By Malcolm Willcocks
Tea time one night, the phone rings. An Aboriginal Pastor and his wife have been medically evacuated from their remote community 230 kms to Alice Springs Hospital. The Pastor’s wife is ill. Will I come to visit them in the Emergency Ward? Certainly.
I’m relatively new to this area and still learning the language. However, given the circumstances I think it best to try to bring some words of hope and comfort in their heart language, which is Luritja. I’m learning Pitjantjatjara which is very similar to Luritja, so that will do.
I started off ok but soon I am stumbling over unfamiliar words. My brother Pastor suggests we read the prayers, Bible passages and liturgy for the sick together.
While we are reading together, his wife is sitting up in the hospital bed and heartily eating the meal they had provided for her. To my untrained eye she did not look very ill. When we got to the Lord’s Prayer, she joined in, praying from memory those well-loved words.
We two pastors read Psalm 13 together. This was the first time that he had read this psalm and it gave him a lot to think about. We shared the blessing together and then I left, leaving with him a piece of paper with a simple cross and the words of the Aaronic blessing in Pitjantjatjara…
Mayatja Godalu nyuranya pulkara pukulmara atunytju kanyinma. Mayatja Godalu nyuranya pukultjungku kanyinma mukulya pulkangku. Mayatja Godalu nyurampa wiru mulapa palyanma nyura pukulpa wiru rawa nyinanytjaku. Amen!
May God bless you and keep you safe. May God look out for you and be gracious to you. May God look upon you with favour and give you peace. Amen.
I went home feeling like a pretender. “What help did I really give to this poor man and his wife, when I couldn’t even say a few basic words of hope in their language?”
The Pastor stuck the piece of paper on the wall above his wife’s bed and settled in (as best one can in ED) for the night. Things took a bad turn around midnight and by 5am his wife was dead.
At his wife’s funeral, this Pastor spoke about his wife and their life together. He also spoke about 3 times in his life when the Cross of Jesus had had a significant impact on him. Can you imagine how shocked and surprised I felt when I heard him describing the third cross. The cross he had placed above his wife’s bed. Just a bit of paper with a cross, but what hope and peace and strength that cross gave him and his wife as she slipped so quickly away from this life.
Great worship in the eyes of some is wonderful music with uplifting lyrics, carefully choreographed liturgical action and words, and an inspiring message. And quite possibly, they would be right. But, the quality of worship is not limited to these things. Words and actions can be fumbled badly, yet worship can still have great consequences. Going to stand by my brother pastor was an act of worship. His kindly helping me along with the language was an act of worship. His sticking up a paper cross on the wall was an act of worship, which served him and his wife well that terrible night.
Worship is proclaiming who God is. The Bible teaches us that no one can proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord (God) except with the revelation and help of the Holy Spirit. So really, worship is enabled by God to help us proclaim the truth about God. Loving and obeying God and loving others, treating them like we would like to be treated, are the foundation of all worship however basic or sublime.
Malcolm Willcocks is a Finke River Mission Ministry Support Worker,
supporting the Pitjantjatjara speaking peoples in Lutheran communities