Nungalinya

by Karan Moxham

Karan and Peter Moxham work at Nungalinya College, a Combined Churches Training College for Indigenous Australians in Darwin. In this article Karen describes life on cross-cultural mission in Nungalinya, a theological college in Darwin.

We are on cross-cultural mission but we are still in Australia. All the things that apply to Christians who go to Africa or Indonesia or other countries still apply to us but for one difference. Our indigenous brothers and sisters have come half way to meet us. They have learned our language and customs and are extremely forgiving when we in our ignorance, insult or disparage theirs. For an indigenous person to communicate their world view in a language that is not their native tongue is extremely hard, as it is for us to teach theology in a way that is culturally appropriate and sensitive.

But that’s what Nungalinya does. It is an adult theological residential college in a suburb of Darwin. Our students are indigenous Christians from remote areas all around Australia. We teach literacy and numeracy, music, media and discipleship as well as theology.

For a lot of our students, just getting to Nungalinya is a serious challenge. Let me explain. Students Marlene, Carol and Roderick travel an hour by 4WD over a very rough road with multiple river crossings to then get on a barge to take them across the biggest river. On the other side there is another three hours of 4WD tracks before getting onto the main highway and then another four hours to get to Nungalinya. Or Amaryllis and Mary whose pastor drives them over rough dirt roads to the nearest town on the highway so they can get on the bus at 3am in the morning and take the 16 hour journey to Darwin. A lot of the students come in by air in tiny 6 seater planes that take off from a dirt runway in the middle of nowhere. They are scared. They don’t like the small planes that are buffeted by cross-winds and are cold and noisy. So for many their journey to Nungalinya is not a pleasant one. So why do they come? Why do they turn up at all? I can’t speak for all of them but the conversations I have had tell me that they come because they want to learn more about God and his Son. They want to be able to read the Word for themselves, to understand and to teach their children and their community about Christ. Louise from Gunbalanya told me “Before I came to know Jesus my life was not good: I used to drink at the Club and smoked. I changed my life in 2007 when I gave up everything and started trying. I was reading the Bible, and I felt better. After I came to know Jesus, I wanted to tell other people.” Louise now wants to be involved in teaching the kids in her church about Jesus.

When we arrived we had no understanding of indigenous culture. And we have made so many cultural mistakes since starting at Nungalinya but we are continuing to learn and the students are very forgiving. We have grown to love our indigenous brothers and sisters and are constantly inspired by their journeys and the sacrifices they make to study here. We have had the privilege of visiting some communities in Arnhem Land and Bathurst Island and this has been a really valuable experience bringing home both the gulf of understanding that needs to be crossed but also the resilience of these people and their commitment to God, family and the wider community in which they live and breathe.

So what does our life look like here at Nungalinya? Peter works maintaining the college property and helps in the music course from time to time introducing the students to new chords which is always well received. I assist the students in their health needs while staying with us.  Many of our students suffer from poor health including kidney and heart disease, diabetes and numerous other problems associated with poor nutrition. While they are in Darwin to study it provides the opportunity to get health check-ups, medication and treatment that is not available in the remote communities.

Each day starts with a chapel service. As part of their studies the students are mentored in leading this worship time and we are often treated to singing in a variety of languages, and dancing as we meet together. After classes have finished for the day, and after the evening meal, often students will gather again in the chapel for more worship time.

At any one time we can have up to a dozen different communities staying at the college with just as many different languages. Most students are multi-lingual, speaking four or more distinct languages as well as dialects. One of the strengths I have found of Nungalinya is in how it teaches that we are all one community under Christ. When new students arrive you will see them gathering in the dining room in their individual groups but by the end of their study here they are mixing with each other more. At graduations students write a small article reflecting on their time studying here which is read out. Many students comment that they enjoyed getting to know other students from different communities as one of their highlights.

It is honestly a privilege and blessing to be serving Christ here. If you are interested in a copy of the article “Indigenous Ministry in the Top End – Cross Cultural Insights” which is excellent, contact me at [email protected] nungalinya.edu.au and I will forward I to you. Likewise if you are interested in receiving Nungalinya College’s newsletter, I can put you on the mailing list (it is emailed quarterly).