Old Man passed away last week. He was the local pastor of the church here in Numbulwar and one of our first friends here. In aboriginal culture it is inappropriate to use a person’s name after they have passed away, so instead we call him Old Man. If you are a follower of our blog, you will have heard numerous mentions of this man. We miss him already.
His death was sudden, as although he had many ongoing medical issues, we just didn’t expect to say goodbye so soon.
Old Man has been the pastor here for about ten years. He and his wife faithfully served the church during that time, often standing against traditional culture and ceremonies to follow Jesus. They were to be found on most days at the church, gardening and taking care of the property.
In recent weeks, someone in Darwin donated a car to Old Man to enable him to get around town more easily. We would see the green car driving past several times each day as they went to the church, home or fishing. Jason and I joked that he should charge a fee to his passengers and become the Numbulwar taxi service, as he was often at the airport picking up passengers or dropping them off. This generous gift allowed Old Man and his wife so much more freedom to get around, we hadn’t really realised just how stranded they were by their health beforehand. But it was great to see them out fishing with their family so often.
On Sunday mornings Old Man would be at church at about 8.30am. He would put Vision radio on loudly through the church PA system for everyone to hear and then ring the church bell. No one else can ring that bell with as much strength as he did. Sam would excitedly run to the front of the house, where the bell is and frantically shout his greetings to Old Man. “Hello! How are you? Church today?” I’m pretty sure that Old Man couldn’t follow half of what Sam was saying, even we struggle often… but he would always talk to him before heading back to the church. Sam loved him because Old Man always made time for him.
One Saturday morning a few weeks ago, Jason was cleaning and the kitchen and I had my nose in a book, when we suddenly realised it was quiet. Where was Sam? Jason was sure he was at the toilet, and in a moment of irresponsible parenting we didn’t check. A few minutes later, we heard someone outside calling us. Jason went out to find Old Man there with Sam. Sam had let himself out of the front door, and headed off down the driveway to the council buildings where the local bus was loading up passengers to head to Katherine. Old Man saw him as he was trying to board the bus, still in his pyjamas, and brought him safely home for us.
Old Man was always encouraging for anything us as MAF staff wanted to do or try. He was so positive about the easter event we did in April and was very excited too about another film night we wanted to hold as a farewell to Numbulwar from MAF. When the CWCI ladies visited, he was down at the church early getting ready, when he noticed some ladies heading out fishing… very concerned that people would go fishing and not come to our meeting he rang the church bell over an hour before our event, so the ladies would come to the church and be around for our meeting.
We are thankful for his witness in this community and his faithfulness in following Christ. Old Man taught us a lot about perseverance, as his role and life had many challenges. Jason appreciated his fishing advice and company, as one of only three or four men who attend church regularly. I loved seeing Old Man and his wife serving Christ together, as this too is a rare sight in Numbulwar. We loved to see his face light up in a smile or belly laugh. We praise God for his friendship to us and those MAF staff who have gone before us. But as Sam continues to remind us, “Old Man is with Jesus now.”