Cultural immersion a life-changing experience
Cultural immersion a life-changing experience
19 May 2022
Major Erica Jones is the Youth and Young Adults Secretary for the South Australia/Northern Territory Division. She recently took part in the division’s 2022 Cultural Mission Immersion Experience from Darwin to Alice Springs and reflects on a life-changing experience.
“The Northern Territory and its people have both captured and disturbed my heart, my attention and my voice. What does this mean for me? I’m not sure, but I’m so grateful to be a part of this spiritual pilgrimage that already has filled me with courage and strength. A trip of the heart, this journey continues …” – Major Christine Waller, participant.
Thirteen people took part in the Cultural Mission Immersion Experience of the Northern Territory this year, covering more than 5650km from Darwin to Alice Springs, visiting three national parks, and participating in lots of walking and prayer.
South Australia/Northern Territory Divisional Commander Major Lance Jeffrey said the mission experience was an opportunity to “connect with local Salvation Army personnel and local Elders, to learn how to connect with people from different cultures.”
“It was an opportunity to discover the relationship between Aboriginal spirituality and Christianity, visit areas that have cultural significance to the locals, enjoy and immerse ourselves in the great Australian landscape, participate in prayer walks, educational teaching, outreach, and so much more,” he said.
He was right – there was so much more.
Some of the words participants used to describe their experience were: transforming, integration, enlightening, uplifting, inspiring, hope, encouraging, heart-warming, possibilities, blessed and impelling.
The word used to describe this mission opportunity was ‘pilgrimage’, which involves a stage of preparation, a journey, a challenge, and arrival at a destination.
Team members took part in several training sessions leading up to the mission experience, completing online cultural training, familiarising themselves with new communication skills, leadership theory and spending time learning about First Nations peoples. One of these days included spending time at a reconciliation garden in South Australia and hearing directly about the Stolen Generation from people whose story is entwined with this part of our history.
The team began the 2022 Cultural Mission Immersion Experience on 19 April, with a Larrakia Elder sharing a Welcome to Country with us at Darwin Corps. Immediately we knew that ‘story’ was going to be a large part of our experience. ‘Kuliah’ (listening) was central to the interactions with people along the way. Participant Maddison Clutterbuck said her takeaway was that she needed to “just stop and listen, including to God”.
The Darwin part of the experience included time spent at different mission expressions – watching, listening, helping and admiring the staff and participants.
It quickly became very clear that ministry in the Top End was special. It was also clear that the work is plenty and the workers few, challenging us about how we could help beyond this short journey. It was also special to spend Anzac Day in Darwin, 80 years since the bombing of Darwin, to stand where bombs once fell.
Two days in Katherine included a trip to the hot springs for refreshment. We participated in the Katherine Corps Bible Discovery Method Church led by Aux-Lieutenants Samuel and Michellie Higginbottom. The Spirit of God continued to be felt the next day at Nitmiluk National Park. A cultural tour through the gorges brought to the forefront just how amazing our God is and how connected Australia’s First Nations peoples are to land and spirit.
The middle of our pilgrimage experience called for a day of Sabbath, reflection and fun. Litchfield National Park didn’t disappoint, with participants swimming under waterfalls and bushwalking, engaging in transformational conversation and talking about the challenges observed so far.
We continued to Alice Springs (Mparntwe), the land of the Arrernte people, and again we were warmly invited to share in a Welcome to Country by a local Elder. We listened, learned and shared with local staff and participants about ministry in Alice Springs. We travelled to a point overlooking the town and prayed for the city, Central Desert First Nations people, local service providers and Salvation Army expressions in the area.
Thursday and Friday were spent working at The Waterhole Community Centre. We saw the impact of the Making it Happen project and how donated funds would create cultural safety, and why it was needed. The Waterhole provides a space for people to access dignity services, air-conditioning/heating, tea/coffee, food and art facilities.
We took part in a prayer walk at the Telegraph Station, where Major Christine Waller challenged us to discern “how and who we were going to pass the baton to”.
There was also a day trip along the Larapinta Trail. The gorges, gaps and chasms created moments of deep spiritual connection to the land, with many participants unable to hold back emotions as the creation of God became palpable and overwhelming.
Captain Sarah Healy captured her experience with these words: “My heart, the way I see and engage in the world around me and my creativity have been disturbed and inspired all at the same time. It’s one of those experiences that will continue to ruminate in my soul and ministry for many years to come.”
Kate: “The workers are few but the harvest is plenty – we experienced this first-hand in the beautiful Northern Territory. Spending time in this part of the world has again reminded me of God’s incredible creation and our part to play in it.”
Tony: “The pilgrimage gave time and focus on the work the Army undertakes for Christ in this beautiful place. I saw joy, relationships and a true working of our mission and ministry in the NT. I also was reminded of the need to see each day and circumstance as it is, to ‘look’ with the lens of grace rather than just through the lens of my past experience.”
Paul Tanner, who wrote a Psalm reflecting his Top End experience, which was a particularly powerful moment during the trip: “I’ve flown, driven, walked and sat ... I’ve witnessed hope, anger, grief and despair ... I’ve met with friends, who have helped me with love and prayer ... I saw God’s endless beauty and creations, it’s hard to compare. Thank you, Lord, for this journey, I’m blessed, I’m grateful, at peace and uplifted.”
The Cultural Mission Immersion Experience was borne out of a great need to identify people that may be interested in serving in the Northern Territory. The NT is a beautiful, although challenging place to serve, and yet we believe that there are people around Australia that have already been called by God to serve in some capacity in the NT and with our First Nations Peoples. If you would like to enquire about ministry in the NT or you are interested in participating in an experience like this in the future, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org