1. Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann (AO)
January saw the 2021 Senior Australian of the Year award announced: Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann (AO) – an Aboriginal elder from Daly River (Nauiyu), near Katherine in the Northern Territory.
She is a renowned artist, activist, writer and public speaker, and the first Aboriginal person to become a fully qualified teacher in the NT.
But underlying all of these aspects of her identity is her faith in Christ.
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2. The farmers from Wee Waa
“It all started in 1978, when a group of Christian farmers from Wee Waa wanted to be able to raise money to support gospel work. And the way that they were able to do that was to purchase an existing rural retail store in Wee Waa ‘on very good terms’,” Andrew McClenaghan, current chairman of Agies Ltd, explains to Eternity.
That small group of around five Christian farmers created the organisation called Agies Ltd, under the charities legislation, and bought 67 per cent of Agies Rural Retail Store (with the store manager and a few others owning the rest of the store). The Agies Ltd crew decided to use all profits from their share of the store to fund Christian ministries.
3. The Abdallah & Sakr families
“Thank you, God, for the gift of repentance. For in being forgiven, we have the chance to repent and say sorry,” says Bridget Sakr, standing on the same place where her daughter Veronique Sakr was tragically killed.
These words were uttered exactly one year to the day since a drunk, drug-affected driver had careened off the road and onto the footpath killing Veronique (11), along with her three cousins – siblings Sienna (8), Angelina (12) and Antony Abdallah (13) – and injuring cousins Charbel and Mabella Kassis.
“I pray for the driver who killed Veronique, Anthony, Angelina and Sienna,” Bridget continues. “I ask, Lord, that you help him to begin to open his heart, so that he begins to understand your great love and repents for his actions. For I feel he is agonising and trapped in pain, traumatised. For God, you are the only one who has the power to touch his heart and judge his actions.”
Both the Sakr and Abdallah families have made a huge impact on Australians, providing a living example of the power of forgiveness and creating good news from the most unexpected of places – tragedy.
4. Man Bahadur Pariyar
In a country where Christians are about one per cent of the population, Man Bahadur Pariyar is building a Bible college with no official denominational backing or guaranteed financial support.
Foundations and fences for the independent Revival Bible College have been erected in a remote, mountainous village in the Bakrang area of Nepal, between capital Kathmandu and tourist mecca Pokhara (a launchpad to the nearby Himalayas).
“My dream for the Bible college is to prepare Christ-centred, Spirit-empowered servant leaders for national revival in Nepal,” Pariyar explains to Eternity about the ambitious project, estimated to cost about $AU340,000. Having received government approval and initial investment from overseas supporters, Pariyar hopes to secure “a mission partner with the same spirit and desire to fulfil God’s plan in Nepal to serve him and glorify him”.
5. Twenty-seven Christian women
Most of the inmates at Emu Plains Correctional Centre – a minimum-security women’s prison on Sydney’s western edge – are longing to get out. But in April, Eternity‘s Rebecca Abbott met an inspiring group of women who were desperate to get in.
These women are members of a Kairos Prison Ministry team.
“From March until Christmas last year, all visitors, whether volunteers or family visits, were stopped,” explains Emu Plains Kairos team member Meredith Macdonald. “So the women were not getting visits from anyone. They found that really, really hard and isolating. Many of them were feeling that ‘we’re being punished’, but it was actually that prison authorities were doing an amazing job of keeping the virus out of the prisons …
“Because the women have been feeling very isolated, we have been desperately wanting to get back in. Apart from anything else, we want to support them. But we also want to show them that it’s not that they’re being punished, but they’re actually being protected. We want to get back in as soon as possible.”
Read more: The women trying to get back into prison
6. Feby Chan
Everyone has an opinion about a woman who marries the guy she met on death row.
Feby Chan is used to that. In fact, years before she entered her first prison, she remembers seeing a woman on television who was dating a person on death row and thought, “She must be crazy!”
But Feby is not crazy. She is down-to-earth, thoughtful and open about her experiences. And yet, until the very end, she was also sure that Andrew would not be killed. God would save him.
In April, Feby marked six years since her husband, Andrew Chan, was executed.
7. Elise Takashima
About two years ago, Elise Takashima moved to the dynamic, diverse suburb of Newtown in Sydney’s inner west realm. Even if you have never visited, you probably know of Newtown – Sydney’s inner-city capital of alternative lifestyles, cashed-up hipsters, grotty chic and Thai restaurants. So many Thai restaurants.
The young woman, who is originally from Los Angeles, California, instantly volunteered to help the homeless in Newtown. Along with eye-watering house prices, the funky Sydney suburb has significant swaths of people in and around it who are doing it tough. Really, really tough.
