One year in
Mourners cluster on the parched grass outside the tin-roofed chapel filled with grieving family, as I seek gently to bring the gospel of God to them and to thank the Lord for an aboriginal woman’s life in the face of her early death.
A year ago we were strangers, but now are counted friends. A number embrace us as family and we care deeply for them. It has been a long journey from our loving church in Hertfordshire to join the aboriginal community of Gilgandra, yet ‘up to this point the Lord has helped us’.
We have left two adult children in the UK and brought our adolescent daughter to ‘the bush’. We work with Australian Indigenous Ministries (AIM) and our year’s probation is ended, but our gospel labour among indigenous Australians is only just beginning.
Around half a million of this country’s indigenous peoples remain, dispersed among the 22 million of us whose ancestry lies somewhere else.
Aboriginal communities tend to be greatest in number away from major cities, in remote areas or country towns — the oft neglected mission field in Australia’s back yard.
Our Master’s summation rings true: ‘Harvest truly plentiful — labourers few’. Aborigines generally live in difficult circumstances with limited resources.
Larger communities often endure the social disintegration brought about by wide abuse of alcohol and drugs. Mortality rates are much higher than the national average and generally linked to poor health.
We are called to encourage and participate in the life of the aboriginal church in Gilgandra and to engage in gospel outreach in several smaller settlements around the area.
My wife Fiona works with local children in Sunday school, youth group and holiday clubs, visiting indigenous homes and developing closer relationships with families. I seek to encourage and build up the local aboriginal church leaders through prayer, study and service, with preaching and teaching.
There are significant challenges seeking to live within rather than merely visit the aboriginal community.
Racial tensions are sadly evident in bush towns (a legacy of past segregation and social inequity). Yet our 11 year old is thriving socially and spiritually (broad Aussie inflections have replaced her native East Anglian accent), and our ‘culture shock’ seems minimal. For this, we thank God.
My wider responsibility is ‘mission member care and church development in the eastern states’. This involves 15 existing churches — in Queensland and New South Wales (NSW) — and requires road travel over a wide area to keep in regular contact (approx 600 miles a week), as well as maintaining an open home for travelling believers, with Fiona regularly preparing hospitality.
I seek to encourage and develop Christian workers and assist in deploying TEE training (Theological Education by Extension) to promote a biblical gospel, centred upon Christ. Fiona works to encourage wives or single female workers. A NSW workers’ fraternal has formed, meeting quarterly.
AIM as a faith mission depends upon the support of its workers by the designated giving of churches and individuals.
Costs of living as well as ministry, vehicles, fuel etc. are to be met by each missionary —100 per cent of support funds received by AIM are passed on to the specified field personnel.
I teach secondary school Scripture (RE) in four towns (two days each week, over a 100 mile radius) with occasional work as a relief shire library officer — providing a partial income. Numbers of our co-workers ‘tent-make’ to stay in their posts, as levels of committed support are not high and churches struggle with their own budgets.
We are deeply thankful for the prayerful and practical support that comes to us from the UK through the Gaius Trust and would ask readers to ‘pray the Lord of the harvest that he would thrust forth labourers into his field’.
The Gaius Trust chairman writes: The Gaius Trust exists to provide support to Christian missionaries working with indigenous peoples.
It is gospel-centred, evangelical and reformed in theology. At present, we are focused on supporting Stephen and Fiona Bignall’s work in Australia.
Details can be found on: gaiustrust.wordpress.com or from The Gaius Trust, c/o London Theological Seminary, 104 Hendon Lane, London, N3 3SQ