1) My background and calling
2) Vision for the Indigenous
3) Obstacles the Church Must face
4) Can culture save the people?
: My hope for this is that as you hear my testimony, my personal calling to ministry, my beliefs about who God is, and the vision that Alice Springs CFC has for the Indigenous people, you will start to get an understanding of Indigenous people in general, and begin to see the vision of how you can minister to the Indigenous in your own area.
This is part 1.
I was born in Alice Springs, but never officially lived there until the start of 2010. At the time of my birth, my family was living in Amata, a community on the APY lands. The Steels were there too, but not long after I was born they moved off to Adelaide, and within a year so did we.
How we came to be at Seaton was due to the Steel’s choice in making it their home church, though if you know the story, it was not their choice, but a sovereign decision; God using Papua New Guinean strangers as a means to bring them to Seaton. Them being our friends in Amata, we followed suit.
One benefit for me in not being raised by a father was that it caused me to look to a Heavenly Father, and a comfort in Christ. Having such a godly mother, with her guidance, that was really easy to find. In fact, one of my earliest memories was being scared of the dark, and so my mother plugged in this Jesus nightlight to help me. Thinking about it today, what tremendous theological insight to give to a little kid. In darkness, in fear, where can one look for strength, for care and comfort… The only thing visible in the darkness, in my fear, was the light. So, I was constantly looking at my Jesus.
I was raised in Seaton, it is my home Church, and even to this day, although I live in Alice, I still hold to this place as my Church. This place has given one of the most important things to me; a church family. To be sure, I don’t consider this a unique thing; I actually think all good churches are like this. When you are a Christian you have two families, your family of birth & your family of new birth. What lacks in the former can be made up in the latter. If your whole family is part of the new birth, you are doubly blessed.
As a kid in Seaton, I, along with my family, joined all the outreaches they held to the APY lands. I was literally raised on outreaches. Even though we continually went there, I was still raised in Adelaide and at Seaton. The lands were never home. Until for one year in 1998 when we lived in Ernabella, but then we came back to Adelaide for next year in ‘99.
I continued in Seaton until 2001, when my mother asked me, as the youngest child (because it’d be just me and her), if I wanted to go back and live in Ernabella the following year. “Yeah, I kinda miss it there,” was my response. This really doesn’t make sense because I was leaving all my friends to go to a place where I had no friends. Now, in hindsight, I can easily see… This was a sovereign God-given training camp for that aspect of my life.
So, we moved to Ernabella and lived there from 2002 – 2004. Those were grades 10 – 12 for me, BUT I did not do well in high school. As I grew older I think I became a slave to my own reasoning; really, just captive to my own way of thinking.
During my later years in school, I kept thinking, “Is there a good reason for me to be here?” And I couldn’t answer the question with a yes. Some might say education, but I already felt smart, and had no ambition for Uni, so I really didn’t care about that. And I didn’t have any school friends either, so there was no motivation there.
I just reached a point, much to my mother’s anguish (being a school teacher herself), where I reasoned to myself that this was not important enough to spend time on. Why that part of the story is important, I will show soon enough.
Without my mum, who stayed in Ernabella, I moved in with my sister in Adelaide in 2005. In theory, this was to finish high school doing grade 13. In practice, as I already mentioned, that did not happen.
In hindsight, I believe that was a year where I had re-strengthened some of my ties in friendship with the people at Seaton, while also meeting new and important ones. In fact, the next 3 years that followed after would be all about that. I was now an adult and my choice in life was to basically work in Ernabella and play in Adelaide. I had a very lenient job and was able to just go back and forth, make money in the lands, come down and basically spend it all and repeat. Not the most responsible way of living but as a young male, I really didn’t care.
This was made easy because my sister had her own place, and even when that was not an option, I had a good mate who actually lived in the Seaton church and so I just bunked here. This was from 2005 – 2007, on an off, back and forth; those years are really foggy to me. I don’t even know where to place certain events because it is that jumbled up in my mind.
But, I see those years as a reestablishment of my roots as a Seaton child, knowing that I still belong, and years where I established everlasting, amazingly strong friendships with some core people. Even while in Alice today, I still have this strange God-given ability to feed off my relationship with the friends I have here, even from so far away. Really, that just shows the quality of my friendships here, that I can still thrive on that.
It was during 2007 that I got the call to go to Alice Springs. I had always said that I was going to either live in Ernabella or Adelaide; there was no other choice. God obviously had different plans, and I received the call during the testimonies of some of the youth from here at Seaton who went to Alice on an outreach.
