Aboriginals in Australia
When Mother Basilea visited us in 1981, our Australian Sisters shared with her about their country. Mother Basilea was interested in everything — the past, the present, the joys, the sorrows. One of the topics that our Sisters shared about was the arrival of the first white men and their treatment of the indigenous people. Saddened, Mother Basilea responded, “My daughters, we are here to love, and love starts with repentance. Go to the indigenous people, and in the love of Jesus tell them how sorry we are.”
At that time we did not know any Aboriginal people and had no idea where we could meet them. But we prayed and God opened one door after another. One answer to prayer was Diane Buchanan, a Bible translator at Elcho Island. She visited us from time to time and then shared with the Aboriginals about Canaan. She invited Sister Simone to come to Elcho. So it was that in 1984 Sister Simone made a trip to the far north of Australia, visiting many Aboriginal and Tones Strait Islander communities. On behalf of us white people, she asked their forgiveness.
At that time a special bond of friendship was formed with the Elcho Islanders. A longing arose in their hearts to come down and visit us. One day Diane rang to say that ten ladies would like to come. The next phone call, “Sisters, 40 of them want to come. Is that all right?” We were excited and in faith we said yes – although we had no idea where we would house them or how we would feed such a big group.
The excitement spread to our friends. A group of 40 tribal indigenous people in Theresa Park! Many lent us mattresses; others lent us blankets. Our print shop was being extended, and the machinery had not yet been moved in. If they didn’t mind sleeping on the floor, perhaps some could stay there. Others slept in tents that neighbours had lent us.
When our doctor heard about our special visitors, he gave us $100 for food for them. A kitchen Sister took the $100 to the fruit barn to get some fresh fruit and vegetables. But when the owner heard that this was for a group of indigenous people coming all the way from the Northern Territory, she donated the fruit and vegies. We still had the $100, so we asked a factory if we could purchase a large number of meat pies. When they heard who the meat pies were for, they gave us 50% off. Other friends prepared meals for them. We had a small donation for fish. So off we went to the fish market. We looked for the cheapest fish, so we could get a larger quantity. When the fish shop owner heard of it, he threw in many more and had them filleted by his staff. He too wanted to do something good for our indigenous visitors. When we shared this with our friends from Elcho, they were touched by the love of so many — people who didn’t even know them.
On the first night we had a campfire and barbecue. We invited friends and neighbours, for we knew that they would all want to meet our special guests. Even though some of the neighbours had earlier been a bit hesitant to visit a group of Sisters, their curiosity got the better of them, and they came to the cookout to meet our indigenous guests. One of our friends, whose ancestors had come out on the First Fleet, asked if she could say a word. It was so much on her heart to say sorry to our indigenous friends. What a special moment this was!
After the meal our friends from Elcho started to sing beautiful songs of worship and do movements to them. The neighbours were delighted and asked many questions. Then they said, “What lovely people they are! What beautiful singing! They’re only staying one week? What a pity!” Our Elcho friends had won their hearts.
One of our neighbours shared with an elder from Elcho that he had to have a heart operation soon, and he found that prospect quite frightening. The elder asked him to come back, and he got the whole group together to pray for him. Our neighbour immediately felt such a difference to his health and strength. After his doctor’s appointment he came back overjoyed. “I saw the heart specialist, and he could find nothing wrong with my heart! He couldn’t understand the sudden improvement, and he couldn’t find any evidence that I had ever had a heart attack. The doctor told me to keep doing whatever brought about the change!” We praised God for His wonderful intervention.
After a wonderful week of fellowship together, it was time for them to leave. One eight-year-old Aboriginal girl went home and said to her friends, “If you don’t believe that Jesus is real, come to Canaan with me.” So for one year these youngsters saved up their pocket money (and whatever else they could get from their relatives), and they came down for a children’s retreat. There were 13 children, ranging in age from eight to twelve.
We wanted to do nice things for them, since their people had suffered so much at the hands of white people. So we took them on picnics; we took them swimming, and one day we took them to the zoo. (The zoo let them all in for free!) Since they had never been on a train before, we went by train and ferry to the zoo. The children sang songs in their own language. One lady, as she was getting off, gave us a $20 bill and said, “Buy them all an ice block today.” The people in the carriage were delighted to experience them. They were such a good witness!
In between the “special events” a Sister told children’s Bible stories. Later we heard from one of the grownups that when the children went back to Elcho, they didn’t tell their friends about the swimming, the picnics or the zoo. They told them all that they had learned about Jesus.