Mission

God’s words and Australian indigenous languages - NAIDOC 2017

Peter Adam looks at the effect of the loss of indigenous languages and God's desire to communicate to his people.

One of the many destructive actions of the British in taking over Australia was the suppression of indigenous languages. Superior power meant that the subject people had to dispense with their own culture, including their native language, to live in the new world of their conquerors. The policy of assimilation was a polite version of this political reality. Use of native language was discouraged if not forbidden. Children separated from their parents were raised to speak English, and forget their native language.

The loss of native language has a drastic effect on people. It means a break-down in intergenerational communication and common life. It means a loss of history, a loss of identity, and a decrease in communication. It frays family life. It is as serious as the loss of land, loss of life-style, loss of skills, and the loss of birds and animals. We have apologised for ‘the Stolen Generation’. We have not yet apologised for the stolen land, the stolen culture, or the stolen languages.

Twelve Things Christians Should Know about AA

You may have met people involved with Alcoholics Anonymous: they are often in our churches. Here a Christian AA member gives us a personal perspective on AA.

This article is not intended as a dispassionate defence or exposition of Alcoholics Anonymous (“AA”). As a member who believes he would not have most of the good things in his life without AA, this is hardly possible. My assertions are based solely on empirical evidence, along with my contention that AA works.  There are things I know to be true—I see the evidence in my life and the lives of those around me, but the ability to convey this often falls short.

One: AA started as a Christian fellowship

Most people regard AA's genesis as the seemingly unplanned meeting of 10 June 1935 in Akron, Ohio, between two certifiably 'hopeless case' alcoholics: Bill Wilson, a New York stockbroker, and Dr Robert Smith ('Dr Bob'), a local physician. Their discussion that night is part of AA folklore and generally regarded as the first AA meeting. Wilson had been a member of the Oxford Group, a fellowship founded by an American Lutheran minister who'd had a life changing conversion experience. The Oxford Group's principles infuse AA's Twelve Steps.  After falling out with the group Bill cried out to God and experienced what he later described as 'the great reality…the God of the preachers.'1

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).

Rural Ministry and the Future of Mission

At the Anglican Future Conference Mark Short sought to turn assumptions about life in the bush on their head. Here’s how he went about it.

Mark Short is the National Director of Bush Church Aid Australia (BCA).

Earlier this year Monica and I were in the audience for the ‘When the Bush Comes to Town’ edition of Q and A. The makeshift studio was decorated with hay bales, there were a couple of bemused-looking alpacas greeting us as we walked into the venue and before the broadcast we were warmed up by a bloke with a guitar singing 80’s rock covers with a generic country twang. Clearly the producers had their own assumptions about what life in the bush looks and sounds like!

In mission our unspoken and untested assumptions are generally the most misleading. When the AFC organisers kindly invited me to share at the conference I was given the title ‘The Future of Rural Ministry’. I asked if I could change it ‘Rural Ministry and the Future of Mission.’ The change is subtle but significant. We often assume that the bush is sheltered, at least for a time, from the cultural and technological changes sweeping through the rest of western culture. It can even be comforting to imagine that somewhere over the ranges there is a rustic backwater where life is simpler. If we want to understand the challenges facing the church in the west we are told to look to our big cities, because as goes the city, so goes the culture.
I’m going to turn that assumption on its head, for two reasons. Firstly, in an era of rapid globalisation there really are no backwaters. The modern farmer who follows the weather on the Bureau of Meteorology website, who makes decisions based on movements in the Chicago futures market and who downloads GPS data before sowing is under no illusion that the reach of capitalism and technology stops at the farm gate. Secondly, there is what you might call the ‘localised diversity’ of the bush. The Australian bush is every bit as diverse as our cities but the different aspects of that diversity are often concentrated in particular geographical locations. Let me unpack that final point by describing five different types of rural communities we encounter at BCA and how each one highlights a pressing missional challenge for all of us.

