This address was originally given at St Barnabas Church, Kalamunda at a long table lunch held in support of the Anglican Board of Mission Lenten Appeal. It draws upon the scholarship of The Reverend Doctor Lesley J. Borowitzka, and of The Reverend Doctor Bill Leadbetter.

We’re gathered here today to support the Anglican Board of Mission’s Lent Appeal. I’m going to begin by sharing something of the complicated journey I’ve had with the idea of Christian mission.

If you’d asked me about Christian mission ten years ago, I’d have said that mission is often well intentioned, but too often has been a kind of patronising aid – aid with hidden strings attached. Aid that has often come hand in hand with colonisation, and the erasure of First Nations cultures and faiths.

Mission as practised by the Church in the rich west, over the past few centuries, has often been well meaning, but too often has had terrible outcomes. So, even now, if someone asks me to support a church organisation that’s engaging in mission, I have a healthy scepticism about it.

It was learning about a great local hero of the church that showed me that the truth is less black and white, and more complicated. So I’m going to share something about that hero. His name was Dr Louis Giustiniani. He’s become an important figure for me – it’s a shame that his name is not better known.

Presenting this talk, I asked for a show of hands, and only two people in a gathering of well over thirty had heard of Dr. Giustiniani.

Giustiniani was the third clergyperson in the Swan River Colony, sent out here almost two hundred years ago at the request of the Western Australian Missionary society. The role that that society played is now filled by the Anglican Board of Mission.

He was a nineteenth century evangelical; a zealous person, who had once been a higher flyer within the Roman Catholic Church. He was a powerful and indefatigable preacher.

He ministered not far from Kalamunda, in the area around Guildford, and the Swan Valley. He was appointed to form a mission to the Aboriginal people of this place and to instruct Aboriginal people in “the arts of civilised life.”

I can hear alarm bells ringing in all your ears at that turn of phrase. It’s an apt description of the kind of “mission” that I worry about.

Arriving in the colony, Giustiniani was publicly criticised for acting slowly in ministering to the Aboriginal people of this place. His reply, made in the newspapers, was that he was preoccupied with instructing the Europeans, “who [stood] in nearly as much need of instruction.”

Giustiniani was not one to speak in half-truths. He was not a politican.

In his time ministering in Perth, Giustiniani did much to name the evil that was being done to Aboriginal people by settlers: attacks, massacres, and punitive raids.

The senior cleric of the colony, Wittenoom, also served as colonial magistrate. Wittenoom and other Anglican figures of power sat in judgement of Aboriginal people, sentencing them even to death. Giustiniani sat on the other side of the court, offering the defence.

Giustiniani was run out of the colony just two years after he had arrived.

He wasn’t perfect; indeed, he had some terrible ideas as to how the First Nations of this place should be protected. We don’t have to make him into a saviour figure. Yet his costly witness to the violence and deprivation inflicted upon the First Nations of this place stands as a testimony that the first settlers in this place knew what was being done, and at least some of those people knew that it was wrong.

The witness of Giustiniani was by no means desired by the Western Australian Missionary Society. Indeed, they scaked him. And yet it happened – thanks be to God.

It’s through the ministry of prophetic figures like Giustiniani, and many others, that the understanding of Christian mission in our Australian church has been transformed.

If you look at the Anglican Board of Mission website, you’ll see a pervasive awareness that mission should not be patronising, or condescending; mission should not come with strings attached. ABM now focus upon partnerships, partnerships with existing Anglican organisations in Australia and overseas.

They listen to what the people they support wish to achieve, so as to further God’s mission in their own contexts – and then they work with those partners to find ways to support those goals.

All of this empowering work is grounded in the Five Marks of Mission:

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  3. To respond to human need by loving service
  4. To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth

These guiding principles are powerful, intertwined, and deeply rooted in the Gospel.

Your support of ABM today will have real world impacts. The Lent and Good Friday Appeal supports three ABM partners.

Firstly, the Anglican Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza. Prior to the ongoing war, the hospital ran a Child Nutrition Program for young children, and worked to train women in nutrition, self-esteem, and communication skills.

The hospital has been severely damaged in the ongoing conflict. I’m sure we can all agree that they need all the help we can give, so that they can offer vital assistance to the people of Gaza.

Secondly, the Lent Appeal will support the Diocese of Colombo in Sri Lanka, in their efforts to provide educational and nutritional aid to children, and health care and social connection to communities. Their efforts are focussed in the north of the country, which was most profoundly affected by the long running civil war.

Finally, the Lent Appeal will support ABM’s partner organisation in Kenya. Since 2020, Kenya has been stricken by drought. Efforts are being made to help women to establish an income, and to assist people with disability to improve their livelihoods.

In all three cases, you only have to go the Anglican Board of Mission website and visit the Lenten Appeal page to see testimony from people who have been given vital aid through the programmes that ABM support.

In the Gospel of Saint Luke, we hear the words that Jesus read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me: because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted.

The Lord has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted: to proclaim liberty for the captives, and release for those in prison,

To comfort all who mourn: to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,

The oil of gladness instead of mourning: a garment of splendour for the heavy heart.

They shall be called trees of righteousness: planted for the glory of the Lord.

These words are quoted on ABM’s website, at the very top of their description of how ABM carry out their work today.

And so, let us pray.

God of love and peace, bless the people of the Anglican Board of Mission, and the people of their partners in Gaza, Sri Lanka, and Kenya.

Grant that our donations today will further your Kingdom, and help the people of those places.

Send your Spirit of peace upon all people, and hasten the day when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and when people will not learn war any more.

This we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever.