Fern Martins and The Easter Love Story

When Fern Martins agreed to work with Bible Society Australia Publishing to produce a Christmas story book and an Easter story book with her gift of art, it was her prayer that she could create a work which was respectful to God’s word and respectful to Aboriginal people at the same time. “I just kept on praying about it,” Fern said. Having moved out of the mainstream art scene around 30 years ago, Fern has since strictly painted God’s glory and illustrated the Scriptures.

Fern came to faith in Jesus as a young single mother, having left an abusive relationship and returned to an area she used to visit with her grandmother — Newcastle NSW. While renting a caravan at Caves Beach, Fern repeatedly heard a voice urging her to, ‘Thank the Lord for what you have received’. Turning to the Aboriginal Fellowship for support, Fern visited church with an elder, and though she was uncomfortable — “I sat up the back and I thought, ‘get me out of here as fast as you can’” — Fern realises now that “God had his plan”. After hearing a sermon from an Aboriginal preacher, receiving prayer, and being given both a tract and a Bible, Fern began reading the book of John. “That evening, when I had put the children to bed, I opened up the book of John and I started to read, and it was spirit speaking to spirit. I’d been born again … it was an overwhelming, transforming experience. I could understand the spiritual essence of what God’s word was saying. And from that moment on I was transformed. I had gone out of a darkness into the kingdom of light. It was an immediate transformation.”

In her book, God’s Christmas Promise, Fern, ably assisted by Bible Society Australia’s Publishing team, combined her love for Jesus and her gift of art to produce a storybook which blessed many. “It’d be lovely to have God’s favour on it and to touch people’s hearts with the story of Christ, [people] who would normally see [the Christmas story] as just a colonial concept, not understanding the depth of spirit, the depth of life, that God has given us through Christ. Normally I wouldn’t work the way that I did with this Christmas story because there’s a lot of dot work in it … [but] I had to think of the audience it was going to. If it was going to take the blinkers off Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people to see the gospel, to see Jesus … I used the dots as a tool to draw them into the story, to attract a different audience to knowing about the birth of Christ and the promise.”

Fern’s prayer for her book was answered, with many people blessed by it. Bible Society Australia Publishing combined Fern’s beautiful artwork and words from the Bible into a beautiful, readable and relevant story book suitable for a broad audience. Bible Society Australia supplied more than 570 churches, schools and individuals with 80,000 copies of the book in the months leading up to Christmas. “What a gift to Australia to have our magnificent First Nations culture reflected in the story of the nativity,” said Nicole, who received free copies from Bible Society for her church. “What richness this will bring to our churches to use it and how proud I am to share this with our community to reach them with the message of Jesus this Christmas.” Christine was another who received 200 copies for her church from Bible Society, which were distributed to children, the homeless community at the cafe church, through family Christmas hampers, community housing and her church’s Christmas lights display. “The artwork is superb, and the… explanation of the Aboriginal symbols makes it very special.” Sue, another recipient on behalf of her church, found that the book led to many conversations across all age groups, such as those between grandparents and their grandchildren. Sue extended her gratitude for the book, saying, “I want to thank you for your Christmas booklet featuring Aboriginal art with a lovely retelling of the Christmas story. We loved its creative approach and the way it invited people to consider Jesus in a new way.”

This Easter, Fern’s second book, a companion to God’s Christmas Promise, has been distributed to churches by Bible Society Australia as a part of the Jesus. All About Life campaign, with over 120,000 copies printed. Again, Bible Society Australia Publishing collaborated with Fern to create The Easter Love Story. Fern’s prayer in creating this book was that she illustrated the Scriptures correctly, with integrity and honour. As she created the artwork for The Easter Love Story, Fern was holding both Aboriginal and non Aboriginal Australians in her heart. “I’m hoping that us Aboriginal people in Australia would feel the inclusiveness of the Easter story. We’ve suffered a lot of rejection, hatred and persecution. I really want to let my brothers and sisters across the country know that God has accepted us, and we were made in his image. I want all Australians to come to understand that we are all created in God’s image.”

Among the artwork presented in the book, Fern’s favourite is the one portraying Jesus breaking bread and sharing wine. “That to me is all about forgiveness and servanthood,” Fern says. “That night Jesus was talking about being a servant and teaching them how to be a servant through his ministry. To serve each other in love. And that was part of my journey, as an Aboriginal person, to see Jesus, and give love back to people who have hurt us so much.”

As she worked on this book, and as it is received by Australians this Easter, Fern’s prayer for all people is that they would know that the only reconciliation we can have is through the blood of Jesus. “This is the only real healing I’ve experienced as an Aboriginal person — and I deal with racism on a daily basis. You can forgive through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. God’s made a way for that. Through his Son.” Fern wants people to know this Easter that they are loved and forgiven. “We reach out to them and say, we want to forgive. Aboriginal Christians are asking, be a part of the body of Christ with us, let’s be united in one Spirit.”

Read More