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Sudanese refugees bring the word to indigenous Australians

NEWS | Anne Lim

Tuesday 11 August 2015

The deep grooves in Yousif Kunda’s skin bear witness to the persecution he experienced as a Presbyterian missionary in war-torn Sudan. But his eyes shine with the warmth of Christ’s love that has kept his passion for mission alive.

He and his wife Vivian Ajawin, a tall, elegant woman from a prominent political family in South Sudan, travelled all over the country showing The Jesus Film, attracting big crowds in both Muslim and Christian areas. The increasing Islamic influence in the government and education system meant they faced continual harassment and disruption from the police and security forces. They were frequently questioned on their movements and contacts and Vivian, as the sister of a leader in the South Sudan Liberation Movement, was arrested several times.

“It became a problem for the family,” says Vivian, a high school teacher of Christian education.

“It was very scary; you do not feel secure and anytime you can just see security staff watching you and you feel targeted. It becomes a trauma and even when there’s no one following you, still you can’t relax.”

Yousif Kunda and Vivian Ajawin

Yousif Kunda and Vivian Ajawin

After seeking God’s guidance in prayer, Yousif and Vivian fled Sudan as refugees in 1998. They lived for eight years in Cairo, where Yousif completed a bachelor of theology, then in 2006 came on humanitarian visas to Melbourne.

Last year, after completing a graduate diploma in divinity from Ridley College, Yousif began to seek God’s will for returning to the mission field.

“I put many organisations and different countries in front of me. One of them is Australia and one people group is the Aboriginal.”

Yousif’s prayers were answered and he and Vivian have moved to Sydney to work with Global Recordings Network, which produces audio recordings of Bible stories and teaching using indigenous voices and music.

Finally, they are working as missionaries again, with Yousif recording and editing oral Scriptures and Vivian doing administration and promotions at GRN’s new Australian headquarters in Prospect, northwest Sydney.

GRN was started in the US in 1937 after Joy Ridderhof, a missionary to Honduras, was forced by sickness to return home. When a doctor told Joy she would never go back to the mission field, she prayed and came up with the idea of doing recordings in Spanish for her converts, most of whom couldn’t read or write.

The idea caught on and in 1953 a second major centre was established in Australia, where the staff now exceeds 30 with up to 70 volunteers. The global network has grown to encompass 22 centres and another 20 bases (smaller operations). They produce audio-visual Bible stories and other evangelistic material using local voices, culturally appropriate music and storytelling styles and occasionally drama. A new app, 5fish, provides access to nearly six hours of material in languages and dialects.

“I’m working on the Aboriginal language of Eastern Arrernte that we recorded last year in Alice Springs,” Yousif tells Eternity.

“I just finished the editing and we have sent the recording to Alice Springs, where they will evaluate it and send it back if there’s anything we need to change.

“The second step is programming. We just insert some music from that area with the voice within the chapters and then we have it programmed and made available through the website or different devices.”

Yousif confesses that before he went to Alice Springs to record three Old Testament books and 17 New Testament books in Eastern Arrernte, he was confused about how the project would work.

“I said ‘I don’t speak the language of the people – how am I going to communicate with them and interact with them?’

“But first of all we have a translator and we have people called language helpers, and we can record what they are saying. They should know the language well so that they can just pick any mistakes or correct anything.”

Yousif was warmly welcomed by the indigenous people he met in Alice Springs.

“The people there just received me and called me a brother – fella! With respect. So I find that God gave me grace in their eyes and I began to deal with them and understand how to deal with the language helpers.”

After developing a master script in English, Yousif used various methods to record in the indigenous language.

“If the language helper can read well, then he can read this and we can record straight away,” he explains.

“If not, then maybe we can record paragraph by paragraph or block by block. Or if they can’t read, they orally communicate, then we need just to tell them the story and then they can tell it in their language and we can record that.”

Graydon Colville, international director of GRN, says the Australian centre has done recordings of more than 90 Aboriginal languages, some of which are no longer spoken. But he stresses that the centre has a global perspective and he would like to see Yousif to focus next on working in the Sudanese Arabic language.

“There are projects where several countries are involved to record in unrecorded Sudanese languages,” he says.

“There are a lot of networks working in Sudan at the moment, but we may be able to support what they are doing with materials that are otherwise not available, perhaps for training of people in refugee camps so they go back their villages better equipped or better resourced.”

Yousif adds he is also thinking about developing scripts to help heal Sudanese heal from the trauma of civil war.

“Today Sudan is in chaos, and many of our churches have been confiscated or destroyed by the government,” he says.

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