Go west, young man

by Tim Stollznow, Chair, Finke River Mission Board

On Sunday, 15 November, at Kiwirrkura, which must surely be the most remote community of the Lutheran Church in Australia, 33-year-old Aboriginal man John West was ordained by LCA Bishop John Henderson.

Kiwirrkura, population 200, is in Western Australia, around 700 kilometres west of Alice Springs. It was established in the 1980s when the last of the Pintupi people came in from the desert. It is the most westerly community served by Finke River Mission.

Under intense blue sky and surrounded by brilliant red sand dunes, over 200 people (the whole community plus a few ‘locals’ from Kintore and Alice Springs) gathered under gum trees and in 4WDs for the two-hour ordination service. (We were fortunate that there was a ‘cool change’ that day, so the temperature barely nudged 40 degrees!)

Finke River Mission support worker, Pastor Paul Traeger from Papunya, 400 kilometres east, carefully translated each part of Bishop Henderson’s address, based on Mark 13:1-8, into the local language, Pintupi-Luritja. Classic Lutheran hymns in language, including The church’s one foundation and Guide me, O thou great Jehovah, plus the ordinand’s selection God is always near me, added to the spirit of the occasion.

Ingkata (pastor) John West, who was born in the ‘next town’, Kintore, around 180 kilometres away, is married to Loretta and they have a son Titus. He is a capable footballer, musician and accomplished hunter, and he also helps with teaching at the local school.

Other local ingkatas who organised and supported the weekend celebration included Kiwirrkuru-based Jimmy Brown, who has been instrumental as a mentor for John; Lindsay Corby and Joe Young from Kintore; Graham Poulson from Papunya; Roderick Kantamara from Mt Liebig; and Simon Dixon from Yirara College who also led the Saturday night concert.

John West is a remarkable young man who will be a great blessing to his community.

Bishop Henderson said, ‘John West is a remarkable young man who will be a great blessing to his community. The weekend strengthened my appreciation of the value of our indigenous ministries. I pray that their deep experience of Christ, culture and resilience in the face of adversity serves to strengthen our faith across all of our church.’

Finke River Mission, which was established in the 1870s, supports 25 Aboriginal pastors who serve their respective communities. Finke River Mission holds regular week-long training courses for pastors, trainees and other church leaders, many of whom travel thousands of kilometres to attend.