'Christian' cults, Australian churches, biblical discernment, Biblical truth, Burt Westbrook, Caboolture Church, Christianity, cult, false gospel, false prophets, false teachers, God's grace, God's love, Gospel of Jesus Christ, Meg Westbrook, NAR, New Apostolic Reformation, Obed Mission, personal testimony, signs and wonders, Word of Faith heresy
It’s here…part two of Austin Hellier’s testimony. This is a story of the extraordinary mercy and grace of Almighty God in the life of a precious brother in Christ. There is much wisdom to glean, and an urgent warning to be heard in this testimony.
Part One can be read here: Beware of False Prophets (Part 1)
Beware Of False Prophets – Part 2
Concerning Obed Mission
After the events described under “Beware of False Prophets”, and after several visits by both the young men and women of our group, I went up to stay, leaving all behind in mid-1986. Getting used to life with the “Farmily” as the locals in Caboolture called them was a bumpy ride for the next few months. Of course, I was in ignorant bliss, and didn’t know that, sooner or later, the heavy hand of ‘father’ and ‘mother’ Westbrook would come down on me, just like it had the rest of their disciples. Some 35 people lived on five 10 acre hobby farms at a place called Moodlu, just to the north of the town. You turned right over a railway crossing, and then several hundred metres down Williams Road, you found four farms to the left (all in a row) and one on the right, on the corner of Williams and Greenings Roads, Moodlu. They are still there to this day, and have had some additions made to the complex since my time there.
Herbert Westbrook (known as ‘Bert’) but to us as ‘father’, was brought up in a tiny house next to the railway crossing in Coroy, further to the north of Brisbane. His father had been a Wesleyan Methodist preacher, who had ‘fallen off the wagon’ and had reverted to alcohol as a means of false comfort. Then one day, back in 1932, an associate of Smith Wigglesworth came through town, preaching a gospel of salvation and deliverance. Bert’s family attended the home church crusade, and their father was gloriously touched by God, and was restored to his first love. Virtually the whole family came to the Lord at that time, and they were to become involved with the newly formed AOG when it merged with the Pentecostal Church of Australia in 1937, forming the Assemblies of God – Australasia”, the official federal organisation.
Eventually, Bert became an elder in the AOG – he was never a pastor in that denomination, and was eventually disfellowshiped for false teaching and rebellion against church leadership. No doubt there were a lot of hurts suffered as the family was forced to choose between their brother and the church. Bert’s children made it into the ministry or to the mission fields under the AOG banner, with some of them going further afield to the COC years later, and Westbrooks have even been found in Baptist and other Evangelical churches too. This is NOT about them as a family; it’s about Bert and his second wife. His first wife died tragically, leaving him and seven children to get on with life as best they could.
Meg Westbrook was of strong German descent, and was brought up on a farm on the outskirts of Gatton in western Queensland. Later on in life, she moved to Brisbane city proper, and opened up a shop in downtown Fortitude Valley, as a dress maker and a Milliner (hat maker). She was a worldly business woman for many years (according to her own testimony,) who lived on the northside near Brighton. She came into contact with the Salvation Army Corp there, and claims to have had a definite conversion experience to Christ in the late 1950’s. She claimed to have ‘learnt the ropes’ of church life and discipline while with the Salvos, and then, when revival came to Brisbane in the early 1970’s (the famed Windsor Revival.)
Bert and Meg had begun to work with ‘street kids’ in the Redcliffe Peninsula, and had attempted to join themselves to the local AOG, but they were asked to leave due to “an incompatibility of vision” with the church leadership. Deciding to go it alone, at least for a while, they moved house from one part of Clontarff to another, purchasing 59 Pamerick Crescent, as their new base. The seeds of the Obed ‘community’ had been planted. Their young disciples came off the streets in the early days, but later on, as the CLC and COC became established in the early to mid-1970’s, they turned their attention to proselytizing young converts from there too.
I had often heard stories told in their mid-week home groups about who had originally come from what church, and it seemed to me for a while that Obed Mission was indeed a “patchwork quilt”. This was true too, as concerning their doctrine and practice. The Westbrooks had embraced the ‘new move’ of God in Brisbane during the 1970’s, and if you went to Obed for a Sunday morning meeting in the mid to late 1980’s you may not notice too much difference between them and any other Pentecostal or Charismatic church. What you wouldn’t see at first glance, was the influence of the heavy Shepherding and Discipling movement of that era, neither would you detect straight away the influences of Latter Rain doctrine. You never heard William Branham mentioned in public meetings, but he was there ‘in spirit’, as at that time, they indulged themselves in their own version of the “Laughing Revival”, long before it ever hit the big time in Australia in the mid 1990’s under Rodney Howard Browne.
The Obed leaders had a ploy to get people involved from other churches, without spending too much effort. Normally they would send out their ‘scouts’ and these would be 2 or 3 single women, who would come and ‘visit’ your church for a week or two. Then they would seek out new prospects for their commune, and before leaving for home, they would invite the pastor and his wife up to the commune for a visit first up.
While there, they would seek to learn of any weaknesses in their new ‘visitors’ and if they thought they could do it, they would attack them there and then, and accuse them of sin, inconsistency or some frivolous doctrinal thing, and destabilize their confidence. I have seen the Obed leaders in full flight, where they could literally turn some couples into putty in their hands, within a couple of hours – the “kangaroo court” was their favourite tactic and it often worked a treat. Alternatively, if they didn’t think they could get control of various church leaders on their first visit, they would then invite the ‘sheep’ for a different type of visit.
Young, impressionable Christians, without any life experience, would come home with glowing reports about what a wonderful place the Farms were – they truly did live in “community” and they would then impress their leaders to go up for a visit themselves. After the pastors and wives had come and gone, Obed would then contact the ‘sheep’ and tell them what a dreary bunch of shepherds they had, and wouldn’t life be better on the farms, living in harmony based on community? It often worked to their advantage, just as it did with me, and so many sheep went off to the slaughter of false doctrines and false spiritual experiences and the false ‘covering’ of Obed and its deadly highly questionable discipling methods. They even sent their singles overseas and brought back Obed ‘converts’ from the USA, England, as well as missionaries on furlough from other countries, where ‘the spirit lead them’; which ‘spirit’?
I watched a young man escape from Obed one day, as he had had enough of the heavy handed treatment meted out by ‘father and mother’ Westbrook. He had been placed there by his parents to recover from drugs and alcohol addiction, but wanted out, and so one day, he cut some feed for the cows (we took it in turn to feed and milk them each day,) but underneath the feed, he had hidden his duffel bag and his back pack. He then proceeded down to the bottom of a paddock, slipped under the barbed wire fence, and hitched a ride into town. He never came back, but I did meet up with him a year after I left (in December of 1988) and he seemed just fine at that time.
