In October 2013, my wife and I participated with a number of other church pastors in an Indigenous Awareness Trip, sponsored by the Concilia organisation.
We began by flying from Melbourne to Alice Springs. It was my first visit to this iconic Australian town. It was not as big as I thought it would be - only 28,000 people. It was 41 degrees when we arrived - a very warm welcome. We began by visiting a number of the 20 Aboriginal camps around the town. Aboriginal people make up about 20% of the local population. We also visited some of the work of Mission Australia. Needless to say, it was quite confronting to see the challenges being faced by Indigenous people in this area.
The next day, we took a 3 hour chartered flight north to a little town called Kalkarindji. Population - 450 people. Temperature - 43 degrees! We visited a Baptist church there led by Bill and Pauline. God has been at work in this small community. They had baptised 250 people a few months earlier.
After this, we spent some time in a number of other Aboriginal Christian churches and training centres in Brisbane, Logan City and Tweed Heads.
The entire trip was an educational and moving experience. I realised how ignorant I was and how little I knew about my own country's history. Many stereotypes had been shattered. The needs are huge ... and they are right on our doorstep. It's hard work. These are very hot and isolated communities. The cultural differences are huge. There needs to be a lot of listening and learning.
The United Nations estimates that there are around 300 million indigenous people around the world today. They have a disturbingly similar experience of being swept aside by immigrant majorities, primarily through Western colonisation. Their close relationship to the land has been misunderstood, they have experienced the gradual dispossession of their land (through trickery, broken treaties, and violence), their culture has been decimated resulting in general despair and an ongoing struggle for identity in the midst of an overwhelming immigrant culture. As a result, Indigenous people are often the most socially disadvantaged (when it comes to unemployment, alcoholism, violence and abuse) and marginalised people in their own country. All of this is true in regards to Indigenous Australians.
Should this matter to us? Should we be concerned?
I believe it should!
When speaking to the religious leaders of his day (the Pharisees), Jesus commended them for their pedantic tithing (they even gave a tenth of their spices!) but challenged them not to neglect the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy, faith-fulness (Matthew 23:23). This was nothing new. Jesus was affirming the age-old prophetic tradition that called God's people to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God (Micah 6:8).
For Jesus, the 'good news of the kingdom' was not merely about individual salvation (going to heaven when you die) but about the coming of God's rule right here right now. It was and is about God setting things 'right'. His followers, the church, are to be the visible demonstration of God's Kingdom on earth. That means we are to be instruments of justice and mercy. Justice trumps spice!
Moving beyond good intentions requires us to practice justice. This begins with awareness - having our eyes and ears open to the cries of our world. Being 'salt and light' in our world requires a proactive stance. The opposite of good is not always evil; often it is indifference. Jesus saw the multitudes then acted on the compassion he felt. The next step is to allow what we see to influence the choices we make. Knowledge doesn't change the world; action does. It's a call to pray, give, get involved, and lobby. Social action (providing help for those who have fallen off the cliff) and social justice (challenging structures and systems by building fences at the top of the cliff) are both important.
Over the last few years at CityLife Church, we have lifted our focus on justice through addressing current issues such as human trafficking, poverty, and consumerism. This year, we are looking at issues facing indigenous Australians.
Please check out Australians Together.
Let's embrace a deep respect for all people made in the image of God.
Let's value building relationships over solutions by well-meaning white people
Let's increase our awareness and understanding.
Let's be compassionate.
[Picture: cooking up some kangaroo tail for dinner in Alice Springs]