Missionary Diary: life among disused mine shafts and venomous snakes

Kurt and Bec Langmead and their five children – June, 10, Arthur, 8, Lydia, 7, Jeremiah, 4, and Timothy, 2 – serve at Lightning Ridge Community Church in a remote opal mining town in northern NSW, near the Queensland border.

One morning our eldest son, Arthur, walks out of our church to see that a disused and abandoned opal shaft has literally opened up in the carpark, in the space where the ladies get out of the car before church. As my son stares down this big hole, I grab him by the collar and pull him back.

We started with a bucket of gravel, which just disappeared down the hole. We ended up emptying a whole backhoe of gravel into the hole – prompting me to speculate that there’s a lot of empty space under our church, which may well be good opal-bearing territory.

Kurt next to the disused mine shaft in the church carpark.

On the same day, around the back of our house, our dog Buddy bailed up a brown snake, and fortunately, Buddy came out on top of the brown snake on that occasion.

So we’ve got kids on the edge of disused shafts at the front, venomous snakes in the back, and in the middle, it’s life and ministry in Lightning Ridge. It makes for an interesting place to raise a family and do gospel ministry.

Buddy the dog had an infamous encounter with a brown snake.

From our first steps in the Christian faith, Bec and I always had a heart for ministry in places a little bit further afield where there are less resources and more need for gospel ministry.

We landed here at Lightning Ridge in January 2020 – the most remote parish in the diocese but also, because of the Bush Church Aid (BCA) partnership, we have a genuine mission-like experience with linked churches, prayer supporters and the support of a mission agency.

Lightning Ridge is like a byword for remoteness and I can’t think of another community like it in Australia because it has a unique allure as an opal mining capital. It’s a place where the population sign is a question mark because people come here to get away. They don’t want to be counted. They don’t want to be noticed.

It’s a very diverse town for the bush. Early in my time here, I started praying every morning for what I call the 12 tribes of Lightning Ridge. I’d pray for the opal miners and the farmers and the Indigenous community and the professionals and the tourists and the people living on the camps.

It’s a joy to minister our lives and the gospel in a place like this where people don’t pretend.

One of the things we love about Lightning Ridge is its messiness. We have a little church family of 20 to 30 folk who have real highs and real lows. There’s no facade. People turn up to church and tell it like it is – real burdens, real life. It’s a joy to minister our lives and the gospel in a place like this where people don’t pretend.

Within a few streets of the centre of town, the road goes from sealed to dirt, and from on-grid to off-grid. People live in ramshackle constructions made out of corrugated iron and old buses and train carriages with no running water or power. It’s a way of life that’s a bit anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian, a culture that shakes its fist at authority. This makes it a very difficult place to preach a gospel where Christ is Lord because the gospel talks about a really good authority in the Lord Jesus. We’ve received more in-our-face pushback and opposition to the gospel here than anywhere else.

At the moment, we’re working really hard at growing in our ability to minister with and to the Indigenous community. Our population in the census of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is at 20 per cent. The school is closer to 40 per cent. And at Goodooga, an Indigenous town where we have a branch church ministry and Scripture, you might as well say 100 per cent.

Kurt Langmead leads a service at Lightning Ridge Community Church.

We’re blessed to have some very wise and patient Indigenous community members and ministry leaders from around the region who support us in that. A local member of our church, Aunty Carol, has been helping us get a new monthly gospel gathering up and running at a local venue here in town. Rather than meeting in church, because church can be a barrier to many Indigenous people, we meet at a local venue – an arts and cultural space that previously was a place where the Indigenous community used to meet for yarning sessions around the fire.

We were thrilled with how NAIDOC Week turned out for us this year. So again, with Aunty Carol and some other local Indigenous leaders, we put together, for the first time, a NAIDOC Week community church service. On a typical Sunday, we’d have 20 to 30 locals. We had over 70 at our NAIDOC service, including a number of Indigenous families that would never otherwise be in church. And it was just a really special day. The overwhelming response from both our Indigenous community and us ‘white fellas’ too was ‘I was surprised how there were tears in my eyes at points in that service today, and I wasn’t expecting that.’

It was quite an emotional experience. We shared the Lord’s Supper outdoors at this venue. We had a couple of songs from a local Indigenous Christian. We were one mob in Christ. It was a special time.

Simply being here as a family is a precious gospel opportunity.

An opportunity and a challenge for us is in the area of ministry to children and families. Simply being here as a family is a precious gospel opportunity for Bec and me as parents.

Our five children are privileged to be growing up in a town like the Ridge because they have an opportunity to see things that kids from the city would never have a chance to see. Many of the children in our town come from complicated homes. Our kids are the only children in our church family on the majority of Sundays, but they have an extended family of friends from many cultures, uncles and aunties and grandparents who love them.

The challenge is that it’s so easy to feel isolated out here. Heather, our children’s ministry team leader, is training our church members to be part of ministering to children and to youth, going into our local school to teach Scripture and running lunchtime groups at our middle school on a Friday afternoon. But it’s a massive challenge. We pray that the Lord would save or send just one family to the Ridge. That would make a massive difference for us at a personal level as a family unit, but at a ministry level as well.

For more information about how you can support the Langmead family, as well as other Bush Church Aid field staff, visit bushchurchaid.com.au.


Some prayer points to help

Please pray with the Langmeads that the Lord would save or send at least one more family to Lightning Ridge.

Pray that God would sustain and encourage the Langmead family as they carry out ministry and life in the Ridge.

Pray for Heather, the children’s ministry team leader at Lightning Ridge Community Church, as she trains church members to help minister to children and youth at the local school.