Ministry among Indigenous People
Prepared by Rev. Ivan Jordan 8 Dec 1999.
The Baptist ministry detailed
below has been administered from commencement until 1978 by the Australian
Baptist Home Mission and from 1978 by the Australian Baptist Missionary
In a similar way to Baptist
ministry in Papua New Guinea, the genesis of Baptist ministry to Aboriginal
Australians is associated with war service. It was in December 1942 that
Rev. Dr. E. H. Watson, as chaplain to the armed forces in Alice
Springs, became aware of some of the needs of the indigenous people of
Central Australia. He pushed to have better facilities for the aboriginal
members of the Labor Corp, had these men included in the church parade,
and also discussed with Lutheran pastor, F.W. Albrecht, the possibility
of Baptists becoming involved in mission work with people of The Centre.
Pastor Albrecht promised to give assistance if Baptists acted. Dr. Watson
urged the South Australian Baptist Union to take up this challenge.
In May 1944 the South Australia
Baptist Home Mission Department sent Rev. Laurie Reece to survey
an area suggested by the Lutherans, North West of the Aranda area in which
the Lutherans had ministered for many years. Laurie Reece was loaned camels
and guides by Pastor Albrecht and travelled North to Coniston and then
West to Mount Singleton and Pikilyi, and then returned to Hermannsburg.
He had travelled some six hundred miles, met many people in the Southern
area of the Warlpiri tribe, and was convinced that considerable scope for
mission activity existed.
The South Australian Baptists
recommended to the 1944 Assembly of the Baptist Union of Australia, that
the Federal Home Mission Board consider commencing a mission among the
Warlpiri people. This recommendation was received and returned to South
Australia for further investigation. At the 1946 August meeting of the
Federal Home Mission Board Rev Laurie Reece and Rev. Phil Steer were appointed
to be the first Baptist missionaries to the new Ration Depot/Settlement
which the Department of Native affairs had just established at Rock Hill
Bore, subsequently renamed Yuendumu. They arrived at Yuendumu February
13th, 1947 and commenced regular church services on February 23rd.
From its inception, Yuendumu
was a government settlement and not a mission, with the responsibility
for policy and daily affairs being that of the government. Thus the missionaries
were required to operate within the bounds of such policies as assimilation.
However the Baptists were involved in much more than meeting spiritual
needs. They helped supply clothing and medical supplies, taught sewing,
commenced and ran the first store, helped build and often staffed the hospital,
commenced a kindergarten, and commenced the first school. Several Baptists,
including Miss Ada Griffiths, Sister Betty Ashworth, Sister Veryl Van Hemelrych,
Sister Rhoda Hannah, and Miss Iris Carter worked in government positions
and contributed greatly.
Valuable shorter-term ministry
was exercised at Yuendumu by the Rev and Mrs Reece, Rev and Mrs Steer,
Mr and Mrs Arnold Long, and Rev and Mrs John Burton. Rev and Mrs Tom
Fleming commenced a 25 year ministry in April 1950. The Flemings made
considerable effort to present a culturally appropriate gospel to the Warlpiris.
The beautiful stained glass window in the Yuendumu Church building, with
the cross in the centre, surrounded by the dreamings of the various kinship
groups, is vivid testimony of this. In 1956 The Flemings commenced regular
visits to the surrounding cattle stations of Mt. Allen, Mt. Denison, and
The first baptisms at Yuendumu,
Darby Jampijinpa Ross, Rex Japanangka Granites, and Jilly Nakamarra Spencer,
took place on Easter Friday, April 14th, 1968. The Yuendumu Baptist Church
was constituted on April 21st 1968. 1968 was a very significant year, in
that the new church building was also opened in March. This was the culmination
of the day in April 1967 when the entire population had gathered late on
the Sunday afternoon and the elders of the tribe had given the land for
the new building to God.