Mining communities and the challenge of fluidity

If I were to ask what are the main features of our big cities I reckon you’d come up with a list that included mobility, cultural diversity, a young age profile and a blurring of the boundaries between home and work. I’ve chosen the label fluidity to sum up those trends — everything and everyone seems to be on the move. Then let me tell you about places in Australia that are even more fluid than our big cities. It’s not unusual for a BCA minister in one of our mining towns to farewell half of their congregation each year. And that congregation will be young and culturally diverse — when I visited the church at Newman there were something like 20 nationalities in a congregation of 60. Members of that congregation will be engaged in a variety of working arrangements — not only FIFO, where the mine worker leaves home in the city to relocate to a mining camp for up to two weeks at a time, but the emerging pattern of reverse FIFO where a worker sets up home in the mining town and flies to the city every couple of weeks to catch up with his wife and family.

Our Anglican parish structures originally developed in a settled world, where people were born, lived, work and died within a few square kilometres around which we placed discrete parish boundaries. But that is not our world and it is certainly not the world of our brothers and sisters in mining communities. We have much to learn with them and from them as they adopt a generous kingdom perspective that equips Christians for ministry wherever life and work might take them.        

Farming communities and the challenge of faithful innovation

For many of our farming communities the challenges are different.  Their populations are older and less mobile.  Declining terms of trade and increases in productivity mean that many of them are experiencing steady declines in population as young adults have to re-locate to larger centres for education and/or work. Here the great challenge is both to tend inherited structures of ministry and mission while also developing new expressions to engage those not yet Christian. You could call this the challenge of faithful innovation — recognising the good in the old so it becomes the inspiration for the best of the new. By God’s grace, we have seen this happen in some of our BCA locations both through the renewal of existing ministries and the establishment of new ones. Of course this is a challenge for many of us regardless of where we live and so once again we have much to learn with and from one another.

Regional communities and the challenge of networking for growth

Larger regional centres like Bendigo, Ballarat, Wagga Wagga, Tamworth, Toowoomba, Mt Gambier and Geraldton are often called sponge communities because they have a tendency to soak up resources and people from their surrounding districts.  They become the places people must go to for health care and shopping and to deal with banks and government departments. The great challenge for ministry and mission in these regional centres is to squeeze the sponge so that some of the resources and maybe even some of the people begin to flow outwards again.

What might that look like? It might look like a church in a regional city becoming a hub for the training and support of Christians in outlying towns. It might look like a regional university campus becoming a centre where young people are discipled and given a vision for servant-hearted ministry in the bush beyond graduation — as we’re seeing in BCA-supported ministry at Launceston. It might look like Christians dispersed across a wide area engaging and learning through online technology. In a world where people wish to connect through networks rather than serve under hierarchies we have much to learn with and from the bush.

Lifestyle communities and the challenge of scepticism

We live in an age of increased scepticism and even hostility toward the Christian faith, but we often assume that the bush is somehow immune from those trends as if closeness to creation gives you a head start in knowing the creator. But the reality is that many rural communities, and particularly those with a high lifestyle component, are notable for their high level of scepticism towards what they see as organised religion.  Locations like Maleny in Queensland, Nimbin and Byron Bay in New South Wales, Daylesford and Castlemaine in Victoria, Kangaroo Island in South Australia and Denmark in Western Australia have the same mixture of aggressive secularism and diffuse spirituality you might associate with inner city Sydney or Melbourne. At BCA we are learning to engage with these communities through friendship and courageous, clear and creative gospel proclamation — there is much we can learn from each other.

Indigenous communities and the challenge of partnership

I find it fascinating that people often imagine that issues of justice for our Indigenous brothers and sisters are uniquely relevant in the bush, as if the land on which the AFC was held isn’t also colonised/invaded/stolen. Having said that, ministry in Indigenous communities in the bush does (or should) force us to engage with the issue of genuine partnership. How can we create sustainable pathways into leadership for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christians so they are not burdened with almost crippling obligation and expectations?  How can we move beyond paternalism and into a genuine partnership where ministry with and from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christians is the norm rather than ministry to them? How can we engage the mixed record of our church in this area in a way that both acknowledges the past and does justice in the present? Surely these are vital challenges for all of us. At BCA we are beginning to learn what God is asking of us in response as we seek to support booth the current and the new generation of Indigenous Christian leaders. We would love you to learn with us as we learn from them.

