“… 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).

Stradbroke Memories

This blog is written by Sarah Reed. It comes from her personal blog “Sarah Reed Down Under“. Sarah is a Fall 2018 student from Messiah College. Editor’s note: This post was first published on the 13th of August, 2018 and has been lightly edited.

A few weekends ago my classmates and I traveled across Moreton Bay to Stradbroke Island for a weekend with our Indigenous worldviews class. The ferry ride was short yet relaxing and upon arrival we were welcomed with a smoking ceremony to cleanse ourselves.

Stradbroke Ferry

Having fun on the ferry on the way to Stradbroke

The morning continued with our ears being filled with stories about local customs of the Indigenous people of the area.  This was followed by dancing, boomerang and spear throwing! Which was really fun!

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Boomerang throwing

See videos of my boomerang throwing and spear throwing activities.

The day finished with a brisk Gorge walk. The scenic trail snaked around cliffs and we were fortunate enough to see whales jumping out of the ocean, sea turtles and other wildlife.

A view from the Gorge walk

The next day, we worked with artist Craig to create sand art on the beach. Each design unique in their expression!

People on beach creating sand art

Working on sand art designs

This was followed by a time of worship at Brown Lake (a historical site where local Indigenous women would bring with their children).

Musicians playing guitars and ukulele at Brown Lake

Worship time at Brown Lake

Now I know this sounds like a nice weekend getaway, but it was much more than that.  Before coming to Australia, I thought Indigenous people were just an ancient group of people that used to live in Australia, little did I know that I was very wrong.  The weekend showed me, this ancient culture is still every much alive! The elders of the community, shared with us the importance of country and showed us ways to utilize plants and the things on the island. We were invited onto sacred grounds which were had been frequented by their ancestors. They also shared with us stories of hardships faced by Aboriginal people today.

Over the weekend, not only did I experience Aboriginal culture and history. I also learnt how an Aboriginal person can be both Christian and still hold on to their cultural values. I have never experienced anything like this and I will forever hold onto the memories I made this weekend.

Using found materials to create sand art

 

 

 

Why dots belong in the desert.

There seems to be fixation, when outsiders come to Australia, with tourist shops here and there selling boomerangs, didgeridoos, kangaroo stuffed animals and of course, Aboriginal artwork. Similar to the way bugs are helplessly drawn to that eerie yellow streetlight, tourists flock to these stores to bring back a piece of “Australia” (the ‘Made in China’ sticker on that boomerang doesn’t seem to phase them).

During the Indigenous Studies class one student inquired about the ethics of white Australians, or even outsiders, copying the style of Aboriginal art known as dot-painting.

The lecturer’s response was graceful, yet very to the point. She said, “dots belong in the desert,” she continued to explain that dot-painting is a specific technique that comes from people in the central desert of Australia. “As you fly over the central desert, you can see that those dots mimic the landscape.” Flowers appear to be dots on bushes which are little, scrubby dots on the open landscape. Round, red rocks form larger dots. When it rains, big fat drops create dots on the sand. Dots belong in the desert. Art from other places around pre-European Australia come in all shapes and colors but they are unique to the landscape and materials available to each of those regions.

She held her arms out wide and said, “this issue is actually this big and it would take us a week to get to the bottom of it.” Not only is there the idea of location but also of method. In a Western understanding of art, we can create it, copy it, sell it, hang it in our home, keep it in storage. Art has value to us but we treat it differently. Painting dots on canvas is a modern translation of an old ceremony. For people of the central desert, such as the Pintupi, Luritja and Pitjantjatjara, dots were created in the desert sand itself using stones, feathers and other found materials. The important thing to understand is that the process and materials of this creation are more important than the finished product. It is ceremonious.

So, not like this

or like this

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The commercialization of Aboriginal art is a fascinating clash of cultures, one I am not nearly learned enough to discuss in great depth. However, it is clear to see that commercialization has most certainly taken place. If you hop on a bus from here within 10 minutes of almost any direction you’ll find a place where you can buy a boomerang, a coffee mug, a keychain, all bearing a replica of a dot painting. Of course this artwork came from a printer thousands of miles away in a factory operated by people who may have never even been to Australia.

Of course there are Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artist now who utilize dot-painting techniques but they do so with the intention of sending an honoring nod in the direction of those who have come before. In the end it seems that as with almost anything, there is a certain caution that is respectable to approach situations with. But as artists we bounce ideas off of each other, we copy what is great and it makes it greater. We add connections to other artists who have inspired us.

We do this because this is how we as artists relate to the world.

But there is clearly a difference between this approach and the local bug-zapper that draws in thousands looking for a material representation of a fun experience.

Friday

Friday brought the second class the ASC students will take during the semester, Indigenous Cultures, History and Identity (of Australia and New Zealand). As a former student I can personally say this class alone, taught by Jennifer Newman, is worth the 15 hour flight. The first session of class opened with a history and overview of the Aboriginal Australians, their language groups and regions. Sitting in on the class I noticed an entranced silence. I have never seen college students so unashamedly riveted for almost 2 hours. This is going to be a great class.

An Aboriginal Language Map of Australia

The legacy of the Tower of Babel can be felt across the planet. Anyone who has traveled knows this. But even here in Australia, a well-developed former British colony, the clash of cultures can be witnessed. During the Friday’s session the ASC students engaged in an exercise created to embody this phenomenon. Though it has its roots in antiquity (the late ‘70s), the concept of the game still holds true.

The class is divided into two groups, each representing two different cultures. The two groups learn the rules associated with their cultures and then take turns visiting. The game is good fun but the discussion afterwards shows that this is about more than a game. This is about how people interact with one another, and the students dove into it wholeheartedly sharing experiences and asking insightful questions of their own.

“How powerful is culture?”

“Should we even evaluate culture?”

“Maybe it is important to identify where one comes from in order to understand how to interact with other cultures.”

Asking these sorts of questions and critically looking at one’s own culture are key to growing from a semester abroad.