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Although it’s a difficult time, there’s also a lot of opportunity. It’s a great time for myself and Christians everywhere to grow in faith and learn perseverance.

Can you briefly tell us a bit about your backgrounds before you came to Australia?

We both grew up in a small Arkansas town, living about two blocks apart, attending the same congregation. Life centered around family, school, and church activities. Things were simple in the 1930s-40s. It wasn’t until I (Bob) was a senior at Harding College that Melba and I got together. She had finished nursing training and decided to attend Harding in 1952. She hitched a ride home with me on weekends. One thing led to another… and we got ‘hitched.’

How did you develop an interest in Australia?

Don and Maxine Klingenberg, then missionaries in Sydney, visited Harding College in 1978. Don mentioned the Macquarie School of Preaching. Bob inquired about possibly teaching at the school. This eventuated and in 1979 Bob made the first trip to Australia. Along with teaching at the school Bob worked with the Warringah Church of Christ in Sydney. A second visit came in 1980. After that it was a yearly visit until 1987 when we moved to Sydney for five years. After returning to the US we continued our yearly visits. These ended in 2013, having skipped 2012. During these visits we were based at the Macquarie school and worked with congregations throughout Australia. Our efforts centred on encouragement and leadership development.

What were some of the key challenges you faced in your ministry in Australia?

A major challenge involved attitudes people had toward church leadership: there was fear of the unknown – what would having shepherds mean to a congregation? There were memories of past leadership failures and personal problems with shepherds; and there was discontent with committee meetings, for example, when one member was dominant. This challenge led to our work focusing on biblical shepherds and shepherding.

How have you seen God at work in your lives—from the time you met until now?

We were able to deal with some ups and downs of early married life because we both held to the view that marriage was forever. We sought to solve difficulties from a Christian point of view. Our early full-time church work was met with disaster. So, I (Bob) went into public school education and Melba made use of her nursing training. Because of this we spent many years preaching and teaching at small rural churches throughout Arkansas. We firmly believe God blessed others through the work he allowed us to do. Looking back, this was God’s wish for us, also his way of blessing us.

With hindsight, is there anything that you would have done differently in terms of church ministry?

Yes. In preparing for full-time ministry I (Bob) should have gotten some practical experience in how to develop personal relationships and how to deal with ‘church issues.’ Another thing we could’ve have done differently in Australia is that – although we visited many in their homes – we should have spent even more time in small group studies, personal counselling, and edification.

What are the memorable moments of your time in Australia?

Conversations with individuals. The camps held by Christians. The annual Macquarie school lectureships. The love, genuineness, and commitment of people we grew close to, whose homes became our homes, whose families became our families. One memory truly stands out. During our 1979 and 1980 work with the Warringah church, after the evening assembly members would gather at a home and sing. This was not just a continuation of a worship period nor a ritual, but an uninhibited, joyful expression of love of God.

What advice would you give to the younger generation who may be contemplating church ministry?

Get good Bible knowledge. Be willing to be used wherever God sends you. Get some practical experience in serving others, in secular as well as religious activities. If on a foreign field, stay in the background, encourage the local people to grow and become examples. Though ministry may become your life’s work, let it be more than a career. Above all, seek through God to know your talents, gifts, and accept them. Don’t try to become what you wish your gift is. Find a truly older, successful servant of the Lord, spend time with them, and drink deeply of their wisdom and example.

Bob & Melba Abney have been associated with mission work in Australia from 1979-2013, mainly through annual trips and a five-year stay in Sydney from 1987-1992. They now live in Hendersonville, Tennessee, USA, and are members of the Hendersonville Church of Christ. The Abneys were interviewed by Benny Tabalujan.


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