From fires to flood, pandemics to persecution – Eternity was there

Eternity has covered many big events in our nation and the world, from fires to floods to pandemics to persecution. Here is a round-up of some of our history’s key issues and events.

The God of the Bible is not a force. God is a person – Christians have always spoken about – and to – their God in a personal way, writes Anglican minister Michael Jensen in the first article in Eternity’s online library, 14 December 2011. This matters because it tells us that our creator is not one who merely created us by necessity or chance but made us deliberately for a purpose, he writes. And part of that purpose is to relate to the personal God.

“Our unique way of praying is to address the Father in the name of the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit. It shows that not only do we think of God as personal but that – more remarkably – he thinks of us as like him in this. We can know God, as persons know other persons, because through the work of the Father sending the Son, we are known by him.”

Eternity launched its first podcast, With All Due Respect, in September 2018, with hosts Michael Jensen and Megan Powell du Toit vowing to be “less aggro” and have “more conversation.” “Michael and I, even though we have some differences, agree that people should be able to have constructive conversations about the things they disagree about, about society, and what’s really important to them. And we particularly agree that it’s something that Christians should be able to do better,” said Pastor Megan.

WADR, as it came to be known, was followed a year later by The Good Vote podcast, with hosts Tim Costello and Mel Wade in conversation with prominent Australians about election issues.

Then came undeceptions, hosted by author and Christian apologist John Dickson, “exploring some aspect of life, faith, history, culture or ethics that is either much misunderstood or mostly forgotten.”

Finally, Eternity‘s award-winning podcast, Run Like a Woman, hosted by Rebecca Abbott and Penny Mulvey, shone a light on the experiences of ordinary Australian Christian women, offering encouragement, connection and inspiration.

Depiction of Arthur Stace writing in chalk: "Eternity"

Depiction of Arthur Stace writing in chalk: “Eternity” Newtown grafitti1 License

The reluctant folk hero who brought the word Eternity into the public consciousness, Arthur Stace, is celebrated in Mr Eternity, a 2017 book by Roy Williams and Elizabeth Meyers. They trace the history of the former drunk who spent hours every day for 35 years writing a single word – Eternity – in chalk on and around the streets of Sydney. In this video, the authors explain why Eternity is such a big deal.

Author and speaker Naomi Reed launched her immensely popular Faith Stories in September 2019, capturing “tiny snapshots” of a diverse group of people. From a young woman describing the death of her father when she was a teen to a man who started going to church in his 70s, crucial to each person’s story is a Bible verse. Reed was particularly interested in why that verse was important, and “In what ways has God used that truth in your life, in an ongoing way.”

When Fairfax made John Sandeman redundant in his mid-50s, he had a choice of living mortgage-free and pre-paying his second child’s school fees or doing something dangerous with the payout. “And I thought, ‘Yes, I’m going to do something totally ridiculous. I’m gonna start a national Christian newspaper.’” In this 2019 interview, conducted for the 100th edition of Eternity newspaper, readers gained an insight into the man behind Christian news in Australia.

Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, started a new life in Canada in 2019 after spending nine years on death row and sheltering from death threats on her release. The former farm worker was sentenced to death after being accused of blasphemy after a dispute over a drink of water in the village fields, with Muslim women complaining that Bibi had touched their bucket. After the Supreme Court quashed her sentence in 2018, Islamic extremists staged country-wide protests, forcing Bibi to hide in safe houses until she received safe passage to Canada.

Reflecting on the mark rugby player Israel Folau left on Australian society with his Instagram post about homosexuals being headed for hell, founding Eternity editor John Sandeman commented on the diverse response of Christians. “Some Christians love it … Others were not fans, or wished he had said it better. Even much better. Some just admired his guts. Others want us to rally behind him as a living ‘martyr'”.

Leila and Danny Abdallah

Leila and Danny Abdallah

Kylie Beach finds herself overwhelmed by the witness of Leila and Danny Abdallah as she is warmly embraced at a prayer vigil for their children and a niece killed by a drunk driver in February 2020. “I overheard Leila speaking to a guy who told her he had been coming back home around the time of the crash. She told him he was lucky he didn’t see one of the bodies she saw because he would be traumatised for life (as she evidently is). She’s living every parent’s worst nightmare, but she still somehow seems to be pastoring this guy in the conversation.”

David Jeffery, a B&B owner in Mallacoota, a holiday town in East Gippsland, became the international face of Australia’s January 2020 bushfire crisis when he described how God miraculously answered his prayers to change the direction of the wind as the fire-front approached, to push it back away from the wharf, where thousands of people huddled for safety.

As the COVID wave hit in 2020, respiratory specialist Kate described the warlike conditions on the front line in a Sydney hospital. “The most helpful thing I’ve found to help me through this – although not talking about the spiritual side of things – is to think of this like wartime. I find great encouragement in remembering people who had to fight in the wars and send their children off to war – the idea that you do your bit for your country.” Her weeks became a blur of non-stop phone calls, messages, webinars, video conferences, and training sessions to digest the ever-changing tide of this dreaded disease.

