Trigger warning: This article contains some discussion of domestic violence.
An Anglican minister in Alice Springs has made a heartfelt plea for more Christian workers to move to the troubled outback town in central Australia in the face of a threatened exodus of long-term residents.
Kristan Slack, who is Rector of the Anglican Parish of Alice Springs, said his church has been praying for Christians to move to Alice Springs to encourage workers worn down by the crisis in violent crime that has reached the national spotlight.
“We’ve been praying that God would send Christian workers into these places because even other staff need it as well. They need to see that Jesus brings hope and difference and change. If you want to make a difference, move to Alice, especially Christians, because we just need Christians to be light across all of society. There’s so much work to do. There are so many jobs of so many kinds in every field, but it’s expensive both to get here and to live. It’s hard to find houses, and then you might be afraid.”
Fuel your faith every Friday with our weekly newsletter
“It shouldn’t be this way. Kids shouldn’t have to be on the streets because they’re afraid of the violence in their homes.” – Kristan Slack
Slack acknowledged that it is getting harder and harder to get good people to come to live in Alice.
“There are people who are scared, like, there are medical staff who’ve been here for 20 years who’ve said, ‘We just have to leave, we can’t keep doing this.’ They feel like the power is out of their hands and the only thing that’s improved in 20 years is that the kids are looking healthier,” Slack said.
“But you only have to go to the supermarket and you see many women with disfigured faces [from domestic violence]. I’m OK, I’m not under threat, and yet I despair. I don’t think there’s the political competency in the Territory or the political will nationally to actually deal with this.
“It shouldn’t be this way. Kids shouldn’t have to be on the streets because they’re afraid of the violence in their homes.”
While Slack’s family is unaffected because they live in the rectory tucked away behind the church, he said his wife would no longer go out to the supermarket after 7pm for safety reasons.
“We’re unaffected personally as a family, but it’s really sad. It’s frustrating that it’s hit the national media and political spotlight now when domestic violence towards Indigenous women has been horrific for a very long time and that hasn’t been enough to get national media or political interest,” he said.
“There are some very racist elements who have been very vocal recently. There are political interests, even amongst some Indigenous groups, to present one side of the problem as the main side, and there’s a shame in acknowledging the domestic violence issue as well. Fourteen out of 16 ICU beds [in Alice Springs Hospital] are domestic violence related at the moment.”
Slack said a group of Christian clergy had a meeting last week with Northern Territory Police Minister Kate Worden after she had been confronted by different interest groups.
“The advisers said, ‘Well, look, the church has connections – why don’t you talk to these people?’ They were despairing. They were still in self-defence political mode in the first 20 minutes of that meeting, saying, ‘What do you bring to the table? What are your solutions?’ But while Christian communities are in all these places, we’re not a volunteer or service delivery agency. And two churches don’t have senior pastors in town at the moment.
“I wrote to the policy adviser afterwards. Everyone noticed the difference in the tone of the Christian leaders to all the other meetings because we actually care for the politicians as well as the police, and these kids and these families. We told the political people that every single person is made in God’s image. That’s at the core of how we’ve come to know God in the world, and that’s what we try to raise up amongst the members of our church family. We can’t affect the whole town, but we can [affect] a group of people who treat everyone with dignity. It’s sad when that is not happening.”
Slack said he had more questions than answers to the situation, but he believed there needed to be a restoration of a system called Intensive Youth Support, which had shifted to a family support program and left a gap.
“I think funding needs to be put into programs we know have worked in the past, but have been pulled because it’s politically expedient to look like you’re doing a new thing,” he said.
“It’s that invisible yeast in the dough that will make the difference.”
He said a new prison chaplain had moved to Alice Springs who was being proactive in trying to be a bridge between prison staff, inmates and families, and thinking about what kind of faith formation could happen in the prisons.
“The churches rotate a chapel service there in the afternoons on Sundays when we can get in,” Slack said.
“Our prisons don’t have climate control and they don’t have enough staff. Families can’t see people properly because they’re all understaffed and at their wits’ end. And there’s constant rolling political action at the moment.
“But there are remarkable people who have moved here to be Christians in this place and work. I do think that in the end, it’s that invisible yeast in the dough that will make the difference.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call the Domestic Violence hotline on 1800 737 732 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.