Faith leads to action.
This short sentence could be the catch cry of any history of Christian Mission. Early missionaries worked to develop schools, medical services, leadership training and churches. They advocated for their communities and their human rights. People gained skills, living conditions improved and many discovered the love of God for themselves. We know in hindsight that not all of the action of Christian Mission was helpful. Sometimes cultural values and structures were not appreciated, and western approaches were imposed on others (colonialism).
This month we celebrate faith that leads to action. The beginnings of National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) week can be traced back to the 1930s. More specifically, the 1938 launch of a national Day of Mourning and also to William Cooper (a Yorta Yorta man), who was pastored by Daniel Matthews (a Christian missionary).
After a church service in January 1884, Cooper approached Matthews and said, "I must give my heart to God". This is a beautiful expression of commitment to Christ. In the following years, Cooper influenced many others, one being Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls — also a Yorta Yorta man.
Becoming Christian was foundational for Cooper in the activities he became involved in. These included the establishment of the Australian Aborigines League in 1935. In the same year he led the first Aboriginal deputation to a Commonwealth Government Minister and, in 1938, the first visit to an Australian Prime Minister. William Cooper died in 1941.
William Cooper’s faith led to action. Action on behalf of his people and action that could not be diverted by the conservative political environment of the time. He mentored others, and maintained his commitments to his faith and people throughout his life. We remember his sense of hope and expectation as we celebrate NAIDOC week.
James writes: So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead (James 2:17). The verses that follow practically apply this statement. Yes, we are not saved by our own works – however, our faith calls us into action.
Christian Mission is full of stories about people whose faith led them to action. I know not all these stories are good. However, some — like William Cooper — stand as a continuing inspiration to live out the gospel. It also inspires us to act against racism and discrimination on the basis that all of us are God’s children and are made in God’s image.