A memorable celebration for a Bible dedication
It was a festival of colour when 41 young teens marched into the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church in the Top End town of Wadeye to be confirmed in a Mass that also included the dedication of the Murrinhpatha Mini Bible.
The confirmees strode up from the school with their sponsors, the boys wearing red nagas (loin cloths) and adorned with white paint on their bare torsos, with the girls in white T-shirts and red skirts. After lining up outside the church they walked in together, then sat on opposite sides of the central walkway, their sponsors beside them.
In this former Catholic mission, the church is a large, eight-sided building covered inside with Aboriginal artworks and motifs in stained glass over the doors.
For Wadeye priest Leo Wearden, the ceremony was a welcome coming together of opposing clan groups whose feuding last year led to the death of one man and the destruction of about 106 houses. He said those houses have now been rebuilt and some families have moved to their outstations, away from the pressure cooker atmosphere of the community.
“The role of the church is helping to bring people together for particular special occasions, and that’s a good thing, and people enjoyed it. They went away reinvigorated and committed and aware that it’s good when we come together for things,” he said.
Hannah Harper, a Nungalinya College lecturer in Translation, drove six hours from Darwin to present copies of the Murrinhpatha Mini Bible to the families of the translators who had worked with Bible translators Chester and Lyn Street from 1973 until 1991, and afterwards.
These were: Panpawa Gregory Mollintjin, whose wife, Bernadette, received a Bible on his behalf; Pirrimngiparl Marcellino Bunduck, whose son, Kunhpinhi Harry Bunduck received a Bible; Patrick Parmbuk whose brother Basil received the Bible in his place; and Francella Deminhimpuk Bunduck and Sister Tess Ward, who worked on the Bible with Chester and after his death.
“All the colours in the church were amazing. The building was packed, and it is an amazing building to be in with so many people,” Hannah comments. “So we pray that God’s word would be known and loved by all those who were there.”
Hannah said she thanked everyone she presented the Scriptures to for their love for people and God’s word “because I believe that Bible translation represents such a massive work and can only be fuelled by love … Chester and Lyn Street poured out their lives into that work and I honour them.”
Sadly, Lyn Street was unable to be present for family reasons. Chester died in 2015.
Father Leo, who has been based in Wadeye for 18 years, said a church group made up of different family groups meets every Tuesday and always starts its meeting with a gospel reading in Murrinhpatha.
He said the fact that a group of people from Wadeye had studied courses to prepare them for translating the Scriptures at Nungalinya College in Darwin had lifted the profile of the Murrinhpatha Scriptures.
“And the bilingual program here is very strong in the school, so children are learning to read and write in Murrinhpatha from a very early age,” he said.
“We hope to find ways so that people can use the Bible. We’re using a lot the audio recordings that Chester Street did some time ago of the gospel stories on people’s mobile phones.”
Sister Tess Ward, who is involved in the bilingual program at the school, said the cover design of the Mini Bible, drawn by Nimpangarl Barbara Narndu, showed the peaceful dove, which is one of the totems of the Kardu Thithay Dimirnirin clan.
“The sun represents God, and we’ve come from him, and our loving father sent Jesus, and she also drew the cross that Jesus died on. The dove is sitting on the sacred hill, near the waterhole, which is a place of life for the people because around water is where all their life comes from,” she said.