Exploring culture together
By Alan Rogers | Wycliffe Today Spring 2022 |
The following is the extended version of the article included in the Spring 2022 edition of Wycliffe Today.
Wycliffe, SIL and the Australian Society for Indigenous Languages (AuSIL) partner closely with one another, and other like-minded organisations, to support the work of Bible translation in Indigenous communities. Earlier this year, AuSIL ran a weekend camp for young adults, in conjunction with several other mission agencies and churches. Alan Rogers offers a reflection of what it means to explore a different culture through camping.
‘When I was younger, so much younger than today’. So starts the song Help! by The Beatles.
And that’s how this camp started – when I was very much younger than today. David Cummings (Wycliffe Bible Translators Australia’s Director at the time) had the idea in 1965 to run a Vacation Jungle Camp, modelled on the SIL Jungle Camp run in PNG, to orient members to living and working in the Pacific region. My parents helped with that camp, and because they couldn’t find babysitters for two nine-year-old boys, my brother and I went too. I’m glad we did. The camp was at Buffalo River, way up in northern Victoria, so attempts were made to bring it closer to home.
David knew a Christian pig farmer, Graeme Wells, with a farm in Kangaroo Ground, and with scrounged materials, they built a laundry, a kitchen, a cook’s flat and half-a-dozen long-drop toilets. Geoff Morrow was later appointed as the Young Wycliffe coordinator, and ran many camps there. I attended as a camper for several years, then moved up to helping with practical activities. After our first term in the Northern Territory, I helped run a camp there again for Bible College students. It was a good site.
But that was thirty years ago. Is the age of Christian camping over? I don’t think so. I think the prices for rural properties have gone up, rates have gone up and bureaucracy has gone mad, so camping is way more expensive and less affordable than it used to be. Here in the Territory, a lot of families go camping during the mid-year holidays. It’s cooler than at Christmas, but pleasantly so, so a lot of kids grow up with good camping experiences.
I was thinking about this when COVID-19 hit. Schools cancelled bookings at the Riyala Christian campsite just out of Darwin and suddenly the right weekend was available to us. In faith, I booked the third weekend in June. We don’t have any publicly-known paths here for youth to follow towards cross-cultural service, so this is a new and needed option for the Darwin churches. That being the case, I felt that it needed to have an interdenominational flavour. We could have staffed it entirely with Wycliffe and AuSIL people, but we sought representatives from CMS, the Baptist, Catholic and Uniting Churches, from Pioneers and AIM, and brought up Josh and Amy Bartlett from Brisbane.
The threefold thrust of the camp was to present the heart of God for cross-cultural missions, to challenge the campers with their place in His mission, and to hold out the carrot of bushcraft. Each leader had the chance to present one or two stories of how they’d heard God speak to them unmistakably. Five of them were able to present the topic for the camp—the five verbs expressed in Jesus’s Great Commission: to go, preach, disciple, baptise and teach. We were all encouraged to ask the question, ‘If our churches really believed Mt.28:18-20 and Mk.16:15 to be Jesus’s Last Will and Testament and binding on us, then how different might the Church be today?’
Since it was a bushcraft camp, we covered a number of bushcraft topics: knot tying, fire lighting the Indigenous way, finding and purifying water, bush driving and tubeless tyre repair. We also burnt four local timbers in identical ways, and measured the hottest temperature, and timed the fires’ duration (this, to test the Indigenous assessment of good firewood as needing to burn all night to make fire lighting easier the next morning). It wasn’t all science – we got to toast marshmallows and sing around the fires. Our cook was able to buy and use bush foods in our meals, so that was extra special.
Since it was the first camp of its type, it wasn’t surprising that camper numbers were down. In fact, we had more leaders than campers, though we only knew that at the last minute. Since the camp in June, two churches in Darwin have told us they’ll urge their youth to come next year. So we’re looking forward to expanding our reach. Ox Roberts from Scripture Union Northern Territory has also endorsed the camp as fitting in with Scripture Union’s Camps line-up, and gave us a lot of help in meeting legal requirements.
We have received positive feedback from both leaders and campers, and will be building their suggestions into next year’s camp: 16-18 June 2023.