Pacific fire

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Geoffrey Rush is among the people calling on Australian theatres to use fewer foreign actors. Of course, Mr Rush’s job is hardly threatened—but his point is that unless you give local actors the opportunity to be cast in Australian productions they will never develop. And if we don’t develop our local talent, we will end the remarkable run of Australians who make it, very literally, to the world stage.

I suppose it’s the same in every country. One of the reasons given for the remarkable number of Canadian music stars, besides the obvious incentive for Canadians to do anything they can to get to a warmer climate, is that Canadian broadcasters are required to play a certain amount of local talent. Does it work? Think everyone from Justin Beiber (scream) to Michael Bublé (swoon), Celine Dion (scream, but in a different way) to Carly Rae Jepsen (“Call Me Maybe”), Canadians form a sort of artistic fifth column in America—hard to spot, and when you do, it’s too late because you’ve already surrendered to their charms.

. . . we are missing crucial opportunities to develop local preaching talent.

The sensible steps proposed by Geoffrey Rush and enforced by the Canadian Government made me think of an Australian church event I attended.

When I arrived there were three speakers, speaking simultaneously in the three large venues. But what was interesting to me as I wandered from venue to venue was that every speaker was American. I could have been wandering around a convention in Albuquerque or Texarkana, instead of Australia! All in all, for that one event, there were five American speakers who had been flown in. 

Now, it’s no secret that I love America and Americans, and that I’m a dual citizen. But when an Aussie event is dominated to that degree by American speakers, something strikes me as a bit off. And, apparently, that event is hardly unique. I’ve been informed with confidence by my RECORD colleagues that the hallmark of a big event in Australian Adventism is American speakers.

Our infatuation with all things American doesn’t end at the pulpit either. A local church recently advertised its service with the names of singers followed by “USA”. Really? In the entire South Pacific, a region overflowing with musical talent, the best idea we can come up with is to ship in religiotainment from America? Sure, if it was Elvis I’d understand. But that seems unlikely at this stage, doesn’t it?

All of this is a shame for three reasons.

First, I’ve heard at least as good speakers in the South Pacific over the past two years as I heard in the US over two decades. 

Second, when “international speakers” drop by and deliver their well-honed, greatest hit sermons they often sound to me to be exactly what they are—well-rehearsed pieces that are not tailored to who we are, what we are doing or our authentic spiritual needs. 

Third, and most problematic, we are missing crucial opportunities to develop local preaching talent.

A friend recently observed that every year we have a couple of Avondale graduates who excel in the preaching department. He then went on to muse, once they graduate he never hears of them again. I suppose that’s inevitable if we cede our top speaking spots to overseas speakers. If local speakers aren’t given the opportunity to hone their homiletics and refine their repartee, they can’t. Rather, they will be giving great sermons every week to a relatively small circle. And, when we have major events, they will be relegated to handing out fliers or assisting with logistics. 

I think Geoffrey Rush has a good point when it comes to Australian theatre. And the Canadians are onto a good thing with their radio slots for home grown talent (even if that does include Celine Dion). Either local talent is developed or it is wasted. And I think the same applies in our Church. 

It’s time to have the courage to organise big events with our best South Pacific speakers headlining them. In the process, we’ll get a little less reheated leftovers served with a generous helping of jetlag, and a lot more sizzling substance served hot with Pacific fire.  

James Standish is RECORD editor for the South Pacific Division.