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Phil is known as the Flying Bible Man. He flies across the Top End from Broome in the west, throughout all of the Northern Territory, the northern communities of South Australia, Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait to share the Word of God in remote communities.
One of the things I love about my job as the Flying Bible Man is that I get to meet lots of wonderful people around Australia who love God's Word.
Bible translation into indigenous languages is an ongoing need and has made encouraging progress in recent years with the publication of new editions of scripture and scripturebased materials. That's fine if you can read, but what if a Bible in your language is as legible as one in Greek or Hebrew?
I have long been aware of the need to have the Bible available in audio format. The method of delivery was an issue though. CDs scratch, tapes get affected by dust and previous audio players needed complex processing.
Enter the SABER - a user programmable MP3 player that packs a punch big enough to 'speak' to a whole church gathering or be placed under a pillow to comfort someone in need. It has internal batteries which can be recharged by a 240v adaptor, a solar panel, or if all else fails, a hand-wind generator! The SABER need never stop telling the Good News.
Since the SABER became available I have had the privilege of taking it to remote communities in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory. Pastors throughout those areas have been enthusiastic about the possibilities for ministry that the SABER opens up.
Reverend M at Milingimbi on Australia's north coast wanted one for every small village in his parish. He told me that the SABER would be like a preacher in every place that would keep 'speaking' God's Word day after day.
Pastor Jerry Jangala from the Tanami Desert community of Lajamanu was equally impressed with the SABER because literacy levels have dropped markedly during the three decades he has been a Baptist minister. He recognises that the Warlpiri Bible is a great asset to his church but few people can actually read it.
For the Warlpiri church, and many other languages, the translated scriptures must be heard rather than read if they are to reach a wider audience and introduce people to Christ.
For this reason, I have concentrated on distributing SABER players to church leaders who will use them to extend their ministry. A SABER can be left with sick people, the elderly or non-literate people in the community bringing messages of hope, comfort and of course, salvation through Jesus Christ.
With the population density of outback Australia being so low, most Pastors can't get around to visit all the communities in their region. In the north's wet season, many communities become isolated for several months and pastoral visits are not possible.
The SABER has met my need for an affordable, flexible and robust audio player that is easy to use and customise. I have now set up a workbench in my office where I can programme SABERs with the specific language materials for the places I am about to visit.
Adding to the ease of use is the excellent website from Global Recordings which allows me to download the audio programmes I need onto my laptop and then arrange the playlist as needed before transferring them to the SABER.
When away on trips, I can take 'blank' SABERs with me and after consulting with the local church leaders, I can select the files from my laptop which are required and load up a SABER customised for that area and to the church's specifications.
Seeing the SABER in use has been a great joy. I am amazed at how easily a crowd will gather around this little 'electronic prophet' when it speaks the local language. During a trip to the Pitjantjatjara lands of Central Australia, a SABER was placed on the ground and a programme in the Pitjantjatjara language played. Very soon, a crowd gathered and began to discuss the GRN programme, The Good News.
The Bible Society is committed to working with GRN to make the Bible available in audio format. More recordings are needed as more books of the Bible are translated. The GRN website will become an increasingly important resource for the distribution of audio files in indigenous languages.
Perhaps the last anecdote should come from Reverend M. During his terminal illness he did not stop listening to his SABER. He was very grateful to GRN and the Bible Society for making a SABER available to him. It was his constant companion during his illness and brought words of comfort to his last days.
Requests are coming in from remote communities every week to supply more Sabers. Please join with GRN and the Bible Society to send an 'electronic prophet' to bless indigenous communities in remote Australia.
GRN's Aboriginal Work
Since GRN Australia began, recordings have been made and distributed in more than 90 Australian Aboriginal languages. Many of those languages are no longer spoken, and copies of some of those recordings are held in archival institutions in Canberra. Frequently the recordings are made at the request of the local people themselves or from missionaries working with the different language groups. The demand for these recordings seems to be increasing rather than diminishing and GRN Australia looks forward to ongoing partnerships with the Bible Society, SIL and other missionaries and churches to make the Good News of Jesus available and accessible to the indigenous people of Australia.
Written by Phil Zamagias