The world looked very different in 1987. Mobile phones were the size of a brick. The Simpson family made their television debut. United States president Ronald Reagan delivered his famous “tear down this wall!” speech in West Berlin.
Fast-forward 30 years, and we now have the iPhone X. The Simpsons is in its 29th season. US president Donald Trump wants to build a wall.
2017 has been an interesting year, and a special one for me. I turned 30 . . . and so did my church.
The Melbourne Asian Seventh-day Adventist church (MASDAC) celebrated its milestone birthday on November 17-18, almost 30 years to the day from when it was first dedicated. More than 250 people gathered together for the special event, which doubled as the official opening of the church’s new building in Scoresby.
Dr Wayne Krause, from the South Pacific Division’s Discipleship Ministries team, served as guest speaker for the weekend. The celebration also included the cutting of a 30th anniversary cake and a Saturday night concert by Woody’s Big Band.
The highlight of the anniversary, though, was the opportunity for the MASDAC family to relive their memories of the church.
Founding member Linnie Pohan, now based on the Central Coast (NSW) with husband Francis, described how the MASDAC story actually began in the 1970s when waves of refugees from Southeast Asia began arriving in Australia. Many of these “boat people” were sent to Melbourne, where the Seventh-day Adventist Welfare Service (SAWS) would help to provide clothing and other needs.
Mrs Pohan, who was part of the SAWS team, recalled how some of the refugees asked her if they could come to her church. “[But] where can I take them? Our new friends didn’t know Christianity nor the [English] language!”
There was a small contingent of Chinese Adventists living in Melbourne at that time, and together they approached the Victorian Conference for a place in which they could worship. The group were offered a classroom at the Nunawading Adventist High School (now Nunawading Christian College) and were given access to the school bus, which Mr Pohan and the late Pastor James Wong would use to pick up refugees for church on Sabbath.
In the early ’80s, the small company found a church in Forest Hill they hoped to purchase. However, they only had $A6000 at their disposal (the asking price was $160,000).
“But we had faith,” said Mrs Pohan, “and God honoured that faith.”
Through the financial support of the Conference, the Chan Chun Foundation and other generous donors, as well as several fundraising efforts, the building in Forest Hill was eventually purchased in 1984. Three years later, on November 21, 1987, it was dedicated to the work and mission of the Adventist Church.
In the 30 years since, MASDAC has seen hundreds of people baptised and a sister church—the Gateway Adventist Centre—planted in the city, through which another three (soon to be four) congregations have been established. Having moved to Scoresby after outgrowing their old church building, MASDAC continues to be open to people from all walks of life. While the church caters to the Chinese-speaking community (i.e. through multilingual worship services), the congregation currently represents 19 countries from around the world.
Speaking on the Friday night of the anniversary weekend, Dr Krause encouraged the church to forge ahead with its disciple-making mission. “MASDAC exists to make disciples,” he said. “If it doesn’t make disciples, is it a church? You are a church if you are following God’s command to make disciples.”
For me, returning to MASDAC for its 30th birthday was bittersweet. While I enjoyed spending time with family and old friends, I couldn’t help but think of the faces that are no longer there—those who have either passed away (such as church founders Pastor Wong, Lee Yan Tuck and my dad) or moved away (like me).
At the end of the day, though, I am grateful to MASDAC for being what I believe a church ought to be: a place where people can grow and then “go out” . . . but are always welcomed home.