After 25 years dedicated
and patient ministry the Flemings handed over to Rev and Mrs Ed Kingston
in June 1975 and retired in Alice Springs. Tom was later awarded the
MBE for services to the Aboriginal community. The Kingstons (who had also
ministered briefly at Wave Hill)ministered at Yuendumu from 1975 until
1985 and were followed at Yuendumu by Rev and Mrs Lloyd Ollerenshaw from
1985 to 1991. In 1992 Rev and Mrs Ivan Jordan commenced ministry at Yuendumu
and are currently in that ministry.
New government settlements
were commenced at Hooker Creek (1949) and Warrabri(1954). From time to
time Tom Fleming visited these settlements and ministered to the people,
many of whom had lived previously at Yuendumu. In 1957 Rev and Mrs Burton
became the first resident missionaries at Warrabri, ministering to Warlpiri,
Alyawarr, Waramungu, Kaytij people. In March 1960 Rev and Mrs Laurie Reece
replaced the Burtons who resigned due to illness. Laurie had a particular
linguistic gift and also had a wide ministry to surrounding cattle stations.
On January 19th 1964 Tony Jupurrula Coombes was the first person baptised
at Warrabri. On Sunday September 20th 1964 a growing group of Christians
formed the Warrabri Baptist Church. With the encouragement of the Reeces,
who ministered until July 1970, the Church continued to grow. Laurie Reece
was later awarded membership of the Order of Australia for services to
The Reeces were replaced
at Warrabri by Rev and Mrs John Bridges from 1972 until 1976. Malcolm and
Joyce Murdoch ministered for several months in 1977/78 and helped revitalise
the church. Rev and Mrs John Whitbourne commenced ministry at Warrabri
(now renamed Ali-Curung) in 1978 and continued an effective ministry there
until they moved to Alice Springs to commence an aboriginal ministry in
association with the Alice Springs Baptist church in 1981 Rev and Mrs Lloyd
Ollerenshaw ministered at Ali-Curung from 1982-1985. Rev and Mrs Chris
Boland replaced the Ollerenshaws in 1986 and continued until 1990 when
they supported the Ali-Curung Church with a visitation ministry from an
Alice Springs Base until 1993. In 1995 Ed and Kath Kingston commenced a
new ministry at Ali-Curung and are currently ministering there.
In 1962 Rev and Mrs Jim
Kime commenced ministry as the first resident missionaries at Hooker
Creek. The Kimes encouraged the Hooker Creek people to express their Christian
faith in an indigenous manner, and consequently when (October 4th 1964)
Maurice Jupurrula became the first person baptised at Hooker Creek, a new
Warlpiri hymn was sung. The Hooker Creek Baptist Church was formed on September
12th 1965, and steady growth followed. In 1966 Rev and Mrs Bill Parish
replaced the Kimes as the Baptist missionaries at Hooker Creek and the
Church continued to grow and the Wave Hill visitation proved fruitful.
In 1969 Rev and Mrs Graham Paulson replaced the Parishes and continued
until November 1970 when they became the first resident missionaries at
wave Hill and the Parishes returned to Hooker Creek. At the end of 1972
the Parishes moved to Darwin and Rev and Mrs Ivan Jordan commenced as the
resident missionaries in September 1973. They ministered at Hooker Creek
(now Lajamanu)until the end of 1989, and were replaced by Rev and Mrs Peter
Archer (1989-1992), Norm and Natalie Williams (1993-1995) and Rev and Mrs
In 1964 Jim Kime began
regular ministry to the Gurrinji and Warlpiri people at Wave Hill cattle
station and Wave Hill Settlement. The cattle station manager encouraged
this ministry and the Gurrinji leader, Vincent Lingiarri, already a believer
in Christ, strongly supported the ministry. On May 7th 1972 twenty five
people were baptised at Wattie Creek and the Wave Hill -Wattie Creek Baptist
Church was constituted on July 23rd, 1977. The Paulsons ministered very
effectively until 1975 when they resigned to engage in further study. Rev
and Mrs Gordon Moore ministered very effectively for two periods, 1975
-1984, and 1990 -1992 Gurrinji members, Clancy and Blind Doris ministered
very effectively, as well as Stephen and Victor. From 1984 to 1989 Malcolm
and Joyce Murdoch exercised a very enthusiastic ministry at Wave Hill.
