RP Missions organized and sent a team of four to serve in Australia alongside the 3 Reformed Presbyterian Churches from the 7th July – 4th August.
Meet the team
- Allen Blackwood (team lead) from Lafayette RPC
- Eleni Blackwood (Allens wife) from Lafayette RPC
- Lizzie Hickman from Manhattan RPC
- Bennington Ford from Eastvale RPC
- as well as the 3 Blackwood children as honorary members: Henry, Marian, and Gemma
Here are a few highlights from Allen’s perspective:
It was a blessing to be able to spend a lot of time with each of the pastors (and their families) – Graeme Hart in McKinnon, Andy McCracken in Frankston, and Andrew Stewart in Geelong. They have been wonderful in sharing their time (and their homes) with us, and most days we were able to have joint team devotions with the pastor to begin our day. (Speaking of these families, we also were blessed to have Joel McCracken, a Geneva student who has been spending all summer with his parents and siblings in Frankston, join us in Frankston as an honorary team member. He worked alongside us every day that we were in Frankston, which was wonderful.)
- We had a busy and productive time in McKinnon, with lots of service opportunities and opportunities for interaction with many from the church or connected with the church.
- We were able to do a lot of physical labor for people in the churches, including the pastor and another elder at McKinnon, and multiple families from the Frankston church. One big job we were able to take on was organizing Pastor Graeme Hart’s library, and we have done some big outdoor jobs at the church building as well.
- We had the opportunity to participate in and even plan and lead various fellowship activities. These included a lunch and matinee movie aimed for people 50 and older. We set up and helped make lunch for everyone who attended (a good turnout of about 20). We also participated in a presbytery wide young adult evening where I was able to lead a devotion, as well as Bible studies and prayer meetings.
- We were blessed to be able to meet, along with Pastor Graeme Hart, with two men who don’t yet seem to be believers, but are excited to be meeting with Graeme to go through the Bible. Both were happy for Bennington and I to meet with them, and asked some very good questions, which we were able to interact with also.
- I preached two Lord’s Days, first at McKinnon RPC, and then at Frankston RPC. I was very encouraged to get some of the best feedback I’ve ever had, particularly after the service at Frankston.
- In addition to those things, we have been able to do some fun activities, like spending a few hours hiking and then exploring at a pretty amazing beach, and seeing some Australian animals up close (including feeding and being able to touch some kangaroos and wallabies).
- The team along with pastor Andy McCracken and his son Joel, handed out information about Frankston RPC, and we were able to distribute quite a few to people in the neighborhood around the building where Frankston meets for worship, and even had quite a few conversations with people. Eleni and I had a good 30-minute conversation with a gentleman about religion and morality, and when the conversation began he hadn’t wanted to take the informational brochure, but by the end, he had not only taken it, but said he hoped to come visit the church!
- We also were very encouraged as a team to be able to really make a small transformation at different people’s homes from the churches (inside and outside). Those who we were able to help expressed that they were really grateful for the work, and in one case, even some neighbors commented on our good work as we worked outside. The feedback was very encouraging.
- Another highlight for me and Eleni and the rest of the team has been the fellowship opportunities which we have participated in – many of which we planned and led. We led a youth group for the Frankston/McKinnon youth. The whole team shared about one thing which was spiritually impactful for them in their teenage years, and then I led a talk/discussion about evangelism. I was personally encouraged by one of the girls in youth group coming up and mentioning to me the next day that she really enjoyed and benefited from that youth group meeting.
Geelong (highlights from Lizzie Hickmans point of view)
- On Tuesday, the team led Kids Club, a ministry for eight- to twelve-year-olds. Allen let me lead a short (ten minute) Bible lesson, since I had an idea for one. I was thinking about what might be good to share with kids, and thought about some of Mark Koller’s recent Psalm series sermons at Manhattan RP Church. So I used the first half of Psalm 21 (one of Mark’s more recent sermons in my memory) and a few simple leading questions to show how we can find Jesus in the Psalms. I got a lot of positive feedback from the lesson (including about the idea of “stealing” something from a sermon to share with others).
- On Wednesday, Allen (who is a good cook) led us in preparing some (delicious!) white chicken chili for freezer meals for whoever in the church might next need some. We cooked in the Geelong Church’s Fellowship Hall, where we were later interviewed by the Ladies’ Guild (a fellowship group of older women in the church), which involved sharing our testimonies again and where we think God might lead us in the next few years.
