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A new generation serves souls in Sydney

SYDNEY, Australia — Beneath the iconic, shell-shaped domes of the Sydney Opera House, Kyle Keesee lies on his side — attempting to liberate a wedding ring trapped underneath the concrete steps.

Keesee and his wife, Carley, live about 35 minutes away in the suburb of Ambarvale, where they serve as missionary apprentices with the SouthWest Church of Christ. They’ve brought a visitor from the U.S. to see the famous opera house and — after fighting off seagulls intent on stealing their fish and chips — spy a woman peering under the steps as her toddler watches from a stroller.

Outside the Sydney Opera House, Kyle and Carley Keesee construct a hook to retrieve a wedding ring. The woman and her husband, visitors from London, attended a concert here last week, she explains, and he dropped his ring on the way out.
She’s found it, but she can’t reach it.

Luckily, the Keesees’ visitor, en route to the airport, has a toiletries bag. (They’d debated storing it in a locker as they toured Sydney Harbour but decided it was too expensive.)

So, after a bit of MacGyvering, Kyle Keesee has a ring-catcher made of coffee stirrers, sellotape (as the Brits call it), dental floss and a metal hook.

Soon, he snags the ring. The woman from London hugs the trio gleefully and goes on her way.

SECOND-GENERATION MISSIONARIESSmall, simple-but-meaningful acts are a big part of the Keesees’ ministry. The couple, married two years ago, serve as Helpers in Missions, a program of the Memorial Road Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.

Helpers in Missions Carley and Kyle Keessee make friends with a gathering of Australia’s indigenous sulphur-crested cockatoos in a park near Sydney Harbour.Here, Kyle Keesee is still “Tony’s boy” to several of the Australian church members. His parents, Tony and Betty Keesee, were part of a four-family mission team from the U.S. that planted the SouthWest Church of Christ in nearby Campbelltown in the 1980s.

Though his family returned to the U.S. before he was born, Kyle Keesee grew up celebrating Australia Day each Jan. 26, commemorating the 1788 arrival of the British First Fleet in Sydney, and hearing stories about his parents’ years down under.

Still, “I never really wanted to do church work or mission work before I went to Oklahoma Christian University,” Kyle Keesee says.

Studying at the Oklahoma City university, associated with Churches of Christ, he took a Bible class with Kent Hartman, another member of the Campbelltown team and a missionary in residence at Oklahoma Christian. At the end of his freshman year, Kyle Keesee traveled with Hartman to Australia on a campaign.

“After that, it was solidified,” Kyle Keesee recalls. “I wanted to do mission work.”

Carley Keesee also is a missionary kid. Her parents, Taylor and Connie Cave, served on a church-planting team in Vitoria, Brazil, in the 1990s.

In Ambarvale, they serve as apprentices for Frank Cunningham, a man converted through the work of the Campbelltown team who now serves as minister for the SouthWest church. Supporting congregations in the U.S. — including the four Churches of Christ that funded the Campbelltown team — contribute to the Keesees’ work. Click here to read more about Frank Cunningham and the SouthWest Church of Christ. That work includes teaching and organizing activities for youths at the Southwest church. The couple also helps with “brekkie club” (as the Aussies call it) at a nearby public school. Students who might not otherwise get a good breakfast before class enjoy cereal, juice and toast with jam — plus a touch of Vegemite spread. The Keesees use the opportunity to get to know the students. [VIDEO] Watch The Christian Chronicle staff taste test Vegemite. They also volunteer at an after-school program, helping children finish their homework and make crafts.
‘WHO’S REALLY CHRISTIAN AROUND HERE?’Kyle Keesee also leads occasional devotionals during Tuesday night gatherings in Ambarvale attended by members of the Southwest congregation and other Churches of Christ, including Bankstown and Wollongong. Recently, the missionary apprentice talked about the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, who learned the Gospel through a believer named Philip in Acts 8, and asked his fellow Christians to share stories about the people who helped lead them to faith. One by one, the believers recounted the simple acts that helped them along the path to salvation.

In Ambarvale, members of Churches of Christ in Sydney study the book of Acts on a Tuesday night.Steve Keddie, the son of a Methodist preacher, once wanted nothing to do with religion, he said. He looked at the numerous denominations in his community him and asked, “Who’s really Christian around here?”

Then he met a young woman — who later became his wife — and started visiting the Church of Christ she attended. There he encountered genuine souls and “lessons straight from the Bible,” he said. He found answers for long-held questions about faith, and “stuff started falling into place.”

Ville Gil also felt that something was missing in her faith. A native of the South American nation of Colombia, she came to Australia to escape the drug-related violence that ravaged her homeland in the 1990s. Here she found friends among the church members and was baptized.

A simple knock on the door helped bring Binh Turner’s family to Christ. Born in Vietnam, her father fled the communist nation on a boat that was later robbed by pirates and left adrift.

The Malaysian coast guard rescued him, and the Australian government gave him refugee status. Church of Christ members met him on a door-knocking campaign and later helped him secure permission to bring his wife and children to Australia, said Turner, who came here when we she was 8.

She grew up in the church — among believers who lived by the mantra, “We love you, wherever you’re from,” she said. She was baptized in 1988.

Bob Hudson, born in Indonesia to Dutch parents, was serving in Australia’s air force when he first met members of the Church of Christ. They invited him to a barbecue.

“When I was there, I was wary,” he recalled, “but after a very short time, you felt as though you could leave your wallet on the table and it would still be there when you go.

“So these were trustworthy people, and I thought, well, that was a start.”

He began studying the Bible with church members — and read the New Testament “from one end to the other,” he said. The Gospel seemed almost too simple, he recalled, but as he studied, he realized “it was that simple.”
Near the landmark known as Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair — sandstone cut into the shape of a bench in 1810 in honor of Elizabeth Macquarie, wife of the governor of Australia’s New South Wales state — visitors gaze across the water to Sydney’s famous Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and Fort Denison, a former penal site and defense facility in Sydney Harbour.
He was baptized in 1982 and worships with the SouthWest Church of Christ. He attributes his faith to “a range of people that were genuine individuals.”
Three decades after Kyle Keesee’s parents helped plant a church here, Australia is “pretty post-Christian,” the missionary says. Many Australians believe “you don’t need religion, or you don’t need Christianity.”

But among Australia’s 23 million souls are strong faith traditions, he adds, including Catholicism, a burgeoning movement of emerging churches and charismatic groups such as Hillsong.

“A lot of people are still seeking,” he says. “There’s a void that only can be filled with Jesus Christ.”

Filling that void, as his fellow Christians attest, can begin with something as simple as a slice of toast with Vegemite — or as complex as a chain of coffee stirrers and dental floss, used to retrieve something precious.

Filed under: Headlines - Secondary International

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