The ordination of Pastor Jeffrey Wheeler at Mt Liebig on 13 October 2019 was, in many ways, the realisation of mission work begun back in 1877 in Central Australia by the Finke River Mission (FRM) of the Lutheran Church.
People came from everywhere; among them, Jeffrey’s uncle, Pastor Marcus Wheeler from Hermannsburg, FRM Support Worker, Pastor Paul Traeger and Bishop John Henderson.
Confirmed at Yirara College, Alice Springs in the 1990s, Pastor Jeffrey completed the ordination curriculum and attended Bush Courses over a period of six years.
The Aboriginal people had been waiting for this occasion for a long time and tears of joy and relief flowed as the people of Mt Liebig celebrated having one of their own family sharing the Good News.
Such is the important role of the LCA’s Finke River Mission in that it has walked alongside Aboriginal Lutherans in Central Australia for over 140 years. Today this represents around 6,000 Aboriginal Lutherans in over 40 communities in an area about the size of Victoria.
Importantly, at the last LCA synod, the church agreed to officially engage with the six language groups in Central Australia on terms that are meaningful to the worshiping families and Lutheran communities.
FRM has Support Workers mentoring local community leaders while living on country or travelling vast distances. As part of the role, they learn the local language and become accepted into the everyday lives of the communities so they can continue to mentor, encourage, and support both the pastors and the people in their faith.
Current Support Workers are – Pastor Paul Traeger (Pintupi-Luritja language area), Pastor Neville Doecke (Hermannsburg and Western Arrarnta language area), Malcolm Wilcox (Pitjantjatjara language area) and Pastor Michael Jacobsen, from the Bavarian Lutheran Church (Alyawarr language area). FRM has a Support Worker vacancy in the Anmatjerre language area.
“For me, it is very important to communicate directly with the Aboriginal people. This is not possible without language. Meeting desert-dwellers regularly, I have become fully aware of how essential and fundamental it is for their coexistence and survival to be in a relationship and to remain in relationship through language” – Pastor Michael Jacobsen.
You can read and see more of our ministry at finkerivermission.lca.org.au/media
The other mission arm of Finke River Mission is Yirara College with campuses in Alice Springs and Kintore. The Alice Springs campus was originally established in 1973 by the Northern Territory Government to expose Aboriginal youth to social development. In 1991, the government passed the operation of the College to Finke River Mission because of its reputation for walking alongside the Aboriginal people and at the request of the local people themselves. Today, Yirara is the largest indigenous boarding school in Australia, providing an education to around 250 students from many communities across SA, NT, WA, and QLD.
Yirara TV has been an important part of the school community for many years, producing weekly programs for the students themselves to view as well as being shown on a local Northern Territory station. It is here that students can gain experience in journalism, public speaking, and technology.
During the COVID-19 pandemic last year, all the students were sent home to their communities for the remainder of 2020 in keeping with government legislation. It was during this time that the staff became highly creative. All communities have access to TV signals, so staff began to produce lessons and beam them out via Yirara TV. Students around the country were able to turn on the televisions to watch and listen to their teachers presenting lessons and staying in touch with them. No other school in the country was delivering education in this manner – truly a creative and innovative approach.
The staff also take a creative approach to staying in touch with families in that they drive or fly to each of the communities to meet with the families and discuss the role Yirara plays in the lives of their children.
As well as learning the normal subjects such as language, maths, science etc. students also have opportunities around employment. Those interested in station work can learn how to care for and ride horses, while those showing an interest in the mining industry can learn to operate machinery on the simulators in the classroom. Still others can do work experience in retail, hospitality, agri-foods as well as the police, fire, and emergency services. Part of the role of staff at Yirara is to provide students with experiences which will be relevant for them going into the future.
Finke River Mission is thankful to LWA for the many years of support through prayer, individual contributions, and donations. Your assistance will help ensure that the people of Central Australia continue to hear the Good News through their own pastors and through leaders developed at Yirara College.
Google YiraraTV or look it up on YouTube to watch the exciting work happening at Yirara. If you are looking for a change from the cold in the south, consider the numerous opportunities for employment or volunteer service within the Lutheran Church in Central Australia.
Finke River Mission Website: http://finkerivermission.lca.org.au
Yirara College Television https://yirara.nt.edu.au/