#31: Healing leads to ministry

The word translated here as ‘serve’ is translated as ‘minister’ elsewhere in the New Testament. How odd that male translation committees tend to do this when women are involved! Anyway … When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were possessed by demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases. (Matthew 8:14-17)

Jack Charles is an actor, musician, potter and Aboriginal Elder. His mother was Bunurong; his father, Wiradjuri; his great-great-grandfather, Djadjawurrung.

Both Archie and I have a strong commitment to going into prisons and reaching our young-’uns. In 2016 I had the chance to do some mentoring at Loddon and Middleton prisons in Castlemaine. That was powerful and emotional. I don’t take it for granted that I was highly regarded, honoured and respected by everyone in that prison. The officers, the Maoris, the Islanders, the Africans, the Torres Strait Islanders and all. It can’t be taken for granted that it has to be blakfellas doing this work. Elders working with young-’uns.

I’m still pissed off over the fact that those of us of the Stolen Generations are still doing hard time in prisons. It’s intergenerational. If your mother or father was ripped from their family, they never got to learn about tribal lore or customs. Things like nurturing a child by wrapping them in a possum-skin cloak, or learning the basic necessities of the trees your feet brush past and where to find food or medicine in nature.

When I was serving a sentence at Loddon jail I was given the opportunity to be part of an incredible program. It was called Marumali and it was delivered by Aunty Lorraine Peeters and her daughter, Shaan. Marumali changed my life forever. As I discovered more about my culture and, in particular, my kin, I discovered more about myself. It was a thrilling feeling to have a sense of certainty and clarity about who I was, who I came from, the legacy of those great-greats and ancestors and how that determined where I fitted in the cultural context of mob. When you can trace your ancestors, others can trace you. That is what connects our Dreamings.

It was a program that brought blakfellas together to talk openly and honestly about the impacts of being forcibly removed from family and community. It opened up a space for healing, connection, grief and trauma that was invaluable and it stirred something within me that felt like a spiritual awakening. It strengthened my sense of identity and ignited a heightened awareness of my sense of place. The shift within me was pretty powerful after completing that month-long program. The workshops in the program were incredibly hard work, but one month changed the trajectory of my life forever.

I left prison rejuvenated and focused. I also took part in a drug and alcohol counselling course, which was another part of my healing. When I left jail after that sentence, I was finally able to jump off the wicked methadone and undertake the role of my community’s missing feather-foot, Kadaitcha man, lore man. It helped me find my purpose.

Today, part of that purpose is helping Aboriginal inmates. Ω

Reflect: Bearing in mind that ‘ministry’ means ‘service’, and that we are all called to minister / serve, how has your healing led to ministry? Ask God to show you how it might lead to ministry in the future.

#Lent2020 © Sanctuary, 2020 quoting Jack Charles with Namila Benson, Born-again Blakfella, Penguin Random House: 2019. Buy from your favourite bookshop.


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