Valedictory for Stephen and Fiona Bignall
Over 80 friends and well-wishers from near and far gathered at Campus Church, Welwyn Garden City, on Saturday 7 August for a valedictory service for Stephen and Fiona Bignall, and their 10-year-old daughter Jessica.
After 12 years as pastor of the church, Stephen is returning to his native Australia to serve among aboriginal people and churches as a missionary with Australian Indigenous Ministries (AIM).
Stephen lays down not only his UK pastorate, but also membership of the European Missionary Fellowship (EMF) executive and deputy chairmanship of Evangelical Press, though he will remain on the EP Board with responsibility in Australasia.
Following a welcome by Prof. Edgar Andrews on behalf of Campus, the service was led by Martin Leech, EMF’s deputy director. The worship featured a presentation to the departing family – a gift of £1500, together with flowers for Fiona. Then Stephen spoke of the work to which the Lord has called him.
Australia’s indigenous people
For over a century the indigenous aboriginal people of Australia were the subject of institutional racism by the majority white population, culminating in government removal of mixed race children from many ‘aboriginal’ families in order to ‘rescue’ them from their environment. Nevertheless, a climate of reconciliation seeking inter-racial acceptance has emerged; a recent formal apology by Australia’s prime minister for past actions is proof of this.
During the difficult transitional years of the late 20th century many indigenous Australians came to view Christianity as a part of the culture of oppression and therefore to be rejected, but a number of indigenous churches and evangelists persevered in bringing the gospel to their people, in part aided by non-indigenous Christian workers prepared to come alongside in servant roles.
AIM personnel continue to fulfil this mandate – providing pastoral encouragement, gospel teaching, theological education by extension and mentoring – through discipling initiatives on the part of experienced, regional missionaries.
Stephen (with other key workers) will be responsible for undertaking such tasks in central western New South Wales, based in an indigenous church in Gilgandra (though not as pastor). His appointment is for twelve months initially, with continuance dependent on adequate financial support emerging (AIM is a faith mission).
Jessica gave a short power-point presentation of Gilgandra – featuring the town, the Bignalls’ new home, and the congregation there.
Martin Leech next introduced the Gaius Trust which has been formed specifically to support gospel work among indigenous peoples and will be the main vehicle for UK support of the Bignall family with AIM (further information: email@example.com).
In a gracious prayer of commendation, Daniel Webber, Director of EMF, led the congregation in praying for Stephen, his family and the work to which he has been called, remembering also Joanna and Michael, who will be remaining in UK, and the Campus Church as it seeks a new pastor.
Robert Strivens, Principal of the London Theological Seminary, preached from Colossians 1:3-6: ‘… the gospel which has come to you as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you…’
He asked what it means to be fruitful in this Christian sense, pointing out that New Testament fruitfulness results from the gospel of Christ rather than the efforts of men.
What is this fruit? Verse 4 supplies the answer. It is faith in Christ Jesus, love for the saints (believers), and the hope of heaven and Christ’s return. These are the things we receive when we believe ‘the word of the truth of the gospel’. This is the gospel that Stephen and we alike must continue to preach, and this is the fruit for which we look to God.
Following the service an excellent tea served by the ladies of the church provided opportunity for further fellowship.