Conclusion

You may have noticed that I’ve asked many questions and given few answers. For now I want us to sit with the questions and the challenges because it’s from here that I believe that we have our best opportunity to strengthen our partnership in the gospel. I would love to see a network develop around each of these questions, or adaptive challenges that I’ve outlined: a set of networks that are solidly grounded in God’s word; that reach across diocesan and cultural boundaries; that are committed to mutual learning and courageous experimentation under God; through which the city and the bush discover they have more in common than they might ever have imagined. Of course, the real challenges facing the church in the West are not organisational and neither are faithful responses. The key issue is profoundly theological — will we drive our foundations deep into the bedrock of God’s gracious sovereignty revealed in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus? The goodness, the power and the wisdom of God are to be found where our world least expects to see them — in a man condemned to death on a cross.  Now, as then, God turns our assumptions on their head.

Making it Work in Broome

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.

Encouraging Missions in the Parish

Peter Schendzielorz reviews:
Becoming Global
by Bruce Dipple.   Sydney Missionary & Bible College 2011. ISBN 9780646562278

Bruce's wide ranging experience of missions (as a pastor and in serving and leading with SIM) and mission education (lecturing at SMBC and missions conferences) is well captured in his book Becoming Global.  Whilst there's a depth of insight that could fill many books, the gems captured in its 138 pages are a firm foundation.  Its particular focus is for churches to understand their role in God's global mission and be equipped to fulfil it by putting mission back at the core of church ministry.

One of the goals of the book is to help churches create a culture of mission, rather than just have it as an aspect alongside other ministries.  In creating this culture, the church is then resourced to fulfil its mission to reach the whole world with the gospel, not just leaving it up to a select few.  This change in culture also involves the church actively partnering with mission agencies, rather than relying on agencies to be the only ones on mission.

To ground its usefulness, three situations where this book would be especially useful are:

1.  A church starting a missions committee;

2.  A group that's planning a short term mission; and

3.  A pastor seeking to equip and promote mission in their congregation.

At Curtin we've used Becoming Global to provide content for our theology of mission topic in student training.  Of most use has been the extra practical resources provided by Bruce such that we didn't just explore ideas and theology, but also how to implement them.

The best part about this book is the practical resources that it provides.  Rather than just raising ideas about mission education there are resources (books, outlines, websites, and talks) that can help - ranging from how to conduct a helpful missions interview in church; prepare a weekend church camp programme with a visiting missionary; to establishing a missions committee or training a short term mission group

Since it's a short book, and one that can be used widely across different churches or contexts, there's scope to extend the content as appropriate. In some cases to provide more supporting Biblical theology or exegesis, or to consult further with partner mission agencies to draw on the resources they have.

The final chapter closes with "a special note to pastors".  In it Bruce emphasises the need to continue to preach and teach faithfully from the Bible, noting that if the Bible contains the story of God's missional work, then that needs to be reflected in how we expound, teach and apply the Bible to equip God's church.  Well worth reading.

Peter Schendzielorz works with AFES at Curtin University in Perth, having previously worked with CMS WA and studied at SMBC. He is keen to see students equipped for life-long gospel ministry and mission.


Bishop Tony Nichols suggests ways in which parishes can better encourage and support Missions and Missionaries.

God has commanded that the Gospel of the Lord Jesus should be taken to all peoples (Luke 24:46-47; Romans 16:25-27). Whatever our particular calling or vocation, we are bound as Christians to recognize the priority of the Gospel, and to support its proclamation in our own neighborhood, and to the “gospel poor” in God’s world.
As a church we need to be challenged regularly to fulfill God’s command. We also need practical help from experienced practitioners and Christian leaders from other countries. Mission is now “from everywhere to everywhere”.

Some suggestions

1. Look for ways to co-operate with other churches and not just do our own thing. There are many fine missionary organizations that enable us to do that.

2. As Anglicans, it is natural for us to support, in particular, the Church Missionary Society, which is Bible based and committed to training long term workers.

3. Make sure that the missionaries and organisations we support are known to the whole congregation and not just the leaders. Feature them regularly on notice boards and in the church intercessions.

4. Be disciplined and good stewards by supporting a few missionaries that we know well and are committed to – and prioritize them. It is helpful to distinguish our level of support by using terms such as “partners”, “friends” (or “affiliates”), and “short termers”.

5. Set aside money to help missionaries to visit us and to spend time with our congregation. This will benefit both them and us.

6. Consider sending out members on short term assignments with the goal of ultimately sending them out for the longer term. Such initiatives must have the support of national Christians and partners in the field, lest they are burdensome to their hosts or embarrassing “loose cannons”.

