This morning we woke bright and early… it was 30 degrees at nine am this morning. We went through our usual morning routines, breakfast, coercing Sam into eating breakfast, showers, getting dressed and so on. Just a normal morning for us, except on a Sunday, we have an added activity, looking out our bedroom window to check on the status of church.
Church here happens most nights of the week and on Sunday morning. There is no set time for church and so it can begin anytime between 8.30am and 10.30am. The seasons, events in town and whether the pastor and his wife are in town, all influence the starting time.
This morning, the church bell was rung as I was getting into the shower. It was just the first ringing, which normally is a wake up bell for the community. On a typical Sunday the bell is rung several more times before the service actually starts. We got a bag ready for church and kept doing things around the house, with regular window looks to see if people were there yet.
Finally, we saw people starting to arrive, so we headed out the door. As we went outside, we heard lots of yelling and saw many people gathered around the clinic next door. We had heard some shouts and general noise during the morning but didn’t really think about it… yelling happens a lot here. And usually it is just loud communication and not aggressive or angry. But this had a different feel to it. Two men were confronting each other. Another man was banging on the clinic walls with a metal rod. A teenage boy was picking up a boulder about the size of his head and waving it at others in the crowd. We assumed that someone had died and the family was grieving, but because people were gathered at the church, we headed off too.
Because the clinic is between Rachel’s house and the church, we called her and offered her a lift to church, so we set off in the MAF car to her house, via the scenic route (to avoid driving right past the clinic), collected Rachel and drove to church. Just as we arrived, the people at the church were packing up and leaving. Sunday school was still happening under the big tree though. We chatted with the people as they were leaving and they explained that they didn’t have a full church service today because of the upset in town. They had just gathered to pray and now were going home.
The pastor Gundu and his wife, Maritja were still at church so we had a good catch up with them. They have been in Gove for several months and we have missed them. It was so good to see Maritja again. I got the biggest hug possible and Sam enjoyed her tickles!
They were also able to tell us what was going on… Apparently last night some young men had been drinking at an outstation near here, when things turned aggressive. One man was injured by an arrow to his chest. He is now being treated in the clinic and may possibly need to be medivaced to Gove later today. So the people sitting outside the clinic are his family, sitting and waiting for news.
It is interesting how when something like this happens in a community like Numbulwar, everything is impacted. People are sad and angry over the event. Family members wait for news. For some reason the store is closed – which may or may not be connected to these events. It has been closed a lot recently due to cursings. The church service is shortened, out of respect or for the safety of church attenders, I’m not sure.
And so it sets us to pondering…. We’re still so new at living in this culture and so we often don’t know how to react to the situations that face us. We don’t know what the cultural way to respond is. But we also haven’t considered how God would have us respond in this type of situation, because we haven’t faced it before. In our culture we know what to do to celebrate a birth or how to help when someone is grieving, but in this culture we are still learning. And it is a steep learning curve.
We often need to stop, think, talk to each other and to other Christians in the community, when something like this happens, so we’ll be prepared and know what to do next time. We also recognise that we do need to be aware of our safety, but surely there is a way that we can show God’s love in this situation without endangering ourselves.
For me my heart went out to those family members who are sitting and waiting in the hot sun for hours on end. Maybe they are the ones we could reach out to. Unfortunately by the time we had thought all this through, we have missed our chance to act this time. The young man has been taken to the airport for a flight to the hospital in Gove. (An organisation called Careflight does medivac flights in Arnhem Land as they have trained doctors and nurses on board, but if they were not available, MAF could be asked to do a flight like this.) So while we are a little sad (and perhaps feeling a little guilty) that in this situation we seemed to do nothing, I am beginning to realise the importance of these thought processes. Now I have a plan! Next time I do some baking, I’ll do an extra batch of muffins or bread rolls to keep in the freezer for emergency times such as this. Maybe by taking out some food and a drink to those are anxiously waiting might show that we care about them and that we are sharing in their sadness.