Whenever Titom and Michelle Tamwoy make their pastoral visits to the islands of the Torres Strait, the journey can be treacherous.
Though an important international sea thoroughfare, the Torres Strait – which lies between Australia and Papua New Guinea – is shallow, with a maze of reefs that make it difficult to navigate.
“We’ve been in very small boats with one-and-a-half-metre swells … let’s just say it’s a really good time to pray! You get baptised every time you go out. You’re just saturated in water,” Michelle tells Eternity.
Titom Tamwoy has been the regional leader for the Australian Christian Churches (ACC) in the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula (on the tip of Cape York) for the past 14 years, and ministering in the region for much longer than that. Having grown up in the Torres Strait, water is in Titom’s blood.
“I have faith and trust when I travel with Titom because he knows the water,” Michelle tells me, despite not having the same experience on the water herself.
But regardless of his love of the water, both Titom and Michelle have been praying for a better boat to use in their ministry for a long time.
There are three registered Pentecostal churches and 13 unregistered churches affiliated with ACC in the Torres Strait – almost one church on every inhabited island in the region – and it’s Titom and Michelle’s job to support the local pastors, bringing them together for training and visiting them when possible to check in on how things are going.
For 14 years, much of the travel has been done in a 14-foot aluminium dinghy, the type of boat you might go fishing in with your grandfather on a calm day on the river. It’s less appropriate for hours-long journeys dodging reefs and crocodiles in open channels. Other modes of transport to the islands, such as chartered planes, can be prohibitively expensive.
Last year, Australian Christian Churches in Queensland and Northern Territory raised $80,000 to buy a new boat for ministry in the Torres Strait. It’s much bigger, with a place for Titom and Michelle to sleep if necessary, and storage space to hold resources and luggage away from the weather and saltwater.
“It’s been on the heart of ministers up here for a while to have a vessel that would make it easier for us to visit and support and encourage each other.”
Titom and Michelle received the boat on New Year’s Eve, and they say it’s changed the way they do ministry.
“This vessel has made ministry a hundred times easier than what it was before,” Michelle says.
“It’s such a blessing to have the boat because we feel we can move in safety.”
The couple can now continue with their work of training and equipping the Torres Strait ministers and raising up new leaders. And they say they’d love to welcome people in other ministries who would like to learn about life and faith in the Torres Strait, and take them out in the new boat to visit the islands and see how God is working.More