All in the family

My office phone rang. It was “Karisol” (Garry Stoll, long-term faithful worker at Hermannsburg Mission, now retired in Adelaide). Garry was calling with a rather unexpected story:

A letter written by hand, in pencil, in which the writer asks her grandfather about Australian Aborigines.

Johanna’s letter to her Grandfather

His seven-year-old great-niece Johanna Stoll had sent him a beautiful hand-written letter from the USA. She is growing up in a family of Christian missionaries and has developed a keen interest in “Uncle Garry’s” work with Aboriginal people. Johanna had been moved to support the sharing of the gospel in Central Australia. So, what did she do? Started fund-raising, of course! And thanks to the generosity of people in her church and the coins they donated, Johanna had raised over $100.00 to gift gospel resources to Aboriginal people.

But there’s still more to this story. Some years ago, Garry had read Luke’s Gospel aloud in Western Arrarnta so that the audio could be matched to the Jesus video by the Bible Society. That meant Arrarnta speakers could now watch a movie in their own language, telling the story of Jesus in the actual words from the Arrarnta translation of Luke’s Gospel. The DVD production was funded by Finke River Mission and is available for purchase in Alice Springs.

What better way could we use Johanna’s donation than to provide some of the DVDs her great-uncle made possible? Now we have ten gift DVDs from Johanna available at church to help needy Arrarnta people know their Saviour better. There are so many people here who are sick in hospital, grieving for loved ones or struggling with stressful times. They are always thankful for resources that help them keep their eyes on Jesus.

I’ve been working in Aboriginal Women’s Ministry Support at the Alice Springs Lutheran Church since the beginning of 2017. I love my role. It’s challenging, relational and rewarding. And I love the people I work with. We are a complex, multicultural, multilingual congregation and community, where life is never dull!

On Reformation Day I shared Johanna’s letter with our congregation. It seemed fitting to connect it on that day with Luther’s passion for translating God’s Word into the heart-language of his German people. Needless to say, Johanna’s story was greeted by our congregation with a thunderous round of applause!

Following Luther’s tradition, making God’s Word available in Aboriginal languages has been a passion for many Lutheran, as well as non-Lutheran, church workers around Australia for almost two centuries. Thanks to partnerships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people we now have full or partial Bible translations, hymn books, printed resources, DVDs, and recorded Christian music in many Aboriginal languages.

When I replied to Johanna’s lovely letter, I sent some information about Central Australian Lutherans as well as a bookmark painted by one of our Arrarnta ladies. I also sent some links to websites which feature Aboriginal languages and cultures. You may be interested in these: 

We thank God for Johanna, and for everyone who works to share the salvation story in word and deed with Aboriginal people.

About the Author

Suanne Tikoft

My family and I have been committed members of the Alice Springs congregation since we moved here from Lobethal, SA in 1996. In previous years I have taught at Hermannsburg (where I learned to speak Western Arrarnta) and at Yirara College. My husband Erik recently retired as a respiratory nurse educator at the Alice Springs Hospital. Our three sons went to school here but are now in Melbourne and Perth. Our family now includes three lovely young women married or engaged to our sons, and one (soon to be two!) granddaughters in Perth.

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