The Coming of the Light to Australia

The Coming of the Light to Australia

Author: Phil Edwards

It is likely that you may have heard of Rev. Richard Johnson – he was the first to preach the gospel on Australian soil in Sydney on February 3, 1788. The arrival of the Word of God on our shores was hugely influential in shaping modern Australia, lead to many of the good things we enjoy today. If you consider its true meaning, perhaps it really should be marked with a public holiday!

Well, on a recent trip to Thursday Island, I was surprised to learn that there is indeed a public holiday in Australia celebrating the coming of the gospel, backed by a story of incredible transformation that is sadly little known in our country.

Thursday Island is at the very top of Australia, 30 km from the tip of Cape York in Queensland on the Torres Strait. The islands are named after Luis Vaes De Torres, a Spanish explorer who sailed through the Torres Strait in 1606 but never claimed the territory for the Spanish.

From revenge killings to peace

With hundreds of islands surrounded by beautiful blue waters, the Torres Strait is a special place, but in the 1800s it could also be a scary place to be. Terrible conflicts and reprisal killings between different island groups were commonplace, and the area was heavily exploited by outsiders. But half a world away, a group of missionaries felt God calling them to leave the comforts of home to travel to what must have seemed like the ends of the earth to bring light into the darkness.

So, on July 1, 1871, Reverend Samuel MacFarlane and South Sea Islander evangelists and teachers from The London Missionary Society arrived at Erub Island. They were met by a Warrior Clan elder who initially saw them as a threat and confronted them – no doubt he was willing to kill them to defend his people. However, as a sign of humility, McFarland fell to his knees and offered a Bible as a gift. The warrior accepted the Bible, and with this act of kindness Christianity was first introduced to the people of Torres Strait.

Christianity was quickly embraced by the people, and a wonderful thing followed – the conflicts and murders that had previously been commonplace ceased.

The Coming of the Festival of Lights

The significance of the coming of the light is remembered and celebrated each year with a public holiday on Thursday Island (which incidentally is the administrative center of the Torres Strait and home to 37 different state and federal government departments – all of which hold also the day where!). The Arrival of the Light festival is a big event where memorial candles are lit, hymns are sung and there is a re-enactment of the missionaries’ arrival, dancing and feasting. It represents coming out of darkness into the light and symbolizes an awakening to spiritual darkness.

This was my first trip to the Torres Strait, and I was so encouraged to learn more about this part of our history. I was equally grateful to these missionaries who so willingly positioned themselves to be used by God in a place where the ministry I lead (Vision) works with local believers to continue to share this life-changing truth of the gospel by taking advantage of the opportunities we have today. , just as these missionaries used the opportunities before them all those years ago. Our goal is the same – to help people look to God and walk the daily journey together, encouraging, affirming and challenging as we bring the light of Christ into today’s dark places. It’s very special!

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