“This is a discipline stick,” says Michael as he hefts a heavy wooden club, “we show the young fellas this so they behave, ya know?” Then he smiles and the uncertain glances around the room relax. Michael, the minister at Macarthur Indigenous Church, sits at the head of a long table with a host of Aboriginal artefacts before him and our mission team around him.
Aboriginal culture, he tells us, is a visual culture. You can’t understand it unless you understand its objects and its symbols. He shows us shields engraved with tribal totems. He shows us hunting boomerangs. He shows us woomeras. Each one has a story and opens up a window into the Aboriginal culture.
He hefts the club again. “This is a hunting weapon. It’s got a good weight on it for clobbering the back of the head, ya know?” But it’s more than that. It represents the place Aboriginal men hold in their culture and in their tribes. “Our men are warriors.” Warriors, we’re told, aren’t men who shed blood with violent hands, but are protectors – protectors of their families. But something changed.
“Our young fellas struggle to know who they are any more. They don’t know what it is to be a man. To look after their wife.” Michael knows his people. Many young men grow up watching their mums being knocked about in a fit of pique and would defend them to the last, but for whatever reason, the behaviour translates to the next generation. “There’s confusion about who they are. And this makes me sad.”
This dysfunction is but one of many that plague the Aboriginal community in the Macarthur region, but in the midst of it all is a small, tight-knit, faithful community of indigenous believers who have found the one thing that heals and reconciles men and women to themselves, to each other and to God. The good news of Jesus Christ.
The work is slow and there is a great deal of distrust of “the white man’s religion”. But as Michael reminds us, Christianity isn’t white man’s or black man’s. God invites us into his culture, a culture in which we love each other as family. It doesn’t displace any particular people group’s culture. Rather it puts it in its place and in doing so enriches all the family of Christ. His sharing enriched us. I’m deeply thankful for the deep work God is doing in my Aboriginal brothers and sisters.