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Electronic prophets speak in remote Australia

MISSION NEWS | Suzanne Schokman

Tuesday 21st August 2012

Caution: The contents of this video may be distressing to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island communities as it contains the image and voice of a deceased person. The deceased had also earlier given permission for his image to be used after his death.

When the late Rev Mawunyndjil Garrawirrtja (video, above) first saw the Saber audio device, it was the day he’d been diagnosed with terminal cancer. There was little sign of a heavy heart, though, as he marveled at the device, and thanked those who had helped provide it. He called it a “good idea” and said that it would bless his community.  He knew that by the “repeating, repeating” of the Scripture and songs in their heart language, his flock would continue to receive the Word, long after his own voice was stilled.

At the time, though, he little anticipated how much the device would be a spiritual lifeline for him in his final few months.

It was 2009, and Phil Zamagias, then the Bible Society’s Flying Bible Man, had taken the Saber unit to Milingimbi Island in East Arnhem Land, where Rev Mawunyndjil was a Uniting Church minister. Milingimbi is 500 km east of Darwin, located not just in remote Australia, but 1km off the mainland as well.         It was – and remains today – a community without a Bible printed in the local Gupapuyngu language.

Into this void stepped the Flying Bible Man, and the Global Recording Network with its Saber audio device – a rechargeable, user-programmable MP3 player, loud enough to address a whole church gathering.

Phil says an Aboriginal crowd will easily gather around an electronic prophet like the Saber, when it “speaks” the local language. “During a trip to the Pitjantjatjara lands of Central Australia, we just placed a Saber on the ground under a tree. In no time at all people came out from their homes to hear what was being played in the Pitjantjatjara language.

“I have long been aware of the need to have the Bible available in audio format,” Phil continues. “There are a number of hardware options available, but what’s really important is the content…. the recordings,” he says with passion. “We need support to keep on making more recordings, so that all the Scriptures translated so far can be made into audio formats.”

The late Rev Mawunyndjil Garrawirrtja first saw the Saber audio device on the day he’d been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Aboriginal people in remote communities take the time to sit and listen to the Bible being preached, and then to ponder and discuss what they hear.

That’s why Rev Mawunyndjil wanted one for every small village in his parish.

As the cancer took its toll, he grew too weak to hold a Bible, and Rev Mawunyndjil lay listening to the Saber, taking comfort in the Scripture and songs recorded on it. It was his constant companion during his illness and brought words of comfort to his last days.

Rev Mawunyndjil passed away two months after receiving the Saber, but his desire that more Indigenous communities would get an audio device lives on. He said it would be like a preacher in every place, that would keep ‘speaking’ God’s Word day after day.

There are many requests from remote communities every week to supply more Sabers. Please join with the Global Recording Network and Bible Society to send an electronic prophet to bless indigenous communities in remote Australia.

You can donate to Bible Society’s Audio Indigenous Scriptures project here.

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