Pastor Ray Morris, field worker for the Anmatjere and Alyawarra people, gives us a taste of his ‘day at the office’ as he travels to desert communities supporting Word and Sacrament ministry.
I plan to visit Pastor Frank Turner at Ampilatwatja on the Sandover Highway 350km northeast of Alice Springs. I haven’t seen Frank for a while because rain has made the roads impassable. There is now a break in the weather and reports indicate vehicles are getting through.
Before heading out I need to ensure I am well prepared – diesel, water, food (canned and frozen), safety equipment, swag, cooking gear, language bibles, hymn books, service orders, communion supplies, second-hand clothes, cassettes and gold crosses.
I head out about 7.00am, unsure of road conditions and the likely travel time. My sat-phone and emergency locator could be very important. Normally the road is dusty and corrugated but this time there is lots of water, mostly with side tracks but in many cases I have to go through. A large truck just made it, so here goes. Steady, don’t rush it. The trip takes about five hours.
First I double-check on accommodation. Despite forward planning, I’m never sure what will be available. This time I stay in the old ‘donga’ (container).
I had left a message for Frank about my visit (he has no phone), however, he has gone hunting and won’t be back until late! So I visit some of the whitefella shire managers and clinical staff. Lots of positives about the Lutheran Church being a part of the community. Frank isn’t back by dark so I head to my camp and prepare dinner – canned stew on my portable cooker. There is no television – read and then reflect on what I need to follow up with shire leaders.
Next morning, Frank comes visiting and we agree to meet at the church grounds. Breakfast is Salada and coffee. No shower option this visit. Frank and I talk and pray together. We read through the next few weeks’ Bible readings – in English and language – and we discuss the story of the text. Frank talks about what he thinks God is saying and the message for the congregation. He leads and finishes with prayer. I pronounce a blessing.
A regional manager meets us to discuss maintenance of the community church area.
I share a cuppa with Frank. His vehicle is ‘off the road’ so I offer to take him to Irrultja (160km return trip) to collect his communion materials. Thankfully, Frank is aware of the side tracks. We arrive back after dark. Dinner is steak and salad. Climb into swag and fall asleep listening to local donkeys roaming the streets.
I help Frank conduct a communion service at the church grounds. Dirt, dust and dogs are normal visitors for such occasions. The loose roof sheeting rattles in the wind. Afterwards, I distribute much-requested cassettes, crosses and second-hand clothes from Lutheran Community Care. Frank and I discuss possible baptisms, future leaders, engaging people more in the liturgy and my next visit.
It’s about 2.00pm before I head off for Alice Springs. The trip home is slow and slippery. I have an interesting guest for afternoon tea. Yes, a goanna! After dark, I’m very cautious about kangaroos and livestock. Arrive home late, the car needs a wash!
Prepare and repack the car for tomorrow’s visit to communities about 200km north of Alice. I have planned some baptisms with Pastor Don Presley. My wife, Janelle is coming on this trip to take photos and help record family details.
Arrive at Six Mile near Ti Tree around 9.00am, discuss the service with Don. There haven’t been any baptisms for quite a while. Don has some health issues so we decide to share the service.
The local dingoes come out to greet us. A stark contrast to pipe organs and heated pews in previous parishes!
The families are happy to worship and excited about today’s baptisms. My camp table comes in handy – no altar cloth and a practical container for the baptism water. Don baptises 13 children into God’s family. Despite the time since the last baptism, everyone knows the responses. It’s a great celebration.
I help with blessing the children and use the English translation of the Arranda – ‘When you were baptised God forgave your sins, made you alive, made you new. God make you strong with his Holy Spirit, so that you will always belong to him. Be happy Amen.’
Janelle coordinates photos which we will print and return next Sunday. Don’s wife Bettsy distributes the children’s clothing from LCC.
We leave for Napperby about noon to visit Pastor Ronnie McNamara, about one and a half hours west on dirt roads. The church building had been in disrepair for nearly two years following a storm. Most repairs are now complete and Ronnie is conducting worship services again. He and I plan a big celebration mid-year and we discuss the ‘Bush Course’ at Yirara in Alice. There is prayer and a blessing. I leave clothes and communion supplies with Ronnie.
After heading south via a private property road we hit the sealed Tanamine road and head for home another two and a half hours away. These five days involved around 1400 km driving, at average 60—80km/h predominantly on dirt road.
We give thanks to God for the faith and commitment of the Aboriginal pastors and leaders. Please pray that resources and support continue to be provided for this important ministry of the Lutheran Church through Finke River Mission.