They testified to it on a Sunday night and I responded through the altar call. AND you should know that I very rarely respond to an altar call. That’s not because I’m holy or anything. Far from it. Really, it’s bad, and stems from an independent nature. The times where I do respond it is always big, but this was the biggest. I don’t know how I reached from where I was standing and then to the front, because in my head I was not walking… It felt like I was floating.
By the providence of God, Allen Steel was there. He was living in Alice at the time but had cancer and so he came to Adelaide periodically. As my theological footnote, is cancer bad? Yes. But does God work all things, including cancer, for good? Romans 8:28 says Yes. So, this really was the providence of God.
While it took me a few years to eventually live in Alice, each year since then had a purpose, an overall one was that I was still being connected with Seaton. In 2008, I continued my on/off living between Adelaide and Ernabella, but I also felt the need to grow in my Biblical understanding. Thank God for the Internet.
I looked up who the most popular preachers on iTunes were, and then I did something genius, I checked them out on Wikipedia. I knew that if they did something dodgy, someone was bound to mention it on Wikipedia. The most popular preacher without controversy was a man named John Piper, and on his Wiki page it had his popular one-line philosophy, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” This stirred something in me. It seemed so truthful and something I hadn’t heard before, so I checked him out.
The first sermon I downloaded was called “The Echo & Insufficiency of Hell”, and I was hooked. It just made sense to me. I kept listening to it over and over. The message still affects the way I think and write today: The sinfulness of sin and the holiness of God. I remember I was working out in Uluru, I had my iPod, and at night I would just keep listening to it on repeat.
My mother helped instill the childlike (the biblical) faith, Allen Steel was a role model, Bill Vasilakis was a spiritual father, and a man, all the way over in Minneapolis, flamed the fire in me, that created a passion for the deeper knowledge of God.
To this day, I cannot escape the Theological thoughts in my head; it is that thing which I cannot reason myself out of.
This is what I was alluding to about my schooling. I did not see it as that important. But Theology… I can’t help but see this type of thinking as the most important knowledge for one to pursue. I couldn’t reason myself to not think that way.
Some people may disagree and say, ‘What about Church, what about the poor and social justice, what about the fellowship, the people in need?’ But, in my thinking, the answer is that good theology, a good understanding of who God is, will CAUSE those things to flow at an even deeper, greater and more meaningful way than they ever would if you didn’t have that understanding.
So, just to really clarify what I’m getting at… A theology without mission is BAD theology. Really, it’s no theology at all. The Bible, and Jesus, is really clear about us DOING stuff. So, I’m not advocating that people just hang around and think all the time. We must do some things; namely, what God calls us to do in his word, in prayer, and life.
One mistake that people do is separate Theology and the Bible, or as I stated before, Theology and mission; how we should live. What can be forgotten is that the Bible is the source of true Theology. You take away the Bible, you take away Christian Theology, and so we don’t do that, we stick really close to what the Bible says.
In fact, this has become something both Allen and I mutually agree on and hold to, and the fruit of this is that, since January, as a church, week-by-week, we have been going through the whole book of Mark, preaching on almost every passage. We’re reaching halfway now, and probably won’t finish until early next year. Rather than create topics and see what the Bible has to say, we’re letting the Bible create topics for us. And it’s really feeding the Church.
The most important thing in the world that one can physically hold in their hands is the Holy Bible, and so Theology has become one of the most important things to me. People are dying everyday, they are slaves to sin and are going to Hell. The answer to that problem of sin is found in the Bible. It’s called grace. And it’s found in the person and work of Jesus, God himself. God can set these slaves of sin free through good preaching in our words and in our lives, but a good understanding of who God is needs to be set beforehand.
This part of my life, ministry, and thinking started in 2008, and continued through to 2010 when I finally moved to Alice and began a ministry of preaching. I can be given a text to preach and it all just makes sense to me (not straight away, of course, but through dwelling); the theology has glued the Bible together. People are being affected by the preaching that I could not have done had I moved there straight after my call in 2007.
In 2009, I lived one last year in Adelaide doing an internship here at Seaton. And, with apologies to Bill Vas and Tim Lochens, the program was not the number one reason God had me here. I believe it was to meet a future “rock” in my life, Mr. Sam Wright, a very different person to me. The bond is there as we’re a couple of unworthy, young men agreeing on all who God is. In our hearts we are willing to work for him, in spite of (and in a funny way, because of) that unworthiness we feel.
His grace over sin is so great that even the sin nature, this “body of death”, as Romans 7 puts it, works as a reminder that God loves me in spite of me. So I can now work for him in spite of me too. This love is fuel for ministry.