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Millions of people in Queensland, Australia would have seen the front-page story in Brisbane’s Courier Mail daily on 21st December 2002. It was about the dedication and “love in action” of a young female doctor, Dr Lara Wieland. It talked of the difference that Lara is making to the immense problems confronting the Aboriginal people in Kowanyama, a remote indigenous community in Queensland’s far northern Cape York “gulf” region.
The fact that Lara, who is the daughter of AiG co-founder Dr Carl Wieland, is a Bible-believing Christian and a keen AiG supporter, is not incidental, but central to her life’s mission, as will be seen.
But first, more about the Courier Mail story (and a related, even larger one inside which featured Lara extensively again in relation to the problems of fetal alcohol syndrome).
Lara is aware that Christians should not seek the adulation of the world. She hopes that the unsought exposure will help in the campaign to stop the physical, social and spiritual destruction she sees at Kowanyama from alcohol and hopelessness. Many people, including children and infants, suffer some form of permanent physical disability from being severely beaten, usually in a drunken rage. Sexual abuse, rape, and suicide have also been big problems during her term there.
She says that when she was interviewed, she urged that the story should not focus on her, but on “the people here and the help they need.” The report acknowledges her rejection of any “flattery”, but cites Noel Pearson, an Aboriginal lawyer who is renowned for urging his people to reject welfare and alcohol and help themselves, who compares her to the late Dr Fred Hollows. (Hollows is an Australian icon, an eye surgeon who devoted his life to being a voice for the health of Aboriginal Australians.)
The paper did not print any of Lara’s comments where she was too overtly Christian, including crediting all her opportunities and abilities to God. She rejects evolutionary notions of the descent of man and the racism which logically follows from them, but she believes, on the basis of the true history of man in the Bible, that we are all “one blood”. She told the reporter that “all are created equal, we are one big human family”. The article did quote her as saying that, though Aboriginal people might have different cultures, “they are the same as the rest of us and [referring to the lack of many basic medical facilities] they are entitled to everything the rest of Australia has”.
Lara knows that what she is seeing is in part a display of the sin nature of humankind, aggravated immensely by complex social and cultural factors, at the forefront of which is the role played by alcohol in the society. But she also has no doubt that the racist legacies of Darwinian thinking have played a big role in the way that this community’s problems have been tolerated for so long with so little concern by the rest of Australia. Lara has also seen firsthand evidence of something which has been acknowledged by Aboriginal leaders such as Pearson recently. Namely, that the “trendy lefty” theories of social reformers in the 60s and 70s have failed. These held that a major part of the problem in the communities was the past influence of the church and missionaries. The answers supposedly lay in eradicating these, removing all restraints, and encouraging only traditional Aboriginal culture. However, Pearson grew up on a Lutheran mission station. He says that even though there were problems of excessive patronizing and so on, compared to the subsequent social disaster, those were definitely the “good old days”. This makes perfect sense to Lara, whose robust Biblical worldview permeates all her actions.
In the accompanying article on fetal alcohol syndrome, Lara’s pro-life, Biblical views were clearly seen when she described the child inside the womb as the most vulnerable person in society. Strongly supportive of new community measures to clamp down on alcohol, she says in the article that she hopes that these will not be sidetracked by arguments about people’s “right to drink”, but that the focus will be on the vulnerable who are suffering.
In an exclusive follow-up interview with Answers in Genesis, Lara said that she is immensely supportive of this ministry, which has been a part of her life from early childhood. “I remember when my Dad started Creation magazine in our sunroom in South Australia, typing away at his electric typewriter, because he had such a passion for this subject. My sister and I were brought up to see the world through the ‘glasses’ of true history. So even when we went through periods of some rebellion as teenagers and so on, we never once doubted that there was a Creator, and we really knew that the Bible was His Word. We could never fall back on evolution, or ‘millions of years’, as an excuse to reject God, to pretend He didn’t exist, or didn’t mean what He said, or to push Him into the background.”
Lara’s husband, Ron Gillespie (as is common in Australian medical circles, Lara keeps her maiden name for professional use) became a Christian largely through creation ministry. A key factor in his conversion, prior to their marriage, was helping set up and carry the books when Lara’s father, Carl, was doing a creation speaking tour of Far North Queensland. “It meant Ron had to hear the message of the authority of the Bible over and over, night after night”, says Lara with a smile. “And my Dad’s same jokes, unfortunately”, she adds with an impish grin.
Lara’s father Carl says that when he went to visit her recently in Kowanyama, like the secular newspaper reporter, he, too, was struck by the community affection for their “Dr Lara”. He says, “Just walking around, there were all these dear children, and every one of them would drop everything to wave, talk to, and even cuddle her.” Carl was also struck by the immensity of the community’s problems, and by the lack of facilities which the rest of Australia takes for granted. Acknowledging that much money has been spent, he says that the problem is that “it doesn’t seem to be getting to where it should be, thanks to human sin.”
While there, he and Lara spoke with the handful of other Christians who are also struggling to start a flame of true Gospel hope and witness among this traumatized people. Carl says, “One young Aboriginal man, the son of a pastor, had deliberately moved there to work as a tradesman to reach the people for Christ.
“His eyes lit up when I gave a mini-version of the ‘One Blood’ message, and related it to the true history of Aboriginal people in Australia. He said, ‘This is what we need; it restores the people to a position of dignity, and tells them the truth about where they and everything else fit together, so it opens the door to the only real hope, the Gospel, Jesus Christ.’
“He was excited about trying to find a way to make it as visual as possible in his own outreach work, because “that’s what Aboriginal people are used to and can relate to.” (Lara subsequently asked for a set of AiG Powerpoint illustrations on the “one blood” issue, so she could use them up there.)
Carl says, “Seeing all those things, Lara’s giving and receiving love, and knowing how she is working to establish a Christian witness there as well, was a greater thrill than if she had been given some Nobel prize. I felt immensely blessed by the Lord to see that. I want to just pass on to as many parents as possible how important it is that their children truly understand the Biblical ‘big picture’, that they are rooted and grounded in a truth which permeates all of life, not just something to make them feel good on Sundays.”