But Elise got to be part of Newtown Neighbourhood Centre’s Outreach program – trained volunteers head out to the streets, to connect purposefully with those sleeping rough – for only a few months before COVID-19 happened. The widespread restrictions caused Elise and the Outreach program to pause.
However, a pandemic was not going to stop Elise’s passion for serving others. A passion which was publicly acknowledged in May this year when Elise was named one of the Inner West Council’s Young Volunteers of the Year.
8. Karen Pang
Presenting on Play School reminds Karen Pang that life can be a lot of fun.
“When you work with children, there’s just no way you can work with them without having a bit of child-ness in you, too. It makes my life lighter,” she tells me.
Karen’s life is most certainly not always light. It has, at times, been pretty dark, actually.
Karen has bipolar. And without her faith, she truly believes she wouldn’t be here today.
She shared her story as part of the first episode of Season Four of Undeceptions, a podcast with John Dickson, which Kaley Payne produced in June.
9. Phillip Aspinall
In June, the head of Queensland’s Anglicans, Archbishop Phillip John Aspinall, received Australia’s highest honour, the Companion (AC) of the Order of Australia: “For eminent service to the Anglican Church of Australia, to the development of ecumenical relationships and professional standards, and through commitment to social justice and welfare.”
Aspinall began his working life as a computer programmer for the Tasmanian Education Department, before becoming an Anglican Priest (ordained minister). His first parish was the Bridgewater-Gagebrook Special Area of Ministry, a large public housing estate in Hobart where his training meant he could teach basic computer courses to people at Skillshare. He later headed Anglicare Tasmania. He has been a key leader of the more liberal part of the Anglican Church of Australia, which he served as primate (national leader) from 2005 to 2014.
He served as a bishop in Adelaide before becoming Archbishop of Brisbane in 2002.
10. Justin Narayan
In July, West Australian youth pastor Justin Narayan (27 years) took out the title of Australian Masterchef 2021 – smashing a five-hour pressure test to triumph over fellow-competitors Kishwar Chowdhury (38) and Pete Campbell (36).
Yet while Justin’s win was the cherry on top of a great two-episode Grand Finale, Justin had actually kept Christian viewers smiling for months, simply by displaying so many of the classic youth pastor traits we all know and love.
This article includes just a handful of our favourite Justin-the-youth-pastor moments.
11. Elzy Wellings
“A few weeks ago, I saw Australian long-distance runner Eloise Wellings run to time qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. She didn’t make the time,” wrote guest contributor River Bennett – a talented photographer and Wellings’ friend – in July.
“We all watched on as she pulled up at the finish line. Our hearts dropped.”
“How can Australia’s beloved runner Elzy Wellings not making the Olympic team be a good news story?” you might ask.
Fair question. Let’s just say this article brings together River’s stunning photography with Wellings’ words – and the result is inspiring.
12. Nicola McDermott
In August, Nicola McDermott delighted Aussie Christians with her speech after winning the High Jump Silver medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
“It’s my heart –I just want to say thank you to Australia for being on this journey with me. The gold, the silver, the silver is like gold for me today,” she said
“My hope is that the stadiums will be filled again in our post-Covid world.
“But maybe not just for athletics performances but that we will see revivals again in the stadiums and that people would hear a message of faith and a gospel that will really inspire like they did with Billy Graham decades ago.”
13. Paralympic team chaplain
Also in August, Bill Hunter arrived in Tokyo – along with another 161 staff and 179 athletes who make up the Australian Paralympic team.
“I’m on the welfare team, but I’m really the chaplain, the pastoral care person of the whole team,” Hunter told Eternity before leaving for Japan, during two weeks of pre-travel quarantine in his hometown of Brisbane.
“Which is crazy if you think about,” he added. “179 athletes and 162 staff – how can you be chaplain to all that?
“You’ve just got to go, okay, whoever comes across my path, that’s who I’ll help, that’s who I’ll support, that’s who I’ll encourage.”
14. God Behind Bars
The inspiring God Behind Bars ministry partners with local churches to minister in US prisons, bringing the gospel to inmates through church services, technology and prayer.
Interview and video by Bella Ann Sanchez.
15. Bella Taylor
Hillsong Church member Bella Taylor Smith thanked Jesus “most importantly” before winning The Voice Australia 2021 in September.
In a Facebook post before the grand finale, Taylor Smith thanked “all of my loving friends and family and church community”, adding, “and honestly and most importantly to Jesus for giving me hope and a beautiful life to live.”
The 23-year-old said she was “really shocked and thrilled” to win, after receiving the highest number of votes from the public for her rendition of Never Enough, a hit from the movie The Greatest Showman.
