Night and day these chaplains take God with them

Most nights Lorraine Lilley is on the phone with people from her Worimi community in the Port Stephens area of NSW, responding to prayer needs and sometimes organising practical help.

As community chaplains for the Aboriginal Evangelical Fellowship – Family and Youth Services (AEF/FYS), Lorraine and her husband Neville are ready to respond to the needs of the 3500-strong community day and night.

“My wife is on that phone at nine o’clock at night, counselling mainly women – they ring and ask for prayer, so we have a prayer chain,” says Neville.

Lorraine explains that many non-Christian people ring and ask for prayer for a whole host of needs – sickness, domestic violence, death in the family, grief, loneliness, or sometimes just to share a joy or blessing.

Many non-Christian people ring and ask for prayer for a whole host of needs.

“When people ring up for prayer, they sometimes ask for practical help. We had a new outbreak of COVID cases in June. Five families were affected and shut in at that time. We were able to contact a local Aboriginal organisation, which had an arrangement with Foodbank, to deliver food and cleaning products to the families. The support was provided very quickly.

“Some older, fragile people are shut in their homes and unable to shop for themselves or attend a doctor’s appointment. If we can’t help them ourselves, we contact other people in the community who will do the shopping for them or drive them to the doctors.”

Lorraine and Neville Lilley

Lorraine spoke about the vast needs in the community. “We don’t have the facilities to cater to these huge problems, but we have contact with people and organisations who specialise in these areas. We need to keep up to date with this information when it is required. We have a good relationship with the support people who work with the Aboriginal children in the local schools. Our children are sometimes in trouble with the police. We have a good relationship with the police liaison people.”

Post-COVID, Lorraine and Neville are now able to go into people’s homes again and share a cup of tea and a friendly chat.

“Recently, I visited someone every day who had a terminal illness. We both knew that she had very little time to live, and that was very hard,” says Lorraine.

Every week is busy for Neville and Lorraine, who are both aged 81. They estimate that in a typical week, they would come into contact with about 500 people, mainly through organisations such as the Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council and Worimi Conservation Lands. This week Neville and Lorraine were called away for an urgent visit to a local elder who lives about an hour’s drive away.

“He is very frail, but his memory is still good. He wasn’t brought up in a Christian home, but he wants us to keep in contact with him. Later on, we had dinner and a meeting with a group of 40 to 50 community people. We feel that it is important to support the community gatherings.”

“When we go into the community where they are, it’s like we are taking the Lord there, and they have a lot of respect for that.” – Neville Lilley

Neville explains that a lot of people in their community don’t go to church, so when they go and meet people it’s like taking church to them.

“It’s almost a reversal of what you would have in a normal church because a lot of our people are unchurched, and they don’t go to church. So when we go into the community where they are, it’s like we are taking the Lord there, and they have a lot of respect for that. They often consult with us and say, ‘What do you think?’ because they’re our people, and we are a part of their community. With the younger ones, it’s very important to them. And here in this area, the elders are still very much respected.”

Neville says he and Lorraine see themselves as change agents.

“A lot of our people don’t love the Lord, but the Lord is with us as we move into our communities, and we’re both on various major organisations and committees, and there’s a lot of respect. Where there used to be a lot of swearing and language when we arrived from Melbourne in 2008, it doesn’t happen anymore, and we see a definite change in the lives of our people here in this Worimi area.”

Although born and raised in the area, Neville and Lorraine spent 31 years ministering in Melbourne.

“We graduated from Bible college in 1976. Before we left, we were working in our community as students. We experienced little revivals here at that time, including our Sunday school, and a very good friend of mine, [Worimi elder] John Ridgeway, keeps on saying what’s missing in our community here in Port Stephens is that the Sunday school is gone – the church is gone. He’s 82 and we’re 81. That’s three generations that’s missing, that hasn’t had the Sunday school and the church in the community. And we’re trying to build it up again.

“I would say that 90 per cent of our people don’t know the Lord and those are the people we are working with. We’re trying to get them to see there’s something more than what the world has to offer.”

“We’re trying to get them to see there’s something more than what the world has to offer.” – Neville Lilley

The AEF/FYS community chaplaincy program started in 2002 with eight experienced chaplains or couples. They regularly attend community events and speak as elders and leaders in their local communities. They lead weddings, funerals, and church services. Occasionally they help with food items and advocate for people in crisis. They visit homes, hospitals, and aged-care facilities. As well as Port Stephens, they are based in Perth and Bunbury in WA and Eden and Cummeragunja in NSW.

“We handpicked and selected the people that we think would be ideal to work on it, and they happened to be the older people who were ready for retirement,” explains Neville. “They were doing church ministry work, and so, once they’ve finished that work, they didn’t get any support anymore. So we thought we could help them out by providing financial support to help them with their petrol or their car expenses so that they can get around the communities. That’s $5,000 a year. That is equivalent to $100 per week for chaplains.”

That allowance has not changed since 2002, which is why AEF/FYS is seeking to raise $20,000 to sustain this program financially. Bible Society Australia is supporting this fundraising effort by pledging to match your gift dollar-for-dollar up to $10,000.

“Please pray for our ministry here. There are just a few of us ministering to our people in this community,” says Neville.

“But we love it. God is in this chaplaincy ministry. We could sit back and put the cardigan and slippers on and live off the pension, but we don’t want to do that. We came back home in 2008, and we just want to serve God in our community. And this is what the Lord is allowing us to continue to do at 81 years of age.”

If you would like to support this valuable ministry, click here.