Guest presentation by Meagan Schwarz, Anglican Board of Mission

Thank you to Fr Adrian for inviting me to speak to you all this evening.

The Anglican Board of Mission exists to help the Anglican Church and the wider community realise and respond to God’s invitation for all to be a part of God’s hope for the world. Or, to paraphrase the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, ABM seeks to find out what God is doing in Australia and our overseas partners, and helps others to join in!

For over 170 yrs ABM has worked with Anglican communities and churches to see lives empowered and transformed spiritually, materially and socially. This has been driven by our belief that God’s promise of love, hope and justice, or Life in All its Fullness as John 10:10 puts it, is for all people to enjoy.

While the ways that ABM achieves this have changed radically over that 170 yrs, the underlying motivations and commitment remain the same. These are summed up in our 5 Marks of Mission:

  • Witness to Christ’s saving, forgiving and reconciling love for all people
  • Build welcoming, transforming communities of faith
  • Stand in solidarity with the poor and needy
  • Challenge violence, injustice and oppression, and work for peace and reconciliation
  • Protect, care for and renew life on our planet

We live these out by supporting our partners in many different ways:

  • theological education in PNG and Zambia
  • disability inclusion for communities in Kenya
  • suicide prevention and substance abuse management in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • water, sanitation and hygiene in Vanuatu
  • agricultural projects in Myanmar
  • Indigenous theology and training for local leaders in Australia
  • adult literacy in PNG
  • gender and violence prevention in Zambia
  • parenting programs in Solomon Islands

These projects may sound disparate and with little in common – but they all echo one of our 5 Marks of Mission, and they all reflect God’s promise of love, hope and justice to people in need. God’s mission for God’s church.

Now these are nice words, but there are very real impacts on the ground where our partners work:

Image from Wontulp Bi Buya College, Cairns

Since 1983 Wontulp Bi Buya has been training Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christians to lead their communities spiritually, physically and materially. The staff see their work as more than just a job, but as a ministry to the students and their communities. The students describe Wontulp as a gift from God, where the Holy Spirit shapes their lives, just as fire is used to share and strengthen a spear, transcending cultures and denominations, giving a deeper meaning to all they have known and seen around them and where students become teachers. Graduates from Wontulp return to their communities equipped to lead and nurture the next generation. Covid has presented Wontulp with many challenges which they continue to face with wisdom, ingenuity and grace. As the Principal, Rev Victor Joseph says, they have Big Dreams and big goals, but an even bigger God!

Just to the north of Australia, a group of 40 students has recently celebrated their well-deserved and hard earned graduation from their local Adult Literacy School in Tsuwengai in the Jimi Valley in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, run by the Anglican Church of PNG, through Anglicare PNG. And this means so much more than simply being able to read and write. Seven have been selected to complete their primary education at four local church-run primary schools. 24 women have been invited to join Mothers Union to work in three different locations running local programs. Eight more are now serving their church communities, some as assistants to parish councillors and some as church wardens. And one graduate is now the assistant Adult Literacy teacher at the very school she graduated from. These adult literacy graduates are more fully alive than ever before and it isn’t just them and their families that benefit, the whole community benefits.

These projects reflect what happens when ABM finds out what God is doing…and joins in. So, you might say, what does all this have to do with a group of 9 Anglicans from the Diocese of Adelaide: Rev Jo Armour, Rev Ruth Matheison, Jill Rivers, Rev Julia Denny-Demitriou, Julie Brownell, Sara Blunt, Rev Wendy Morecroft, Andrew Morecroft and myself, who joined with another 20 Anglicans from across Australia, to spend a week in the West MacDonnell ranges, walking 66km of the Larapinta Track? We had found out what God was doing through ABM and we wanted to join in this mission by raising funds and pushing our bodies to achieve something some of us never thought would be possible!

This group of inspiring Anglicans have raised over $122,000 for the work of ABM in Australia through Nungalinya College, Wontulp Bi Buya and overseas through our Community Development Programs in Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, PNG, Myanmar, the Philippines, the Holy Land, Kenya and Zambia.

