Chris and Karen Webb have been working as CMS missionaries in Broome for nearly two years now alongside the Broome People's Church.
Essentials asked them about their ministry and the kinds of things they have observed so far.
Ess: What kinds of backgrounds do the people come from? And what languages do they speak?
Webbs: Quite a diverse group of people attend Broome People’s Church (BPC). BPC is primarily a church for Aboriginal people and the congregation members represent many cultural subgroups - town people, bush people, coastal people, inland people, those who speak traditional languages and those who don’t. Most people come from communities or areas in the Kimberley where there have been many decades of Protestant mission activity – places in the vicinity of Halls Creek, Fitzroy Crossing, Derby and One Arm Point. They have varying levels of education, economic status and literacy skills.
Although fewer people are speaking their traditional languages in a complete way, Standard Australian English is like a second language for many. We commonly hear people speaking a mixture of Aboriginal English, Kriol and the traditional languages of their ancestors. At least five different traditional languages are represented in our congregation of 30.
Ess: What are the main ways you spend your time?
Webbs: At the moment our time is focused on two things — building relationships and teaching God’s word. We find that the best way to build relationships and grow in our understanding of Aboriginal culture is to spend lots of informal time with people. Drinking tea, going fishing, sitting around the campfire, learning bits and pieces of Aboriginal language, driving long distances through Kimberley country with our friends -– that’s when we get the most insight into people’s lives and thoughts and actions. And we’re thankful to God for giving us Aboriginal friends who trust us and help us continue to learn and understand the cultural differences between us.
We have many opportunities to teach God’s word to Aboriginal people in Broome. At the moment this includes preaching at church services, small group Bible studies, teaching Sunday school to kids and using Oral Bible Storying when we gather around the campfire. We are constantly thinking about how to communicate the good news about Jesus' death and resurrection more clearly to people and in ways that resonate with their particular way of life and thinking.
Ess: What are the main needs you see amongst the members of People's Church?
Webbs: A significant proportion of those who attend on Sunday have not yet committed to following Jesus. We are praying that as they listen, the Holy Spirit will convict and convince them to trust God.
Sadly many Aboriginal people in the Kimberley, both young and old, are trapped in destructive cycles of drug and alcohol abuse. We trust that God can liberate people and give them new ways to spend their time.
There is also a need for Aboriginal Christians to be equipped and encouraged to use their gifts in the life of the church family. Over the years we
hope that men and women in our church would grow in the confidence and ability to lead and teach God’s truth to their own people and be models of what it means to live as a Christian Aboriginal person.
Ess: Are there other churches like this in the Kimberley?
Webbs: There are quite a few churches like Broome People’s Church in communities and towns between Broome and Kununurra. Each People’s Church is independent from the others, however they do come together under the banner of the Kimberley Christian Fellowship for conventions. Most of these churches are small, but their history and identity gives them unique opportunities to reach Aboriginal people in the Kimberley region. Please pray that God will strengthen and grow these churches so that they might be effective witnesses of Jesus in their local area.
Ess: What are the most helpful things you have learnt since you have been in Broome?
Webbs: Firstly, we’ve learnt that there is lots to learn! As middle-class white Australians, our expectations of how things work, how we respond to different things that happen, and our ways of relating to others are often quite different from many of our Aboriginal friends. Because of this we are learning that it’s best to make decisions slowly after listening to people closely and observing things carefully rather than rushing into things.
Secondly, trying to learn someone else’s language goes a long way in building friendship and trust with people. Thirdly, we can trust God to teach and change people despite our shaky and uncertain efforts. We’ve seen that as people trust in Jesus and listen to his word, they bear the fruit of his Spirit, and that has nothing to do with us!