It took me another 6 months to make my escape bid. I had a rented house to the south in Burpengary, and was working in the Valley in 1988. I became suspicious of the leaders after watching their ‘treatment’ of both visitors and inmates alike. To cut a long story short, I left and stayed in my house, kept working, but stopped going to meetings. I got a call from ‘mother’ Westbrook, accusing me of all sorts of things (business as usual at the “Funny Farms”) but hung up on her, telling her off for “being a big mouth”. I never heard from her again. Eventually, I was forced to move away in order to avoid the Obed disciples that I continually came across.
The Healing Home
Another ruse used by the leaders to exact money from their followers, was the “vision for a healing home”. The healing home scam had been a part of the commune almost since day one. Basically, “mother’s vision” was trotted out every now and then when there was trouble in the fellowship, or it was decided that they needed to acquire a new property, or to subdivide and build on part of an existing one. The “Healing Home” which was then purchased or built was ‘never quite large enough or good enough’ in order for ‘mother’ to be satisfied that her ‘vision’ had come to pass. Eventually another healing home would either be built or acquired, and more new ‘disciples’ would be then housed there, to have their brains addled by the Obed cult – and I was one of them!
Finally, after buying several properties, and building two new houses on two of them, a third ‘healing home’ was built in 1987, between farms 3 and 4. A parcel of land was cleared and leveled, and construction work began. Deception was the order of the day though, as the plans shown to Caboolture Council contained many ‘rooms’ that were for a stated purpose, such a ‘reading’ room, a ‘sewing’ room, a ‘drawing’ room and so forth, but in reality, they were all extra bedrooms, eleven in total, where Obed’s new (female) disciples would be billeted after hours and weekends, and learn how to serve ‘mother and father’ Westbrook. All of those extra bedrooms clearly contravened fire safety regulations for residential properties, but what did the Obed leaders care?
The foundations of the New House as it was called, were made up of some genuine footings and foundation slab, but underneath the slab, Bert Westbrook ordered the workers onsite (I was one of them for several months,) to fill in the slab area with loose fill, broken up bricks and other rubbish, that Council building inspectors would never approve of, if they had seen it. But it was deceptively covered up by the concrete mixing trucks covering up those faulty foundations, with perfect timing, in order to avoid those very inspectors who could have made it safe. One often wonders if the spiritual foundations of Obed Mission were also smoothed over, hiding the “loose fill, broken up bricks and other rubbish” that may have been laid underneath their very “smooth” exterior? As time and circumstances continue to beat against the Obed structure, may God reveal the faulty foundations of this false organisation, so that the true Church of Jesus Christ be not brought into disrepute due to their ungodly antics
Meg Westbrook claimed, in the mid 1980’s that she had visitations from a special ‘angel’ sent by God. This angel gave her prophecies to share on Sunday mornings, around the communion table, and also (allegedly) gave her insights into the private lives of Obed’s membership. I don’t think so. Like most cults, Obed had its own internal ‘spy network’ and if you fell afoul of the leaders, or disobeyed their unwritten rules, you may be stood up in the middle of a meeting and dressed down for your faults and failings, with no right of reply. I saw people in tears and terribly embarrassed by this unbiblical nonsense. They were shamed into admitting to things they never did or said, or things that didn’t really matter in the overall scheme of things.
One day when we were all out working the ‘new House’ (the final ‘healing home’) Bert left the worksite and proceeded to the shed behind Farm 2 (known back then as the Boy’s Home) and came back 5 minutes later with an odd shaped object in his hands. He then began to pace up and down on the vacant land next to the New House, and after a few minutes, it became apparent that he was using a divining rod – to look for water. Bert Westbrook was practicing divination – an activity that is expressly forbidden in scripture.
Divining for water was not generally considered evil by your average person in the street back then, but it is something that a Bible believing Christian should never even entertain, let alone do. Divination is the practice of summoning demons to help you find something – a lost object, a person, or in this case, and underground water catchment, to be later on tapped and used for bore water. People used to get paid for water divining (the practice used to be called ‘dowsing.) Using demons in order to help build a facility for building God’s Kingdom shows extreme ignorance of God and the ways of God, as “witchcraft is as the sin of rebellion.
Peninsula Full Gospel Church
Apart from the Narangbah Full Gospel Church, the former Brethren church in Clontarff was purchased by the Obed leaders, as they tried vainly to reestablish their presence in force on the Peninsula once more. This church was surrounded by some of their people either renting or buying houses in the same street in order to try and create the same sense of community out on the farms. After some years of trial and error, the venture finally failed, the church closed and the building was sold. By Bible standards, whatever God does in the Earth should be able to be duplicated (with appropriate modifications to suit local conditions,) but Obed’s version of “church” cannot be duplicated, or so it would seem. No prizes for guessing why. They often used cake stalls and street markets and even had a food support program at one stage, trying to get single mums and people on the dole, into the Obed fold, but the potential “sheep” were, for the most part, unwilling.
The Westbrooks are both dead and gone now, and the Obed commune is in the hands of younger people, who were amongst their original band of disciples. What could have been a real rest haven from the world, and a magnificent work for God, seems sadly to have become no more than a cultish church, which looks like it has caused no end of harm to some sections of the Body of Christ. This is the terrible price that God’s people will pay, if they don’t have a love for the truth – they will be deceived, and will be given over to a “strong delusion.” I am not saying that people weren’t saved there, or that there was no good thing on the farms or in Redcliffe. What I’m saying is that man was glorified, and God’s truth was at the same time, denied in many ways, so that those who came to Christ through the Obed church either bought into the current deceptions and stayed, or realised just who and what they were involved with and left. More than 1,000 people have passed through the doors of the ‘Funny Farms’ to date.
In closing this unpleasant but enormously educational chapter of my life, I must say that it still saddens me to this day. When we glorify man (aka William Branham and his gross deceptions, both then through aberrant Latter Rain doctrine and now through the current NAR movement,) we belittle God and we make ourselves into ‘little gods’. We believe the lie of the Garden of Eden, and we sin and rebel against the very core beliefs as set out in the Word of God. We deny our own sinfulness, covering it up in religious robes of self-righteousness, but ignore the righteousness that comes by faith. We indulge in ‘pastor worship’ (one of Obed’s favourite pastimes,) and stand on the brink of “selling our own souls for a mess of pottage” like Esau, who sought the blessing with tears afterwards, but couldn’t find it, as it had been given to another. We must never allow vain hopes and false loyalties to steal from us the very oracles of God, and replace them with a convenient lie.
