STEVE AND FIONA BIGNALL
Returning to Australia in 2010 after 13 years of church and mission service based in the UK, the Bignalls now serve with AIM in a member care, church development and field training ministry. They are located in Gilgandra, north western NSW, in membership with the local aboriginal church there. Gilgandra, New South Wales
Who Is AIM? Beginning in 1905, formerly known as the Aborigines Inland Mission, AIM operates mainly in New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory seeking to support the Gospel ministry of aboriginal believers and churches, plant churches in indigenous communities and provide in-field training and support.
From the beginning the goal was establishing Aboriginal Christians to lead and guide their own people. With the benefit of hindsight, AIM would recognize that injury was caused through initially paternalistic attitudes. Overcoming these difficulties many churches have grown up, often not exclusively aboriginal but all having strong indigenous membership and cultural perspectives.
In eastern regions fellowships exist from Palm Island in north Queensland to Dubbo in central NSW. The AIM Church Council has been established, a committee of representatives from indigenous churches, which now takes responsibility for such things as the appointment of pastors, care of property, and oversight of leadership training, together with men’s, women’s and youth fellowships.
In the Northern Territory and western Queensland most of those ministered to are tribal Aborigines, for whom English is often a third or fourth language. They generally live in difficult circumstances and remote locations with little resources – the larger communities where AIM ministers endure social degradation brought about by the wide abuse of alcohol and solvents. Mortality rates are many times higher than the national average. Overall AIM operates in 25 interstate locations.
The mission places its major emphasis on preaching, teaching and application of God’s word but is also supportive of initiatives toward developing good living skills, better health and education, and ability to cope with temptation and trouble; seeking to build a sound Aboriginal Christian community.
Indigenous and non-indigenous workers are placed at major centres like Darwin and Alice Springs, in Aboriginal communities and outback towns. Undertaking pastoral and teaching roles, children’s work, helping to evangelize, disciple, develop leadership and the local indigenous body. Others have wider-ranging itinerant ministries, visiting small groups and families, travelling many thousands of kilometres each year.
AIM as a faith mission depends upon support of its workers by the designated giving of churches and individuals. Costs of living as well as ministry, vehicles, fuel etc. are to be met by each missionary -100% of support funds received by AIM are passed on to the specified field personnel. The level of committed interest in Australia‘s ‘backyard’ indigenous mission field is not generally high, therefore numbers of workers ‘tent make’ to stay in their post.
The Bignall’s Role: Gilgandra serves as home base: Steve is responsible for member care and church development throughout the eastern states, involving 15 churches. This means road travel over a wide area of Qld and NSW and keeping in regular contact. We need to maintain an open home for local or travelling believers – Fiona regularly prepares hospitality.
When workers are on furlough, ill or burdened, Steve will provide preaching cover or pastoral help. He regular monitors mission resources, seeks to connect workers and assists in deploying TEE training (Theological Education by Extension). Fiona also works to encourage wives or single female workers. A NSW worker’s fraternal now meets quarterly.
The Bignalls are called to encourage and participate in the life of the aboriginal church in Gilgandra and in gospel outreach to several smaller settlements around the area. Fiona works with local children in Sunday school, youth group and holiday clubs, as well as visiting indigenous homes and developing closer relationships with our indigenous sisters. Steve seeks to encourage the church’s elder through prayer, study and service together.
We are learning from our indigenous church family and thank God for their love and commitment. Our daughter is thriving socially and spiritually after 10 months and the ‘culture shock’ seems minimal, for which we thank the Lord. There are difficulties and challenges seeking to live within rather than merely visit the aboriginal community. Racial tensions and prejudice are sadly evident in bush towns.
Steve teaches secondary school R.E. in four towns (over a 140 km radius) on Tues, Wed and Fri each week; an opportunity for Gospel ministry and part time income. In 1 town this has developed into outreach beyond the school with other believers becoming involved.
We are truly grateful for your love, prayer and practical support – ‘Brethren pray for us’ – and please come and visit, we would love to introduce you to our community and field.