Three-quarters of the people from an Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory made commitments to Jesus after a series of meetings under the stars after Easter.
Thirty of the 40 residents of Mungkarta Aboriginal community, 75km south of Tennant Creek, said they wanted to be baptised after Adventist pastor Don Fehlberg explained the big themes and prophecies of the Bible to them at nightly meetings in the two weeks after Easter.
It was the culmination of two years of evangelistic outreach to the community, sparked by visits there by country gospel singers Stan and Alison Jones and literature evangelist Andrew Johnson, who gave out Bibles and created interest in the things of God.
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“For two weeks we had meetings every night in their little chapel and the people sat out under the stars, and the weather was just glorious,” says Fehlberg, who is senior pastor for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ministries of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
“Some came to Jesus for the first time but the bigger group were those who had made commitments to Christ in the past but had fallen off the track. As they heard the message of the Bible again and the call of Jesus they said we want to come back home to Jesus.
“It was just a lovely sight to see the seven people all lined up in the river.”
“The lovely thing was that it was across the age groups. It wasn’t just the old people, we had young families and there was one young fellow there, 17 years of age, and he came to every meeting, I think, only missed one out of the whole lot, and he made a real strong commitment to follow Jesus.”
On 23 April, Fehlberg and Alice Springs pastor David Gilmore baptised the first group of seven in a nearby river, including the community’s two spiritual leaders Simon Moore and his brother in law Lance Duggie and their wives.
“It was a very moving experience,” says Fehlberg.
“The setting where we had the baptism was 25km out of the community in the McLaren River. The people all sat up on the bank, which was quite high, and looking down into the river it was just a glorious picture.
“The river was full from bank to bank, there was a lovely little track where they could go down and easily walk into the water, so we actually did the baptism in the middle of the river. It was just a lovely sight to see the seven people all lined up in the river and both David Gilmore and I baptised them together.
“It reminded me of the experience of John the Baptist baptising out in the wilderness. Not that we in any way compare with John the Baptist, simply that we’re messengers like him.”
Fehlberg says a good proportion of the community came out to witness the baptism and “even the children seemed to sense the sacredness of the event. Everyone seemed to sense this was special time with God so it was a very moving time.”
After the baptism Simon Moore and Lance Duggie were presented to the community as leaders and prayers were said for those preparing to be baptised in the future.
Simon and Lance subsequently spent time in Perth at Mamarapha College, an Adventist theological institution for indigenous Australians, but have had to return to their community.
“Even the children seemed to sense the sacredness of the event.”
Fehlberg says about half a dozen from Mungkarta want to come to Bible College and are being helped to apply.
A second group are now doing Bible studies with Martin and Michelle Tanner, volunteers from Tennant Creek, and a second baptism will happen in the coming months.
“There are others [of the 30] sadly that probably won’t follow through. That’s what happens; they make a decision at the time, genuinely so, but it’s like the story of the sower,” he says.
“And then often what happens is there are others who weren’t in the 30 who will make a choice as they see others making a choice for Jesus.”
Fehlberg says as he travels around the remote communities in Western Australia and the NT he finds “a real interest in Jesus and the Bible, there’s a real hunger for the word of God.”
“Many of the Aboriginal folk over the years have dreams that have impressed the teachings of the Bible on them because I think they are open to this means of communication that God can speak to them whereas we western people have cut off this avenue of communication,” he says.
“The other very practical reason is that many of these folk struggle with literacy so it’s not so easy for them to pick up the Bible and read it and understand it.
“Because of that God meets people where they are and he communicates with them through dreams and brings conviction to them that they need to follow Jesus.
“Some of them have had very vivid dreams about being lost and not being ready for the coming of Jesus and it’s really made them think ‘I want to be on Jesus’ side, I don’t want to be with the devil.’”