Mamarapha: educating a generation

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Mamarapha graduates 2019.

Nestled in bushland on the outskirts of Perth is an oasis of peace, a wellspring of knowledge that is refreshing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities throughout Australia. Mamarapha College has a life-changing impact on the work of ATSIM (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ministries), which may only be fully realised in years to come.

“Mamarapha is key to much of the success and growth of ATSIM,” says Mamarapha principal Pastor David Garrard. “The college provides an opportunity for spiritual transformation,” he continues. “Countless students have come with broken lives and leave healed, equipped and empowered.”

Several health students are now working in their communities while Mamarapha pastoral students are currently employed in roles such as chaplain at Karalundi, North NSW ATSIM director and Bible work.

Henry Dunn is a Bible worker in the Redfern/Waterloo area of inner Sydney (see more of his story on the next page). Involved in feeding the homeless, starting social groups and even a prayer room and juice bar, Mr Dunn is heavily involved in ministering to the community.

“We’re empowering the local community to grow the kingdom in Redfern,” he says. He preaches at The Way and the Mt Druitt Indigenous group once or twice a month. “I’m a product of Mamarapha College,” he says. “I wouldn’t be in ministry today if it wasn’t for Mamarapha.” Read more of Henry’s story here.

Such is Mamarapha’s reputation that many students come from communities where there is currently no Adventist presence.

Baptisms at College 2019: Douglas (left) and Ashley (right)

In 2019, the college saw the baptisms of Douglas and Ashley, two students from Ampilatwatja and Ali Curung (Northern Territory) respectively—two communities with no Adventist presence.

Yet, despite all its recent success, Mamarapha is facing some significant challenges this year.

After a record graduation class in 2019, with 59 graduates, 2020 started with promise as Certificate III to Advanced Diploma students began classes in February. A very large first-year cohort was enrolled to start in March. According to Pastor Garrard, it was exciting to see some third-generation students attending. But, by mid-March, classes were cancelled and students had to return home due to COVID-19 restrictions.

No classes means no income for Mamarapha as classes weren’t able to move online.

“A lack of literacy and technical skills and access means challenges to moving online. However we have reached a crucial point where we now have to set up online learning,” explains Pastor Garrard. “We are waiting for camera equipment to arrive so we can begin recording.”

Interstate students were not able to attend while WA locked its borders, and many students within the state come from high-risk remote communities that have been designated bio-security zones and are therefore unable to travel without risking exposure to COVID-19.

“Students have been regularly calling us for start dates and asking when they can come back to class. They are also asking for prayer,” says Pastor Garrard. “They really miss the college.”

But the team has not been idle.

From 1997 to 2019 Mamarapha students have come from all of these locations around Australia.

Mamarapha staff have used the student-free time to work on fine-tuning administration, finance and student management systems, updating OH&S policies and procedures, and exploring options for developing new courses covering topics such as Indigenous mental health and permaculture/horticulture/bush tucker and bush medicine.

Mamarapha’s impact reaches right across Australia, educating more than 1400 enrolled students since establishment in 1997.

“Considering our networking capacity and with the right support, Mamarapha has the potential to diversify and increase ministry impact and be known as a leading Indigenous institution throughout Australia,” says Pastor Garrard.

The Australian Union Conference offering for Mamarapha (Sabbath, August 22) will help the college to provide the services and ministry that is so integral to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ministry.

“The offering is important because our external funding has been cut the past three years and we are yet to replace it,” shares Pastor Garrard.

“If the wider church body was aware of the incredible ministry impact of Mamarapha right across Australia, they would understand how crucial the college is to the Adventist Church regarding ministry to Indigenous people.”

There are other ways to support the college beyond financially.

“The main areas of support that we need are financial assistance, helping students with their studies and practical ministry requirements at home, volunteering skills such as tutoring, marketing and IT, and of course prayer.”

Mamarapha hopes to reopen for classes by September.