After I had left the commune, I ended up in a Pentecostal church in Narangbah, pastored by Christine Hivon. The church has long since gone, and Christine has since taken out early retirement. During my time there, I played bass guitar, accompanying ‘Nan’ Hivon, who played a much swish honky tonk piano. Christine’s younger sister, Joanne, was song leader, and another brother in the Lord, David, did some of the teaching. I stayed at this church for a year, while living down the road at Burpengary.
While all of this had been going on (since late 1986, until the end of 1990) I worked in Fortitude Valley, as a salesman in the business machine trade, except for the 1st year, (1987) where I worked on the workbench learning how to repair business equipment. In 1993 I spent the year at a church called “Church on the Bay”, pastored by John Lean. During that time I joined two classes – the first one was designed to activate church members to do more at their local church – to serve the local church more effectively. The second class was called the “New Preacher’s Class” – both classes were run by ex CRC pastor George Crane (gone to be with the Lord).
‘Business’ as Usual
In 1991, my father died and I gained a family inheritance, which I used to set up my own business venture, called “Asian Business Machines” and I had a shop in downtown Fortitude Valley. This business did not last however, due to the efforts of a con man who I met at a church on the north side of Brisbane. I felt that I had allowed money and the prospect of prosperity to overtake me and steal my focus away from the Lord. Money can change your personality and even your whole life perspective, and take you back to the doorstep of the world. The business failed, but I was back on track with the Lord and that is all that mattered. By the end of 1991 I was broke and unemployed, and I spent the following year at the Strathpine COC. While there, pastors Robert and Robyn Droste were very kind to me, and I helped out by running the tape library and the sound system week about as my turn came up.
I was in recovery mode for the first 6 years after leaving the communal cult – time which was spent moving around, as different parts of the body of Christ were used by the Lord to enable that restoration. In late 1993, I went to Calvary Lighthouse church in Redcliffe and stayed there until April of 1994. I had been there during part of 1990, but when the business failed, it was decided between the two church leaderships that Strathpine COC was the best place for me at that stage. I want to thank God for the ministries that came along side me and helped in that recovery, including the members of those churches named above, as they all added to my spiritual wellbeing and recovery – I thank them and their respective leaderships, one and all.
In the Wilderness
In 1994, I left Brisbane and headed out for Alice Springs on a Greyhound bus, with 9 boxes and a suitcase. Only 8 boxes made the distance and I lost the box that mattered most – the one with all my old school reports and other important papers. I stayed with some former friends who I met way back in my home town in 1978. They had run a Christian bookshop and coffee shop and had stayed for 2 years – former COC people, with 5 young children. They were ostensibly ‘Word of Faith’ people, who followed Copeland and Hagin religiously – I did not – not until 1982.
I had lost contact with them for years, but they had come to Brisbane for a School of the Profits conference (yep – I spelled the name right,) during 1993, and had offered for me to come out to the Alice, should I decide to leave town. I made that decision almost a year later in March. I packed my bags, said my goodbyes, and left town on the 20th of April 1994. Tony Weber, the pastor of Calvary Lighthouse took me into the Roma Street Transit Centre, and waved goodbye as the bus pulled out of the terminal. I said goodbye to Brisbane too, and all that had occurred since mid-June, 1986. I thank God for the kindness of that church when I was in difficult circumstances too.
By the time I had gone to Alice Springs to live (some 16 years later,) the kids had all grown up. Some had found jobs in the town while others were finishing school, but the father had neglected his responsibilities with his wife was running both the family and a small fellowship they had established. When a man “drops his bundle”, as head of the house, and his wife takes over that role, it becomes a kind of ‘role reversal’. She dominates, and he capitulates, and this is the ideal circumstance for Satan to send in his controlling spirits. Often called ‘spirits of Jezebel’ (there are no such things as ‘female spirits’,) not only do these spirits of control and deception enter into the lives of the immediate family; they also infect the Church, especially if the affected couple are in leadership positions. In scripture, we see women depicted as being both good (the type representing the true church,) and evil (evil women representing the false church.) Those types and shadows do NOT portray all women as being potentially evil, who therefor need to be subjugated under legalism and false teaching, making them second class citizens in the kingdom of God.
There were controlling spirits in operation within that small group, as they had offered to help a white missionary with his work on an outstation (aboriginal settlement,) outside of Alice, but had then tried to steal half of his sheep in the process. Fortunately, this ruse did not work, and those who were deceived by this ungodly action, eventually returned to the fold where they belonged. Terry Medling was one of the nicest missionary guys you could ever meet, and he certainly didn’t deserve that kind of shabby treatment from people who had pretended to be his friends in ministry. He had worked hard for years and under trying conditions to build up the faith of those indigenous brethren, and had even suffered Satanic attacks from the occult in that region.
After realizing the sorry state of these people, I decided that this was not the right place for me to stay, and left after only six weeks and got a room in a local hostel. The family situation had gone down after those early days in Swansea. Tragically one of their older daughters died during childbirth some time later, leaving a bereaved young man and a baby behind. We can have an independent church that seeks to fellowship with others and cooperate with them when opportunities arise. What we cannot afford to have, is a church with an ‘independent’ spirit that refuses to recognise any other churches’ legitimacy, and allows an entry point for controlling spirits, lying spirits, and deceptive methods that bring shame and ridicule to the name of Jesus Christ and His true church, wherever it may be, and whatever banner it may fly overhead. Putting on airs of spiritual superiority won’t help us when it comes to the crunch – we’ll either have the ‘goods’ or we will not!
Of all the groups that I‘ve met in my travels, the Potter’s House group has to be one of the most abusive Bible-based cults on the continent. PH began back in the early days, under the oversight of a man named Wayman Mitchell. Mitchell had been a part of the Four Square church in the US, and the original PH church was started by another man, but taken over by Mitchell, who conned the dead pastor’s wife (he and three others had been killed in a car crash,) into signing over the church property and bank accounts to Wayman Mitchell. The PH cult goes under various other names, (such as Victory Chapel, The Door) and is very much a top down domineering, hierarchical and patriarchal belief system. Potter’s House is not a cult in terms of doctrine, as their stock standard, off the shelf beliefs appear to be mostly orthodox, as far a Pentecostal churches go.
Where they fall down, is on behaviour, and most of the tell-tale signs of extremism and cultishness are there (Lifton’s 8 criteria for mind control,) in large proportion. Members are forbidden to meet with more than five or six other members, outside of church meetings, without the pastor’s permission (in case they get the bad idea of forming another group apart from the control of God’s gift to humanity – the Potter’s House church.) They have their internal spy networks and also indulge in pastor worship – they literally come out the front of the meeting and fall prostrate – face down on the floor, in front of the raised platform. Of course, they’ll tell you that they are ‘worshiping God’ but that isn’t the case. The pastor is the be all and end all for PH members, and what he says goes, and whatever he does not approve of, does not happen! This prostration is a clear sign of submission to him, not to God.
