Volunteering at Katherine Christian Convention: a blessing and to be a blessing

A group of volunteers from Maitland Evangelical Church and Bush Church Aid travelled the 3,500km from Sydney’s central coast to Katherine in the Northern Territory – some driving the full distance with car-loads of equipment. Guy Freeman and his wife, Sue, were two such volunteers, travelling as part of a Nomads team from Bush Church Aid, which celebrates its centenary this month. Here, Freeman writes of his experience as a volunteer at one of the Top End’s signature Christian gatherings. 

Like a hive of worker bees, a “swarm” of volunteers descends on Katherine in the first week of May and stays until the Katherine Christian Convention (KCC) site at the town’s showground is left spotless.

My wife, Sue, and I are relative newcomers to the hive. This was our second trip to Katherine for the convention.

The current driving force of KCC volunteers is associated with Maitland Evangelical Church. Other volunteers who converge on the NT town come from Victoria, NSW, and Queensland, as well as a core from the Top End.

Why Maitland, of all places? Well, the church’s involvement came at the urging of a couple who’d been sent from the church to the Northern Territory as AIM missionaries … that’s Australian Indigenous Ministries, which has a significant presence among Indigenous folk in the Top End and, incidentally, was the mission from which KCC has grown. That couple, Simon and Tirzah McKee, saw a need for volunteers at KCC and shared that need with their sending church.

Not only was the church keen, but it also had resources. The pastor, Roger Burgess, mobilised a team that has grown and evolved during the church’s seven years’ involvement with KCC.

This year there were about 20 in the Maitland crew including kids who, incidentally, were also a great help in setting up, participating and playing with the Indigenous kids.

“We see ourselves as supporting KCC during a baton-change season,” Burgess said. “There are senior second-generation missionaries here in the Top End, and they are handing on the baton to the third-generation missionaries and we’ve be supporting that baton change of leadership.”

Burgess said the volunteers were also beneficiaries. “We’re blessed by listening to the stories of the leaders up here and getting alongside the Indigenous people and seeing how they live out their Christian faith.” He said they were encouraged by the people’s persevering faith and grace.

A few years after Maitland became involved, BCA Nomads John and Annie Schipper, who also have Maitland connections, decided to visit KCC with the Maitland volunteer crew.

So inspired were the Schippers (pronounced “skip”, not “ship”) that the following year they drummed up an 11-strong team of BCA Nomads to participate in KCC 2018.

Sue and I were part of that team. We arrived. We sweated. And then the following day we got to do some work.

For office or classroom-bound city slickers, it was a wearying experience. We helped empty a container-load of equipment that had been driven up from Maitland; we cleaned and set up about 800 chairs in the auditorium (aka “the big shed”), we cleaned and helped set up a canteen. We walked back and forth across the Katherine Showgrounds site, melting in the Top End sunshine, to get everything ready for the weekend influx of folk from communities throughout the NT. And when it was all over, we did it all again in reverse.

And here we are again. Feet up, after KCC 2019 has been bumped out. And what are we saying this time? “Let’s do it again!” It was fun catching up with friends we’d made last year … and we might even be able to bring some others with us next time.

But don’t just take our word for this. Here’s what the chief cook (and bottle-washer) for the past four years for the Maitland team, Rod Baker, said, “I love it! It is giving. And you never, ever, ever go wrong when you give.”

Rod said his job was to feed his team of 26 from Tuesday to Monday “and over the weekend I run a team that does all the cooking for the conference”.

Philip Bear, the prime mover behind the prime mover (the truck), and his business partner have been an integral part of the Maitland mob’s participation. Phil said, “It’s good to come up and serve Jesus up here and let your kids see you serving Jesus.

“I like seeing all the workers unite and the barriers of different denominations get broken down.”

To people think they might like to be involved, Phil said, “It’s good for the soul … in Ephesians it says the good work the God’s prepared in advance for us to do … this is definitely one of them.”

If you’re interested in volunteering at the 2020 Katherine Christian Convention, you can get in contact through kathcc.org.au, the KCC website, or contact BCA (bushchurchaid.com.au/nomads) and come as one of the Nomads team.