Advance Magazine

1970s–2010s: A Fire Was Kindled

The rural town of Benalla was a small start for Baptist Mid-Missions’ work in Australia … but God did big things.

In the late 1960s, BMM leaders saw a double-edged opportunity in Australia. Spirituality had tumbled into dead orthodoxy while record numbers of immigrants were flocking to Australia to stake out a new life. The need was urgent to reach Australians.

Bill and Glenna Grant answered the call and established Rose City Baptist Church in Benalla in 1969. Others joined the BMM Australia team in 1971: Doug and Sallie Couch, Roly and Luella Smith, and Carl and Selma Barton. The Couches and Smiths staked their spiritual claims in Melbourne, while the Bartons settled in Benalla, taking over the church from the Grants, who moved on to open BMM’s New Zealand field.

Carl Barton, visitors JW Peavy and JB Buffington, and Carl James

When Carl offered a gospel tract to a car dealership owner, the dealer politely declined but told him that his new parts manager, Carl James, might be interested. The two Carls quickly formed an easy friendship as they enjoyed meals and hunting trips together. A devout Catholic, Carl James often stopped by Pastor Carl’s office to say, “This is what the priest taught yesterday. What do you think about it?” The more Pastor Carl taught him from the Bible, the more Carl James sensed errors in what he heard at Mass.

Pastor Carl became so burdened for Carl and for Graham Lewis (the husband of a church member) that he and a fellow missionary, Buddy Smith, set out for BMM’s Camp Marundindy. Building a fire at a cave overlooking Benalla, the two stayed up all night fasting and praying for God to break through in the lives of these men, both of whom sensed no need for salvation.

Carl and Mary James' family, 1976 or 1977

Right afterward, Graham Lewis was saved. Two weeks later, Carl and his wife, Mary, began attending Rose City Baptist Church and shortly afterward proclaimed their faith in Christ. Carl James told his mother, who immediately drove three hours from Melbourne to set her son straight. She arrived at 1:00 am, and after three or four hours of Carl’s witnessing to her, she too gave her life to Christ. From then on, it was as though a spiritual fire had been kindled, headed straight for Carl’s large extended family.

While going door to door as an encyclopedia salesperson, Carl’s sister Donna happened to stop at Buddy Smith’s door. Buddy gave her a tract, and the words penetrated her heart. Donna had lived a wild lifestyle, but she turned to follow Christ. Carl’s mother turned away from her own gambling habit. She took the gospel back to Melbourne, where she shared it with Carl’s alcoholic father, who received Christ and gave up drinking. Carl’s parents began attending the Melbourne church that Doug Couch pastored. Other relatives joined them or attended the church Roly Smith pastored. In just the first year after Carl James was saved, 54 of his relatives gave their lives to Christ. After a number of years, the missionaries tallied 111 relatives saved.

Carl and Mary James' family, around 2015

Within two or three years after Carl James’ salvation, Rose City Baptist Church installed him as their pastor. Carl’s brother Glenn also became a pastor, and both of them were some of the earliest students of BMM’s Victoria Baptist Bible College. In 2019, Rose City Baptist Church celebrated its 50th anniversary of bringing the light of Christ to Benalla. More generations of BMM Australia missionaries continue to establish churches just like Rose City Baptist.

The Lord honored the earnest fasting of two missionaries praying before a campfire in 1972. God kindled a fire that night that spread the knowledge of Himself across southeastern Australia.

Carl Barton (front) with Carl James and Tony James

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