“… wherever two or three come together in honor of my name, I am right there with them”

This blog is written by Susan Leonard a local CHC student. Susan and other Australian students participated in the Australian Indigenous Worldviews (CS254) class, along with ASC students in semester two, 2018. Editor’s note: This post has been edited.

Traditional Welcome to Country ceremony

In August this year, my Australian Indigenous Worldviews class took a trip away to  Minjerribah (Aboriginal name for North Stradbroke Island). The knowledge and the experience profoundly changed my perspective and my attitude towards Australian Indigenous people and their way of life.

CHC students (left to right): Sophie, Georgia , Susan (me), Billie & Alison after getting our faces painted

Georgia having her face painted by an Aboriginal elder

I have asked myself, at which point did the empathy come. Upon reflection, there was a profound moment when we worshiped together on the shores of Brown Lake.  In Matthew 18:20 (The Passion Translation) tells us that “… wherever two or three come together in honor of my name, I am right there with them”.  I could not stop the tears from coming when I heard Lea (our Indigenous lecturer) share how her ancestors had sat in that same place.  There, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, it all became real for me.

Local elder Matty with ASC Indigenous lecturer Lea

However, it was not just that moment that changed my understanding.  It was a culmination of lessons and readings, throwing boomerangs and spears, learning about bush tucker (food), having my face decorated, participating in ceremonial dances, creating sand art on the beach, being ‘in country’, hearing the hearts of the amazing brothers and sisters we met, and the revelation of the Holy Spirit.

CHC student Ben learning to throw a spear

Having fun with sand art on the beach

Having fun with ASC students (left to right): Julia from Dordt College and Katie from John Brown University, Susan (me) making sand art

Despite the horrors Aboriginal people and their ancestors have endured and with racism still prevalent in Australian society, the elders were still open in sharing from their heart about their culture. The Aboriginal elders clearly demonstrated reconciliation and the healing we ALL so desperately need. This experience gave me, not only understanding, but a sense of belonging.

Being part of community

My joy in all of this comes from the knowledge that out of great pain and suffering God, our Jehovah-Rapha, will bring great healing –

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.  Isaiah 61:1-3 (NIV)

Sand art design with the kangaroo totem

My prayer is that our Heavenly Father will show us how to honour our Aboriginal brothers and sisters so that together we can rejoice in the healing and the coming together of the Body of Christ.
Interested in finding out more
about the Australian Indigenous Class, click here

Alternatively, watch the video below of Sarah (Gordon College) and Alex (Wheaton College), ASC students from Spring 2018 share about their experience about the Australian Indigenous Worldview class (CS254).

The South Coast

Kiama, looking south

The sounds of the city outside my front window remind me I’m back in another sort of jungle. The palm tree outside the back window reminds me of the jungle I just came from. Booderee National Park, on the South Coast of New South Wales, was the latest trip we took as a program. We returned Sunday afternoon.

When I was a student, in 2009, we went to Canberra* during this time. This semester the ASC program director saw an opportunity to spend time in a very different sort of important place instead.

Booderee National Park is unique among most Australian national parks in that it is owned and operated by a local Aboriginal community. The Wreck Bay community is located near the park in their ancestral homelands in the Yuin nation. As one of the first sites of European contact, the Yuin nation has had over 200 years to figure out how to adapt and survive in a modern Australia that has looked violently different than the land they had known before.

In a historical moment in 1995, Booderee was handed back to Aboriginal ownership. In the co-op that has resulted, the community has ownership of the land, live on it, maintain their lifestyle (in a modern context) of hunting and fishing and have the right to protect it from poaching and environmental destruction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obviously the trip would have been very different had I gone by myself or with a small group. With 37, camping becomes a different ordeal. We rode a greyhound bus to the site. Our bus driver, Ian, was no less than a pro, maneuvering a behemoth of steel on wheels through twisted trees and vines over an unpaved dirt footpath. Once into the rainforest we set up camp at a site with all of the amenities that a group of over 40 would need. We rolled out a dozen safari tents and made camp. Michelle, the program coordinator, planned the trip, my job was to take heaps of pictures and video and help with logistics.

So when it came time for dinner, Joe (a student) and I ended up in charge of grilling burgers and corn. In the middle of the campsite sat this ancient iron grill. Chunks of rust flaked off of it in a strong breeze and I’m not convinced there wasn’t something living in the pile of wood underneath the grill surface. With no other choice we got to work.

I’ve never even pretended to be one of those guys who’s a pro at grilling so I learned quite a bit. 1) foil sticks to meat when its cooking. Not good. We abandoned this idea and ended up cooking straight on the flat iron surface (there were no grates to cook on). 2) when cooking on a flat iron surface, oil is very important. A group left to go get oil (from where?) and promised to be back soon. After cleaning the iron surface as much as possible we started cooking.

Now, one thing I did know is that beef turns brown when you cook it. We noticed these patties weren’t turning brown. They were still as red as if the cow had been moo-ing 5 minutes before. Strange.

I distinctly remember the guy at the butcher shop saying, “Oh yeah, mate, this is high class beef right he-ah.” After burning a few patties, we decided to cut them open and try them.

Italian Sausage, no joke. Spicy, hard, red, just shaped like a hamburger.

Long story short, the oil came after the sun had gone down, finally cooked the sausage-burgers and they were delicious. The corn was unreal.

As dinner ended, dancers from the community gathered around the campfire. Covered from head to toe in white paint and holding various implements of wood they began to share with us their music and movement. The Dancers from the Wreck Bay community have traveled around the world sharing their unique culture with other nations and indigenous people.

They were fantastic. Each dance was a story. Many dances resembled the actions of people or animals. One dance conveyed a sea eagle swooping down to catch a stingray in the shallow waters of Jervis Bay.

The movements and accompanying chants were simply amazing to behold. Campers from adjacent sites even crept over to watch the festivities. Before we knew it there were 50 or 60 people around the fire.

This was something very important to see about Aboriginal culture. According to cultural rules, everyone should belong; no one should be out of place. Welcoming complete strangers to enjoy music and food together is simply normal, polite cultural practice.

I think the students were very impressed with the Wreck Bay community, I know I certainly was. Some of the leaders in Wreck Bay hold honors that white Australian society respects (such as post-college degrees) as well as honors in their own community.

 

During our time there we were lead on hikes around the rainforest and the botanical gardens they created within the park. They explained some of the ways the bush had provided for their people for generations and even for them today. They explained how they are able to operated in a modern world, fight for their rights, respect and value and still live a lifestyle that is consistent with their culture.

As we leave the bush and travel back to the life in the city, the students wrestle with things learned on the South Coast. One thing is for sure; this semester we have a great group of students. They were essentially the guinea pigs for this trip and they rolled with the punches. Due to the heavy rain the night before we ended up having to make a detour to unload all the wet tents and camping gear. While a mob of ‘roos watched we hauled wet and sandy gear out of the bus. More memories.