The joy of being a missionary

Richard and Sue Davies came into the Eternity office to talk about audio Bibles for Indigenous people. But the conversation soon turned to the joys and challenges of being a missionary based at Canteen Creek in the Northern Territory. Members of AIM (Australian Indigenous Ministries, formerly, The Aborigines Inland Mission of Australia, which began in 1905), they spent most of the time talking about the lives they’ve seen changed by the gospel. Here is one of their stories:

Sue and I were posted to the Tennant Creek church in 1985 after leaving theological college. 

It was in Tennant Creek that we got to know Richard Driver and his family. He told us of his past and how the grog had been really bad for him. It was in 1984 while he was drunk with his wife and others in a house that a man jumped through the window and slashed Richard’s throat. The man also stabbed his wife Phyllis and two others. One man who was stabbed in the stomach stuffed his intestines back into his stomach and ran to the hospital to get help. Richard ended up in Alice Springs Hospital where the doctor told him he was a quarter of an inch off dying. At that moment, all the Sunday School teaching from when he was a kid at Ali Curung flooded into his mind and he knew that if he had died that night, he would be going to hell. So he made a promise to God that if he survived he would serve him for the rest of his life. He and Phyllis committed their lives to Jesus in 1984.

During 1986 we noticed Richard was losing his eyesight. When he finally went to the hospital they told him he had optic atrophy.

A senior man in the church came to see me and mentioned that he had had his eyes fixed by a “nice man” in Sydney who let him and his family camp in his backyard. I rang the “nice man” in Sydney who turned out to be Professor Fred Hollows. He agreed to see Richard. By the time we managed to get Richard to Sydney he was very sick. Prof. Hollows was very respectful of Richard, and a CT scan revealed a tumour on his pituitary gland causing the optic atrophy. Fred gave Richard two choices. He said, “If we don’t operate, you will go mad with the pain and die within six months. If we do operate you could still die!” Richard replied that he was not worried because he knew where he was going. Fred was amazed.

Because Richard’s metabolism was out of control due to the pituitary gland’s destruction, the doctors had to keep him in hospital until it was safe to operate. Prof. Hollows made sure that Richard had a top neurosurgeon. Sue, the boys and I were staying in Sydney during this time awaiting the birth of our fourth child. I went to visit Richard at Prince Henry Hospital near La Perouse. As I approached his bed a white man called me over to his bed and asked if I knew that “blackfella” over there. I said that I did and that he was a good friend. He responded with, “He’s the most amazing man I’ve ever met!” To which I replied, “ Yes, he is pretty amazing!”

“You don’t understand,” said the man. “I am the Police Sergeant at Redfern and I never thought that I would praise a Blackfella! I have been calling the station and telling the constables to come and meet him.” 

This man went on to tell me that Richard had been feeling his way around the very large ward talking to all the patients. He went on to say, “He came and visited me yesterday and we had a good yarn for about an hour. When he was about to return to his bed, he said ‘Can I pray for you?’ I have a back problem and he has a brain tumour that could kill him and he wants to pray for me! What’s going on?” To which I replied, “He is a Christian, and has let Jesus into his life”. He exclaimed, “That’s obvious! Are there many more like him?” 

“Yes. Biggest mobs!” I replied. 

“What can we do?” he said. And I replied, “Treat them better and give them a go”.

It seemed to me that Richard was not only blind, he was colour blind. He wanted to talk to anybody that he could about Jesus.

Since then, Richard, though blind, has become an able Bible teacher. He memorises scripture and often preaches in more than one language. Even the man who stabbed Richard has committed his life to Christ and often sits next to Richard in church. They are great mates! 

Richard and Sue Davies are looking for the next generation to take on the work in the Territory, whether in vocational ministry or as lay people.

“We are looking for people who are able to be ancillary workers, Bible teachers, encouragers, helpers. People who are sensitive to Aboriginal culture as well as led by the Holy Spirit to enable the Aboriginal people to run their own churches the way they want to. We would also like to see people with secular skills who could get employment in communities and be part of the local church.”