My About FACE experience with the Aboriginal Australians, particularly the Adnyamathanha peoples of the Northern Flinders Ranges in South Australia was in 2012, a few months after my arrival in Australia from the Philippines. In Port Augusta, we were hosted and toured by the Lester family, heard stories from Aunt Denise Champion and shown ministries being undertaken by members of Congress. In hot and dry Oodnadatta, we engaged with Julia and Kimberly in nightly community services, observed and contemplated life in the outback with Uncle Ronnie, and learnt a lot as well from the rest of the mob including children who taught us how to find and eat bush tuckers. Rev Ian “Uncle Ian” Dempster was our thoughtful and humorous guide.
My experience can be characterized as a journey on different planes. It was a ‘travel in time’ to thousands of years past to the oldest human community ever recorded in history and yet be able to engage face to face with them as a living and struggling people of The Dreaming. It is going back to the roots – a reminder that I am from a definite ancestral origin and that ancestry is connected, in ways worth discovering, with the indigenous peoples of Australia.
The trip was also for a personal acknowledgement of the sovereignty of the First peoples and in recognition of their original and continuing custodianship of the Land and everything about it. Being a stranger and a sanctuary-seeker, this first engagement gave me the opportunity to ask their permission for me to stay in their land and to make their home as my second home. In response, it was a clear invitation for me to embrace them and be in solidarity with their sufferings and struggles.
Finally, it was a faith-affirming journey. Indeed, God was and is at work in the land and is ever-present in the painful condition of the Aboriginal peoples through the Spirit Creator. We are invited to be where God is at work in their journey and participate in God’s mission of release from centuries-old domination towards reconciliation in a more humane and caring society.
Aunt Denise and Rhanee expressed to us “We need someone to carry us; to give us a voice.” In another way the message came to us one hot day when we had to take turns carrying the barefoot Aboriginal child Luquuan on our backs as we walked over the scorching asphalt road.