'Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. That's what I've tried to do'
Helen’s story | From the Solomon Islands to Bourke, serving all the way
“I gave my life to Jesus in Sunday School. Since then, I’ve always liked to sing and I’ve often been in a choir. I tend to remember Scripture that I sing. Many years ago, we sang Micah 6:8 – ‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’”
“It became my favourite verse … and the basis for everything I did. After school, I worked as a science teacher and then a school counsellor in country NSW. I really enjoyed it. I remember I told someone I’d be happy to go to Bourke!
‘But instead, I went to the Solomon Islands. I was at a diocesan mission conference and they said they needed science teachers in the Pacific, so I went. It was an amazing experience. It wasn’t always positive, but it was a privilege.
“At one point, in 2004, they were setting up a women’s refuge and I got involved. One of the ladies was the Solomon’s answer to Mother Theresa. She was asked by the United Nations to do the first ever investigation into child sexual abuse in the country. Because of my background in counselling, I went along and helped with the interviews. It was an amazing time. We went into a wild area that had been very affected by ethnic tension. We travelled there by outboard [boat], for hours and hours, up and down the coastline, visiting villages that had been held ransom by the militants. Girls as young as 11 had been raped and had babies. They talked to me because they trusted the team. And they asked us questions.
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“They [asked], ‘Can you tell us about AIDS?’ Some of the girls had been tortured. My pidgin was good enough that I could listen to them and understand them. I could help them and answer their questions. It was such a privilege. Later, we saw change. It took time, but it happened. Experienced trauma counsellors came over and they implemented changes.
“Afterwards, I kept visiting the Solomons as part of smaller projects and I worked in other places in rural Australia. Then, when I was 65, I was about to retire, and I got an email from the government. They said they needed experienced school counsellors in Bourke!
“I finally went. It was a challenge but also an adventure. Eighty per cent of the school kids were Indigenous. One day, a bunch of them came into my office … One of the boys had recently lost his nana. They said, ‘Miss, can you print us out a picture of God?’
“I googled ‘God’ and I showed them the images. I said, ‘What do you think God looks like?’
“They told me and they chose one and I printed it out for them. It’s so easy to talk about God in Bourke, much easier than in the cities. The other good thing about Bourke is that all the churches work together. They organise combined town prayer meetings, and they put on combined Christmas services. Our church had a really good ministry of caring, especially in drought relief and support. A couple of the locals started to come. One of them had never been to church before. She was nearly my age, but she started to come to church for the first time!
“I stayed in Bourke for four years. Then I moved back east, a month ago. Now, my local school is short-staffed, so there’s a good chance I’ll go back to work, and also get involved in my local church. I’m 70 now and my arthritis is really bad, so I can’t teach or stand up for long periods, but I can still help with counselling. I can still act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with my God. It’s still the same as before. There are a million things I could do, but I want to do what I can. Whatever God leads me to do, I will do.”