This is the 2nd article about our recent road trip. Part 1 can be found here I am calling the series “Unpacking” as unpacking refers to the time involved in unpacking the trailer and car, as well as the unpacking, or if you prefer, the debriefing experience of the trip. There were a number of purposes behind our going on the trip. My wife had organised holiday leave 6 months ago for this time, as we were planning to go to my bro’s wedding in the Philippines. Sadly we couldn’t go because of budgetary restraints, and we decided to go to the “Surrender Conference” instead. This year was my 2nd time in going, my wife’s 1st and was the 14th consecutive year the conference was run.
We left our friends place at Clarkefield and headed towards Melbourne which was 40 minutes away. Because we were running on a tight budget, we decided not to pay the $15 day pass for the tollways and instead take the freeways and normal roads instead. We came across a sign on the freeway saying the tollway was ahead and so we took a exit road which led us to a suburb just before Melbourne. It was an interesting experience dragging the camper trailer behind us, intermingling with the traffic and trams at the same time. Eventually we made it to Belgrave Heights 3 hours later, with the help of the navigation app on our phones. I’m sure the tollways would have made the trip much quicker; the reality was though, we were content to meander our way there, breathing deeply as we restrained ourselves in a slower rhythm of life.
Upon arrival, we set our trailer tent up, had a bite to eat, and then went and paid our registration. We had a pleasant surprise, as because we lobbed in on Friday afternoon, and not Thursday, our conference fees were much lower, and our combined cost was what we had planned to pay for one of us. The theme of the conference was “Ministering to our Indigenous People and those on the margins of our society.” I have to admit, I was tired. I didn’t have much energy to begin with and so my own plan for the conference was to again breathe deep, not get overly excited and think I have to take every talk, and participate in every session. The conference was set up with a communal tent village around a village square, where talks / workshops were held, and food and drink could be bought. Also, the conference had a main auditorium, with a number of stalls from a variety of Christian orgs promoting themselves, and their variety of services out in the lobby area, and inside they held a number of main rallies and speakers.
The workshops I was mainly interested in was to sit in the “Yarning Tent.” The “Yarning Tent” was a place where we could sit, and listen to our indigenous family share their life, faith, past, current experience and hope for the future. Some of the speakers were from New Zealand, and also shared their experience of life as a indigenous person. Stories of racism abounded. Some of our speakers came from a mixture of indigenous and Anglo Saxon cultures. They shared their pain of not fitting in. White culture often ostracized them for being black and indigenous culture shunned them because they looked white. I had to smile when I heard the term often repeated, “White man thought they brought God to this country (Australia) the reality is, God had already been part of this country for the past 40,000 years.” It’s important to note that we are talking about “God the Creator” here and not the distinctive message of salvation through Christ Jesus. The indigenous story of creation has many ideas and similarities of thought in regards to creation and the existence of God, as does the Hebraic accounts in Genesis. Sadly, our aboriginal people in Australia were not considered to be proper peoples until the late 60’s, early 70’s in this nation – where every new born child was registered with a birth certificate under our “Flora and Fauna” act.
The conference was opened with a indigenous welcome to country ceremony. An elder from the tribal lands where the conference was held, welcomed us to his land. A number of dances were held, and then representations from other tribes thanked them for welcoming them. It was an interesting experience to understand the culture of honor and respect which was the foundation of this ceremony – and again, though different in format; it was no different to the ways our own councils, state and federal governments, and other groups which involve formal speeches to thank, and honor visitors in their midst. A common example that comes to mind is the wedding / funeral speeches, where visitors, friends and family are formally acknowledged and given a chance to respond.
The highlights of the conference in no particular order for myself were,
- Spending time in worship and fellowship with my wife.
- Spending Saturday afternoon chatting with a friend who came down from our area with others for the conference.
- Having a young Kookaburra take food from my hand, which came to investigate us as we ate dinner Sat night.
- Hearing the testimony / word of God by Miliwanga Sandy who shared how a pastor / missionary came to their tribal lands and shared with them about Jesus. Miliwanga was part of a translation team which translated the Bible into Creole, which is the general language which all aboriginals could speak. It took over 30 years for this translation work to be done. She was crying when she shared what it felt like to hold and read a copy of God’s word in her own language.
- Touching base with people I had met from the last conference.
- Meeting up with the team of people who came down for the conference from our own area here in Western Sydney. (Note, one of our team leaders, Jon Owen, was also a speaker at the conference.)
- Meeting new people, finding out about different ministries, different orgs, different experiences.
- Coming away with a refreshed sense of connection to God, connection with my wife, fresh renewed sense of calling and ministry purpose.
- Heard many great and valuable testimonies on how to accept and to walk alongside others.
- Heard a great sermon on how sections of the church can be represented as as the prodigal son and the older brother.
Again, in no particular order
- While we were in the auditorium a huge storm blew up, causing some of our tent awning frame to buckle and break.
- Rain water got into and 1/2 filled our esky, spoiling a lot of fresh food.
- Heard some fairly wishy washy theology and practices. One particular story which saddened me was about a minister who was asked to visit someone who had had a serious accident which paralyzed him. He befriended him and visited him often in an 18 month period. Not once during that time was faith and prayer explored. Forgive me as I climb onto my soap box here – I strongly believe that if we are invited into someones life to walk alongside them, then we need to explore how we bring / invite God into the experience. It is only God who can heal trauma, change lives.
- There was incidence which saddened me greatly. Not because of their involvement there, and nor the issue of their testimony of treatment by the church, in which they have been caused pain. The organisation in question is the LBGT org. What saddens me is that one of their spokespersons was continuing his message of wanting the church to totally accept his lifestyle, allow him to be part of the church, without the church speaking into his life. I ears dropped a little on his talk, and walked away from it saddened. It was no different to what I heard last year when I sat in on his discussion. Then I shared about if I was a church pastor, I could accept a GLT into the congregation if they professed Christ. But, as a pastor, I would want them to be subjected to the Scriptures teaching on fidelity in a committed relationship – in the same way it speaks to heterosexual relationships. He fired up at me then, saying that I was judging him on his promiscuous lifestyle, that he had a right to have sex with whom he wanted, when ever he wanted. And then said, I had no right to preach Christ crucified to him as he believed Christianity was all about making it what you wanted to make it. :(
I have written extensively in the past about my beliefs about homosexuality and the church. Indeed the church needs to hang its head in shame how it has treated many who have same sex attraction. I have no problems with people who have same sex attraction. I also have no problems with those same people sitting beside me in church, worshiping the risen lord. But, I do have issues with anyone who wants to make Christianity into a free for all, for any beliefs and actions – for Christ, has not given us that option.