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24 November 2020

The long road north


CMS missionaries Wayne Oldfield & Mandy Jones were seemingly settled in their jobs and lives in Sydney. But in 2011 they moved to the Northern Territory to minister alongside Indigenous Christians. Here Mandy explains why.

Why would we become cross cultural workers with CMS? Wayne had worked for 31 years as an accountant at Sydney Water and I, with a background in science teaching, also enjoyed stable ministry jobs in Anglican and Uniting Churches. Here is part of our story.

We began seriously thinking about working with Indigenous Christians after the launch of the Bible in Kriol in 2007—a launch we both attended at CMS Summer School that year. The Kriol speakers who shared the Bible with us were excited, and everything we had heard indicated that what Aboriginal Christians wanted was a clear and culturally relevant understanding of God’s Word.

We didn’t want to look back on our lives in retirement and ask, “What if…?”. The Holy Spirit was instrumental in moving us into a very different world from the settled, comfortable lives we were leading in Sydney. God even used Sydney Water restructures to spur us into action! Wayne studied for a year at Sydney Missionary and Bible College (SMBC), and I also did a unit there called ‘Cross-cultural Teaching and Learning’.

Open doors

When it came time to talk with CMS about working in the Northern Territory, it turned out that both of us could almost immediately walk into roles at Nungalinya College, in Darwin. This indigenous training College is jointly run by various denominations and is part of the Vocational Education and Training sector. Many roles at the college require specific skills to cope with administrative requirements. Nungalinya relies on churches and organisations like CMS providing a proportion of the staff to make ends meet, because government funding covers travel and accommodation for students, but not teachers.

Meeting needs with our skills

In 2011 the college needed a replacement numeracy teacher and someone to teach the Working with Youth Unit. Praise God, I was able to take on those roles.

Wayne had several roles early in our time at the college, but in 2013 he became ‘Weekday Host’. God used Wayne’s pastoral heart to help many students settle into the college and deal with problems while they were there. In 2016, he became one of the deans, thus using his administrative skills as well as his care for people. It was a role God had already put on Wayne’s heart.

Indigenous Church leaders in remote Australia want to study the Bible in a culturally relevant way, but most leaders do not have the English literacy skills to study in mainstream colleges. The Anglican Diocese of the Northern Territory does not have the resources to meet the need for formal, accredited training. There is clearly a need for places like Nungalinya, which helps students with numeracy and literacy, as well as studying the Bible.

We need more people

The effects of colonialism here are deep, and often painful and traumatic. Many Aboriginal Christians are very thankful that the Christian gospel came, but they are often frustrated by the perceived indifference from the rest of the church in Australia. It is scandalous that it took from 1788 to 2007 to have a full Bible in an Indigenous language. Not everyone can be a Bible translator, but if you are open, it is surprising what God can find for you to do to support the growth of the Aboriginal church in Australia. This ex-accountant and ex-teacher are so glad we’ve come and met the people God has chosen to be his from the remote communities of the North.

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