Whilst I was at Lajamanu I was fortunate enough to attend a Baptist service in which Bishop Haigazoun Najarian and Deacon Nishan Basmajian from the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Holy Resurrection in Chatswood, Sydney gifted and blessed two Armenian khachkars (or cross stones) to the indigenous Baptist Church, under Jerry Jangala Patrick, the local pastor.
Baptist missionaries had visited Hooker Creek from the early 1950s to teach their version of Christianity to the Warlpiri, then they were resident from 1962. In 1978 settlement was handed to Aboriginal community control and renamed Lajamanu. The Church was an example of an Indigenous Baptist church in Australia; one that is culturally ‘hybrid’, with a local identity. The bible on the lectern, for instance, was written in Warlpiri.
I did not know the relationship between Warlpiri cosmology and the Baptist Christian one; nor do I know whether much work has been done on the relationship between Aboriginal cosmogony and the full breadth of biblical creation theology. This is important because the cultural aspects of Baptist ceremony and ministry lose their relevance unless they are anchored in the Warlpiri’s beliefs, customs and values. Cosmology is the prime mover in Warlpiri society.
The reason for the Armenian Apostolic Church’s gift of the khachkar is that the local Baptist Church at Lajamanu is so poor that it did not have its own cross.
After the standard Baptist church service Bishop Najarian, in gifting and blessing the khachkars, evoked the difficulties that the Warlpiri and Armenians faced, historically and currently. Both, he said, had been subject to massacres – the Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks and the Warlpiri by white pastoralists , miners and police – and both had to fight for the survival of their respective cultures.
After the service a mutual statement was hand-written and signed by the Armenian clerics and by the local pastor and Warlpiri elder, Jerry Jangala Patrick at the Learning Centre. It reads: “Together we acknowledge the past massacres of Yapa people and other Australian Indigenous people and the genocide of Armenian people in 1915. We stand together today as brothers in solidarity.”