Various other obligations have prevented me until now from telling you a bit about my summer experiences in Australasia and in Singapore, as I promised. This delay was not all bad: for it also enabled me to see things a bit more in perspective and to reach more mature judgments. In the rush of travel and the excitement of new and interesting experiences, the latter is not always possible.
Our chief purpose was to visit Australia, where we spent a total of three weeks. We also spent a week in New Zealand (the North Island) and a little more than a week in Singapore; but about these parts of our trip later. Some five years ago, when, along with the Rev. C. Hanko, we visited various churches in that part of the world in what turned out to be a hectic, fast-paced trip, my wife and I dreamed of the possibility of returning some day on a vacation-trip, seeing more of the country, and enjoying more of the hospitality of the saints with whom we had become acquainted in that part of the world. This time I traveled in no official capacity for the churches; and we could set our own pace and draw up our own itinerary. And while our chief purpose was vacationing and sightseeing, our plans were such that we spent much time with fellow-saints who had urged their hospitality upon us five years ago and who, true to their word, gladly received us and acted as our hosts and guides. We purposely planned our itinerary so that we would be with brothers and sisters of the Evangelical Presbyterian Churches especially on weekends. Already before we left home, we had been invited to-preach and speak in these churches; and on all three Lord’s Days of our stay in Australia we had the opportunity to preach the Word as well as to speak, conduct question hours, and lead Bible classes.
I spoke of visiting Australia, but actually that is a bit of an overstatement. Actually, Australia is a large land, as large in area as our United States. Our visit was limited to the eastern coastal area, from the island-state of Tasmania far to the south to Hayman Island, several hundred miles north of Brisbane, Queensland, in the north. That took us from the southern temperate zone, where, since we were in the Southern Hemisphere, it was very definitely winter, to the tropical area in the vicinity of the Great Barrier Reef. As far as vacationing and sightseeing were concerned, this area was quite enough to try to enjoy in three weeks’ time. It is along this eastern coastal strip that you find most of Australia’s national population of some thirteen and a half million; and it is here, too, that you find the large cities, such as Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane. Although Australia as a whole is much more sparsely populated than our country, it is in many respects like our own country. The population is cosmopolitan. Its large cities are much like our large cities, though perhaps their social problems are not as acute as in our large cities. The standard of living is much like the American standard of living. And, generally speaking, the religious and ecclesiastical situation in that land is much as it is in our own land.
We entered Australia at the Melbourne airport, where we had to make a connection to Launceston, Tasmania, almost 300 miles to the south across Bass Strait. But it was at Melbourne airport that we had our first contact with God’s people in Australia. Pastor Van Baren had told us about his correspondence by letter and sermon cassettes with a Mr. Cameron Hope, of Mornington, Victoria, some 50 miles south of Melbourne. While we were not able to go to Mornington, we did have a rather long layover at Melbourne; hence, we had suggested to Mr. Hope by letter the possibility of a short visit at the airport. What a pleasant surprise it was to meet Mr. Hope and his elderly mother there in the vast reaches of the Melbourne terminal! Mr. Hope had taken time off from his work and traveled up to Melbourne with his mother just for the sake of face-to-face acquaintance and Christian fellowship for an hour or so. Virtually their only spiritual nourishment is by means of cassettes from Hudsonville and Hope Churches and through our.Standard Bearer and other literature. It is probably difficult for us even to understand the circumstances of such isolated people of God. But it drew my attention more than once that in the vast reaches of Australia one finds similar situations in various places—one or two or a few people of God who love and long for the Reformed truth living isolatedly and in some instances far from other likeminded Christians. One wishes that both for their own sake and for the sake of the churches they could be gathered together.
At the Launceston, Tasmania airport we were met by Mr. Viv Connors; and it was at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Connors that my wife and I and our daughter Candace had our headquarters for a week’s unforgettable stay in the beautiful island-state of Tasmania. It was winter in Tasmania, but the winters are not nearly as severe and snowy as our Michigan winters. Nights can be rather cold and frosty, so that a few quilts and an electric blanket are welcome in bed; and a blazing fire in the hearth or an efficient gas heater are welcome in the living room. But when it doesn’t rain, the days can be rather mild and pleasant even though there is a bit of a nip in the air. I must concede, too, that it was not as cold as five years ago. Besides, whatever of cold there was, it was certainly overcome by the warm hospitality and the Christian fellowship of the Tasmania folk, and especially of the Connors. It is sometimes said that you don’t really get to know people until you get your feet under the same table with them. Well, we became fast friends with the Connors.
