Over a thousand Christians have met in Port Augusta, South Australia this week for the bi-annual Aboriginal Evangelical Fellowship (AEF) national conference. Conference organisers say this year’s gathering is almost double the previous years attendance, with representatives from every state and almost every denomination.
Close to 300 people made the journey from the central desert, around Alice Springs and the APY (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara) Lands, to make it to the conference for the first time.
AEF’s national secretary Ray Minniecon told Eternity he believes the dramatic increase in attendance points to a desire amongst Aboriginal Christians for “something fresh and exciting that connects us all together.”
Chairman Neville Naden said he believes the growth can be attributed to a renewed effort by AEF to be about fellowship. “If you love Jesus, you’re welcome to come into this space and be a part of it,” he said.
Mr Minniecon said Aboriginal Christians continue to face extreme challenges, and conferences like AEF’s national meeting help to encourage and uplift many who truly need it.
“[Aboriginal Christians] live in communities where we face high levels of suicide, our children and our men and women are in jail, we’re facing the brutality of our history, racism, even racism that exists within the church towards Aboriginal people. It’s structural racism, institutionalised. We’ve got huge challenges ahead of us, still,” said Mr Minniecon.
“This is a fellowship to encourage Aboriginal Christians to continue to press on. Some of these big challenges can cause us to lose faith, to lose sight of who we are. It’s really important for us to support each other and carry each other’s burdens.”
Mr Naden said one another challenge Aboriginal Christians are facing, particularly in the tribal areas in central and northern Australia, is how to – and how much to – mix culture and Christianity.
“There’s a bit of a challenge in how much Christians can culturally appropriate, or culturally contextualise scripture. Our people are still thinking their way through some of these things,” he said.
This year’s national conference was also a celebration of the Aboriginal men and their families who worked to create the AEF, 47 years ago.
“Since we started in 1970, there’s never been an opportunity to honour our original, foundation members of the fellowship,” said Mr Naden.
One of the founding members honoured this week was Ossie Cruse who pastors the Aboriginal Evangelical Church in Eden in the Bega Valley in south east NSW. Pastor Cruse has been recognised in other forums for his contributions as an indigenous leader, including being awarded an Order of Australia for his service to the indigenous community in the areas of social justice, spiritual welfare, health and land rights.
“Pastor Ossie Cruse has worked tirelessly in ministry, serving his people and serving us,” said Mr Naden.
Pastor Ossie was in the crowd which Mr Naden says was exhorted this week to “renew their passion for preaching the gospel, their passion for hearing the gospel and their passion to live out the gospel.”
Photos courtesy of Nathaniel Naden.