Today is National Close the Gap Day. The lack of Closing the Gap is an ongoing injustice. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continue to die too young and too often from this injustice, and through these gaps we realise the inequality in these lands now called Australia.
I am proud to introduce Bianca Manning to you as your new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Coordinator. I first met Bianca through the Grasstree Gathering 2018 and was struck by her passion for justice and our mob, her respect for our Elders and Aboriginal Christian Leaders, and her ability to pursue Reconciliation as friendship with non-Indigenous Christians. Bianca’s appointment in this role helps me to feel less tired and means Common Grace continues to live out the example of Aboriginal community in working across generations. Bianca and I work so well together, including with Aunty Jean Phillips, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian Leaders right across these lands now called Australia -- Brooke Prentis, Common Grace CEO
I feel extremely honoured to be stepping into the role of Common Grace’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Coordinator.
I remember being on my year 10 work experience when I was asked what I want to do in the future. Confidently I replied ‘I want to fight for human rights and social justice for Aboriginal people.’ Though I had little bearing for what these tag words practically meant, I did know that I had a passion to see great change across this nation.
I am a Gomeroi woman on my mother’s side and was raised to be proud of my Aboriginal heritage. The injustices and discrimination faced by Aboriginal peoples was never something I could hide from, or push to one side. It was a reality for my family. My grandmother was a member of the Stolen Generations, being taken to Cootamundra Girls Home at age 3 before being sent out as a domestic servant at 14, and my mother was also removed from her family at a young age. I saw the resounding impacts of this, alongside experiences of racism, and statistics personified in the lives of my family members, that cemented my desire for healing and justice. I also saw the incredible resilience and strength of my family and community, especially my mother, who is now a Social Worker working with Aboriginal families who are at risk of entering the Child Protection System.
Growing up on Awabakal country, in Newcastle, with my mum, dad and two brothers, faith or church was never really a part of my life. I always liked the idea of a God watching over me, but my perception of Jesus was tainted by Christians in the past and present who didn’t represent Him well. And amidst the injustices I saw in the world around me, I wasn’t sure where God could even be. However, I soon encountered God in a very real way, and began to experience His heart for my people.
My journey with Jesus officially began after meeting some students from the local Youth With A Mission (YWAM) base at a shopping centre when I was 15. They invited me to a youth program called Youth Street at YWAM Newcastle, where I joined the dance team and met incredible people who loved me so well. A month into attending this youth program, I had an encounter with the presence of God and decided to say yes to Him. From that moment I’ve been on a journey of getting to know the God of the Bible, growing in my relationship with Him, being part of His family, and seeking to follow His voice and direction in my life. I’ve experienced such incredible love, joy, healing and hope in Jesus and I’m very passionate about continuing to seek Him and know Him more.
I didn’t know many other Aboriginal Christians and I wrestled with questions around my Aboriginal culture and new-found faith. However, it was God who kept speaking to me about my identity as an Aboriginal Christian and affirming His love for my people and His plan for redemption and healing.
I continued in my pursuit of God after school as I joined YWAM, then felt led to study Social Work the following year at the University of Newcastle while leading the dance team at the youth program that I gave my life to Jesus at. During my degree I continued to learn about the continuing impacts of colonisation, as well as the wider social frameworks that Aboriginal peoples experience sit in. I completed my honours paper on the topic of ‘asset based community development in Aboriginal communities’, which focused on concepts of empowerment, local leadership, community control, and incorporating Indigenous knowledge and practice frameworks for real change to occur.
In 2018 I attended the Grasstree Gathering where I met Aunty Jean Phillips, Brooke Prentis and around 80 other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christians. To be amongst so many Indigenous Christians unified in one place was such an encouraging and affirming experience. God has opened so many doors and opportunities to listen and learn that I am extremely grateful for.
I began working as Common Grace’s Communications Officer in February 2019, where I have worked across our justice areas coordinating our online communications output. I then had the opportunity this year to lead our National Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC Week campaigns.
My desire as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Coordinator is to learn, honour and serve.
I recognise I still have much to learn. As a young Aboriginal Christian Leader, I highly value and honour the incredible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian Leaders who have gone before me. I am in close relationship with Aboriginal Christian Leader Aunty Jean Phillips and I am currently spending time serving her ministry across South East Queensland. I am privileged to serve and to amplify the voices of Aboriginal Christian Leaders.
I believe that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice is everyone’s business and I am eager to empower the Common Grace community to listen deeply, to learn, and to respond.
I believe that prayer is powerful, that God sees, knows and cares more than we do. Our struggle is not against ‘flesh and blood’, and with the Holy Spirit living in us, we are empowered to love radically and to act and pray to see God’s Kingdom come.
My main goal and purpose in this new role, along with all that I do in life, is to experience more of Jesus. To know Jesus, and to make Jesus known. Jesus is the goal! And Jesus is justice, Jesus is compassion, Jesus is healing, hope, understanding, redemption and love.