I often met these poor souls on the streets of Alice, sometimes late at night, “seeking the lost” but not realizing just how lost they were themselves. PH members are expected to meet for early morning and late night prayer meetings and Bible studies. Failure to attend regularly can mean that you’ll be stood up in the main meeting and questioned as to your commitment to the group and its false ideals. People in other churches are often called “lukies” meaning that they are luke warm, compared to the on fire members of each PH group. Fortunately, at least one couple was able to escape from the PH in Alice, as I met them later on, down in Adelaide.
Many people have testified online and in print as to the rabid cultishness of Potter’s House, as this group makes no bones about disfellowshiping people over minor manners, or even having the slightest disagreement with the pastor. They have split families and destroyed small business in their blind zeal to serve the god they believe in, but the God of Potter’s House IS their local pastor, who stands between them and the real God, as a sort of self-appointed priest. This implies a kind of idolatry – the worshiping of any image forbidden expressly by God. Wayman Mitchell has a lot to answer for in terms of prideful arrogance, to the point where the movement that he founded, based on stolen money and property (he conned the original leaders, who signed everything over to him.) He has used this movement as a wrecking ball to demolish the faith of many sincere but frail members of the PH church.
This is what happens when people deify man. God becomes distant and somehow insignificant, and is often present in name only in their gatherings, while these obvious false prophets rake in the money, while demanding the blind allegiance of their following.
Controlling spirits are rife throughout the church scene, but are far worse in remote areas, far removed from any influence from church headquarters and/or spiritual maturity. There were a number of ‘rogue’ ministries in the Alice. These people were known locally as “boundary riders” as they were accountable to no one. Two of them ran a scam newsletter with pictures of local indigenous people featuring prominently in their reports. The problem with those reports seemed to be the fact that the photos were upwards of ten years old and some of the people in them had been dead for many years. Unfortunately, a lot of people from interstate had sent money to them each month, believing the reports to be true. The most they would have done would have been a sausage sizzle outreach on the banks of the dry Todd River. Some of them were ‘on the dole’ but were not taking seriously the Bible principle of living by faith, and certainly not fulfilling the biblical injunction to “work with their own hands, the thing which is good” (at a trade or in commerce).
I stayed in the Alice for four long years – a veritable wilderness in itself. It suffers -7 degrees in winter, and +43 degrees in summer, as it sits on the north eastern edge of the Simpson Desert. It has many good tourist traps, including the nearby gorges, which are well worth a look, lots of interesting shops, art galleries, museums and historical places that have been preserved for posterity. And then there’s Ayers Rock – a good 6 hours’ drive south-west of the town.
During my time there, I was involved in one Pentecostal church, and after some 6 months or so, the fun really began. The ‘pastor’ wanted an ‘elder’ to be his assistant, and the choice he made from among the congregation was the worst possible one that could be made. The man chosen had been previously affiliated with another Pentecostal church, but had been asked to leave that church. He also had links with a ‘travelling youth ministry’ and had, in a past life, been the president of the local chapter of a well-known ‘men’s ministry’ too. Strange how these organisations kept on distancing themselves from him, but the ‘pastor’ knew nothing of it?
Then in the middle of 1996, the so-called “laughing revival” hit town, with Rodney Howard Brown visiting Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, and then after spending as little as 6 weeks in the country, went home with a reported $7 million dollars’ worth of gullible people’s money – in 6 weeks! The ‘pastor’ and the ‘elder’ had gone down to Adelaide for a week, and seemed to come back home “on fire for God”. It was to be proven at a later date, that it was their “pants” that were actually on fire – not their hearts! Through a series of incidents too long and complicated to mention here, it became known by the Superintendent of that region, that all was not well ‘up in the Alice’, so a representative from divisional headquarters in Adelaide was dispatched to investigate, and upon his arrival, questioned a number of people about some funny goings on within that particular assembly.
After spending several hours with me and my good friend Kevin, he was convinced that all was not well at the local church. Following some 6 weeks delay, the Superintendent came himself, flanked by several others and promptly and in front of everyone one Sunday morning, defrocked the pastor and also put going the wayward elder. (The pastor had been drinking heavily, and had been giving some of the churches’ offering money to an identified false prophet who was based down in Victoria. He was formerly of the same denomination, but he had been excommunicated some ten years before, for false prophecy and mishandling money. They all look the same to me!)
The ‘elder’ had been caught with his hand in the till while a previous president of that well known men’s fellowship, and had been put going from there some years before. He was also reportedly responsible, in a past life, for putting on strip shows, in the old boxing ring, on the southern side of town – for money. The Bible teaches us that an elder should be ‘above reproach’ – not perfect, but honest in all of his business and personal dealings, and certainly not a “whoremonger” (Hebrews 13:4.) A track record like that certainly does not put either of those two men ‘above reproach’ and thank God that they were dealt with at the time, so that the church would not be brought into disrepute. Thank God for Godly wisdom on the part of the leaders back there in 1996.
After these and one or two other ‘eventful’ happenings, I set out for Adelaide in February of 1998 and was to stay there for the next 2 years. I arrived in the aftermath of the so called “Laughing Revival”, except in some quarters, there wasn’t too much left to laugh about, but more on that in part 3.
Adelaide – City of Churches
For those of you who don’t know, Adelaide was one of the few cities or large towns that were built with free labour. I don’t mean that people didn’t get paid – they were free men. In other words, there was no penal settlement, where convict labour was used to build the city like there was on the east coast, from the time of the First Fleet in 1788, until 1850, when England ceased to sentence people to the dreaded “transportation” – seven years on a penal colony, and your return fair to be paid to get back home, when you were done. Consequently, the city of Adelaide became known as the ‘city of Churches’ with one or another kind almost on every street corner, due to the free spirit and embracing of the Gospel by the folks of that fair city, and that was still true to an extent when I went there to live in February of 1998.
Before leaving the Alice, I had won a competition in late 1996, which provided me with a free return air ticket to the capital city of my choice. I chose Adelaide and in mid-1997, I took a week’s holiday from my temping job with the former CES, and flew down ostensibly for a Christian men’s fellowship conference. I only stayed for the first day, as I had been in contact with people who had left various churches there, due to the huge fallout from the RHB meetings in that city. They had gotten in contact with me through the Christian Enquirer newsletter, which I had begun in Brisbane, during 1991, as a result of my dealings with the Obed commune.
