1200km away from the nearest capital city. 600km away from the nearest set of traffic lights. 440km away from the closest town. 440km away from the closest McDonalds. This lands you in the town of Newman. A mining community with the beating heart of the town being the largest open cut Iron Ore mine in the Southern Hemisphere. Every day approximately 400,000 tonnes of Iron Ore is transported, by train, from Newman to Port Hedland. From Hedland the Iron Ore is transported across the world.
Mining is typically a younger person’s profession, so the town is predominantly populated by younger families. The population in the town is anywhere between 4500-5000 people.
Being so far from anywhere in Newman, the vast majority of people in Newman have little or no family in town. This is one of the contributing factors which drives the sense of community in this town.
The best way to get to know people in town is to get out and be a part of the community. There are plenty of activities for kids and families to participate in as well as other community events. The community thrives through people in the town volunteering and being a part of community groups. Such as schools, sporting groups and other community groups.
Last year while my family and I were attending the BCA Family conference Mark Short showed a map of the country which shows the percentage of Christians across the country as taken from the last census data. The least amount of Christians in the population is in the Pilbara area.
My wife and I have experienced this directly, in that many people have no knowledge of what a minister does and what their job is.
For us in our community in Newman this puts us in a wonderful opportunity for evangelism and for connecting into the community in which we live in.
Part of this connection into the community is driven by our own personal needs, but also through our desire to share the good news of the gospel with those around us. Through community groups we have become involved in we have the opportunity to share of our lives and show our love and care for the community through our volunteering and also through being involved in people’s lives.
In a community as small as ours it is impossible to fly under the radar. You can’t escape to the nearest suburb and be anonymous, which is a positive thing and at times a negative thing. But it also means that we have more opportunities than we might in other areas.
During last year we held a number of family events. Such as a Christian alternative to halloween and other events around Christmas. Through these events and our weekly Kids Club program we have seen families not connected to the church begin attending these events and making connections to our church and also people at our church who they know from around our community.
Once the weather in Newman becomes bearable for those not used to it, we see the population of Newman increase as the “grey nomads” arrive in their caravans on their way up and down the West Australian coast. With the stunningly beautiful Karijini national park on our doorstep Newman is a great stopping point to stock up for continuing their trip and seeing the sights. We have opportunities to evangelise to them as they pass through town and encourage them to stop into other churches around the North West Diocese. The North West Diocese clergy are all faithful evangelical men seeking to proclaim Christ in all they do. There have been moments where someone has passed through a town and a minister has made contact with them and begun the process of leading them to Christ, and they have moved on from that town but heading towards another town where there is someone who can continue their journey towards faith. When things like this happen you are reminded that you are working as part of a team. You may be hundreds or thousands of kilometres away from each other but it is a team.
As you may be aware, a lot of the workers on the mines in and around Newman are “Fly in Fly out” (FIFO) workers. Typically we do not have much contact with them as their accommodation is usually outside of town or on the mine site itself.
Last year, out of the blue, I was contacted by one of these FIFO workers who was very distressed at some trouble he had got himself into. He wanted to meet with me so he could get a “religious perspective.” I agreed to meet with him so I could hear his story.
The thing which distressed him the most was that in his eyes he had lived a good life up until now and could not understand why he did what he had done. It was a great opportunity for me to point him towards the gospel and also the idea of original sin and the idea that without the death and resurrection of Jesus, none of us are good enough for God.
After meeting with him, and remaining in contact with him he has turned up at church twice. He keeps on telling me that he does not believe in God and that he is coming to church for some perspective. But he keeps on coming and people at church are getting to know him and pray for him.
In a place like Newman you need to be ready to think on your feet and take whatever opportunity God throws at your feet. Whether it is the person making your coffee or the mine worker you bump into at the shops.
The North West diocese is a long way away from Sydney. There are many differences to working in a suburban context, but there are so many great opportunities to proclaim the good news of Jesus. If you are looking for a change in ministry please contact the bishop Gary Nelson. He would love to talk to you about ministry opportunities in the North West.
This article was originally published in the ACR’s Journal for Winter 2019.