A love of flying and a call to bring Bibles to remote Outback communities are both vital prerequisites for Australia’s Flying Bibleman. Born of the vision of pioneer pilot, Trevor Booth, in 1966, the Flying Bibleman ministry now stretches from Broome in the west, throughout the Northern Territory, and to the northern communities of South Australia, Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait. It’s an area covering over three million square kilometres or 40 percent of Australia’s land mass.
Over the years there have been six ‘Flying Biblemen’. The role is currently held by David Curtis, who recently flew the winners of Bible Society New Zealand’s Mission Adventure competition, Caitlin Finlay and Julia McIntosh, into the Outback to learn about translation work and to distribute Bibles to remote Aboriginal communities.
Previously the role was held by the Rev Phillip Zamagias for eight years. He is now the National Manager of the Bible Society in Australia’s Translation and Indigenous Scripture Division.
Phillip Zamagias is well aware of the challenges that remote Aboriginal communities are facing. “The impact of the modern world upon them has been such that the traditional tribal way of life is eroding, with many social consequences,” says Phillip.
“But translation work can have a positive effect. The translation team and local Christians can influence the whole community’s way of thinking."
Instead of feeling inferior, communities start to believe that they’re privileged to have the Gospel and that they are brothers and sisters in Christ together,” says Phillip.
“We want to offer people the Bible as the foundation for their lives, to help them interact with it, so they can transform their own lives and their communities.”
But the challenges of translation work remain great. One of the problems is recruiting local people as translators. Unfortunately, education levels tend to be low, but translation work is also unpaid and for men, in particular, there are greater drawcards such as tribal duties or government work to get involved in. So, the work often falls to women who tend to stay at school longer and are more involved in the church.
In many ways, little has changed since Len Harris’ day. “Many of our people simply sit in their house or under a tree and write out their translation in a notebook,” says Phillip.
But in spite of these challenges, the Bible Society of Australia has eight indigenous translation projects underway in languages such as Kunwinjku and Nyoongar. It’s keen to see Australia’s oldest inhabitants nurtured with the Word of God in their heart language to help them with the many challenges they are facing.
Seventy year old Jin can’t stop smiling or singing. She’s walked for three hours in sub-zero temperatures to get to church.
The reason? Today, free Bibles are being given out to the congregation. And she’s got one.