Tasmania is one of the centers of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and there are several congregations there; the other center is in Queensland, well over a thousand miles to the north. The E.P.C., some of you will recall, is a group of churches which made a long and amazing journey during the 1950s from virulent Arminianism and crusade evangelism to the Reformed faith and a full commitment to the position of the Westminster creeds. Pastor Charles Rodman told the first part of that story in the Standard Bearer several years ago; I still wish and hope he will finish that story some day soon. (Please take note, Brother Rodman!) Through a marvelous series of developments they came to a denial of the idea of a general, well-meant offer of salvation; and through an equally marvelous chain of circumstances, while they thought they were all alone in the world in their doctrinal position, God in His good providence brought them into contact with us. That was the beginning of our friendship and our contact.
Five years ago, in behalf of the Contact Committee, Rev. C. Hanko and I made a whirlwind tour of the Tasmanian churches. We spent an evening at Burnie, from Saturday afternoon to Sunday noon in Launceston, a Sunday evening in Winnaleah, and a Monday evening in Taranna. Each time we barely became acquainted, and then we hurriedly moved on. This time there was opportunity for more thorough acquaintance. We spent the entire week of our stay in northern Tasmania, visiting in Launceston, at Burnie in the northwest corner, and at Winnaleah in the northeast part. Mr. Connors is an elder in the Launceston church, is clerk of that congregation, and also clerk of Presbytery (classis). He took the week off from his work as a building contractor and acted as our chauffeur and tour guide. Needless to say, we had much opportunity to talk with one another as we traveled; and on those days when the ladies went off by themselves, he and I spent many an hour discussing the truth, telling about our churches, and discussing both those things on which we agreed and on which we have differences, as well as discussing the progress of the relationships between our churches. All of our discussions were unofficial, of course; and we were both well aware of this. Nevertheless, we became better acquainted and came to a better understanding of one another’s positions and attitudes.
One day out of our week we spent on a combined sightseeing and visiting trip westward along the rugged north coast of Tasmania to Burnie. There we visited Pastor and Mrs. Fisk, newcomers to Australia and to the E.P.C. since our visit five years ago. Mr. Fisk and I had known one another by correspondence when the Fisks lived in South Africa. Now we met one another face to face for the first time, and we spent a good half day of fellowship and discussion of our common faith there. We were only sorry that we were unable to revisit some of the Burnie folk whom we had met five years ago.
Another day and a half was spent in a delightful visit to Winnaleah and the northeastern part of Tasmania. Again, sightseeing was part of our purpose: we headed toward Mt. William National Park and its abundant wildlife, to see in their natural habitat such strange creatures as kangaroos, wallabies, and wombats. But we also purposed to visit the folk of the E.P.C. of Winnaleah. Five years ago we had made a hasty visit and had enjoyed a Sunday evening fellowship meeting at the home of Peter Carins. At that time, due to some severe troubles, the congregation at Winnaleah was broken up. In the interim the breach has been wonderfully healed; and we met several old friends there, but also many new ones. Besides, in the interim of five years Pastor Philip Burley has shifted from Rockhampton, some 400-500 miles north of Brisbane, to Winnaleah. In addition, Pastor John Lyons, now retired, drove in from nearby St. Helens. The result was that we had a truly enjoyable get-together. On the way to and through the park the men traveled in one car and the ladies in the other. At the end of the afternoon’s ride the men had to admit they had missed some of the sights along the way. The reason? We were deeply involved in a theological discussion about post-millennialism!
In the evening at Winnaleah we enjoyed a fellowship dinner with many of the congregation. At this meeting I had the opportunity to introduce our Protestant Reformed Churches, our history and our doctrinal stand, particularly with reference to common grace, and fieldeda few questions afterwards.
A large part of our contacts, however, was in Launceston. About this and about the rest of our Australian visit, however, I shall write later.