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Serving and loving in the Northern Territory

As we complete our time in the Northern Territory serving with Aboriginal people, Kate and I are now reflecting over these 10 years. This journey has literally taken us down some shockingly corrugated roads and through some extreme weather conditions. We could tell a few stories! But first, what led us originally to serve in the NT? 

Genuine support for people comes out of meaningful and deep relationships. This takes time and we thank God for our many precious friendships with Aboriginal church leaders over the last decade. 

Drawn to serve God and his people 

Around 2005, well before we left for the north and around the time our second child was born, we felt God tangibly drawing us near and increasing our love for him. God spoke through the faithful preaching of our local church, which called us to live a life of purpose and gospel intentionality. Moved to action, we began by surrounding ourselves with a small prayerful discernment team and explored how to respond to God’s love and work out how to use our gifts for others. This period of discernment took us to the Northern Territory, where we met with Aboriginal church leaders who invited us to serve with them. We also spent many mealtimes at CMS Victoria’s ‘Summer Under the Son’ conference asking past and present missionaries how it all worked for them. And so finally, out of the overflow of our love for God, in 2012 we set out with a heart for our precious brothers and sisters in North Australia. 

Starting life in the remote community of Ngukurr, we were later based in Katherine and Darwin, working for the Diocese of the Northern Territory in three areas in order to equip local Christians: building relationships, creating resources and facilitating ministry events. 

Taking time to serve 

One of our chief roles was to support existing leaders and disciple emerging leaders in the remote churches through gospel relationships. Genuine support for people comes out of meaningful and deep relationships. This takes time and we thank God for our many precious friendships with Aboriginal church leaders over the last decade. We supported five leaders to take the next steps in their own calling to church leadership. I felt privileged to lead ordination retreats for three of the men, and we are glad to have been able to support the leadership of these men and women.  

As part of our pastoral work, Kate developed the ‘Yarning Map’ to provide a mechanism for providing meaningful intercultural professional supervision. Part of the job description for ministers and pastors is helping and supporting others. But for those in remote locations, it can be a struggle to debrief from the imported distress of that role, especially when serving in small communities. The Yarning Map is an alternative tool for supporting Aboriginal people in ministry. It was designed to support pastors and other workers by offering culturally humble and responsive supervision across cultures. The Territory Yarning Map is an entirely visual resource, which presents a sort of visual contract, or agreed track for a reflective, learning conversation. The feedback from the Yarning Map resource has been so great. One leader said: “It makes me happy that you don’t come to talk about your things, you come to help me talk in a good way about my things. Nobody else does that for me.” 

Resourcing Christians for ministry 

In addition to pastoral relationships, we were grateful to help create long-term church resources. The first of these was the translation and publishing of the Kriol Preya Buk (Kriol prayer book). It was the fruit of almost ten years of work, with over 23 translators from different Kriol-speaking communities. 

At the launch one leader said, “It took us a long time to come up with the words, but we did it, praise the Lord!”  

Another significant worship resource, The North Australian Lectionary, was developed as a way to read the Bible on Sundays according to both church and climatic seasons. Both the Kriol Preya Buk and The North Australian Lectionary seek to use the Bible faithfully and in contextual ways in the South-eastern Arnhem land church. 

Serving through events 

Finally, a key part of our ministry has been the organising and facilitating of gatherings and events. In our 10 years, this included over 35 events for the NT Diocese, such as retreats, workshops and conferences. While organising events across remote communities was time intensive, these occasions were often the highlight of the year for many leaders and provided valuable opportunities for training and fellowship. In addition, for over eight years, I was the chair of Katherine Christian Convention, which draws Christians from around the NT, providing biblical teaching and encouraging times of fellowship over the May Day long weekend. 

As we look back over our time with our friends in the Northern Territory, we are extremely grateful to God for providing a way for us to use our gifts to help others to respond to God’s love for them. We also feel grateful for CMS. The society provides a valuable gospel partnership between churches in Victoria (in our case) and the NT Diocese, which, in turn, enabled this relational expression of gospel love for our precious Aboriginal neighbours. 

GO 

Are you able to serve alongside Aboriginal leaders in Northern Australia? There are opportunities to serve in a diversity of ministries including teaching, translating, health and literacy. Get in touch with your local CMS branch to start a conversation.