It would seem a rather sad occasion to spend two consecutive Sundays commemorating the death of an important person, particularly if their life was cut short at the age of only 50 years. But that is what happened up at Hermannsburg in Central Australia recently, as the community celebrated the life and work of Lutheran missionary Carl Strehlow. Carl and his wife Frieda are remembered for their service among the Western Arrarnta people of the region, and Carl’s legacy includes extensive Bible translation work and writings on First Nations languages and cultures. Commemorative worship services were held in two locations on the 24th and 31st of July, one at Hermannsburg, the other 300km south-east at Horseshoe Bend on the Finke River.
The sermon text for for the Hermannsburg service, Isaiah 55:8-9, was preached by Ingkaarta Neville Doecke and translated into Arrarnta by Pastor Marcus Wheeler to nearly 300 people gathered outside the Old Church at Hermannsburg. It leads us to think of God’s thoughts and plans. God’s big picture takes in more than the present. ‘All things work together for good’, as Romans 8:28 reminds us.
Carl Strehlow’s tragic journey to Horseshoe Bend – where he died while trying to reach medical help after he became seriously ill with dropsy – viewed 100 years later, clearly shows God’s ‘big picture plan’. Hermannsburg Mission did not close down, Frieda found fulfilment in six valuable years working as Matron of Immanuel College, their young son Theo grew up to follow in his father’s footsteps and continued to make huge linguistic and anthropological contributions. Most importantly, the Western Arrarnta people, led by the strong faith and commitment of ‘Blind Moses’ and other evangelists, continued to preach and teach and spread the message of God’s amazing love for his people. The Gospel message did not die with Carl Strehlow! Aboriginal pastors from all the language groups in Central Australia continue to sow the seeds of the Gospel. ‘The words I speak,’ announces the Lord, ‘will not return to me without producing results’ (Isaiah 55:11).
The sermon text for the Horseshoe Bend memorial is found etched on the base of the cross on Carl’s grave – Hebrews 11:25-26. Sixty people travelled four hours from Alice Springs to gather in the dust and burrs at the base of a small hill, to both ponder Carl’s fateful journey and hear God tell us that his big picture plan includes two important details. For believers in Jesus there will be hard times and suffering, but we must look ahead to the gift God has for each of us – life forever with him. The grandson of Carl and Frieda, John Strehlow, who had made his own rather difficult journey to travel from the UK to Alice Springs, unveiled a plaque to commemorate the occasion.
We praise and thank God for his big picture plan that wove together the lives of Carl, Frieda and the Western Arrarnta people for his continuing work of growing the Gospel.
Photos (clockwise from left): John Strehlow at his grandfather’s grave; Ingkaarta Neville Doecke & Pastor Rodney Malbunka leading worship with Carl’s grave in the background; Congregation of nearly 300 people gathered outside the Old Church in Hermannsburg’s Historical Precinct. Images courtesy Pastor Neville Doecke.