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  • Timothy Richards

Meeting my grandfather


It was late and I was tired and hungry.

It had been a long night. The clean-up was done, the youth leaders had all headed off and I just needed to pack the car and then youth was all done… home… and then bed.

Maybe a snack?

I had barely eaten anything for dinner in my haste to get out the door… okay snack then bed.

"Wawa?"

An older Yolŋu man, white hair, dark skin sitting peacefully on the concrete outside of the church. Behind him, a Yolŋu woman asleep on the concrete with a bag under her head as a cushion.

"Yo" I replied

"Have you got any food?"

"Bäyŋu, sorry wawa. I don't have any food with me."

"mm"

I go to turn off the lights and lock up.

"Wawa?"

"Yo"

"Wawa…"

I turn to look at him and he pats the concrete next to him. I comply and sit cross-legged on the ground.

He looks up briefly at the sky and says:

"Jesus said… we should give food to the hungry ones…. Give them food like with separated sheep and goats."

Wow, that was a new one. I had been humbugged before (pressured to give money or food or a lift) but I'd never been pressured to give with the threat of hellfire. Unfortunately giving any of these were rarely the best option in the long run… but the best option to give was food… but I had no food with me.

I then remember the food in the cupboard in the church that has been donated for the youth group- something that he may have had some awareness of as he may have seen the youth eating.

"Ah, sorry wawa. The food inside is for the youth group, it's not mine to give you"

"That's okay wawa. I understand."

I realise that he may have thought I was lying until I had said that. Group owned property that can't easily be shared is a concept that translates in Yolŋu culture… on the flip side, having something and not giving it when asked by family- and that's all Yolŋu- is dishonourable- that might be why he's been calling me wawa (brother)- to establish a relationship connection so he can ask something of me.

"How are we related wawa?"

"What's your mälk?"

"Buḻany. I call Braywah Ŋapipi"

"Oh!…Mari, you call me Mari"

"Mari… is that grandfather?"

"mmm" he says in the affirmative

We talk for a few minutes about where his homeland is, where I am from and who adopted me.

"Gutharra, I sleep here at the church, because Jesus. Jesus is the reason. Sometime I drink. I drink and do things. Sin, I sin… but I sleep here to be close to Jesus. Close to Garray, to God. I don't want sin, but I sin."

"Paul talks about that in Romans, Mari. Would you like me to read it to you?"

"Yo."

I read from Romans 7

14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

ESV

As I read, my grandfather speaks out his deep identification with the 2000 year old words: "that's me" and "this is written about me"

Two men identifying with a text that calls out across the millennia of the broken state of being… Who can save us from this? The chapter finishes with victory, with Jesus.

By the end of the adventure I had driven him and his wife to their home (only 10 minutes out of town)… by the time I made it to bed, my family had grown. Now I knew my Mari, my brother in Christ.

Please pray for him and that we might be able to connect again.


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