Putting on 'binoculars of the heart' to see Jesus more clearly

Melissa Thompson grew up in the middle of the bush surrounded by honey ants and witchetty grubs, at the Black Hill homeland near Umuwa, 550km south of Alice Springs.

One of five daughters of ­Kawaki “Punch” Thompson, the land-rights pioneer for the remote Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in northwest South Australia, she was just a baby when her father signed the land-rights act that returned 10 per cent of South Australia to the Anangu in October 1980. As chairman of the Pitjantjatjara Lands Council, he had fought for self-determination for five years, navigating staunch opposition in a highly-charged atmosphere of race politics. It was the first agreement of its kind in Australia

“I grew up with a man that looked after a garden,” the Pastor from Salisbury Congress church in Adelaide tells Eternity during a break in her studies at Nungalinya College in Darwin.

“So I grew up in the garden with animals and everything. We had food, we had veggies, everything. It was like growing up in the Bible. When we were young, we would go and bring the sheep back when they go up the hills [and they come] because they know you.

“I understand that God is a gardener. I saw those fruits and veggies growing and what time to give the water and what is the season – you know autumn and all that. We know how to see the autumn, by seeing the animals.”

“In my blood, I’m a child of God because he was living in my Father’s heart.”

Now the first Anangu woman to be a pastor in Adelaide, Melissa, 42, is proud of her father’s Christian heritage and his fight for land rights for the APY Lands.

“I know he marched in King William Street [in Adelaide] and fought for the land rights for his people and he got that land rights. And they celebrated back in the lands when he got that,” she says.

“He not only helped the APY lands to get the land rights. He also helped Uluru, Ayers Rock, and he helped the West Australian Ngaanyatjarra people to get their land rights. So my father was a well-known politician. He had a passion heart to care for more than 5,000 people. I’m his favourite daughter. So I know from what he taught me as well. So in my blood, I’m a child of God because he was living in my Father’s heart. He had a passion heart to take over the land.”

As Melissa relates it, her father had the most extraordinary start in life – one that almost ended as soon as it began.

“His birth was a difficult story. Before white men came, my grandmother – my father’s mother – had carried my father for 39 days, and one day they had to travel from APY land to Northern Territory. She travelled with my father to Areyonga from Ernabella so that’s a long way. On her way back to Ernabella from Areyonga, after they’ve finished their business there, she had my father. It was at Mt Conner [about 100km east of Uluru]. That was his birthplace.

“The story came that two missionary health workers followed her track and followed my grandmother’s footprints to get to where she left the baby. When they got to the baby, they saw the baby was buried. My father was buried and they had to dig to see the baby. My father was on the red sand hill inside this ground; my father was still breathing in the water – the water saved him.

“This is what they said, and that’s why I believe from that beginning to now, that all the way through Jesus was my friend, my doctor, my everything, because those two houseworker ladies found him, and from that faith, he survived.”

Melissa relates that a missionary in Ernabella told her father the story of his birth when he was ten years old.

“At that time, he was not really coming to school. But then he knew that God had saved him for a purpose. So he went back to missionary school. Then they started teaching him and encouraging him and seeing him as a chosen one and a special person too.”

Melissa Thompson with her painting of Jesus and her Christian family.

Melissa believes she is also a special person because 11 years ago God called her to go to Adelaide through a supernatural event in their homeland witnessed by seven members of her family including her younger sister and her cousin.

“One evening we had supper and it became night, and there were stars but no moon. There were seven of us and we were planning to make business and planning to have our cousin-brother’s funeral,” she relates.

“Roundabout 11.30pm, there was some noise coming from the west, the sound of a wind coming, but there was only one cloud. We saw the cloud, we saw the stars and that sound was like thunder – God was talking. We heard that and went, ‘Wow, he’s close.’ I wasn’t scared – I was on my knees. Then somewhere we heard a big explosion and then this light just shone and it was brighter than daylight.

“Then it went whoosh and the rainbow just went right through the lands and the colours came on. All of us, seven of us, saw it and everybody saw it as a witness. Everybody gave high fives when the light was on, then everybody went back to normal. ‘Wow, did you see that?’ I said ‘Yes, that’s God, people. He says you are special people.’”

“Jesus’s voice is different. It’s sweet.”

Melissa says she heard a voice three times during the light show. “One was like my dad, one was like someone I know, and then the third one was Jesus. Jesus’s voice is different. It’s sweet. It’s so soft and not loud. He talks slow and I’m going ‘Where are you?’ But, really, he was in my heart.

“Next morning, I high fived everyone, and I truly said to them ‘That light and what you saw last night, he spoke to me three times – my name – and then I don’t know what’s happening, but I’m going to go to Adelaide’.”

In Adelaide, Melissa first went to a church where the preacher prophesied over her.

“He didn’t know me, but he prophesied over me and said, ‘The Spirit is saying there’s a white dress for you and there’s a key for you. And there’s a bus for you and there’s a building for you’.”

As a pastor first at Paradise Church and now at Adelaide Congress Ministry at Salisbury, Melissa does have a key to a church building and she operates a bus called Grace to minister to homeless people in the parks and the city.

“So that makes me so proud being a young 42 years old being in that position. God gave me the authority to stand and help First Nations people,” she says.

“But it’s often hard to reach and encourage people, showing the love of God, which is Jesus and God is love.”

“It’s knowing and learning to put on the Holy Spirit, full-on instruction to be the person Jesus wants you to be.”

She believes being at Nungalinya College to complete a Foundation Studies course to improve her English literacy has opened her mind and taken her to another level in her walk with Jesus.

She says the four weeks she spent at the college for Indigenous Christians were like living in church. On the practical side, she learned how to send emails, how to use the Cambridge Dictionary and to search Google for “the real answers” when she’s studying.

One of the tasks the students were set was to write a description of what they imagined the Holy City will be like, the New Jerusalem of Revelation.

For Melissa, it was easy to imagine because of her idyllic childhood in Black Hill homeland, 30 minutes east of Ernabella.

“So I am connected to my country and being here, it’s opened my mind. So it’s like you’re going to another level. That’s how I feel. I feel much stronger. And every drama that I have done was about the Holy Spirit. So it’s knowing and learning to put on the Holy Spirit, full-on instruction to be the person Jesus wants you to be.

“I’m very, very pleased that by his grace he brought us here to learn. it’s like he brought me here to put on binoculars on the heart. We need to put that to see Jesus clearly.”