Down under


Geir EngoyQuick, who was the biggest Australian Aboriginal Methodist hymn writer in the 18th century? Don’t know? Didn’t think so; beats me, too. While searching for an interesting angle to the Olympic Games in Sydney and environs, I came up blank on this specific-market piece of trivia.

Closer to home, it was easier to state that there’s a chance that American Marion Jones can become historic at the Olympic Games in Sydney. She has been picked to represent the 2000 U. S. Olympic Track & Field Team in five events–100 meters, 200 meters, long jump, 4×100 relay, and 4×400 relay–and she is good enough to win gold in each event.

She will be competing in Australia, “down under” (would Australians have given themselves such a nickname?) where, until the 1940s, 99% of the population was white and 94% British. After the Second World War, Eastern Europeans were welcomed in large numbers.

Today, the Australian government is funding broadcasting programs in 60 languages. In proportion to the population, Australia has taken in more Vietnamese refugees than any other nation. Bud-dhism is the fastest growing religion. Unlike their parents, who chose German or French as their second language in school, high school students now pick Indonesian or Japanese as their second language.

Consider the potential impact for the Kingdom of God through the million or so South European settlers in Australia who still use their native languages. Imagine what can be done for God through them in their countries of origin!

I recently watched a program on human endurance through the Australian outback. Two of the competitors had made a living out of “climbing every mountain and fording every stream” with the help of high tech equipment. The third competitor was an Australian Aborigine (which is a name given his group by the Europeans. Like many other members of his group he prefers to use Koori). While the high techies suffered blisters, hallucination, dehydration and breakdown of equipment, the “local guy” kept trudging along. This was his turf; he knew what to look for, what to stay away from, what pace to keep, when to walk (he slept during the hot day hours).

The Aborigines tally today is down to about 250,000 individuals from the original estimate of 300,000. They speak 111 living languages (down from around 260 at the initial point of contact). They have been treated in shameful ways–akin to European settlers treating the Native Americans–and only in the past few years have serious efforts sought to bring about change for the better and reconciliation between the Koori and other Australians.

The Salvation Army is experiencing growth in our work among the Aborigines. Because their world-view is based in dreaming and dreamtime, evangelism isn’t just a matter of teaching them English and expecting them to integrate. In Alice Springs, for instance, pictographic symbolism, painting, different styles of seating, worship and music (listened to any Yothu Yindi lately?) testify to the Army’s taking this outreach seriously.

There are limits to what can be achieved when someone tries to enter another people group. Historically, the success by the outsiders to some area has often been measured in degrees to which the local group has accepted the forms of the newcomers. Respecting and learning the culture and actively spending considerable time among a people group enhances the impact of the Gospel. During the couple of weeks of the Olympics seeds will be sown, plants will be watered, some fruits will ripen. But world-view changes are foundational and long-term in a person’s life, the responsibility for which are best left to God to work out.

A lot of pomp and splash will enthrall the world during the Games, and Marion Jones may win her gold medals. But she will return home again. Aborigines and their new “foreign” countrymen and women will remain. As Australia is changing, our neighborhoods are changing. How do we, as Christ followers, explore the inroads for the Kingdom in the dynamics between the diverse people groups which make up our communities?

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