“You have to make friends with the wind down here,” we were told as we arrived to commence our ministry in 1977 at Portland, Victoria.
This small town’s deep-water port sits leeside of the low-lying peninsula that dares to defy relentless, salt-laden westerlies. These westerlies form the northern fringe of the Roaring Forties, which filled the massive sail-area of the nineteenth-century wool and tea clippers that set record times for the voyage from Europe to Australia and further on to China.
But it’s not only the winds that chill the heaving expanses of the southern oceans for over fifteen thousand miles, for Antarctica is constantly donating huge icebergs to this cause. These monsters ride the powerful currents which scour the seabed sixteen thousand feet below, with only three brief challenges, from Cape Horn, from the shallows of Bass Strait between Tasmania and Australia’s mainland, and from New Zealand’s South Island.
We made friends with the wind. We had to, because we couldn’t send it back.
We also made friends with another wind.
Before we arrived, the wind of God’s Spirit had brought new converts into the church. A few came from church families, but many had come without warning – like the couple who were baptized by my predecessor.
He’d arranged some follow-up teaching in their home, but he walked into a house full of total strangers. “We want to know what’s happened to our friends,” they told him almost in unison. He stepped up to the plate and shared the gospel with his unexpected audience, and many of them responded that same night.
Their enthusiasm to grow in maturity and in numbers kept revitalising our older members. New ideas kept coming; unexpected but not unwelcome; as God stretched us with new levels of freshness and creativity.
After hosting a book party one Saturday night, with spill-over sales the next day after church, one couple said: “We should open a Christian bookshop!” And as they looked for suitable sites, we prayed God’s wisdom and clear provision for this new step.
The ideal location suddenly arrived in Main Street: a vacant photographic studio beside a new supermarket. It was due for demolition, so the owner offered it to us rent-free for two months, when he expected it to be knocked down.
Our “Grand Opening Demolition Sale” banner cloaked tentative steps, but we generated a lot of interest and a loyal customer base. Even local church avoiders started stepping inside the door.
We also found that this friendly wind had a funny side, as our small faith-step of two rent-free months stretched into several more months - gratis. We later discovered that neither of the town’s two demolition contractors would tender for the job, lest he be undercut by his rival!
Ah, the intricacies of small-town business acumen…
When larger premises in a shopping arcade became available we stepped up to sign a (paid) lease to develop our ministry further. People were blessed, and the wind kept blowing, but we never suspected just how far...
Three years ago I learned that the moderator of another Victorian denomination had just returned from visiting the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, where she had attended a thriving Lutheran church and met up with its dynamic young pastor.
He quickly detected her Australian accent and immediately asked her: “Have you ever been to Portland?”
“Oh yes, I’ve often been there,” she replied. So he explained his sudden curiosity.
“I used to be a merchant seaman, and I was constantly searching for some meaning in my life. One day, when our ship berthed at Portland, the crew had a few days to look around the town. As I was strolling around the shops I found the Calvary Christian Bookshop, where I bought some books and magazines and some tapes. I took them back to my ship, and as we sailed I used my spare time to read those books and listen to the tapes. It was only a short time later that God’s Spirit opened my heart to believe, and I became his child.
“It was two years later that I took another step, to begin studying to become a Lutheran pastor, and God has blessed us in our ministry ever since.”
Our friend the wind just keeps on blowing, with more steps to come.
Author’s note. This story is completely true.
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