On the last weekend of our stay in Australia we enjoyed what was probably the most different of our experiences there. For example, who would expect to find on a 2,000-acre ranch in the interior of Australia, in sparsely populated country, where the postal service is only twice weekly, where it is possible for days on end to see no one but members of your own family—who would expect to find there, thousands of miles from home, a Reformed Book Shop which features Protestant Reformed literature? Yet such was our experience.
Let me explain.
Already before we left Grand Rapids, Pastor Coleborn had promised to show us something of the Australian Midwest and to take us to a place called Chinchilla, some 200 miles or so from Brisbane. So, early on the last Saturday of our stay we started out. We had rented a larger car for the trip, so that the Coleborns and we could travel together. Our destination, Chinchilla, was on the western side of the coastal mountain range; and as soon as one crosses this moderately high range, he finds himself in a- different kind of countryside. This is the “midwest” of Queensland. It is rich farm land—that is, wherever there is an adequate water supply. But where the latter is lacking, it is country which begins to remind one of the waste and arrid “outback” of the Australian interior. The land is extremely flat. One can see for miles and miles. The sky was an unbroken blue. And in July, when we were there, the days were comfortably mild—shirtsleeve weather—while the nights were still cold and frosty.
We were headed for the ranch (Australians call them “stations”) of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Hurse, who live several miles from the village of Chinchilla. To give you some idea of the kind of country this is, let me explain that at the Hurse’s ranch there is no possibility of irrigation either from a river or from wells. The latter (irrigation from wells) is impossible because the ground-water is brackish. They are completely dependent, therefore, on rainfall. The average rainfall is four inches per growing season. This would be sufficient to raise various grains of drought resistant varieties. But in the Hurse’s case it has been ten years since they have received even that average four inches! When we visited, there were crops of oats and wheat coming up; Mr. Hurse told us that if they received just one more inch of rain, there would be a crop. Later we heard that the one more inch never came; there was nothing to do but allow the cattle to eat what was left of the drought-stricken crop which never grew. You can understand, then, that water is a very precious commodity in a place like that. And, in a most direct sense of the word, children of God in such a situation learn to live directly from the hand of their heavenly Father.
But why would there be a Reformed literature center in such a place?
That stands connected with another aspect of the Hurse ranch. On their property is a large area of petrified wood. To obtain specimens of, this petrified wood, as well as of various semi-precious stones in the same area, people come from all over the world. One of the special attractions is the fact that one kind of petrified wood is found only here, on the Hurse ranch, and at one other location in South America. So when visitors come to dig for petrified wood on the Hurse property, they are not only introduced to .the various kinds of wood and stone available, but also to Reformed literature.
Well, it was here that we spent a very interesting weekend. For at the Hurse ranch is also a “preaching station” of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. There are two families committed to the Reformed faith here: Mr. and Mrs. Hurse and Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Bell and their young son. For these two families, plus the Coleborns, plus my wife and daughter, I preached the Word on that Sunday. It reminded me of the times when I had preached for an even smaller congregation in Pella several years ago. But we had a blessed Lord’s Day. There was a real interest in and receptivity for the Reformed faith. Again I had the opportunity to tell about our Protestant Reformed Churches and their history. And all day long we exercised the communion of saints.
Early on Monday morning we left the Hurse ranch to go back to Brisbane. We were scheduled to leave Brisbane shortly after noon to fly to Singapore, at which we would arrive some ten hours later. That noon at the Brisbane airport Pastor Coleborn assured me that he had not quite exhausted the list of subjects about which we wished to talk during our visit, but would save the remainder for our next visit! I could not quite believe him: for we talked all the way to Chinchilla and all the way back to Brisbane, even to the extent that I took the wheel so that Pastor Coleborn could concentrate wholly on the discussion!
This marks the end of our account of last summer’s visit among our friends in the Evangelical Presbyterian Churches of Australia. Permit me a few general observations and conclusions.
In the first place, we found ourselves thoroughly at home among the people of the E.P.C. and in their churches on the three Lord’s days which we spent among them. They are Reformed. They love to speak about the things of our Reformed faith. And they want to live and practice their Reformed faith. In the second place, I believe that I could detect growth and development and progress among them. This is, of course, not always so easy, to assess. But I believe that their congregations, in so far as I could observe, are more stable than five years ago. Further, they have grown in their understanding of us and of our position, and attitude. I believe our contact and our literature has contributed to this. There was a time when at least some of the E.P.C. were fearful that it was our purpose to overwhelm them and swallow them up. I believe this has lessened considerably. There was a time, too, when the E.P.C. feared that our position was that of “automatic grace” or presupposed regeneration. This fear, too, has lessened. There has also come about a significant understanding and appreciation of the truth of the covenant of grace. This has become practically manifest in an increasing interest in providing Christian education for their covenant children. All of these things are reasons for rejoicing and gratitude.
In the third place, if I may make a few positive suggestions to the brethren and sisters of the E.P.C., they would be the following: 1) Try, if at all possible, to revive the publication of your quarterly magazine in the near future. We in the U.S. have missed the contact which this magazine provided; and from our point of view this would be a valuable means of strengthening ties. But I believe—and in our own churches we know .this by experience in connection with the Standard Bearer—that your own churches would profit and be strengthened through this means. You are small and widely scattered in vast Australia. Especially the churches in Queensland are separated from those in Tasmania. The reintroduction of your little magazine could serve as an excellent means of keeping in contact with one another and strengthening the ties in your denomination. 2) I believe a second area in which the E.P.C. should work is that of providing future ministers and providing them with a thorough theological education. No communion of churches can long lead a distinctive existence without this. 3) I would urge, thirdly, that the E.P.C. not only work harder at keeping in contact with us of the Protestant Reformed Churches, but also that they explore the question of ways and means of strengthening the ties between our two denominations, as well as making our ecclesiastical contact a practical reality in spite of the vast expanses of ocean between us. Although I am not a member of our denomination’s Contact Committee, I know that the committee feels this way and that they have often wished to hear from you more frequently.
Finally, I would like to make a general suggestion which both of our denominations could explore. There simply is no substitute for face-to-face and person-to-person contact when it comes to ecclesiastical fellowship. I believe it would be very beneficial to have a conference of representatives of our denomination and the brethren of the E.P.C. When I was in Australia and some of us discussed this idea, it was suggested that such a conference, if held, should be in Australia, so that all the men of the E.P.C. could share in it. Such a conference, of course, should be well planned in advance. It should be designed to provide for discussion of both similarities and differences. It should be mainly theological in.nature, and there should be definite assignments of subjects and introduction of these subjects by men of both denominations, followed by full opportunity of discussion. This, I believe, could be productive. I suggest that the men of the E.P.C. think about this, and also that this possibility be considered in our own churches, particularly by our Contact Committee.