I spent the rest of that week with them, and although friends of mine at the conference didn’t understand why I had absconded at the time, they did when we got back home a week later and I’d shared with them the truth about what really happened during the so called ‘revival’. In times past, there have been many genuine revivals, where God has sovereignly moved within His church to restore to her order and to her ‘first love’. It is also true to say that, when the Gospel was preached with power during those early revivals, certain signs and wonders followed the preaching of the word – as they should, and many unsaved souls came under deep conviction and were added to the churches in various places. What we are seeing today in the NAR and other similar movements and organisations (such as IHOP,) is a lot of falsehood, self-serving and spiritual pride bordering on cultishness, under the guise of modern day ‘revival’. Truly, the tares are coming to fruition amongst the wheat, in these last days. (Matthew 13: 24-30)
Church I’m only going to say this once:
“THIS IS NOT THAT!”
OK. When I went there to live in early 1998, I became involved in a very small fellowship of people who had separated themselves from places like the paradise AOG. They were a part of a larger group that called itself ‘Hectorville Christian Fellowship’ but had left that group too, claiming excesses and a form of spiritual abuse from the leaders. I didn’t know any of those folks at Hectorville at the time I first arrived, but met up with them some months later, and eventually left the small group in Salisbury, believing that the man who ran it did so based on unhealed hurts, and not because the Lord had called him into ministry.
There was certainly some angst over this at the time, but I did meet up with one couple later on, and they explained to me that although they felt a bit used up at the time (I had stayed with them for a while before getting my own place,) eventually they could see through the hurts and begin to understand why I had left. The group had disbanded since then, and even the former leader admitted to me in a phone call that my assessment had been right, and that there were no hard feelings. God is our vindicator.
It is hard to know exactly what happened with the Hectorville folks before I arrived. Originally, they had been meeting together as a group of around 200 people in a small community hall in that suburb. As time went on, people came and went, but by the time I had arrived in mid-1998, there would have been only about 50 people on a good Sunday morning. There were no Sunday nights, and midweek prayer meetings and Bible studies were sporadic to say the least. The church membership was made up mainly of fake revival ‘refugees’ and many of those people, genuine and all as they were, suffered from deep hurts, as they were forced out of churches that some of them had attended for decades, not just years. Even Andrew Evan’s own sister went there for a time, in protest against the harsh treatment meted out to any detractors of the ‘revival’.
Don’t Trip Over These ‘Roots’!
Another hidden feature of Hectorville was the infiltration of the HRM – the Hebrew Roots Movement. For what it’s worth, I don’t have a problem with Jewish believers becoming Messianic Jews, but the HRM movement, while trying desperately to masquerade as Messianic, is actually heavily cultic and very legalistic. Saved Jewish brethren would understandably want to rediscover their rich heritage, contained within the Old Testament, and then find that expression within the New Testament setting. Whether there be cultural differences between brethren from ‘Western’ churches and those that differ markedly as Jewish or Coptic, or whatever, Romans chapter 14 deals with those cultural differences adequately, and I have no problems with the Messianics being what they are. I have huge problems with the HRM and its cultish, legalistic masquerade!
While there has always been a perceived divide between eastern and western expressions of the Church, Christ is still Lord of both. What I see, is that the New Testament teaches us that both Jew and Gentile believers, are actually neither – they are one new ‘man’ in Christ ( ) What I DON’T see, is a whole mob of Corinthian converts, running down the main street of Corinth towards the synagogue, seeking to reconnect with their Hebrew roots – because they didn’t have any! Crispus and his fellow proselytes left the synagogue, based on the ministry of the apostle Paul, never to return. If the HRM doctrine had any foundation within the Gospel, then they would have realised their mistake and either returned to ‘Christianise’ the synagogue, or would have taken significant and relevant parts of Judaistic teaching and practice with them, under Paul’s supervision, and added it to the daily life of their church. They never did!
The ‘pastor’ – Bruce Armstrong and his wife Carol were to turn out to be novices really, but at the time, they attempted to do their best to maintain regular fellowship. They were also found to be heavily influenced by the HRM, having been involved with a Messianic ministry that eventually disowned the Australian branch in Adelaide back then, and reestablished a new branch elsewhere. After some 2 years though, they finally realised that they lacked the graces and experience that was required of church leadership and resigned, moving to the Rostrevor Baptist Church, a charismatic church, while Bruce continued his Bible School studies and worked at a part time job. I trust that their experiences at Hectorville and the Rostrevor church would now stand them in good stead for any future venture.
The church was then depleted of its membership base as most of the original members also left around that time. The vision for Hectorville, as a safe haven from the excesses of the false revival in Adelaide had failed, but most of the people managed to move on to ‘greener pastures’. The remnants of the Hectorville church then fell into the hands of a man who had left the CRC movement some years before, and who had since aligned himself with an independent evangelical reformed group in the city. The Hectorville Church just wasn’t the same by the time I had left Adelaide in early December, 1999.
The lessons from Hectorville are both tragic and graphic. You can only found a church on the rock, Jesus Christ. You cannot found it on any ‘anti’ sentiment towards others and their strange beliefs and practices, no matter how wrong they are. Christ ordains the ministry team, not man, and also appoints the existence of each genuine ‘sheepfold’. In John 10, Jesus makes it clear that HE is our good shepherd, not a self-appointed pastor! If we accept the ministry of men who are not appointed by God, then we will unwittingly open the door of the sheepfold to the wolves, who will undoubtedly take the opportunity to feed off the flock, and devour any and all that they can. Those who fled there for refuge, suffering from rejection, will be worse off than they were before.
That is why the wolves wear the sheepskins – they are very cleverly disguised as both sheep and shepherds. Back in New Testament times, shepherds wore sheepskins as a sign of their trade. Everyone knows a blue collar worker when they seem one dressed in a boiler suit, don’t they? And so it was with shepherds back then. When the wolves show up and successfully isolate the sheep, off come the sheepskins, and out come the wolves. You can’t depend on the hirelings to protect the flock either, as they would have already fled down the road towards their next pay packet, leaving you to your fate. (Matthew 7:13 – 23)
Beware of False Prophets – Again!
Just before leaving Adelaide, I came into contact with a man who we’ll just call ‘Frank’. Frank had run his own ‘prophetic’ newsletter (a bit shabby and wanting,) and claimed to have lived in my home town many years before. We didn’t know each other back then, but he knew enough about the town to satisfy me that he was telling the truth – and that was probably the only truthful thing that Frank ever told me! Frank had spied my Christian Enquirer publication on the East Coast, and contacted me when he came over to Adelaide to visit his daughter. He also offered for me to go back east with him to Shellharbour when he was leaving Adelaide about a week after the phone call.
