By Mark Hobafcovich and Cath Ottavi
Every Wednesday night just before 7:00 pm you'll see cars pulling in at the church in the northern Melbourne suburb of Dallas. From the distance you'll hear discussions in Farsi, Arabic, Albanian and Bangla as well as the occasional English as people from a variety of backgrounds such as Australia, Iran, Arabian Peninsula, Albania and Bangladesh are gathering for a time of spiritual quest as they get together to study the Bible and discuss life in the new country. The facilitator is a friendly, vibrant and jovial 60 year old pastor, an immigrant himself, who for the last few years has been immersing himself in helping minister to the immigrant community that settled in the suburb of Dallas, about 10 km north of the Melbourne city centre. Pastor John as they address him, left the oppressive communist regime of Romania in the late 70's and found freedom in Australia where he was granted political asylum. Now with great enthusiasm he leads the ministry of Hume Community Baptist Church also known as Dallas Baptist, where he is the pastor. With unusual dedication to the work of the ministry, he works tirelessly in helping these new immigrants to find not only freedom in the newly adopted country, but also significance and spiritual fulfilment as they explore the claims of Christ as Saviour who claimed that the Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost.
In the last few months many of these immigrants and refugees found freedom and fulfilled life in Christ and were baptized, with seven new believers professing Christ as their Lord and Saviour at the last baptism service. The 50 year old Hume Community Church building is out of use for renovations but the congregation meets regularly at Hume Valley School in Dallas. The heart of the church is greatly expressed in their vision which says that "We will be a church of people who worship God in our everyday lives. In our work, our friendships, our serving... and even our singing! We love God, and we'll work hard to show it in all aspects of our lives". The church's vision is to also make disciples through biblical teaching, constant encouragement, small groups and sticking by each other through the journey. That's what they do as they are encouraging other believers to make disciples of all people as commanded by the Master himself, baptizing them and teaching them obedience to Christ's teachings.
Cath Ottavi, her husband Paul and Pastor John hold a bible study one night a week at the MITA detention centre in Broadmeadows. Over the last few months they have averaged between 12 and 14 in the class, although sometimes it gets so full sometimes they need to get more chairs and try and make more room. The team has given away over 30 bibles in Persian and English, and cannot keep up with the demand. The group of mainly Iranians, are keen to hear the truth about Christianity and ask a lot of in depth questions. Just some of the questions posed include:
Why didn't Jesus come earlier? What is sin? Can we pray people into heaven who are dead?
The group has studied: Genesis 1-5; Matthew 5-7; Colossians; and is currently in Ephesians 3.
Cath describes a typical evening like this: ‘The MITA detainees prepare the room with coffee, tea & snacks and the team arrives about 7.30pm. We’re greeted with big hello's, hugs, kisses and we spend time asking after their well-being. Everyone gets to pray in their own language and we all say Amen. We ask them to read the passage in Persian and then we read in English. Our interpreter who is also learning, does a fantastic job in translating and the night comes together in learning, encouragement and fellowship. We laugh together, there are tears and we offer a listening ear. We pray with them after bible study and spend some one on one time for anyone one in need.’
Recently two Iranian men gave their lives to Jesus Christ after coming to the bible study. Pastor John took them through some questions and then they said the sinners prayer. Now they are regulars at bible study night and the team will continue to teach them and answer many questions.
Last month seven people who are detainees at MITA were baptised.
The detainees are allowed to come along to church services on a Sunday and this encourages and reinforces study and fellowship. It is a great way for them to integrate into the community and develop relationships with Australians. Our Church services are becoming more multicultural and two languages are often read at bible reading time.
Last year, one of the students who had been attending the group, a 23 year old young lady from MITA, received a community visa and the team helped enrol her into the Transformation Program at Whitley College. Her hunger for the Word and the in depth questions she used to ask prompted Pastor John to then help her enrol in the 3 year course. She and her mother and sister have continued on at Hume Community Baptist Church, and have been members now for almost a year. Another couple baptised in April through MITA bible study group, have also continued attending the church.
Pastor John concludes ‘we thank God for the opportunity to love and teach others in MITA and pray that they continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
Well done Hume Community Baptist Church, you are showing the way to respond to local needs, and inspiring the rest of our Victorian Baptist Union church family. We thank God for you and for the evidence of fruitfulness in growing new believers who made public profession of faith in their journey from the Crescent to the Cross!