It had been a dream on my bucket list for the last 30 years to go to Australia. Vivienne and I were able to fulfill that dream last October. I also knew I was following in Adrian’s footsteps in claiming Australia as part of HEBA.
After a long but enjoyable flight the first experiment I did when we landed in Sydney and got through customs was to find a toilet to flush to see if the water spins the wrong way. I wasn’t disappointed.
But what did I really travel all that way to see and to investigate?
- Family and friends
- Visit the Baptist Unions in New South Wales and Victoria
- Talk to some aboriginal Christians and hear their stories.
- Visit Hillsong Churches and College.
- Swim in the Barrier Reef.
- See as many indigenous animals as possible.
We were wonderfully looked after by family and friends who fed us sumptuous meals, took us on unforgettable sightseeing trips and with who we had a lot of laughs.
In Australia, though there is a national Australian Baptist Union, it is only small – in reality each state has their own Baptist Union. The two I visited were a mixture between a Baptist Union and an Association in the UK.
Baptist Association of NSW and ACT based nr Sydney look after 330 Churches in New South Wales and Territories.
- I was blown away by their ambitious vision of seeing 1000 healthy Baptist churches by 2050. They were beginning to change their infrastructure to begin help to deliver that dream. I was able to talk to a number of staff that shared the objectives of their departments.
- I was particularly drawn to their ministries department and the emphasis on Contining Ministerial Development. The Continuing Ministerial Development is an ongoing 3 year cycle program for accredited ministers and pastors of the Baptist Churches of NSW and ACT. The aim is to ensure that the professional, spiritual and person development in these leaders is ongoing, and they may be better equipped to serve God. Failure to complete their programme may result in their removal from the accredited list.
- I also was given the privilege of preaching in Crest Community Arabic speaking Baptist church at the invitation of Egyptian Pastor Rev Frank Farag(on the end of the photo), he also works for the Union as their Cross Cultural Director. I was given a tour of the area which was like being back in Small Heath, so I felt very at home. We made many new friends at the church that Sunday. It felt like a big extended family of love. The sermon is on Facebook.
- We had an interesting chat with aboriginal Baptist pastor Revd Ray Minicom. He spoke about the difficulties of the aboriginal people in Australia at the hands of the white Australians. He himself was a part of the ‘stolen generation’ – when the Australian Government took aboriginal children from their parents, in a misguided and sinful notion that they knew what was best for them. He had the look of a man who had heard all the promises before and no longer had any room for hope. Ian Altman the director of mission for Assoc of NSW&ACT said under the old prejudiced past of the Union the indigenous people had been badly let down and mistreated, but in the 21st Century the Union had a heart for justice and would work tirelessly for change. In the picture Viv, Ray and I are standing by the Scarred tree. It lends its name to the project that Pastor Ray works for. The Scarred Tree is a project of St John’s Glebe and Anglican Aid. It brings healing and honour to Indigenous Australians scarred by trauma, exclusion and injustice. It serves the wider Sydney region. Within the church grounds the tree is thought to be the oldest tree in Sydney outside the Botanical Gardens, predating British occupation.
The Scarred Tree project enables Indigenous culture and its contribution to society to be recognised and respected. Friendships are nurtured with non Indigenous families and individuals. Within the project Indigenous families and individuals are supported and resourced for parenting and school participation. Personal counselling and financial assistance is offered. Families caught up in the justice system, particularly juvenile justice, are supported. Individuals are trained in leadership and advocacy. Members of the stolen generation are encouraged to meet and to share their stories. People are invited to eat together and to learn from one another as friends and family within a Christian context, which respects Indigenous culture, acknowledges elders and recognises past traditions.
In the Baptist Union of Victoria, I had the chance to meet up with my good friend Rev Anne Wilkinson-Hayes. She works in the BUV as the head of the Mission Catalyst team . This is what they say about their aim:
- The aim of the BUV’s Mission Catalyst Team is to realign our churches for mission, and develop and communicate a vision for Christ-centred, Kingdom-oriented mission. There is a great need within our state for us to become more focused on the people around our churches, and for us to begin to focus on how we can reach them more effectively. Our intention is to help churches to follow the call of Christ to go out into the world and make disciples, and in doing so increase the Kingdom of God.
They took me around some very exciting new projects, church plants, new innovative ways of being church.
The “Now not yet Café” is in Warrantdyte, Victoria. It’s whole new way of doing café and church run by Rev Derek Bradshaw. There is not enough space to even begin to explain how this works. An excellent Coffee shop that supports the community but is church without all the jargon – it’s different.
Urban Seedlings is a horticultural project based in Collins Street Baptist church Melbourne. Using Hydroponics and fish to grow indoors in a confined space the greenest, lushest and healthiest plants and veg I’ve seen. Their mission is to live and work in neighbourhood to cultivate flourishing places, to overcome disadvantage, and to help others do the same. Their business is hoping to sell micro veg to the city centre restaurants and employ more disadvantage people as the business grows.
I visited a church plant called Follow Baptist Church. Planted a couple of years ago in the Bible belt and urban growth corridor of Victoria in an expanding town called Officer Pakenham, the lively church has grown from 40 to 250 in only a couple of years. The church currently meet in a school but have been given permission to build a new community church building on two acres of land they purchased and an anonymous benefactor has given them a $1 million towards the new building. The church has found great favour with the business community and civic authorities in its community ministry, as they sponsored the church’s soup kitchen program providing the project with a brand new fully equipped, sponsors encrusted truck plus surplus food from the supermarkets. The town and outlying areas is set to expand by a further 30-50000 people in the next few years, hence the strategic nature of this church plant.
These stories are only scratching the surface of our visit I didn’t get to tell you about swimming in the Barrier reef or the Aboriginal Church I preached in or the Sydney Opera House or Sydney Harbour Bridge or the other fantastic churches we visited or Hilssong or their funky animals“Down Under” but I think Viv and I think its an amazing country and if they got rid of all the spiders that can kill you, we’d live there.
We are glad to be home though …….. honestly!!!!!