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Top, Alan and Mark Phillips in Kings Park, overlooking the city of Perth, Australia.
Photo provided by Alan Phillips

A full-circle journey of faith down under

For Oklahoma brothers, bucket-list trip to Australia brings back 60-year-old mission memories.

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PERTH, AUSTRALIA — Aug. 17, 1962, was a life-changing day for me.

I was not yet 9 years old when my family arrived, sight unseen, in Perth. We came to the city on the western coast of Australia to join a mission team of other American families, Rudy and Melodee Wyatt and Ron and Fay Durham. We traveled halfway around the globe in hopes of starting a Restoration Movement congregation in this city of 750,000.

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Over the years the Lord blessed this commitment with the establishment of the first nondenominational Church of Christ in the western third of Australia — followed by another, and then others. Our parents, Marvin and Dot Phillips, eventually handed the preaching baton to a young and eager Aussie evangelist, Ron Bainbridge, fresh out of Sunset International Bible Institute in Texas.

Our family returned “home” to a new mission challenge in Tulsa, Okla., a work that would later be known as the Garnett Church of Christ.

Middle, Ron Durham, Marvin Phillips and Rudy Wyatt, the original American missionaries to Perth, in the early 1960s.

Middle, Ron Durham, Marvin Phillips and Rudy Wyatt, the original American missionaries to Perth, in the early 1960s.

But Perth never strayed far from my heart.

My brother, Mark, and his family served a brief stint as missionaries in Perth. I served for a decade on the staff of Mission Resource Network, directing South Pacific church planting. My sister’s family invests in kingdom partnerships in southern Africa. Our parents have passed away, yet their influence keeps us connected to the mission in Australia.

After two years of planning, Mark and I recently embarked on a month-long, bucket-list trip back to Perth, now a metropolis of 2.3 million people. We returned to sites, tastes and friendships of our youth. But our main reason for visiting was to see what the Lord has done in the past 60 years.

We consulted the personal journals that our father kept in his library. These writings guided us to reconnect with some of the families of faith from the 1960s and those that have come along since.

The Malaga Church of Christ in Perth, Australia.

Worship on a Sunday at the Malaga Church of Christ in Perth, Australia.

We worshiped with the Malaga Church of Christ, one of the largest and most diverse congregations in Australia. Nearly 200 gathered on each of the three Sundays we attended. The church meets in debt-free facilities and is led by four elders — two of African descent and two Aussie nationals, sons of first-generation Christians from those church-planting years. Tears flowed as I watched one of the elders, Roger Tyers, lead children in singing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”

Church of Christ, Westchester Road, Malaga WA, Australia

We got to know Eddie Legg, the church’s minister. He moved here from the U.S. and has served the church for 18 years with his wife and their two children. The Malaga congregation provides their support with no American funding. When we visited his home, brother Legg joyfully told us that he’s not seen here as a foreign missionary, “but rather as simply one of the Aussie evangelists.”

A number of smaller churches meet in western Australia, some in rented facilities and some in homes. We met with about 25 people for a Wednesday night Bible study led by George Funk, a native of South Africa who launched the well-known Gospel Chariot ministry. He and his family live in Perth, where he trains and competes in triathlons. He shares his faith with fellow athletes.

We also reunited with one of the most effective Aussie evangelist couples over the past half-century, Ron and Moya Bainbridge. Ron took over my father’s role as preacher in Perth in 1970. Ron helped to launch other congregations in the area. His radio and internet work, A Better Life Ministries, reaches around the world. We shared a video greeting from Rudy Wyatt, the American missionary who baptized Ron in 1964.

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On our final Sunday in Perth, the Malaga church’s elders invited me to share a few thoughts. I realized that six decades prior, my father was sharing the saving message of Jesus with a tiny band of seekers gathered in a small, rented hall in Perth. Now I was speaking to a much larger audience, some of them first-, second- and even third-generation believers, in their own facilities, under the servant leadership of faithful, respected elders.

“The seed does not return void. For ‘He Holds the Whole Word in His Hands.’”

Indeed, the seed does not return void. For “He Holds the Whole Word in His Hands.”

ALAN PHILLIPS is stewardship officer for The Christian Chronicle. He and his wife, Donna, worship with the New Hope Church of Christ in Edmond, Okla. Contact [email protected].

Filed under: Australia Churches of Christ in Australia International Malaga Church of Christ Opinion Perspective Perth Restoration movement Top Stories

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