Rest in God’s peace, Pastor Tommy

by Rob Borgas

Pastor Tommy David died at Docker River on Wednesday 29 June 2016. He was a faithful pastor, serving his people right to the end of his life, collapsing from heart failure a few minutes before intending to assist me with a funeral at Docker River that day.

Born at Wayara, near Docker River, in 1935 (or 1940), he grew up in ‘the bush’ for the first 12 to14 years of his life. He used to spear emus and kangaroos to eat. After both his parents (his mother’s name was Karatari) died when he was young, his mother’s younger sister Tjunkaiya and her husband Kumantjara, brought him to Areyonga, where he went to school for a few years as a teenager. Later he worked in Alice Springs, Amoonguna and various cattle stations near Hermannsburg.

With his first wife, Gloria Jack from Ernabella, he lived at Areyonga, then moved to Docker River. They were the first couple to get married in the old Docker River Lutheran church. They had one son, Gregory, who died in his 20s at Amata. He was married to Sonia Williams and they had one child, Kevin. Tommy and Gloria later adopted Robert who has one son, Ngurima, with Anna Jacob. Many years after Gloria died, Tommy married Palamai (Valmai) from Haasts Bluff.

Tommy was baptised at Areyonga by Pastor Kalleski, and also trained to be a pastor by Pastor Kalleski, and Garry Stoll. He was ordained at Docker River on 25 June 1995. After serving there for 10 years, he then served at Areyonga and later at Mutitjulu. Finally, in 2012 he returned to Docker River to retire with Palamai (and his dog Blackie) at the aged-care centre, where he regularly led devotions and the occasional church service until his death.

Tommy composed a number of new hymns in his first language, Pitjantjatjara, and translated many others from Western Arrarnta to Pitjantjatjara. He also wrote stories (parables) about the Bible and Aboriginal culture (see Summer 2009/10 edition of Christ in the Centre magazine).

His funeral service was held at Docker River 28 July, led by Pastor Marcus Wheeler and myself.


The parable of the kulata

told by Tommy David (2009), then pastor at Mutitjulu, to linguist Paul Eckert

When a wati (Pitjantjatjara man) searched and found a spear shaft fit for his purposes, he cut it away from its roots. The spear shaft he cut had curves and bends and did not appear to be at all suitable for a straight spear. He brought the shaft home, already calling it his kulata (spear), even though it was not straight.

The spear-maker immediately began straightening the shaft while it was still green. To do this he first held the curved parts in the hot flame of a fire until they were pliable. He stripped off the burnt bark and then straightened the shaft with his hands.

He straightened the hardest parts over his knee. He had to bend them hard in the opposite direction to ensure that they would come up straight. Then he allowed time for the sap to dry out.

Later, using sharp stones, he scraped off the knots and roughness on the surface to make the shaft smooth. He sharpened the point of the new spear and fashioned a spearhead. He carefully fixed a sharp barb with animal sinew so that when it pierced the prey, it would not fall out and let the animal go. Finally, the spear was ready, a useful instrument in his hands.

So it is with God and his baptised people. As a man makes a spear, so God makes us his disciples. He takes us even though we are crooked, and uses the fires of trial and suffering to shape us to be fit for the work he has for us to do.

Just as the main shaft of a spear has to be supple and flexible to be effective, so we need to yield and be pliable and malleable in God’s hands.

Just as the barb keeps the spear from being ineffective by falling out of any prey, so the Holy Spirit ensures that the word of God takes root and is effective.

The hunter always uses a woomera to deliver a spear effectively. He may have the straightest spear, the most supple, and it may have the best tip, but without a woomera it’s not going to do its job very well when thrown. In the same way, even though we may be fully trained and prepared as a people, we will be ineffective without the Holy Spirit.