This blog is written while I am just outside the Australian city of Brisbane, where I am one of the main speakers during a camp meeting of the South Queensland Conference. It is a huge event with several thousands of people in attendance, housed in a large city of tents and caravans. Since I have never really enjoyed camping I am happy to report that there are also a few motel units and that my wife and I were been given one of these. The meetings and activities take place in three big tents and some smaller buildings on the camp grounds. My assignment consists of seven sermons and five seminar-type presentations. In other words: I have a significant role without being overburdened. The conference staff is doing all it can to make our stay pleasant and comfortable.
Apart from the official duties an event like this gives the opportunity for lots of personal interactions. It is gratifying when people come to tell you that what you said resonated with them. I had that experience many times during the past week. At the same time, it is also to be expected that some will come to express their displeasure. But so far there has only been one person who told me in no uncertain terms that I am part of Babylon. Good, traditional, Adventists know exactly what that means.
Lots of things are going on during this week, with programs for many different age groups. But there is plenty of time to meet people and spend time with friends and/or make new friends. It always surprises me to meet people—in other countries and even on the other side of the worlds—whom I know. It was a real pleasure to meet up with two former colleagues, who also worked for a number of years in the division office in the UK: Roy Richardson, who served in Europe as a leader in the ADRA-network and my good friend Peter Roennfeldt, whose innovative work inspired many pastors and church members all over Europe. Presently, Peter is retired, but he is as busy as ever. People seem to think that I am still quite energetic, but I am slow and lethargic when compared with Peter Roennfeldt. It is good to see that in recent years he has written some powerful books that are well received. We also met pastor Laurie Evans and his wife. Laurie served as the president of the church in the South Pacific and I met him at many international church meetings.
And then there are quite a few people who come to tell me that they have friends or family in the Netherlands, who are Adventists, and wonder whether I know them. In many cases I do. Others simply want to have a chat and want to tell their story. Others again want to know my opinion about certain issues. This can be tricky, as I usually do not know the context of the particular problem. By now I have had sufficient exposure to this kind of thing that I know how to handle such occasions without getting involved in some controversy.
A very special extra in this week was the possibility to visit dr. Desmond Ford and his wife in their home, some 60 km away from the camp. I had never met “Des” (as he is called by those who know him) in person. At almost ninety his mind is still as sharp as ever. He is a remarkable man. I happen to agree with many of his views, but even those who don’t see eye to eye with him theologically, will have to agree that he has manifested a truly Christian spirit in his decades-long interaction with a church that rejected him.
All in all, this week has been a remarkable experience. It showed me a side of the church that totally differs from what happens in the church elsewhere and from the kind of issues that will be discussed during the upcoming Annual Council of the General Conference. Here, at the BIG CAMP in Brisbane I see a church with an abundance of vitality and with lots of “normal”, down to earth but committed, Christians. It was a privilege to be among them and serve them.
PS 1. The other night we saw—just about 50 meters from our accommodation a coastal carpet python. He was about 1.50 m. A snake handler was called who picked up the snake to bring him elsewhere.
PS 2. Should you want to hear one of the sermons that I preached in this past week, go to ca. 0.58 on this youtube film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32QO4T6v1Gk&list=PLHProf_kWWEO6JEc4h8ZdNQZekEhs6h8O