I thought about it, and decided that there was nothing for me in Adelaide after Hectorville. The City was in such a mess spiritually speaking in the aftermath of RHB and Co., and I didn’t feel that I had anything more to offer at the time. So a week later, I packed my bags, handed in the keys to my unit in Salisbury, and after saying my goodbyes, left with Frank on a two day journey from Adelaide to Shellharbour. Frank drove like a bat out of Hell along the back roads of New South Wales (I should have seen trouble coming right there and then!) but when we got to Shellharbour, I met his most disarming wife, Gloria. Little did I know at the time that the next 2 months were to be one of the bumpiest rides I’d had in a long time.
The old shanty town of Shellharbour is situated on the coast, and was originally a fishing settlement, much like my home town of Swansea, some 3 hours to the north. It had grown and expanded way beyond this to the point where there were actually 6 suburbs, all under the ‘Shellharbour City’ town council. All of the cow paddocks in the region were being bulldozed into real estate with the help of Landcom, and all of this was positioned on the southern shores of Lake Illawarra.
Frank and Gloria had been busy preparing for Y2K – they had all sorts of provisions stashed under their lakeside home – dried food, water bottles coming out their ears, spare battery packs and toilet paper (very necessary if you think that society is going to crash sometime in the near future!) They had a part time job for 2 weeks out of every 4, managing a caravan park elsewhere. Apparently they had done this contract management job on and off for years, but it seems to me with hindsight that the caravan park had rubbed off on them and any ‘Christian’ witness that they may have displayed towards the poor unfortunates living there was null and void.
Left High and Dry
Y2K came and went uneventfully, and things went along fine for a time after that, and then one night, I overheard Frank on the telephone, arguing incessantly with someone at the other end. From what I could gather, people were after Frank for money owed, and he had promised to pay, but hadn’t. They must have twigged that I’d found out about their business, and panicked. After six weeks of living there, I became suspicious that all was not well in that two story lakeside villa.
I went down to Shellharbour Square shopping mall one morning to do some business, and when I got home several hours later, all the locks on the doors had been changed – my keys were no good in any lock. Both cars were gone, and I was left standing there in the hot Sun, wondering what to do next. The neighbours told me that a minivan had come and had packed some boxes and bags up and had left an hour before, but they had seen no locksmith on the property. I walked all the way up the hill towards the police station to see if they could tell me something, but never got there.
The sudden realization of what was happening to me, and the stress of the noonday Sun had taken its toll. I nearly collapsed from heat exhaustion, but fortunately this happened just outside the main entrance to Shellharbour Hospital. I just managed to make it inside the front door and to the front counter of the kiosk, and then collapsed. The nurses and doctors rushed me around to the ER in a wheelchair, thinking that I’d suffered a heart attack, put me to bed and plugged half a dozen tubes and leads into my body. I was there until 9 pm that night.
When I became conscious again, and told the doctors my story, they were very sympathetic and shouted me a taxi all the way to Coniston, where the Saint Vinneys’ team took me in. Those kind people at the Hospital had made an advanced booking for me too, bless their hearts. I was to stay at the hostel there for the next two weeks, and all I had left was my leather folder with personal papers in it, a $50 note, and the clothes I stood up in.
Frank and Gloria had ‘done a runner’ and had left me high and dry – my ‘house minding’ days were over. They had timed their exit perfectly; as they knew that my payday was still a few days away, leaving me broke and unable to pursue them for my goods at the time. It began to look like the end of the world. Y2K had finally come for me, somewhat delayed but nevertheless, it seemed to have come to Lakeside Drive Shellharbour after all.
You may be wondering why I mention this seemingly insignificant interlude amongst the greater spiritual lessons of my journey so far. What is stated above is not just the gleanings of idle gossip for the sake of telling a story – it comes with a dire warning. False prophets come in all shapes and sizes. Many of them are ‘in the midst’ but others tend to operate on the periphery of the church, so as to avoid detection. Paul warns us about both kinds in Acts 20:28 – 31, but we don’t always see these kinds of people coming.
There is always going to be a two pronged attack against the church. The outside threat will be the ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ kind – disarming strangers, picking their marks amongst the isolated sheep, and making their moves when the time is right. Then there’s going to be those on the inside, who have been influenced by false doctrines and fake miracles, who will “draw away disciples after themselves”. They will split the church just so they can satisfy their carnal desires for a leadership role, in order to have a following.
You see the problem is, that if I teach what you, as a pastor/teacher is teaching, then there’s no justifiable reason for me to take people down the road and start another work – without your blessing. If I’m going to raise a following and take them out, then I must have something markedly different and radical to offer the potentially new crowd of followers, otherwise they’ll tend to stay right where they are. The current NAR movement is offering something ‘different’, something ‘new’ and this new thing is very dangerous.
Ignorance Is Not Bliss
Well, it is what I found out about ‘Frank’ afterwards, that made my hair stand on end. For starters, Frank had at least 2 wives, as far as I knew. What I found out later on, was that Frank had been a jailbird over in Adelaide many years before, for failing to pay child maintenance for his first daughter – the one he went to visit when I was still back in Adelaide. The real reason he had gone to ‘visit’ her, was to try and shut her up, as she had made allegations of child abuse against him to the police! Thirdly, his so called “Prophetic” newsletter was no more than a rehash of other people’s writings and gleanings from the Internet. Very little of it was original – except his regular appeals for financial support for the “ministry”! What ministry? The non-existent one to caravan parks?
Fourthly, Frank had been married four times, not twice. His first wife had died many years before, so wife number 2 was legit, but wives number 3 and 4 thought that THEY were wives 1 and 2 – you see! Everyone but Frank had been lied to at some stage in the process, and that’s because Frank was a very clever and cunning liar. My Bible teaches me that “no liar will inherit the Kingdom of God,( ) in that state, and that “all liars will be thrown alive, into the lake of fire” (Rev ) Another lie that Frank had told, was the he and his wife were the only occupants at that lakeside address. Both myself (and one other man who had stayed there,) for the stated 6 weeks, had paid Frank some rent money, but the rent money I had paid to him faithfully each fortnight had not been handed in to the real estate office, but had been pocketed. Apparently his wife often used her maiden name for questionable purposes too, such as tax avoidance, various scams, gaining people’s confidence etcetera…
Rescued By an Angel
When I was back in Adelaide, I made some very good friends, who were of the same mind on many issues. We often went to other churches to hear special speakers, and kept in touch over the phone and via email in between. One of those friends was a lady by the name of Alice Edwards. Alice was your average mum in suburbia, keeping house, raising kids and looking after her good husband, and in between that, she managed to come to outings with a group of us, who ‘did the rounds’ of various visiting ministries when we could.