7. Encourage the congregation to grow the missions’ budget by teaching the Biblical principles of world mission partnership. A “Global Missions Month” with guest speakers from other cultures (including indigenous Australians) can be inspirational.

8. Give opportunity to non Anglo members of our congregation to tell their story and give us honest feedback.

9. Form a small Mission Committee to advise the Rector and Church Council and provide updates on mission partners.  One member should liaise and co-ordinate dissemination of prayer material and monitor care of mission partners on furlough.

10. Fifty per cent of Perth’s population was born overseas. Many struggle in relating to the dominant Anglo culture or to the English language itself.  Learn about the demography of your own suburb. See the ABS statistics. What groups are not represented in our church? Why? How can the church reach out to these people? What about overseas students?

11. ESL courses are an excellent form of outreach.  But leaders need cross-cultural training and appropriate methodology and resources.

Bishop Tony Nichols has served as a University teacher in Indonesia, as Bishop of North-West Australia, Principal of Nungalinya College and of St Andrew' Hall.


Dale Appleby reviews a landmark book about mission giving:
To Give or not to Give? Rethinking dependency, Restoring generosity, & Redefining Sustainability by John Rowell,  Biblica Publishing. 2006.
ISBN 9780830857739

At one level this book challenges the "three-self" paradigm of modern mission practice (self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating). But it does so in a global context in which the author describes rich western churches deciding not to give generously to new churches in poorer countries in case they become dependent. At another level it is about giving and generosity. The discussion is set in a mission context. The author has been working together with Bosnian Christians to see churches planted in that war-torn country.

Rowell traces the origins of the three-self paradigm back to the English Anglican Henry Venn, the leader of the Church Missionary Society from 1841. (His father was the pastor to William Wilberforce.) However Venn's concerns differed from today's discussions. He was concerned with the mission equivalent of colonialism, namely ecclesiastical imperialism. His concern was not dependency but domination. He wanted  to bring an end to outside governance not outside giving.

One of the features of the book is the attempt to understand why western Christians have been so unwilling to give to the poorer churches. The author documents the development of ideas about giving to the poor in the history of the United States. He traces this development from what he calls Social Calvinism, a way of giving by persons to persons in their community but which distinguished between the "worthy poor" and the "wayward poor", through Social Darwinism (eliminating or allowing the unfit not to survive), through to Social Universalism which eliminated both personal giving (the government took over responsibility for welfare) and any distinctions about whether people actually needed welfare help. The result of the latter welfare programs was a cynicism that the public support programs didn't work. "Compassion fatigue" set in.
Rowell also documents the generally poor contributions of his home nation to the poorer nations. His claim is that both as a nation and as churches, 98% of all income is kept at home. He says that a mere 0.18 percent of church income goes to outreach ministries aimed at lost people living in already evangelised cultures, and only 0.02 percent goes annually to help reach truly un-reached peoples with the gospel.

His major plea is for western rich churches and Christians to work in covenant partnerships with churches in poorer nations as partners who contribute different things. He compares the Lend-Lease policy of the United States during World War II, and says that those with money can add it to those with human resources and expertise on the ground. Rather than fearing a welfare mentality he says we should be thinking of a warfare mentality in which we pool whatever resources we have for the good of the gospel.

He promotes the idea of compassionate conservatism, which is roughly a personal giving based on relationships, distinguishing between the worthy poor and the wayward poor, and setting a high value on the employment of heads of households. He outlines what he calls a Missionary Marshall Plan (modelled on the plan that helped re-establish the economies of some European nations after the second World War). This gives the primary responsibility for mission ministry to the local church not to outside donors. It also focuses efforts in areas where the Lord has opened doors to work.

One of the major themes running through the book is that Christians need to practice biblical generosity and not use the three-self paradigm as an excuse to withhold gifts to those in need. He has many strong things to say about the self-interest and greed of western churches and Christians, and also challenges the lifestyles of western missionaries who work among the poor. Rowell includes a helpful section on how Christians can help tackle poverty.

Overall the book is well thought out and practical. It comes from solid biblical study informed by personal experience and practice.

It should be read by church leaders, members of Church Councils, Boards of Deacons or Elders and those involved in mission outreach. It is an impassioned and challenging but practical book which has many important things to say to affluent western Christians.

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