And doing church. As rural populations dwindle and the culture drifts away from organized religion, distance wields extra tyranny for the churches. At Kalgoorlie's twin town of Boulder, a group of black Baptist pastors has gathered for the first annual general meeting of the Malarrpa Ministries, an evangelical outreach that services the Aboriginal communities of Laverton, 400 km north of here, and Coonanna, 180 km east, and the town of Norseman, 190 km to the south. "God bless us through the heat, dust and flies," says Norseman deacon Les Schulz. A further 200 km south of Norseman is Esperance. Here Anglican reverend Doug Murray recently returned from one of his regular 2,000-km runs to the South Australian border and back, ministering to roadhouses and sheep stations. "They're nearly all Catholic," he says of the people he visits, "but that's all right, because I'm the church presence out there at the moment." Malarrpa and Murray are but two of the foot soldiers in Wilmot's vast territory. But the tale of these two ministries shows the extent to which churches must cross borders - both geographical and cultural - to conquer distance and despondency.
At the Boulder church, the Sunday congregation has gathered before what appears to be an above-ground swimming pool on stage. "Today Gloria is being born again," says Malarrpa's Rev. Peter Marumba. "The water is lovely and clean." And perhaps warmer than this former Apex Club hall filled with around 50 mainly Aboriginal believers. A group of children pass around a blanket with martial arts star Bruce Lee on it. Marumba invites his flock to test the water. "Put your hands in it," he says. As he tells it, such baptisms are at the heart of his church's faith: "It's about dying and resurrecting afresh. When we are born again, we become the light in the kingdom of God."
Four years since arriving from Nairobi, Marumba, 48, is hoping communities like Laverton, Coonanna and Norseman will immerse themselves in the waters of his faith. "If you go to most of the Aboriginal communities, you'll find vandalism there," the Kenyan says. "Property has been destroyed. (There's been) no proper handing over, no proper overseeing." The same goes for Christianity, he believes. After the missionary societies began withdrawing from the area in the 1970s, "those people starved spiritually," he says. "Now we are trying to revive - that is what Malarrpa is all about." Three years ago, Marumba approached the Baptist Union of Western Australia for a $A75,000 loan to buy the old Apex hall, and last year Malarrpa ("true" in the local Wongatha language) was born.
Gloria holds her nose as her head is dunked underwater. "Our sister has risen from the grave of old ways!" exclaims Les Schulz from the stage. But no sooner than a lone hallelujah is heard, Gloria is whisked backstage in a white dressing gown, to emerge through a side door a few minutes later wearing a smart gray suit. Tears spill down her cheeks. "I've prayed all week that the Lord would give me strength, and he has," she tells the congregation. "I feel like a new lady."
In some ways doug murray, too, was born again. After 23 years as principal of Esperance High, in 1994 Murray received his priestly calling at age 66. But instead of taking himself off for seminary training, Murray embarked on a long-distance diploma in theology. "Five years and 25,000 km of travel" later, he became one of Australia's first priests ordained under the Anglican Church's Ministering Communities program. Today Murray holds communion services, prepares families for confirmation and advises the Esperance parish on educational issues - all for no salary - alongside a volunteer army of pastoral care and social justice coordinators. His church might be in Coomalbidgup or Condingup one week, a farmer's lounge room the next. "What we are talking about is a revolution that involves identifying and energizing the gifts that are there within any community," says Bishop Wilmot. "This is what St. Paul and St. Barnabas discovered as they wandered around the Mediterranean basin." Murray's mission is to take the church to the people - even if those people are sheep farmers with 150-km-long road frontages. "We either go down that path," he says, "or we go."