16. Jerri Sparks
The night after Sri Lankan priest Kanishka Raffel was elected Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Jeri Jones Sparks woke up at 4 am in pain and couldn’t get back to sleep.
As the daughter of Tamil-speaking migrants from India, the Assistant Minister for Outreach at St James Anglican Church Croydon, in Sydney’s inner west, had been praying for Raffel’s bid to lead the Sydney diocese (region). Seeking distraction, Jeri watched the sermon he gave after his history-making inauguration and surprised herself at how emotional she became.
In September, Jeri shared with Eternity’s Anne Lim how elated she was to have just been awarded a grant of $18,000 from Anglican Deaconess Ministries to direct and develop a course of eight evangelistic videos in Tamil and Hindustani, which will reach and empower her South Asian culture to share the gospel with their friends and neighbours.
17. The Panthers
In October, Penrith Panthers Christian teammates including Brian To’o, Jerome Luai and Stephen Crichton – who caught a game-changing intercept – formed a circle on the field, bowing their heads to thanks to God for their exciting premiership win in the NRL Grand Final on Sunday night.
In the previous week, Eternity had reported how the trio grew up playing together in the west of Sydney and sharing their Christian faith. Crichton’s father, Va’a Crichton, is the pastor of their church, Rooty Hill Assemblies of God.
“It’s so great to see not just boys from our area playing great footy, but those same boys setting a great example for young people. We are believing for the best on and off the field for the boys!” said Sam, a youth pastor in the local Penrith area.
18. The Herberts
In a usual year, the Herbert family do an annual walk with the team and members from Down Syndrome NSW.
“It’s a mix of fundraising and meeting and connecting with the team from Down Syndrome NSW, as well as other members,” Deb Herbert told Eternity.
“We always have such a lovely time and we have met some beautiful friends through it.”
Like many events, this year’s walk was cancelled due to COVID, and Down Syndrome NSW members opted to do other challenges in its place.
The Herberts – parents Deb and Chris and kids Elsden and Franklin – decided dressing up was the perfect lockdown-friendly challenge for them.
“We thought the dress-ups would be a great way of giving people a smile each day, it would be fun for our family, and we could still do it in lockdown. We also wanted to raise awareness for the Down syndrome community, and raise a few dollars for the cause if we could.”
The challenge turned out to achieve all those goals – and then some!
19. Carnarvon Church of Christ pastor Brenden Law-Davis – and the whole church!
The discovery of missing four-year-old Cleo Smith, alive and well, is an answer to prayers from all over the world, said the pastor of Carnarvon Church of Christ in West Australia, Brenden Law-Davis.
“It’s not just Carnarvon that’s been praying; it’s been global. We’ve had people [praying] in Vanuatu, Iraq. We’ve had messages from all over the world that people have been praying for Cleo’s return,” he tells Eternity.
After an 18-day search, Cleo was discovered by police on November 3, just before 1 am local time. She was found inside a locked home at Carnarvon. A local 36-year-old man was arrested and is in police custody.
20. The team behind ‘The Chosen’
American cinemas were overwhelmed with demand for tickets after Dallas Jenkins, creator of The Chosen TV series, announced on social media that a Christmas special episode would be screened in theatres across the US on December 1 and 2.
“Not only did you shatter the single-day record for Fathom Events, theaters across the country responded by adding more dates and times. We’ll have more info soon, but for now, we just wanted to say, ‘Thank you,’” Jenkins said in a Facebook post.
21. Jude and Andy Benton
Nearly two years on from the devastating bushfires of 2019-2020 Mallacoota in East Gippsland continues to face challenges with housing availability and trauma recovery, but Bush Church Aid ministers Jude and Andy Benton continue to reach out to their community with a bright light of hope through the gospel of Christ.
Jude and Andy have been part of the Mallacoota and Cann River communities for 3½ years now (1½ supported by BCA) and recently bought a house there. Moving from bushfire recovery to pandemic has created challenges for face-to-face ministry, but God has opened doors for Jude to continue preaching through radio church.
She was given the opportunity to do a weekly radio broadcast during the first lockdown in 2020 and returned to the airwaves in 2021 during lockdown number five in Victoria. During her weekly spot, Jude has worked through the book of James and even used books by Dr Seuss to set the scene. Last year she spoke a lot about bushfire recovery using the resurrection narrative.
“I’ve tried to make it relevant,” says Jude. “We play four or five songs that are upbeat and have a time of prayer for the community, the wider world and we finish with the Lord’s Prayer.”
Read more: A bright light of hope in Mallacoota