From 1992 until the present Rev and Mrs Barry Downes have been the resident
missionaries at Wave Hill, latterly also supporting Lajamanu.
Over the years Baptists have
also ministered to the Warlpiri people at Willowra. Initially this was
a cattle station and is now an Aboriginal Community. Many of the Willowra
people have resided at some time at Yuendumu or Ali-Curung. Ministry to
Willowra was commenced from Lajamanu in 1975 with the help of the Baptist
Aerial Mission plane of the Baptist Union of the Northern Territory. Later
John Whitbourne continued this ministry from Alice Springs and Chris Boland
exercised a similar ministry. In more recent years the missionaries at
Yuendumu and Ali-Curung, and the Yuendumu and Ali-Curung Churches have
continued this ministry. The late Sammy Johnston Japangardi was a key person
Baptist have also been involved
in urban aboriginal ministry in both Mount Isa and Alice
Springs. In both cases this has been done in association with the local
Baptist Church. In Mount Isa Malcolm and Joyce Murdoch ministered from
1980 until 1983 and Barry and Lois Downes from 1984 until 1986. In Alice
Springs the following staff were involved; Rev and Mrs John Whitbourne
1981-1992 Rev and Mrs Barry Downes 1987-1991 Rev and Mrs Lloyd Ollerenshaw
In 1990 A.B.M.S. was asked
to assist in establishing a ministry to indigenous people the Eastern
area of Western Australia. Craig and Lyn Siggins have been
involved in this ministry seeing quite remarkable growth with hundreds
of people in various communities becoming involved.
Several people have exercised
very valuable interim ministries over the years. In some cases the total
of several interims has totalled several years service. These include Norm
and Natalie Williams, Bill and Valdene Parish, and Bert and Ethel Franks.
Baptist missionaries have
encouraged the indigenous Christians to express their faith in culturally
appropriate forms. Over the years this has resulted in various developments.
In 1975 both the Lajamanu and Yuendumu churches began using Warlpiri
(traditional symbols) to draw Bible stories. This has become a very effective
means of communication. Traditional style singing was also encouraged
and particularly at Lajamanu a series of basic Christian statements (like
a creed) have for many years been a most effective means of teaching. After
several years of gentle prompting the Lajamanu Christians developed the
first Christian corroboree (purlapa) when they developed the Christmas
story in this dramatic form. This was given to the Yuendumu Church who
then developed the Easter corroboree. Lajamanu also developed their 'One
Family' corroboree based on Galatians 3:28. This vivid portrayal of Christian
unity has since been presented in many places, particularly in 1988 when
it was presented in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide.
In 1979 the women of the Warrabri Church developed their own Easter corroboree.
In recent years a further development has been the basing of church structure
and ministry responsibility on the kinship structure which under-pins traditional
Warlpiri life, rather than on Western church structure.
Although there have certainly
been 'lows' as well as 'highs' in the life of the churches which Baptists
have established in Central Australia, the Gospel has certainly had a real
impact. This can be seen in three ways. Firstly regarding the number
of people involved, in some communities over half of the people are involved
in the church. Secondly, Christian people are continually chosen
for leadership positions in the community, and are widely respected. Christians
have a very considerable influence in all these communities. Thirdly,
the ways in which the Christian faith has been expressed within the indigenous
culture has been quite remarkable and widely acclaimed.
In addition to the indigenous
people listed above who played key roles in the commencement of the church
in the various centres, there have been numerous others who have been very
important people in church ministry. Jerry Jangala has not only
been a key person in the Lajamanu Church and in the development of indigenous
expressions of Christianity, but for many years ministered very effectively
as the Aboriginal Church Advisor to all the Baptist Aboriginal Churches.
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