We were talking on the phone one day, and when she heard what had happened to me, offered me assistance straight away. I could never have asked for, or even think of her sending me a cheque for $1,500 , which arrived a week later, but that’s exactly what she did, and she never asked for the money back. She saved my bacon, as the money would prove handy to me for resettling back in Shellharbour proper, over the next few months. I had been rescued by an ‘angel’ called Alice and I will never forget her kindness.
I had decided during my 2 week ‘sentence’ at Vinnies, that I would stay in the area and undertake a course of study, as the surroundings of Wollongong to the north and the lake to the west were of a very similar topography to my home town of Swansea – beach on one side, lake on the other and Steel City (Newcastle) to the north. One day I went out on the bus to Shellharbour TAFE, and I spied an ad on the canteen notice board: “Room for rent – $70 per week including electricity – suit student – close to beach and shops.” I called the man, and he came and picked me up from the TAFE when I had finished filling out my entry forms, and then we set about recovering my goods from a storage locker on the western shores of Lake Illawarra, where Frank had dumped them just over 2 weeks before. The other man who had stayed at the house for 3 weeks, told me where they’d probably be, and he was right.
I got my stuff back later on that day, moved from the hostel to the beachside house, and looked forward to commencing studies in early February 2000. Vinnies even gave me a cheque for the first week’s rent! I visited the real estate office that Frank had rented the house through, and had discovered then that none of my fortnightly rent money had been paid to them – they never even knew that I or the other man, who had stayed there for a few weeks, existed until that day. God had taken some pretty sour circumstances in my life, (engineered by Satan’s man on the coast,) and turned them all out to my good. Several months later, I caught up with Frank on the telephone one night. He was absolutely gob smacked that I had been able to track him down, so I just bragged for 5 minutes about how the Lord had turned my circumstance around for the better, despite his best efforts to the contrary. Wonderful technology, the Telstra reverse White Pages – put in a name and a general location and up pops an address and a phone number…
When someone calls themselves a ‘prophet’ and publishes a newsletter claiming ‘prophetic revelations’ and then starts to look like a con man, do yourselves a favour – avoid him like the plague!
Life Wasn’t Meant to Be Easy
I studied hard that year and gained Certificate 4 in Community Services – Youth Work and some of my subjects that I passed were gained with distinction. The course timetable was rather grueling for a 41 year old, who hadn’t been to a TAFE college since 1980, but God was good and He does reward hard work. I went to class on Wednesdays through Fridays, spent the weekend writing assignments, had Mondays off (usually spent chilling out at the beach or the shopping mall) and did voluntary work in the local community centre on Tuesdays, as part of my course. In the second half of that year, I also gained a part time job as an assistant youth worker, after having done an unpaid stint with the same organisation for the TAFE course (called a “placement”).
I really liked living just 2 minutes from Warilla beach, as I’d spent the past 6 years away from any kind of salt water or relaxing scenery. The shops were less than 10 minutes’ walk from home, and the college was just a short bus ride up the hill, opposite Shellharbour Square. Maybe part of life was meant to be easy after all. I continued to live in that house for the next 3 years, but then circumstances changed and I came into money again. My step sister in Melbourne had been searching the continent for me for the previous four years, unbeknowns to me, as my last remaining aunt had passed away leaving me a sizeable inheritance, and with that knowledge, I moved further up the coast to Port Kembla, in late 2002.
Three In One!
I found an old shopfront on the main street and moved in. I built a basic bed sitter in a back room and two months later, I decided to go back into the business machine trade, as I knew the trade well, but not the local topography. The business began to succeed after some months, and I set about trying to find a church home for the duration. I knew another business man in the town who pastored a church further in towards the city. What I didn’t know first up, was that the church belonged to the ‘Oneness’ or Jesus Only Pentecostal group. Jimmy the printer seemed like a likeable person, and I’d met both his daughters and his wife in my comings and goings from his print shop. I needed business cards and flyers too, and so a relationship formed over time, and eventually they invited me to a Sunday meeting.
I had heard of the Jesus Only crowd some years before but didn’t know much about them, as the people who told me emphasized that “you really need to stay away from that bunch” but I did not. I decided that I’d go and have a look see for myself (as usual).
The first thing I noticed was that almost all of the women wore their hair right down their backs on certain occasions, and for the rest of the year, always wore it up in a bun. Couple that with their rather quaint clothing (long skirts and non-revealing tops) and they looked like something from the Holiness movements of the late 1800’s. Sunday meetings and mid-week prayer/Bible study groups seemed more or less normal at first. It took a while for me to see the legalism and to actually hear their take on the Trinitarian belief of the traditional churches. I found out later on that their women were forbidden to cut their hair from childbirth.
Jimmy shared with me how their whole family had been travelling on their way to Perth years before, and how they had broken down, and had been rescued by a man of Jehovah’s Witness beliefs. Those beliefs were to leave a lasting impression on Jim, as his mother had passed away just before the trip and he was vulnerable and at a loss to explain the meaning of life at that point. Returning to the East Coast, they came into contact with Oneness people, and that was how they ended up in Port Kembla too. They lived west of the lake, but their shop was one block down the road from mine. The JW’s had laid a false foundation in this man’s life and Satan had used it to get him into the Oneness movement. A false Christ and a false gospel will always lead you into deception.
I spent quite some time meeting with them and talking to them about their beliefs that year. It certainly helped to hone up my debating skills and also made me brush up on the Trinitarian concept of God. I had the internet connected at the shop and so after hours, I began an online study of this strange belief system that espouses only one person in the godhead. The Oneness people historically, were a part of the early Pentecostal revivals around the time of the famed Azusa Street move, back in 1906. By 1914, those who had come out of that move were ready to formalize their arrangements into a structure that would eventually become known worldwide, as the Assemblies of God. In 1916, a number of dissenting men went to the leaders of the AOG’s annual conference, and stated their new found belief in ‘Oneness’ doctrine, but of course, like most heresies, ‘Oneness’ was not new at all. Their teaching was rejected and they were forced to move on, organizing themselves more formally in 1917 as the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (PAW).
Oneness Pentecostalism is predicated on an ancient heresy called “Modalism”, and this basically states that there is literally only one person in the godhead, and that personage has the ability to appear in all three ‘modes’ (Father, Son and Holy Spirit.) Of course, many questions arise as to the veracity of such teaching, the classic one being the baptism of Jesus by John at the Jordan River. If there is only one “person” and not three, then was Jesus being a ventriloquist when the voice came from heaven and said “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17)? Was He talking to Himself, and how did the Holy Spirit alight on Him, like a dove? An optical illusion?
