Ruth Walton is a Priest from this Diocese currently serving in the Northern Territory.
It’s Sunday afternoon, we are on the way home from church when my phone rings out of the blue. ‘Hello Ruth. Could you pick me up and take me to Nungalinya?’ An hour later, as the student and I are approaching Nungalinya College, my companion’s face lights up. ‘I am so excited to be here. I am really looking forward to learning about God again. It is so good to be here. This is such a special place for me.’ She seemed almost overwhelmed with joy. What a privilege to be part of making that happen for her.
Nungalinya College is an amazing place, it is a special place; for those who study there, for those who ‘work’ there, for those who simply pass through. ‘Nungalinya’ is the local Larrakia word for Old Man Rock, a reef lying off the Darwin coastline which can be seen at low tide. This rock was a place of learning for the young men. The Larrakia people suggested the College use that name, reflecting its identity as a place of learning alongside the biblical idea of the ‘rock’ of Christ as the foundation for our lives. That foundation is core to all that happens at the College.
The College was founded in 1974 by three partner churches: Catholic, Uniting and Anglican. This partnership provides the opportunity for conversation, mutual understanding and working together for the gospel. Nungalinya is also a place where Indigenous theological perspectives are explored. The College purposefully includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages and encourages the expression of Indigenous cultures. Nungalinya courses intentionally seek to empower Indigenous Christians, offering them the opportunity to improve their literacy and numeracy skills, study theology and explore how faith can be applied in ministry, art and music.
Supporting the students through their studies are five Deans; three of whom are funded by the partner churches, the other two provide a link to other denominations. The Anglican Dean is appointed by the Bishop of the Northern Territory and we are very grateful that Bush Church Aid is now funding this position. This new development releases the limited resources of the Diocese for other important work.
Students attend College for two or four week blocks up to twice a year and complete other tasks at home. This may not seem much, but a few weeks away from home can be enormously challenging for many of our students as they juggle work, family and health issues.
The Dean’s role begins long before the students get to College. We first engage with the Indigenous church leaders and assist them to identify those who would enjoy or benefit from attending Nungalinya College. Once a student is enrolled, the Deans then have many conversations with each student (usually by phone), determining when and how they will get to College, and giving lots of assurance and encouragement as they travel.
Finally, the student arrives, with much excitement and some trepidation. The Deans now work to ensure each student thrives emotionally, physically and spiritually whilst in College – a very different world from home, empowering them to deal with all the issues of family life back in community – and then getting them home again safely at the end of their studies. Easy! Except these beautiful people have a totally different worldview and value system. Relationships are far more important than ‘stuff’ or being somewhere on time, communication is fraught with difficulties – be they technical, language or cultural. So, they may tell you that they will make their own way to College … but may not tell you that you are part of the answer, or at least the backup plan! They may be desperate to come in to Nungalinya to study … but perhaps there is a funeral at home, or a family member becomes sick. During the wet season, roads become blocked, communities are completely cut off – phones may or may not work, access to the outside world is completely impossible. Or maybe they have simply not understood your question. It is so easy to misinterpret an answer or forget that as they long to please, sometimes they tell you just what they think you want to hear.
Their love for Jesus is so evident. They long to know Him more, to serve Him, to share their faith with their friends and family at home. The highlight of the day is always the morning chapel service – we love to sing and share stories about Jesus. We love to pray together. Language is no barrier. We all sing, pray, share in our ‘heart’ language and leave the rest to God. It is so refreshing. God is so good. Take a look at some of the students’ stories on the Nungalinya website (www.nungalinya.edu.au)!
So, what could your part be in all this?
- Pray for the Indigenous church leaders as they work faithfully in their local communities; pray for empowering by the Holy Spirit and for perseverance. This is not a task for the faint hearted.
- Pray for our students at Nungalinya; pray that they will grow in faith and be encouraged to use their learning in their home churches.
- Pray especially for the Mission Development Team of the NT Diocese; we are working hard to develop stronger links between what happens in College and in community.
- If you would like to support the work of Nungalinya College, you can give directly online (www.nungal i nya.edu. au), or you contribute to fund the Anglican Dean through BCA (www.bushchurchaid. com.au). If you want to know more, or receive regular updates please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Reverend Ruth Walton