Increased female participation during FRM’s COVID-19 recovery year

This report covers the work of Finke River Mission (FRM) from spring 2020 to spring 2021. Highlights have been the three teaching courses, renovation work at the Hermannsburg Historic Precinct, and having indigenous delegates at Synod for the first time.

Besides all this, there have been a few personnel changes.

All this has occurred against the background of co-operative weather, but a not always co-operative virus.

The year has also been noteworthy for the increased involvement of women in FRM-sponsored activities. Women have boosted the numbers at all three teaching courses. Along with men, they have also begun serving as delegates to General Synod.

We have been fortunate not to have had any cases of coronavirus in Central Australia. (The cluster at The Granites Gold Mine was outside of what most people would call “Central Australia”.) Nevertheless, lockdowns elsewhere in Australia have sometimes meant that visiting speakers were unable to make it up here.

In late September 2020 we had a very good teaching course at Imanpa, 250 kms southwest of Alice Springs. It was the only course for 2020 as the other two – normally there are three per year – had to be cancelled due to COVID-19. Pastor Tom Pietsch spoke on “Christ in the Old Testament”. Besides uplifting teaching, there were also lots of helpful one-on-one conversations. There were also more women than ever. They had been encouraged to attend after the annual women’s course was also cancelled due to COVID-19. They contributed well all the way through, but especially at the Wednesday afternoon meeting, where they were respectful without being deferential. All the men seemed happy to have them there.

In late November 2020 we had an unusually joyful event followed by an unusually sad event, in the same week in the same language area. There was the ordination of Stanley Roberts, followed just four days later by the unexpected death of Pastor Trevor Raggett.

We were blessed with a surprisingly cool summer, including plenty of rain in March. (The previous two years had been so bad that even the local Aboriginal people were talking about the heat!)

In late February 2021, FRM fieldworker Pastor Michael Jacobsen commenced three months’ long service leave in Germany. This was after going through a complex bureaucratic process to get permission to leave, and then return to Australia. He was sorely missed. He sent us photos of himself shovelling snow!

He returned to Alice Springs in June, just in time to say goodbye to Peter Altus, our longest currently-serving FRM staff member. Peter had been doing the accounts for FRM since 1993. In later years, he had become one of the main repositories of the collective memory of our organisation, so his departure was a huge event for FRM.

One other small “staff tweakage” is worth noting. In past years, we have had a loose relationship with Summer Institute of Linguistics worker David Strickland. For eighteen years he had been working on the Anmatyerre translation of the Bible. The Anmatyerre mini-Bible was finally dedicated, with much gratitude to God, in April 2021. In recent times we have been working more closely with David in the Anmatyerre language area, and this looks set to continue.

Also in April, we had another excellent teaching course. This was at Papunya (240 kms west of Alice Springs). Dr Noel Due spoke on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. His teaching was outstanding. His question-answering was even better. Many people were relieved to hear that the questions they had had about how to deal with “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5) were not unusual. Once again, many women attended.

Meanwhile, important renovation work at the Hermannsburg Historic Precinct continued until July. Stonework was repaired, and the entire building complex spruced up. More work is still to be done.

We had planned to have another teaching course at a place called Tara (290 kms north of Alice Springs) in July, but uncertainty re COVID-19 prevented this. In the end, this course went ahead in late September. We were worried that the weather might have been uncomfortably hot during that week, but it turned out OK. Yet again, many women came along. Dr Adam Hensley spoke on Old Testament prophecy, particularly in Jeremiah. His teaching was of a high quality, as was his sermon at the end-of-course service, based on Exodus 33.

One further 2021 highlight is worth mentioning. On 1 and 2 October, Central Australian indigenous people participated for the first time in the LCA’s General Synod as delegates. There were five in all. The two female delegates watched online from a large screen at Yirara College. Afterwards, one commented, “That was a lovely workshop!” The other said, “It was good to hear God’s Word.” In other words, they had enjoyed the worship component of Synod as much as participating in the online voting.

This is just a brief summary of the main happenings in FRM during the past year-and-a-bit. There is much more that could have been included on the ebb and flow of life and work in our area. If you wish to know more, please contact us, bearing in mind that, for logistical reasons, it may take days for us to get back to you. Meanwhile, we value your prayers as we grapple with the unique challenges of spreading the Gospel in an extreme cross-cultural context.

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Paul Traeger

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