God does not need to use circus tricks in order to speak with us and I’m sure that the crowd down by the Jordan that day, saw one man in the water, John saw the Holy Spirit descend and definitely heard the voice of God the Father pronouncing His approval on His divine Son, who was in the River. Sorry folks, but there’s no room for only one “person” in the godhead there, or anywhere else. The Trinitarian concept has been held by orthodox Christian people since the days of the apostles. Three divine persons, subsisting on the one divine nature is how I express it, and while I’m no theologian I feel that this expression is both adequate and complete.
False teaching coupled with legalism is a surefire way to wreck any fellowship and this one had certainly had a lot of people come and go. Of course, you didn’t ask the people anything about the past – their unwritten rules (cultish and legalistic groups ALWAYS have a set of unwritten rules,) did not allow them to talk about ‘brothers and sisters’ who had left the true fold and had been devoured by the ‘wolves’’ in other churches, several blocks down the road in Wollongong proper.
Having a business in the town connected you with all sorts of people. I used to dine out on a Thursday night with other people in the business community, and got to know a few of them rather well. We were part of the old business chamber but many of us felt that it somehow smelled of corruption, and so we set about forming our own. It lasted just six months for me, as I was to soon discover that another dealer was working in my patch. They had come from Sydney and had made a lot of sales in the Wollongong area.
Apparently my major supplier had betrayed me, as he had promised me a definite ‘territory’ but had passed on any potential sales leads to this company from Sutherland. Blood is thicker than water, but alcohol seems to be thicker still! Old ‘drinking mates’ still look after each other, regardless of the consequences to other people. For them to travel an hour down the freeway to make a sizeable sale was OK by them, but that kind of treachery was to spell the end of Central Business Machines. I had worked hard too, travelling from the tip of the Northern Beaches district, all the way down to Kiama and beyond, but it was all to come to nothing in the end. I closed the shop in the middle of 2004, but remained living there until March of 2005.
There are many other stories that could be told about my 2 year interlude in Port Kembla, but most of them are better left unsaid. I will, however mention one. Vince was your average con man in the big city. Shifty, dodgy, but always smiling with a charm that could get you in. He’d run a scam for some five years, without the cops being any the wiser, but eventually the long arm of the law put the brakes on his naughty little scams. He used to buy old bomb cars – 2 at a time, park both of them in a side street and then he’d hire someone to ‘drive’ the one at the rear, and the intended ‘victim’ would be a ‘passenger’ in the front car.
The car at the back would “rear-end” the car at the front, then both drivers would run off, leaving the ‘victim’ of the accident to be found by the police and paramedics. Compensation would be sought, and Vince would collect his 10% like clockwork – until one day, when he was doing a ‘runner’ away from the crime scene, he ran straight into the loving arms of the boys in blue. They couldn’t prove anything, but after searching the MVR records, they informed Vince that if he bought any more than one car, in any one calendar year, he would have to legally apply for a motor dealer’s license. And that’s how they stopped the scam! Port Kembla was in economic decline when I left, with the closure of the copper smelter, and with the BHP steelworks teetering on the brink. It was a rough and tumble township, with drug dealers, con men, prostitutes, and corruption of every kind – enough said.
As for the Oneness people, I feel that some of them are definitely saved, born again people, despite their innate legalistic approach to God and the Bible. Long hair and strict adherence to church dogma (works) won’t save you, but if you are really searching for God, then you will eventually find Him. I do believe that maybe many of those people in that UPC church have found the Saviour, but their image of Him has been clouded by the doctrinal splits of the past. Their view had also been distorted by vain attempts of the UPC leaders to defend the undefendable, so that they live in constant fear of divine retribution, rather than joyful expectation of the good things that God would do for them. These things were proven to me beyond a reasonable doubt at their Sydney conference, which I attended during the Christmas break of 2003.
Heading On Home
I was sitting in a park in the main street of Port Kembla one night in early 2005, staring up at the stars and wondering just what the future held. I could return to Newcastle, the place where my journey had begun, but I’d never returned to a place that I’d lived and worked in before – ever. After spending a couple of hours under that starlit sky, I got a distinct impression from the Lord that I should prepare to leave Port Kembla behind as well. A month later, I did just that. Leaving town was almost as easy as it had been in the past, despite several ‘snags’, which I won’t go into now. I packed my bags and left Wollongong early one morning, and travelled up the escarpment to the Sydney bound freeway.
I drove past the very visible Mount Kembla for the last time, pondering over the meaning of my experiences on the South Coast. It seems to me that the Lord has used me often, as an eyewitness to certain events, or to help out in a difficult church situation, to be an encourager at times, and to learn and grow in the area of discernment. At other times, I was making my own mistakes and (hopefully) learning from them, and this is one of the major reasons for writing this 35 year long testimony, so that others can learn from my mistakes (all of them,) and not fall into the pitfalls and honey traps that Satan and his minions would set for them. At 5 am in the morning, I travelled underneath Sydney Harbour through their newly built tunnel. Two hours later, I was overlooking the town of Swansea, the town of my birth and my residence for the first 21 years of my life on this Earth.
I found that my old school, which had been moved out to Caves Beach many years before, had been replaced by a McDonalds, and a traffic roundabout, and that most of the shops in the High Street had also played musical chairs in the intervening years. I spent half a day looking around Newcastle, as I felt at the time that I would never see the city of my birth again. Eight years later, that feeling has been proven to be right. As I sit here at 4 am on a Saturday morning, typing out the endgame of my testimony about the grace of God in my life over many years, I think back to my humble beginnings in the Youth Group, the house church and the Obed commune. I saw my old high school, several places where I had lived and worked, and even the two inner city houses where the house church initially met. But then that was all ‘water under the Story Bridge’ and it was time once more to move on to greener pastures.
The trip up to Brisbane took around 12 hours, and I had learned from experience that you don’t use the Pacific Highway on the coast, if you can at all avoid it. It was a dangerous piece of tar back then, with several ‘Devil’s Elbow’ twists and turns along the track, so I took the back way. The New England Highway branches off the main road miles to the north of Hexam, the last pit stop I made before setting out. I felt a little strange returning to Brisbane but I secretly hoped to find some old friends still there, from my time back in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, but this was to prove a major disappointment some time later. Very few of them could be found. The trip went OK until I got a blowout just south of Tenterfield. It took half an hour to change the tyre, as I had to unpack all of the junk in the boot and the back seat so I could get to the spare. My breakdown looked more like a stall at a car boot sale than a man changing a tyre over.
TO BE CONTINUED
Austin Hellier © 2013 email: firstname.lastname@example.org