their families. They expressed deep appreciation for their contact with our churches and especially for the taped sermons and the literature which they had received. As a small group without a church home, they feel very weak and dependent. They felt keenly that God in His providence had sent us to them and, though they hardly dared suggest it, they expressed the desire that somehow a minister from our churches might come to New Zealand to help them. Needless to say, we were deeply impressed by the spontaneous testimony of these brethren and by their altogether unsolicited cry for help. As representatives of our churches we were not in a position to make any promises, nor to commit our churches to anything. We did assure them that we would report faithfully to our Committee for Contact and to our Synod what we heard from them. We also discussed with them the possibility and the practical implications of possibly having a man from our churches who would work both in Wellington and in Christchurch. And we encouraged the brethren to remain faithful to the Reformed faith, to keep in contact with us (as we would with them), and to continue in close contact with the Council of the Orthodox Presbyterian Churches. It must be remembered that there is as yet no organized group in Wellington. The present group is very small; but the brethren assured us that they were interested in trying to work in this area with a view to the possibility of gathering a congregation, which could then become a congregation of the OPC. Only time would tell whether there is the possibility of establishing a viable congregation there, of course; but there are indications of considerable interest. I can assure you that our meeting that Saturday morning was a heart warming one; and when we listened to these brethren, we could have been among our own people. 

Rev. Hanko remained in Wellington over Sunday, June 29, and stayed with the van Herk family. In our official report to the Committee of Contact, Rev. Hanko reported as follows: “We had services in the morning in the YMCA. There were 10 individuals present. Since the room had no heat whatsoever and the cold penetrated into the building, the men kept their overcoats on, the ladies spread blankets over their legs, and all agreed that it was worth suffering a bit of cold to hear once more the sound of the Word. In the afternoon a meeting was held in the home of Vooys, where we also had afternoon tea. In the evening a service was held in the home of the van Herks. The same group was present on each occasion. They listened attentively to the Word, one woman even breaking into a sermon to ask a question which she was afraid that she might forget. A very interesting discussion followed.” 

For Mrs. Hoeksema and myself, along with Mr. and Mrs. Young, our stay on the North Island ended on Saturday afternoon, when we flew some 200 miles farther toward the South Pole, arriving in the large city of Christchurch at 5:45 o’clock. Mr. and Mrs. van Rij were at the airport to meet us and brought us to their very comfortable home, which was our headquarters while in Christchurch. Awaiting us was some welcome mail from home, and also a surprise in the form of a recording of a Dutch Psalm-sing in Grand Rapids—sent by none other than our Business Manager, Mr. Vander Wal. That tape was played a good many times during our stay at Christchurch! For us personally, the stay at Christchurch was one of the highlights of the tour. Over the years a bond of friendship had developed between us and Mr. and Mrs. van Rij, and it was a real pleasure and a blessing to spend a few days in their home, even as they had been in our home several years ago. 

But also as far as the purposes of our tour were concerned, our stay in Christchurch was one of the highlights. There is a small, but lively congregation there. Several university students are among the membership. Mr. van Rij is somewhat of a spiritual father to this young group, being much older in age than they, but also much older in the faith. Mr. Andrew Young, who along with Mr. van Rij is an elder, gives capable leadership. He himself is a young man, but very knowledgeable; and he capably leads the services in this little congregation which is without its own pastor. Besides, through his position as a lecturer in soil science at Lincoln College, Mr. Young has opportunity for contact with many young people, and thus opportunity to give them spiritual guidance and instruction. We learned of two instances of young foreign students here who have been converted from heathendom and have come to the Reformed faith. One of these is still in Christchurch, but will have to go back soon to a very difficult battle in her homeland when she has finished her education. The other has already returned to his homeland of Singapore, where he is under bond to his government for several years in order to repay the government for his education. We met him when we reached Singapore a few weeks later. 

The little flock in Christchurch does not have much from an outward point of view. They are small. They own no place of worship. They are young in the faith. But we found them vitally interested in the truth, and that, too, not as a matter of mere theory, but as a matter of their life and walk. For we discovered that many of the questions in our cottage meetings with them arose out of practical problems and concerns in their lives. It was truly encouraging to have fellowship with them for a few days, and it was a spiritual delight to be able to preach to them and to instruct them. 

Sunday, June 29, was a busy day. In the morning at 10:30 we had our first service in the Red Cross Hall, their meeting place. Yes, it was cold: when we sang, we could see our breath! But our hearts were warm. Mr. Young led the service. A congregation of 22 was present. And I preached for some 50 minutes to an attentive audience on Isaiah 45:22-25. We lingered for a good while after the service, getting acquainted. After a quick lunch at the van Rij home, we returned to the hall for the afternoon lecture at 2:30. Upon request, I spoke again on the subject, “The Reformation Faith in Crisis.” There were 34 in the audience, including several who had not previously participated in any of the meetings of this congregation. There was a fairly lengthy question period after the lecture, and there were some very pertinent and intelligent questions asked. Especially were there questions about the key truth of God’s sovereignty in the matter of salvation. After our evening meal we went back to the hall once more for the evening service, at which I preached onJohn 14:6. The audience totaled 27 souls, and we remained at church for a long time after the service—talking on an informal basis. 

There was more to come in Christchurch when Rev. Hanko joined us again on Monday, June 30. But the rest of the story and the conclusion of the New Zealand section of our tour must wait for the next issue.