During World War II, E.H. Watson was serving as a chaplain with the Australian army. During his tour of duty, he met several Warpiri who were working in the labor corps. His heart went out to these people, because they were often looked down on and treated as second rates. But even worse, none of the Australian Churches were doing anything to reach these people who lived among them. After the war, Watson went to the South Australia Baptist Home Mission Department and presented the need to work among the Warlpiri people.
The society responded by sending Laurie Reece and Phil Steer, with their families, to start the first baptist mission among the people. Several helpers would come and help, but many of them were short-term and it was hard for the them to get something started with so many people coming and going and not staying. It wasn’t until Tom Fleming and his wife came that things began to move. The Flemings would stay with the Warpiri people and the work there for 25 years. Twenty years after the mission began, the first Warpiri church was constituted and the first Warpiri converts were baptized. The start of the church was a big deal for the Warpiri and nearly all the Warpiri tribes gathered as the head elders of the people presented some of the best land to build a church upon.
The missionaries were very careful for the Warpiri to keep their culture, and this was shown through in the lives of the new Christians. Among the tribes was an event called a corroboree. This was a tribal gathering where the people would reenact epic stories from their history and tribal legends. These events involved a strong use of song, acting, and costume. The corroboree was a a special time of the year for the people and was always followed by celebration. But one year, one of the villages didn’t do a corroboree on a tribal legend or event. They did one on the Christmas story! Soon the idea caught on and the different tribes were acting out the great stories of the Bibles through the corroboree. And not only the stories, but entire doctrines and truths were expressed specifically through the corroborees.
The work among the Warpiri is going strong even today. Many of the Warpiri have become leaders n their churches and, it is recorded, that in some of the villages, over half of the people are committed, dedicated, Christians.
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