MAF has been partnering closely with Pioneers in Arnhem Land for almost a decade. In 2022, Stephanie Gidney visited Galiwin'ku to find out how they are having an impact in the lives of Yolngu men
Prabhu and Christina have been based on Galiwin’ku (Elcho Island) for over two years, serving with Pioneers. Their hearts are for the Yolngu believers in the community, seeking to provide support and fellowship.
Prabu shares, “We get a lot of support from MAF. Housing is a big issue here, but we live in a MAF house at a subsidized rate. In terms of flying, it makes it easier for us to get food. That's the main thing for us. We can ask someone in town [Gove] to get some shopping for us and then check it on a MAF plane. It makes life more sustainable in the day to day, which is helpful. And when we fly we get subsidized rates, which is really helpful as a family. So, day to day living is easier for our family because of MAF.”
Meeting Yolngu Christians
David and George are two of the Yolngu Christians that meet frequently with Prabhu.
It was a privilege to join David, Prabhu, Christina and their girls, for a time of fellowship and hunting (fishing on this occasion) at Bible Camp beach, “A very special place for Yolngu,” explains Prabhu, “A famous place that all the men and women talk about. In the mission days they used to go camping and read scripture there.”
David is “whole-hearted for God, one of the faithful followers of Jesus,” shares Prabhu. To meet with such a Christian brother was both humbling and a great joy – perhaps a foretaste of eternity, with every tribe and tongue worshipping before the throne of God.
Obedient to God
David is a deeply spiritual man. “I’m just a follower,” he says. “I’ve learnt through the Holy Spirit, he teaches me, and I must speak what God says.” With a keen sense of the peace and presence of the Lord, he shares stories of how God has been working. On one occasion his daughter was due to give birth but the baby was in breech presentation. The lives of both mother and baby were at risk, but while David was “sitting in the Spirit, I saw the Spirit turning the baby around”. Their lives were saved.
David travelled to Darwin to attend Bible college, but in the middle of the course God called him back home “to give me a new job: where two or three are gathered together, that’s the job.” David shares that for him, the first priority is to listen to God, and testifies that God has done amazing things.
I need help!
I asked what difference it makes for David to have fellowship with Prabhu. He replied, “I need someone like this man here; I need help to get my people back to life. I’ve been struggling with this for a long time, and I need help; someone walking with me; anointed people to come and help.” He He likens it to Peter and John walking together, and Jesus sending out the disciples two by two (Luke 10 v1).
One day you turn
George is leader of one of the clans on the island, and Christina’s adoptive uncle. George’s family moved to Galiwin’ku during the missionary years, as fighting between clans forced them to leave their homelands. “We are here at Elcho Island,” shares George. “This is my land. I was born here and raised here. I worked here all my life. I am also a traditional man, a Keeper of the law.”
“Maybe you heard about the book ‘Fire in the Outback’? There was revival here in this island. The whole community changed; gave their hearts to the Lord. It started from my Uncle Kevin. I was mocking my uncle: ‘What are you thinking? Who do you think you are?’ I was talking like that to my uncle, and my uncle said, ‘One day you turn your life to God.’ That Uncle Kevin, he was a great man of God.”
Called by name
“I came to faith somewhere around 14 or 15. God spoke to me. I heard God's voice here somewhere,” pointing toward the school nearby. “Just around here, calling my name, an audible voice. I said, ‘Maybe God or something is calling me out,’ and I turned around as I heard someone calling me. The third time, I knew: it was God speaking to me, rescuing me. God said to me, ‘I'll be always with you, until the ends of earth’. And I said, ‘this God is real. He's here. He's talking with me. He's all over the place at the same time’. I was very bad before. I never knew Jesus. And when Jesus came into my heart here, he said ‘Stop it. It's the naughty way you're going’. That's what he told me. ‘Be humble. Be kind to your people and to your enemy’. So, here I am now.”
For over two years, George and other Yolngu Christian men on Galiwin’ku, have been meeting regularly for men’s fellowship with Prabhu. “We need to get these men together for fellowship. We must never stop. We must keep going,” says George. He frequently hears the Holy Spirit. “God says, ‘George, you have to do fellowship every Monday and Friday at the end of the day. Go pick up Prabhu and the men, even when there’s a funeral, or during work. Then your faith will be strong.’”
When the men meet there is laughter and joking, and then they focus on the Word. They pray for families, sick people, for the elders and leaders, and for their young people (there are a lot of suicides), some of whom are abusing substances and fighting. Together they pray for unity within the church. “We're having fellowship, and this is great. We are experiencing [God’s] presence every time, when we sit and talk and have fellowship; we break bread; we meditate on the Word; and every time we pray for one another.” The men that gather are all clan leaders, representing the two moieties on the island (the Black Cockatoo and the White Cockatoo), within which belong the different clans. “We Yolngu people we respect God’s word. It's a very ancient one.”
“The vision for us in Arnhem Land as a team of Pioneers,” says Prabhu, “is to get to a place where Yolngu are discipling Yolngu, or the local people are discipling the local people group, empowerment of Yolngu in a sense. They feel like they need some top guy with knowledge from outside to lead and run church. But the fact is, they have a lot of wisdom, and they have a lot of knowledge that God has given them. They have interesting and wonderful insights into the Scripture, so they do have the gifts and skills to lead and run and disciple themselves. So, the focus of our ministry here is primarily to facilitate and support the men's Bible study, so that we have a group of men who would one day be strong leaders for the church. And they are already in a sense.”
“They’re definitely strong enough to lead the church,” adds Christina. “It's just about encouraging them. We can see that they're capable. One time the men showed up to church and they ran the service. It went for 3 hours and was the fullest we've ever seen it, because the men were leading, which is culturally appropriate as well. There are plenty of mature Yolngu Christians. Our role is to encourage them in that they've got gifts from the Holy Spirit that enables them to run the church without us.”
The MAF connection
Prabhu originally came to Arnhem Land with MAF as a pilot and met Christina here. After five years they joined Pioneers “to spend more time with Yolngu people.”
Yolngu culture is focused very much on the present, accompanied by a different cultural perspective of time. When asking about how long it takes to travel overland for outreach trips I heard differing views. Prabhu helps clarify. “The real question is, how often does a Yolngu family have a serviceable car or a boat. It's not about the time, it's more about, can people get there if they wanted to? Well, no, not really.” George and the others have also used MAF flights to visit other communities to do outreach, and after a decade of partnership MAF continues to bring help, hope and healing to Pioneers and the Yolngu people.