Rev David Ellis, who works in team ministry with his wife and pilot Janette in the Cloncurry-based McKay Patrol Remote Area Bush Chaplaincy, reflects on the power of the Christmas story.
A family loses a primary school-aged child in an on-farm accident just weeks before Christmas. Visiting in the New Year, the younger sibling greets us and invites us in for a cuppa. A little later Mum joins us at the table with a mumbled hello, obviously distressed.
Conversation attempts bring well-articulated and thoughtful responses from the surviving sibling but little from Mum. Dad is away because his work is contracting for other properties in a wide radius of over 400 kilometres.
A sense of desolation mixed with isolation hangs like a fog in the air.
We’ve brought a food parcel; basic stuff, nice stuff and chocolate for medicinal purposes! Our young hostess shows us a full esky at the back door—not just a drinks esky, a fishing esky you could fit a beast inside—from friends and strangers in the nearest community at least an hour’s drive down the road. Others care too.
Eventually we revisit the story and the surviving daughter responds for her mother when it is too hard to speak. Words she’s heard and might understand, but certainly also feels. Mum expresses her gratitude for this young one, this child adult who keeps the household going—even her own on-air schooling.
Listening with our feet under the table, sounding out possibilities for gentle steps forward, exploring what needs could be helped.
How does a mum let go of her firstborn, lost so tragically, and pick up again with life? We pray together and are surprised with Mum’s wordiest response of the morning and a request for a hug as we say our farewells. Our little hostess walks us out and thanks us while Mum stays at the table. We drive away in silence.
Some months pass and while catch-ups are still teary, Mum is out and about again and has resumed her household and teaching roles along with the other tasks of property life.
Then the news of the impending birth of a child. A boy—beautiful, healthy, full of life and energy. Not a replacement for the one still loved and missed, but a loved and celebrated child just the same.
And in a conversation after his birth, at a school event, Mum says thanks again for that very first visit. Through it, somehow she started to think beyond the pain, and to see little steps of hope for living again.
Funny how God works in and around, under and over the events of life. The smallest, most humble, out of the way, seemingly insignificant or futile events can burst forth into life in the outback of Australia or … in a modest animal shed in some place called Bethlehem.
Visit ucanq.com.au/mckaypatrol/about.php to find out more about McKay Patrol Remote Area Bush Chaplaincy.