Learning from Our Aboriginal Friends
I don’t know how much you know about the culture and history of our First Nations people, but I must confess that I have been ignorant for years. The only thing I remember from my school education was the movie, ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’. Over the past few years though, I have had a growing desire to learn more from our indigenous Australian family. Some things have sparked this for me. For example, Peter Adam (formerly principal of Ridley College Melbourne) taught me a Bible College subject in early 2019. I loved watching this brilliant, humble, Bible-loving Christian show so clearly that the church needs to be an advocate for indigenous Australians (you can read some of his articles here). Another thing that sparked this desire was just the plain fact that I’m a Christian called to carry the gospel to those around me. I wanted to understand the people I was called to love and share Jesus with, and this included my indigenous neighbours.
Funnily enough though, this desire to reach out to Aboriginal Australians only further betrayed some of my ignorance. In a podcast recently, I heard Dominic Steele and Stuart Piggin describe how Aboriginal Australians are the most evangelised people-group in the world (listen to the podcast here)! In fact, they claim that Australian Census data shows that more Aboriginal Australians identify as Christian than any other people-group in our country. This is why Christian mission initiatives (e.g. Sydney Anglican Indigenous Peoples’ Ministry Committee) are realising that indigenous Australians are the ones they need to empower to do ministry, rather than the ones that still need to be reached.
So, why do I tell you all of this? Well, a very central part of the beauty and witness of the gospel is ethnic and racial unity. Racial equality is a very Christian idea and it was scandalous in the 1st Century. In fact, it was during that time that a Jew called Paul passionately defended his Gentile (non-Jew) brothers and sisters when the Apostle Peter snubbed them for other Jews (Galatians 2:11-14). In fact, Paul often refers to the wondrous mystery of the gospel in his letters. We might think the mystery should be some sort of special spiritual wisdom that only the elite can obtain. But this mystery is actually nothing less than the inclusion of foreigners in Israel’s promises (Ephesians 3:1-6). To put it plainly, the mystery of the gospel is that non-Jews, people like me, have been extended grace and mercy and kindness through Jesus! And Paul argues that it is the power of this gospel which breaks down ethnic hostilities (Ephesians 2:11-22). In fact, it is this very same gospel which has the power to create harmony between different peoples today.
So, let me get down to the point: if we are called to put God’s glory on display through racial unity, then how much more should we make the effort to understand the peoples who first occupied Australia? If we have been included in the promises and blessings of another nation (Israel), then how much more should we humbly seek to understand the cultures of others? I don’t think we’ll ever get to the bottom of everything there is to learn about Aboriginal peoples, but I for one am enjoying the journey of understanding more. If you’re not an indigenous Australian, I’d love it if you joined me on the journey. If you are an indigenous Australian, we’re so glad you’re part of our church family.