- On Thursday, we did another leaflet drop, this time with invitations to a free six-week gospel course called Christianity Explained. The weather held, and we were able to cover twice as many streets as Andrew Stewart (the pastor of Geelong RPC, who originally hails from Northern Ireland) had planned. Later that afternoon, Andrew went through a brief overview of the course with us, and how it takes students through the Gospel of Mark. I was encouraged by the reminders of gospel truths and the idea of how the differences in tone and style of the four Gospels can be used to reach different kinds of people.
- Wednesday and Thursday nights, we had dinner in the homes of church members before joining them and other church members for evening Bible studies. One was an ABC study of 1 John 4. We use the ABC method of Bible study in the Manhattan RP Church ladies’ Bible study, so it was very fun and encouraging to engage in something familiar with Christians from the other side of the world.
- On Friday, we got to spend a tourist day exploring the great ocean road with Allen’s sister Maria and her family and Eleni’s sister Abby. We saw some amazing views as well as some koalas and other native wildlife.
- On Saturday, we joined with members of all three Australian churches for a “working bee” (volunteer labor day) at Dixon’s Creek RP Camp, the campsite of the denomination. I spent most of the time cleaning the kitchen and main event hall and then cleaning up after the lunch that was cooked to feed the 23 people present. Other people joined in manual labor and de-cobwebbing (shudder) the bathrooms and cabins. The weather was beautiful, and the location even more so – rolling green hills covered with vineyards and dotted with fluffy sheep giving way to forested bushland.
- On the Lord’s Day, we attended Sunday school and the morning and evening services at Geelong RP Church and spent most of the rest of the day in fellowship. I was very moved that some of the members of the McKinnon and Frankston churches made the hour-long drive around the bay to Geelong just to get to see us again. And I was encouraged by the sermons I heard, both covering Psalms – Allen preached on Psalm 142 in the morning, and Alastair McEwan on Psalm 73 in the evening. It was also encouraging, and an answer to prayer, that some non-believers, attended the morning worship service to support Allen and heard the gospel preached.
Other Highlights (again from Allens perspective)
Personally, we have enjoyed some interaction with family here, including staying with my sister and brother-in-law, Maria & Nathaniel Pockras and their baby girl, Mabel (Frankston RPC) . We have also been able to have interaction with Eleni’s sister Abby, and her husband, Pete, and Eleni’s sister Megan, her husband Brandon, and their children: Jolene, Adele, Gideon, Lottie, and Kipp (McKinnon RPC) .
I want to add that Lizzie and Bennington were wonderful laborers in the work. They were both willing and excited workers, and have a heart to serve however they can. Their enthusiasm for meeting people and seeing new things in Australia (such as the plants and animals here, and a ‘brand new’ sky) was also very fun to see. We all worked together well, and have had some wonderful questions, interactions, and discussions during our daily morning devotions.
Another highlight for Eleni and I has been introducing our kids to people, especially those we know from the past. It has been really fun to do that, and people from the church as well as the other team members (Bennington and Lizzie) have really enjoyed our kids as well. Henry has even been able to participate in some of the ministry we have done as a team, like when we passed out invitations to the “Christianity Explained” course in Geelong.
- For fruit from the ministry opportunities the team was able to participate in, especially the flyer drops in Frankston and Geelong
- For the gospel to impact the lives of those who have some connection with the churches but aren’t yet believers
- For the youth and young adults in Australia to continue growing in their relationships with God and each other
- For the pastors of the three churches to be blessed in their ministry
- For future teams (the next one is scheduled for 2024) to have enough team members, for team leads, and to be a blessing to the Australian churches in their gospel ministry.
Thanks to E. Allen Blackwood and Lizzie Hickman for sharing some highlights.
Allen is 34 and has been married to his lovely wife, Eleni (think L-N-I), since 2011. They have three children, Henry (7) and Marian (3), and Gemma (1.5). Allen is Pastor-elect of Laramie RPC in Wyoming, and is excited to begin ministering there.
Lizzie Hickman is 29 years old and has lived in Manhattan, Kansas since August 2019, where she moved to work for the Kansas Department of Agriculture (state government) as a water resources engineer. She is a member of the Manhattan RP Church, where she serves as a precentor and Congregational Missions Advocate. Her favorite things include cats, coffee, and comic books.