Let me tell you a story. It’s a wonderful story, a true Epiphany story.
Bernard Bell is a traditional owner of the country around Docker River (Kaltukatjara) Northern Territory and is training to become a pastor of the local Lutheran church. He is also a senior ranger with the Kaltulkatjara Rangers. Whitefellas are employed to provide support and management for this program. One of these – I’ll call him ‘Peter’ – was keen to learn Pitjantjatjara and so Bernard gave him a copy of Tjukurpa Palya (Pitjantjatjara Bible) to practise pronouncing the words.
Peter just wanted to learn the language; he wasn’t interested in learning the Bible. But something strange began to happen in his soul. Somehow, he was absorbing the word of God. Peter became eager to know what was in the Bible that was affecting him so deeply.
He left Docker River for employment but wanted to learn more about Christianity. He knew Bernard was Lutheran, so he tracked down a Lutheran church podcast from St Pauls Sydney. He started listening to Pastor Richard Schwedes’ sermons and found them very helpful.
Later, Peter took up a job in a remote community in Western Australia. During Christmas break in 2022, Peter returned to Docker River to stay with Bernard for a few days and I met him briefly.
Due to floods in WA, Peter was stranded in Alice Springs for several weeks and attended the Lutheran church. On the third Sunday of Epiphany, he returned, and I was leading the service. Afterwards, he said to me, ‘I think I need to be baptised’.
During our discussion about baptism, I heard his incredible story …. the wondrous workings of God, the Holy Spirit drawing him in and granting him faith, even through a language he did not understand.
On 26 January 2023, Peter was baptised at Alice Springs Lutheran Church. He really wanted Bernard to be there, but that wasn’t possible, so we videoed the baptism so that Bernard could share in it. Peter was determined to have some of the baptism liturgy read in Pitjantjatjara – the language God chose to start talking to him, so Karina Penhall, one of the church’s Aboriginal pastoral assistants, assisted.
Special thanks to Pastor Richard and St Pauls congregation Sydney for their part in this wonderful story.
Malcolm Willcocks is the Pitjantjatjara Support Worker in the Western Arrarnta language area.