“I thought they would send me a fax saying: Your brother is dead“.
My friend had seen bushfires on the national news, sweeping through the village of Gerogery about half an hour from our home. Thinking the bushfire was close to us, he feared we were in peril. My friend told me earnestly that he refused to eat for two whole days because of his concern for our safety.
This conversation took place several weeks ago, but today I am humbled once again as I remember my friend’s sincerity. We live some 3000 km apart; we are from different cultures; it would seem we have little in common; communication is rare and haphazard. We truly are worlds apart; and yet he cares for me.
I marvel at my friend’s journey through life. Where my own grandparents were firmly grounded in the commerce and education of western affluence; my friend’s grandparents were among the first contact generation who could recount the moment they first saw a white face. Where I take for granted the seemingly inalienable rights of a privileged, middle class upbringing; my friend has struggled throughout his life with the extreme challenges of isolation, poverty, harsh living conditions, cultural disintegration, the devastation of the lives of many of his family and friends, racism, and other trials that I barely comprehend. I marvel at my friend’s engagement with the world. He stands on the platform beside prime ministers and figures of influence in our nation. He is fluently bilingual. He has an enquiring interest in world affairs, and a wide ranging general knowledge. He is a leader, a deep thinker and a man of grace.
I am humbled by his care. Throughout the comparatively minor trials that I have faced in the last 18 months my friend’s voice has ever been one of reassurance and faith. When we talk by phone there’s always a lot of laughter, and my spirit is invariably nourished. He always asks, always listens, he always prays with me, and he prays with simplicity and faith.
My friend is a Ngaanyatjarra Aboriginal man from Warburton; an isolated Western Desert community. I have known Livingstone since my youth, some thirty years ago, when I first went to Warburton as a junior missionary with the Uniting Church Order of St Stephen. I love the warmth and depth that he expresses when he calls me his brother, which has spiritual as well as earthly meaning. Livingston has told me that his father, who I had often worked with, used to speak of me as being ‘like a son’. In the intervening years I have visited Warburton from time to time, usually with an overwhelming sense of bewilderment at the conditions of community life. I had absolutely no idea what the solution to the manifest problems was, and I readily admit to having little understanding still. But I have learned that I have friendship to offer. A meagre gift perhaps, but I can encourage, I can listen, together we can laugh, we can cry and we can pray.
I will be out there in a week or so, spending Easter with many friends. It seems an enormous journey to make once again; the decision to travel has been a difficult to make. I am more than a little apprehensive! In years gone by I have frequently travelled to Warburton and other remote communities to build houses or speak in churches; but this time there is no specific task to perform. On this trip I feel I have little to offer; but offer it I must. And who knows what a little can do?