After “Blessing videos” became a global internet sensation during the COVID lockdown season, with the UK Blessing going viral, Australia launched its own Blessing video in June 2020. Taking a song written by Kari Jobe, Cody Carnes and Elevation Worship based on the Scriptures in Numbers 6:22-27, worship leaders in different countries united across denominational lines to sing a blessing over their nation.

As 2020 was marked in the history books as the year of COVID-19, the light of Bible translation work shone brightly, as Bible Societies around the world completed Scripture translations in 66 languages used by 707 million people. These include the first Bible translations in 46 languages, potentially reaching 13 million people. Also, six language groups received the full Bible for the first time – five in Africa and the other in the US, where the Deaf community celebrated the completion of the American Sign Language Bible.

In April 2021, six years after Andrew Chan was executed in a Bali jail, Feby Chan tells her story of marrying a ringleader of the Bali Nine in Walking him Home, written with Christian author Naomi Reed. “My heart is finally free from all the anger, and I feel like I can share the right story,” she says about her long journey of healing from the pain and confusion of her husband’s death.

The Chosen Season 4

The Chosen Season 4 Lionsgate

Ben McEachen describes how he became a reluctant fan of Christian screen entertainment through The Chosen series in April 2021. As a professional film critic, he used to cringe at what he perceived as cheesy or contrived doses of sickly sweet screen time. But watching Episodes 2 and 3 of The Chosen Season 2 made him an “evangelist” for the series. And he hoped that this shrewd treatment of the gospel as serious entertainment would have the same effects upon other people’s faith as on his own.

“What’s one thing you want non-Indigenous Christians to know?” That’s the question Eternity video journalist Bella Ann Sanchez asked five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christians – Ray Minniecon, Elle Davidson, Bishop Chris McLeod, Alison Overeem and Jatham Staudinger – in this hard-hitting video.

Eternity’s extensive coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war in 2022 included this diary-style update from Ukraine Bible Society’s Anatoliy Raychynets, who received a special pass from the military to freely move across Kyiv during a curfew, with church volunteers and chaplains, to bring food, clothes, medicines and Bibles to people in bomb shelters, arranging evacuations for families, and collect and send supplies for the military.

Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II (21/4/1926 – 8/9/2022) Flickr

With the ending of a record-breaking reign on the British throne on 8 September 2022, Eternity paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth II. She modelled her approach on the active, dynamic faith of her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria, who insisted that faith and service go hand-in-hand. As she said in 2014, “For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace … is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing.”

At the height of the Lismore floods, Eternity spoke to Senior Pastor Dave Winter of Lismore’s Centre Church about the impact on his community. At that time, Dave spoke of the assurance of knowing God’s constant presence – the promise that he never leaves us. Eight months later, he tells Eternity how the community has come together. It didn’t matter what your beliefs were or what you belonged to; we just seemed to come together and stick together,” Dave explains. Their church received so many donations that they couldn’t process them all so they dropped supplies to other centres that also assisted the community.

Penny Mulvey celebrates the life of her beloved friend Dr Nick Hawkes, who quietly slipped away to be with his Maker on 10 March 2023. “The world seems somehow less exuberant because of his absence,” she writes. “Nick celebrated every moment of his life. Some of you might know of Nick Hawkes through his gentle, insightful Daily Bible devotions, published by Bible Society. Or through his writing on Eternity. Or maybe you even discovered that he wrote rollicking yarns that fitted within the ‘romantic thriller’ genre, called The Stone Collection, all with a gentle dose of Christianity infused within. These stories were filled with his own adventures, and Nick lived a rich and generous life.”

Naomi Reed reflects on the “amazing, humbling journey” of writing 250 Faith Stories for Eternity – a huge variety of stories of people coming to faith in Jesus. “I began by interviewing my obliging (and easily persuaded) friends. I gave them a nice cup of tea and we chatted.” However, at the 250-testimony milestone, Naomi noticed that her interviewees came from 33 countries and six continents. “They’ve included every age bracket. No wonder I’ve found it fascinating! … Every single story has been different. Yet in essence, they’ve been the same: ‘Jesus died for me.’”

Ken Duncan/ Walk a While Foundation

The Cross at Memory Mountain - No. 1/300 The Cross at Memory Mountain – No. 1/300 [cropped]. Used with permission.

The long fight to build a giant Forgiveness Cross on Memory Mountain, west of Alice Springs, culminated on Good Friday 2023. People came from all across Australia to witness the momentous event as Ikuntji Elder Douglas Multa cried, “Let there be light!” moments before the cross was illuminated. It was a proud and joyful moment for world-renowned photographer Ken Duncan and his wife, Pam. They had been working and advocating for this moment since a local elder told Ken 12 years ago that they wanted to build a giant cross there to show that Jesus covered the nation.

Summing up the legacy of preacher and church planter Dr Timothy Keller, who died on 19 May 2023, in Manhattan, Anglican minister Andrew Katay said it was only a slight overstatement to compare his influence to that of C.S. Lewis. “Tim was a simple child of God with, like all of us, the normal joys and worries in life. And yet … that impact! It was enormous … It is rare enough for someone to break new ground in one area of Christian thought or practice … But Tim Keller broke new gospel ground in multiple areas, across many years, and in ways that still sound astonishingly fresh and powerful today.”

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