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Aboriginal languages take leading role in Katherine

NEWS | Kaley Payne

Wednesday 6 May 2015

Thousands of Aboriginal people have gathered to worship Christ at the 48th annual Katherine Christian Convention (KCC), held in Katherine in the Northern Territory last weekend.

This year’s convention, gathering over 1,200 people from across the Top End, was one of the best examples of the use of Indigenous languages the conference had ever seen, according to long-time participant Phil Zamagias.

The conference was celebrating “God’s Living Water”, and church groups from some of Australia’s remotest communities were encouraged to bring original worship songs, items and dances from their communities to present at the conference during the night time festivities.

“We heard songs, and Bible readings in a variety of languages. Some of the workshops were also conducted in local languages. We don’t just do things in English anymore. We’re getting as much of it done in the languages of the people as we can,” Phil Zamagias told Eternity. Phil is a development officer at Nungalinya, an Indigenous Christian College in Darwin, and has been the master of ceremonies at KCC for the past eight years.

But this year, Phil says one of the highlights of KCC was Lisa Mumbin, who served as KCC’s first Aboriginal master of ceremonies.

“Lisa went through an Indigenous leadership programme last year, and put her hand up to MC the conference in 2015. She did brilliantly, a natural leader.”

Lisa Mumbin was the first Aboriginal master of ceremonies at Katherine Christian Convention in its 48 year history.

Lisa Mumbin was the first Aboriginal master of ceremonies at Katherine Christian Convention in its 48 year history.

Lisa is a church leader at Australian Indigenous Ministries Church in Katherine and is from the Jowoyn people. She’s also a leader in the Katherine community and says she felt honoured to be able to be part of the Katherine convention in such a public way.

“When I spoke, I really felt like people wanted to listen to me because I was a local and because I was Aboriginal – they were really open and I believe they wanted to listen to someone like me,” Lisa told Eternity. 

Lisa has been attending KCC since giving her life to the Lord in the early 2000s. She says she has been encouraged by her time at the convention. This year, she says, the increasing emphasis on sharing the Bible in Aboriginal languages has been a privilege to witness.

“I thank God that we can have the Bible in our own language. It’s important for our mob to hear and understand the Bible in our own languages. It was a privilege and an honour to listen to people get up on stage and read and sing in their own languages.”

“The convention gives us strength that we can draw from each other, sharing in the unity and strength of Christ,” says said. “That’s the power of KCC. We encourage each other as he hear from the living word. People from very remote areas make every effort to be here each year.”

At the night time sessions at KCC, communities were encouraged to share worship songs, items and dances in their own languages.

At the night time sessions at KCC, communities were encouraged to share worship songs, items and dances in their own languages.

Phil Zamagias emphasises just how important he believes KCC is in the region.

“This is the most important Christian gathering certainly for people in the Top End,” says Phil.

“You can see that by the way people vote with their feet. It’s quite difficult to get anywhere from some of these remote communities. And yet they come. There was one instance this year where a group from Kalkarindji (about 12 hours south of Darwin) set out in a van to get to the conference. Their van broke down and they had to find their way back home. They couldn’t make it, but they tried hard to get here.”

Concerns last year that the conference might have to close due to a lack of volunteers to help with organisation were negated as churches from around the country sent teams of people to assist with preparing sanitation, water and kitchen facilities at the conference’s camp at Murrow’s Farm.

KCC’s chairman Tavis Beer and his wife Kate, both missionaries in Katherine with the Church Missionary Society, said the convention endeavoured to capture “unity in Christ”.

“The thing that really encouraged me was that it felt like a glimpse of what heaven will be like – people from all tribes and nations. To be there together, encouraged by God’s word was very special,” said Kate.

Phil agrees, saying “You come to place like the Katherine Convention, and people notice that there’s no talk of reconciliation. That’s because we’re demonstrating reconciliation as we see our unity in Christ. From all tribes – whether European or Aboriginal – we’re together as brothers and sisters.

“This is a really encouraging event. When the word of God is working amongst people, you see wonderful things happen.”

Photo credits: Tim Zamagias

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