Five practical steps Christians can take to support First Nations' peoples

Beyond the culture wars

Millions of pixels have been used to debate which particular movements for social justice Christians can support. Here are some that we can all get behind and provide practical help. Today.

This list is compiled from interviews and features in Eternity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and allies. These Indigenous spokespeople are passionate about on-the-ground projects and making connections with the wider church – the church which they serve.

Language

The preservation of language – a basic justice issue – and the Gospel come together in Bible translation and Bible Society has translation projects across Australia that you can support.

Tom Little, a Nyoongar man from Perth, is passionate about keeping his Nyoongar language alive. He explains in this Eternity story that language provides identity.

“Because we have something that is ours alone. This is something that we can do on our terms and for our people. So that we can say to non-Indigenous people, ‘Look, we have something that is ours that we preserve and we keep and in the fullness of time, we will share.’

Little is part of a group of Nyoongar working to translate the Bible and revitalise  their heart language.
Little and other Nyoongar explain their language project here.

First Nations churches

Support your local Indigenous pastor. The Bible principle of “not muzzling the ox” has not been followed in our land. (Paul takes Moses’ principle of looking after animals well, and applies it to looking after Christian pastors in 1 Corinthians 9:9-10).

Christian leader Aunty Jean Phillips gave a candid assessment of the shortcomings of the Australian church in understanding the poverty of Aboriginal Christians, at the commissioning of Brooke Prentis as CEO of Christian social justice movement Common Grace.

“I’m very disappointed in many ways with the Christian church in this country when I see the sufferings of our people,” she said.

Aunty Jean said she was paying for the vehicle registrations of many Aboriginal people in ministry and she would like to see churches to do this, or more, to support Aboriginal ministers.

Pastor Tony Riches, CEO of the Aboriginal Evangelical Fellowship, has a similar story of paying petrol money for chaplains who go unpaid but do heavy pastoral work in many Indigenous communities.

And in far too many cases, Indigenous congregations meet in worn out buildings that need repairs.

Seek out a local Indigenous church or one connected to your Christian network or denomination to pray for and give practical support to. If you have a role on a committee, join in discussions about supporting First Australian Christians. Here is an example of discussions involving Sydney Anglicans.

Education

Nungalinya College in Darwin trains Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christians. Here is a college video that shows students worshipping and studying at the college in subjects like Christian Ministry, or English “as an additional Language.”

One key project is a new Diploma in  Bible Translation course with the aim of raising a new generation of Bible translators. Nungalinya’s Principal Ben van Gelderen says: “Beginning the Diploma of Translating has been an absolute blessing and Joy for the college. Communities have been aspiring for an accredited translation course for many years, both to support and re-energise Bible translation ministries but also
to discover new possibilities of working with digital technologies and methods.”

Bible Society is partnering with Nungalinya for the new translators’ diploma. You can support it here.

Many Christian schools have programs to support First Nation’s education. Darkinjung Barker is an example of a Church school setting up campuses to serve Aboriginal communities

History lessons

There are great Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian heroes all Australians should learn about. Yorta Yorta man William Cooper is a good example. Here is an Eternity video of how he protested Nazi Germany. Cooper is a hero for Australia’s Jewish and Christian communities and well as First Nations peoples. His persistence in leading a long life of protest for First Nations’ rights was fueled by his strong Christian faith.

His grandson Uncle “Boydie” Turner told a commemoration of Cooper’s Kristalnacht protest: “I think the reason was that that grandfather was a Christian man. He always went to church; he got it from Daniel Matthews who built a mission for the people because they did not have anywhere to go. One day he was driving in the forests and he came across a very rough camp. There were several children with a very sick woman. He picked them up, took them back to camp, and gave them a place to live. I was one of those children.”

Uncle Neville Naden urged St Andrews Cathedral congregation to walk closely with First Nations’ peoples: “There have been a lot of things that have been done in the name of the church that have been ungodly. This goes without saying, but we need to take it on and learn to deal with such things.

“But the wonderful thing that the church has done is to bring the gospel to these lands. This gospel brings life where there is no life. Those on the fringes of society are brought into the inner circle of God’s family.”

John Harris’ magisterial history of Christian Ministry and the First Nations’ peoples One Blood is a good starting point to examine the past.

Campaigns

Christians will have different views on which campaigns or protests we can support, but here’s one which appears to Eternity to be a simple proposition many of us could sign on to. Raise the Age is a campaign to increase the age that a child can be locked up in a youth prison from ten to 14. 70 per cent of the children in this age group locked up are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

Chris McLeod, National Aboriginal Bishop in the Anglican Church, made some practical suggestions in this message for Eternity readers:

“As Christians we should be some of the strongest advocates for justice for First Nations peoples, and work tirelessly and prayerfully to see the end of the senseless deaths in custody. Write to your state and federal parliamentary member and ask them what they are doing about it. I am! We also need to ask the hard questions of ourselves. As a church when it comes to systemic racism we also have some ‘logs to take out of our own eyes’ (Matt 7:5). We have significant changes to make in our own church. As people of the light we can begin to walk in the light, and drive out the darkness (John 1:4).”

Bible Society has projects which support language survival and Bible Translation and education for First Nations’ peoples.

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