Son of man, set thy face toward the south, and drop thy word toward the south” (Eze 20:46).
Coming to Australia
Almost nine years ago, Kylie and I were in our home in Naguanagua, Venezuela, praying for the Lord’s direction for our future. After struggling for several weeks with the idea of going to Australia, we asked the Lord for a definitive answer from His Word, and on that day our daily reading took us to the above verse. The Spanish version has the words “the austral part”; the second time that the word “south” occurs in the Authorized Version. We knew it was not a coincidence, so for us the answer from His Word was clear. “The Austral part” would be our next step.
We arrived in Brisbane in September 2004 with our seven-month-old boy. Kylie was born in Australia but had spent most of her life in Colombia with her missionary parents (Edward and Ruth Smith, now serving the Lord in Venezuela as well as in Colombia). I was born in Venezuela but had been in Australia before, so I already knew that it was a very different country, especially in regard to gospel work. However, the conviction that the Lord was directing us kept us going when times of discouragement came.
Beginning of the Spanish meeting
Thanks to my studies and employment, I met several Spanish people, and we shared the gospel with some of them and invited them to gospel meetings. Soon we realized, that for many, especially new arrivals, it was hard to understand the preaching in English. We started to pray for a Spanish meeting in Brisbane, and the Lord again answered our prayers.
A young Colombian lady who was living close to Bethany Gospel Hall started to attend the meetings. As a result, one of the elders called me one day and asked me to go and meet her. The day I went there, she brought a Columbian friend with her. So I preached in English but used Spanish in some sentences. After the meeting they said they were very happy because part of the message was in their own language! We knew the Lord was opening a door, and after praying more about this purpose, and talking to the elders, it was decided to start a monthly Spanish meeting at Bethany Hall in June 2008.
Spanish-speaking people in Australia
The Spanish population in Australia is small (less than 1% of the total population), young, and normally from urban areas. The majority of Spanish-speaking people here are international students who want to learn English and settle in Australia, but there are also many young professionals who come with a skilled migrant visa. They normally have a Roman Catholic background, but a good number have been exposed to some evangelical groups, particularly charismatic churches.
Some of our first contacts were classmates and later, when I became an ESL teacher, students. We found that by developing friendship with them we were meeting their other Spanish friends, and so the opportunity to reach out to new people increased. More recently, social media has been a very effective way to contact people who, otherwise, we would not likely meet.
Helpers in the work
Len and Nerida Walker (former missionaries in Colombia) have been a tremendous help and inspiration, due to their experience in the Lord’s service both in South America and Australia. At the beginning we also received help from two other couples in assembly fellowship (one from Chile and the other one from Colombia) but unfortunately they do not live in Queensland anymore. However, two young brothers are now helping with the preaching and talking to the visitors after the meetings.
A new step of faith
As the years were passing by, we became more and more engaged in keeping in contact (by emails, social media, personal visitation, phone calls, etc.) with our Spanish friends, sharing the gospel, and encouraging them to come to the meetings. At the same time, the Lord was opening the door to help among the small assemblies in South East Queensland. Although we both felt the Lord was calling us into His service, we did not want to take such a step lightly, until one day the Lord spoke to us so clearly through the ministry of one brother on Exodus chapters 3 and 4 that we decided to talk to our elders to ask for their prayers and advice.
In November 2012, we received a letter of commendation from our assembly in Venezuela (Naguanagua) and, soon after, our assembly in Australia (Conference Hall, Brisbane) commended us to the Lord’s service in South East Queensland, particularly among the Spanish population, but also to help the assemblies in our area. In March 2013, I resigned my job as an ESL teacher with the Queensland Government, after six years of service.
We have learned that personal work is very important. The Spanish folks are very friendly and open, but they are more willing to listen to the gospel if we show a genuine interest in them. It is very important for them to improve their English, so we started an English support and practice group on Tuesday afternoons, and it has been a joy to see new people coming in. We do it in the assembly hall and we always start by reading from the Bible and giving a short explanation. Recently, a Colombian girl brought two friends from Russia so it has been a delight to share the gospel with them as well. Each contact has a different story, but they all share the dream of getting a better life in this land. We pray that through the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ they may know eternal life.
It has also been a tremendous privilege to work with our Australian brethren in different assemblies, helping with ministry and the gospel as the Lord leads us. There are many small assemblies that need help and we try to move among them wisely, conscious of the rich doctrinal foundation which was laid by good brethren in the past.
We are grateful for the Lord’s help and provision, and trust in His direction for our future. “The Austral part,” although difficult for the gospel, still needs the preaching of the gospel and the teaching of the Word of God. Brethren, please pray for us.