Facing difficulties in the Kimberley
Posted on: 17th December 2018
CMS missionary Chris Webb (serving with Karen in North Australia) meet spiritual crises amongst the Aboriginal people of Broome that reflect striking differences in cultural expectations, on both sides. Does the gospel address those differences? Read Chris’s account, and be encouraged to be specific in your prayer for Christ’s power to prevail.
It was 11:30pm when my phone rang, jerking me out of deep sleep. It was a young Aboriginal lady who’d just walked to the hospital because she needed help and she figured they had my number. She explained to me that her mum was acting out of character and wouldn’t go to sleep. The family were worried that she was under demonic attack and wanted me there to pray.
Many Aboriginal people in the Kimberley are much more in tune to the spiritual forces at work in our world than people from . People often tell us of their encounters with evil spirits or point to sorcery as a probable cause for bad things that happen. Although I had read about these things in my missionary training, I had next to no personal experience in helping people who were frightened by supernatural happenings. And now in the middle of the night, I was being called on as an ‘expert’ who could help in such matters! I felt well out of my depth, but I couldn’t think of a good reason to say no to the young lady, so I pulled on a jumper and hopped in the car, madly praying that God would make me brave and help me know what to do.
When I arrived at the house, I was introduced to Lucy* who was sitting on the couch. She was agitated and talking strangely. I had a complete mind blank as to what Bible passages might be helpful to Lucy and her family, and a whole bunch of unanswered questions. How did I know if Lucy’s problem was demon possession, mental illness or the effects of alcohol? What should I be asking God to do in this situation? I prayed multiple times for Lucy. There was no apparent effect and I went home feeling like a failure.
Two days later I got another call. It was Jim* who wanted help for his cousin, a young, healthy-looking Aboriginal man who was fearing for his life because he believed he had been cursed by a sorcerer. Again, I felt out of my depth. I gathered some Christian brothers and we prayed. Nothing dramatic seemed to happen and his symptoms continued. Some weeks later, I heard that he had sought help from a traditional healer who removed the curse and everything was back to normal again.
The gospel I used to teach to university students in Newcastle is the same gospel that Aboriginal people in the Kimberley need to hear. But Aboriginal people in the Kimberley are quite different to students in Newcastle. Their needs are different. Their fears are different. Their experiences are different. What they value is different. So how do I explain the message about Jesus in such a way that it sounds like genuine good news for the family who fear that their mum is under spiritual attack?
Karen and I are thankful for our Aboriginal Christian friends who patiently answer our cultural questions. We also read the Bible with slightly different eyes now, more alert to how God might address the needs, hopes and fears of our Kimberley friends. We hope to get better at sharing God’s truth in ways that connect with the real issues that our friends face, such as spiritual forces in their lives, so that they can see that the message of Jesus really is good news in all circumstances!
*Names changed to protect privacy.
Pray for Regional Mission Directors and for CMS International Director Peter Rodgers as they conduct pastoral visits to people like the Webbs. Peter gives an insight into one of these visits at here.