Gäwa Christian School’s amazing story of bringing peacemaking into an indigenous context and providing help to an isolated community

Gäwa Christian School is part of a remote indigenous community on Elcho Island at the very top of the NT.

There are significant challenges in a small community where there is little or no separation between the various aspects of life.

There’s the promise of rich, shared experiences and the formation of close relationships.  But there’s also the ever-present possibility of misunderstanding, offence and lasting relational damage.

When you add remoteness and cross-cultural challenges into the mix, the reality is that damaging conflict lurks close by.  Where do you go when that happens?  Often there seems little choice other than to withdraw or leave!

Enter our NT Director, Geoff Bateman, who sent our National Director, Bruce Burgess, an urgent email asking if we could immediately respond to a request to provide training to Gäwa Christian School.

We saw a window of opportunity to offer this community a different and life-giving alternative to the destructive spiral of conflict that such communities often face.  But it needed to be with a significant reduction to our normal fees.  Could we do it?  Thankfully, with the help of generous PeaceWise supporters we could say ‘YES’ – and that’s what we did!

And so it was that Phoebe van Bentum, who generously gifted PeaceWise her time, and whose travel and salary was also kindly provided by the NT Christian Schools, was able to spend an unforgettable time with the teachers and other staff at Gäwa… sharing the life-giving principles of biblical peacemaking with them to use in their lives and the indigenous community that they serve.

Phoebe says,

As the day unfolded, it became incredibly clear that this course was part of God’s plan for each individual staff member at Gäwa as well as for the school community.  The nature of the small-group setting allowed for extraordinary discussion.  What unfolded was a day of really honest and deep conversations and interaction with the material.

During the day we had Gotha – the Warramiri elder who was instrumental in the setting up of the school and community – join us for a period of time.  This was quite simply profound!  Gotha joined us as we discussed the slippery slope and helped us as we ‘got creative’ in demonstrating a bad way to respond to conflict and a better way to respond.

Gotha led her team through their creative piece by explaining a Yolŋu story of how the fresh water moves through the land.  The interaction and relationship between the Personal Peacemaking principles and the conflict-resolution stories of the Yolŋu culture is clear evidence of God’s redeeming work across all languages and cultures.

Gotha pronounced the Personal Peacemaking course to be ‘Manymuk – very good’ in the way that it addressed issues of conflict resolution.  She took away the book and the Slippery Slope cards, wanting to translate them into Yolŋu Matha.  I travelled back on the plane with Gotha and she was carrying the book with her at the airport and speaking to everyone she believed to be important about the course and how good it is!

The power of PeaceWise’s gospel-embedded training is that it is both preventative and remedial.  And it plays a key role in personal faith development as well.  To be able to offer this sort of empowering training to areas that are often excluded by distance, culture and cost is truly ‘a demonstration of the gospel in action’!

But this isn’t just about Gäwa.  It’s about every Australian country town, every marginalised group, every struggling congregation and every hurting family.  And it’s why we are so thrilled to be sharing the gospel of peace across this nation of ours, which so desperately is in need of the Prince of Peace.

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