Ronald Morton and Raylene Ferguson tied the knot in the remote Indigenous community of “Aputula” (also know as Finke) in 1999. This isolated settlement is situated 230 kilometres south of Alice Springs, a short distance from the geographical centre of Australia.
In this same year, Raylene’s older sister Lorraine, who was living in Port Augusta, South Australia, discovered the wonderful truths of the Bible. She began keeping the seventh-day Sabbath and enthusiastically shared Bible texts with the people of her Finke homeland. She called friends and family, including Raylene, and shared how she was now attending Sabbath services. Raylene began to consider being baptised but it would be some time until she officially made the decision.
Lorraine sent the complete set of “Net 99” DVDs to would-be viewers in Finke. Presented by Doug Batchelor, the series uncovers Bible prophecies and world events leading up to the soon return of Christ. After some time watching the videos, a number of people in Finke expressed the desire to attend Mamarapha College (the Seventh-day Adventist Indigenous training college based in Western Australia).
In 2002, Lorraine had the opportunity to accompany remote area senior pastor for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ministries, Don Fehlberg, on a trip to Finke. Pastor Eric Davey, national ATSIM director at the time, and some other community members joined them.
The two cars and their passengers converged along the highway that runs through the centre of the continent. The final leg of the trip traversed 134 kilometers of red dirt road diverting off the Stuart Highway. This long unsealed road, which crosses many dry gullies and long open stretches, brought the travelers east from Kulgera to this impressive Simpson desert community. Upon arrival, the visitors were warmly welcomed and Pastor Fehlberg registered a few people to Mamarapha.
Pastor Fehlberg ran many evangelistic series’ over the following years, and a specially-designed desert dwellers church edifice was constructed by volunteers, which became the Finke Church building. A special grand opening was held over the weekend of October 25 to 27, 2012, and four Finke residents were baptised.
This notable event, as well as the preceeding work of many volunteers, catapulted this spiritually thirsting desert mob to even greater spiritual heights. Concerts by Steve Darmody and other special events enhanced their interest and commitment, as well as continued support and visitations from future ATSIM leaders Pastor Steve Piez and Pastor Darren Garlett.
Even General Conference president Ted Wilson graced the desert dwellers church with words of encouragement. Many church representatives have boosted the confidence of the locals in the obvious fact that they are noticed, loved and cared for by many. One of the attendees was Raylene.
After attending many of these events, Raylene made the decision to be baptised in Finke in 2013—13 years after her sister first shared with her the true Sabbath doctrine. Raylene’s mother Christine and son Arthur, along with other community dwellers, were later baptised as well.
Ronald and Raylene shared a common belief in Jesus from the beginning of their relationship, but Ronald didn’t believe in the seventh-day Sabbath. Raylene wanted him to join her in keeping the Sabbath holy, but Ronald wouldn’t budge from his Sunday tradition. Lorraine and Raylene prayed for Ronald, that God would give him dreams to influence him to accept the Sabbath. God answered their prayers, sending dreams, but Ronald’s reaction was that “they were only dreams”. In his mind, dreams didn’t really prove anything. The sisters persisted in prayer.
Toward the end of February 2021, Ronald, Raylene and their grandson Kurt Lee visited the homeland of Ronald’s parents. The home is found on the outskirts of Titjikala, a community of around 200 people about 100 kilometres south of Alice Springs, consisting of the Southern Arrernte, Luritja and Pitjantjatjara traditional landowners.
It was here a supernatural, life-changing event occurred.
During Sabbath, Raylene invited her husband to join her and Kurt Lee in a Bible reading and worship service. “That’s your church’s Sabbath! My day of worship is tomorrow,” he remonstrated with her.
So Raylene and Kurt Lee began their devotions with prayer as Ronald went nearby to tinker with his car. As the grandmother and grandson began their time with the Lord, they heard footsteps approaching them from behind. Opening their eyes, they saw 20 wild desert donkeys cantering up to them in a most unusual encounter. Stopping only a few metres away from the enthralled pair, this unexpected congregation of bush animals proceeded to nod their heads up and down vigorously. Kurt Lee commented, “Look Nana, they want to join our worship and keep the Sabbath too!” And this is exactly what they did.
After the Bible reading and singing, Raylene and Kurt Lee proceeded to kneel in a benedictory prayer. The sun had now climbed high into the sky, almost reaching its midday zenith. At the conclusion of the prayer, they looked up to see the three leading donkeys kneeling reverently. Meanwhile, the rest of the donkey congregation bowed their heads in an act of worship, demonstrating their solemn respect to the Lord.
“Hey Ronald, come and look at this!” Raylene called excitedly. “Something is happening here!” Ronald turned from his car to behold an amazing sight.
Fully absorbed in the captivating scenario, he and Kurt Lee, walked slowly up to the Sabbath-keeping donkeys. To their delighted surprise, these normally shy and unapproachable desert dwellers allowed the grandfather and grandson to affectionately stroke them.
Never before had such a Sabbath day worship service been witnessed or orchestrated in such a strikingly supernatural manner. That is, of course, not in this Red Centre desert region. Balaam’s donkey now has around 20 descendant companions that have joined him in demonstrating that the Lord of the Sabbath is still in control of His creatures.
After this miraculous event, Ronald was convinced about the Sabbath day and quickly followed up with Bible studies with Mancel and Jubilee Doughterty, who have worked as remote Bible workers for eight years. Ronald joined the Finke mob in worship, playing the keyboard and guitar, leading out in praise and worship. Finke church folks were inspired, energised and motivated to share their faith, more than ever.
Around 10 relatives at Kenmore Park outstation, across the border in South Australia, have now shown interest in the Sabbath thanks to their friends at Finke sharing the Word of God with them. Finke church have faithfully introduced the Sabbath to a number of nearby communities. The whole Finke musical ensemble will travel more than 700 kilometres to Mount Liebig later this year to spend a week ministering in the Central Western Desert Region, at the invitation of the Lutheran pastor and district elders there. They have heard of the Finke mob’s musical talents and Bible-based faith.
At a special program held during the first week of May, Ronald, Kurt Lee and 15 others requested baptism. On May 20, the Finke mob drove to Alice Springs and camped in tents and swags on the church compound. Two days later, on Sabbath, they were baptised. Now four generations of Lorraine and Raylene’s family have been baptised into the beautiful Sabbath-keeping church of the last days. And Ronald is now a vibrant and active part of the ministry there. The Lord has added one more precious person to the Church that only Sabbath-keeping donkeys cooperating with heavenly angels could convince.
More than 50 people have now been baptised from the Finke community since 2010. Virtually everyone who has seen how God has raised up a body of believers, a church structure, and a permanent Bible worker husband and wife team in one of the remotest places on the planet, glorifies the Lord for His amazing grace and providential leading. The ratio of Sabbath believers has now grown to around one out of every four inhabitants in this parched, arid setting.
The Lord always prevails, even if donkeys are needed to convince precious souls such as Ronald, who now has no doubts as to which day is the Sabbath day. Surely the Spirit of God is moving over the red sand dunes into the hearts and souls of His wonderful people, who are waiting to join together at the glorious appearing of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
David Gilmore pastors the Alice Springs church, NT.