From a dawn Ascent of Mt Sondor – the Pregnant Lady – to wading through 10°C water at Ormiston Gorge and walking through the stunning and awe inspiring landscapes of the West MacDonnell ranges, we marvelled at the glory of God’s creation and the ancient spirituality of those who walked there long before we came. We shared the Eucharist in the dry bed of the Finke River, said evening prayer around the campfire, slept under the starts and drank in the vistas offered to us each day as reward for our steep and rocky climbs.

Glorious it might have been…easy it wasn’t! We are spoilt here in Adelaide with our well-formed and graded walking trails in the Adelaide Hills. Not so on the Larapinta! The paths were at times challenging and required all our concentration. One seemed literally a sea of rocks where we had to pick our way from rock to rock, trying not to slip and twist an ankle, the path shown by a reduced amount of greenery growing between the rocks…thankfully the ridge was only 10-20m wide so we couldn’t get too lost. Sometimes the path wound its way around steep slope, with nothing but rock on one side and air on the other! Other times we traversed what appeared to our eyes to be sheer rock faces, finding small ledges to put our boots on or rest our poles in, as we lowered ourselves down. Conversation was kept to a minimum, other than an encouraging word or a warning ‘loose rock’ called to the walkers coming behind. At other times the path was sandy or smooth dirt, and flat! Now conversations flowed gently and deeply among the walkers as we shared our own stories, discussed theology, history, parenting, food, work and life in general. And so we fell into a rhythm of silence and companionship, talking and listening, stopping to notice a small plant or reptile (thankfully no snakes!) or the ripples of an ancient sea bed preserved in a rock now exposed hundreds of metres above sea level. Those steep sections called for regular stops to admire the view (in one particularly steep part, that meant every 5 mins!) with lots of photos taken of the great expanses of Central Australia that these vantage points gave us. And always, we knew our support crew would meet us at the other end to take us back to our campsite, with tents and mattresses, toilets (chemical, not flushing) and hot food and a cuppa around the campfire. And it was only for 5 days!

Image from Tsuwengai Graduation
Anglican Church of PNG Adult Literacy Program

Having lived and worked in PNG for ABM, I’ve had the privilege of visiting many remote villages in PNG, invariably on foot. My companions on these trips didn’t have the benefits of walking poles, well designed backpacks and packets of jelly snakes for refreshment. Yet they walked many kilometres along rough tracks, wading through rivers or crossing on rough log bridges, carrying sick children, market goods for sale, building materials for a new house, church or school room, water tanks, or while trying to get medical treatment while themselves sick. We voluntarily took on this challenge – they had no choice. We only did it for 5 days – this is their life. While we can’t solve all the problems these and so many other communities face, we can seek where God is calling us to serve them, to walk alongside them, to recognise their strengths and gifts and talents and to accompany them on their own journey of growth.

Much like our Larapinta walkers stumbled and laboured together to reach summits and enjoy the reward that awaited us at the top of the climb, or were surprised as we rounded a corner to discover a valley opening up before us or the sun breaking through a cloud, ABM walks with our partners through both difficult and more enjoyable times, knowing that the rewards are worth the struggles. There is an honesty that comes with long and deep relationships. There is trust. There is respect. Our Larapinta walkers forged these over our 5 days of walking together. ABM has forged these over many years with our partners. Wontulp Bi Buya and the Adult Literacy Schools in PNG are but 2 examples of what God is achieving through ABM and the support of people like the 9 Adelaide Anglicans and our fellow Larapinta walkers and many of you sitting here tonight. Thank you is such a small word, but our English language doesn’t give us much to work with – gratitude, appreciation, heartfelt thanks. Sentiments expressed by the students of Wontulp Bi Buya and Tsuwengai Adult Literacy School for the gift God has given them – made possible by your support of our Larapinta walkers and ABM. A retiring collection will be taken up for this work and information is provided if you don’t have cash, or require a tax-deductible receipt.

God is at work in so many places and in so many ways. I invite you to find out where God is working in your lives and communities and to join ABM as we work to bring love, hope and justice to many more people, for many more years to come.

Image from ABM Larapinta Challenge 2021
Eucharist in the Finke River celebrating the Coming of the Light