Almost 500 kilometres from Alice Springs, in the southwestern corner of the Northern Territory, lies a little town in the shadow of Uluru.
In that little town of Mutitjulu lives a proud Pitjantjatjara woman whose life has focused on sharing God’s love to her family and community: Kunpry Peipei.
And just as the setting sun turns Uluru a burnished red each evening, Kunpry’s heart reflects God’s light to the world.
Kunpry’s service to her church was recognised with her installation as a parish worker on January 14 this year, by Pastor Hezekiel Jingoona and Pastor Mark Reid, in her small local Lutheran church in the centre of Mutitjulu where she regularly leads Sunday services, and assists with holy communion.
Kunpry, who turned 69 on New Year’s Day this year, is passionate about sharing her faith with her family and the small Aboriginal community located inside the boundary of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, in the shadow of Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock.
This passion can be seen most clearly in her work translating more than 100 hymns from Arrarnta into Pitjantjatjara, so her community can sing praises to God in their first language. The new hymnbook was published in 2010. Kunpry has also written many original hymns.
But nothing pleases the great-grandmother of four more than sitting down surrounded by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and teaching them to read Bible stories. ‘They come to sit with me and talk about Jesus’, she says.
She also shares her love of singing, with Jesus loves me a favourite sung in Pitjantjatjara, English, and Arrarnta languages.
She shares this love with the wider community, too. ‘Every Wednesday I have been teaching the local women singing and reading’, she says. ‘I know all of the songs. When I’m singing, I am thinking about God’s meaning. That’s why I’m teaching them. That’s why I’m telling stories and teaching them to do the right thing.’
‘I dream a lot of time about God telling me what to do’, she says, and those dreams have led Kunpry to not only help her local community, but to travel further to communities spread hundreds of kilometres across the vast centre of Australia.
Kunpry has lived in the country’s red heart for her entire life. She grew up in Areyonga, a community 200 kilometres west of Alice Springs – then a government reserve managed by the LCA’s Finke River Mission. Her schoolhouse was the church building, and Christian songs and Bible stories were a major part of the school curriculum.
Kunpry was baptised and confirmed at Areyonga at about age of 13 by Pastor Kalleske. All church services back then were led in the Arrarnta language, which was the common tongue used by the Finke River Mission at the time, rather than in the Areyonga people’s first language, Pitjantjatjara.
Later, God spoke to Kunpry in a dream at the Areyonga church, telling her to help Pastor Kalleske feed her people God’s word. She did this for some time, even flying south with Pastor Kalleske and Daphne Puntjina (see The Lutheran, April 2017 and our cover) for hundreds of kilometres from Areyonga to Tempe Downs, down to Uluru, and then across to Docker River near the Western Australian border to lead worship services.
Kunpry was traditionally married to her late husband in 1965. Together they had five children, Anthony, Hazel, Pauline, Rowena and Daniel.
Travelling vast distances was not new to Kunpry. She started her education in Areyonga, before going to school in Hermannsburg, then moving south with her family to Uluru. She still travelled back occasionally to Areyonga for confirmation lessons, riding on a camel half way to Tempe Downs, and then on horseback to Areyonga with Pastor Kalleske, whom they’d meet half way at Tempe Downs.
She still has family in Docker River, her mother’s birthplace, and used to lead worship services there (when the local pastor was unavailable), along with other commitments, including her longstanding membership on the board of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
She’s often leading the Sunday service, and uses the new hymnbook so worshippers can sing together in their mother tongue. Her favourite hymn is the Martin Luther Easter hymn Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands. It’s the Arrarnta number 100, and she has only just translated it into Pitjantjatjara language.
Her favourite Bible passage is the New Testament Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3–23). Kunpry says the parable, in which a farmer sows seed, reminds her of the job God has given her. In the parable, some seed falls on the path, some on rocky ground with little soil, some on soil that contains thorns, and some falls on good soil that grows, yielding in abundance.
Kunpry’s prayers and tireless work for her community is all aimed at building up that good red soil of faith in those around her.
Helen Beringen is a Townsville-based communications advisor who has been richly blessed through a career as a wordsmith. She is inspired by the many GREYT people who serve tirelessly and modestly in our community. She hopes by sharing stories of how God shines his light through them, others will be inspired to share his light in the world.
Pastor Rob Borgas is the Pastoral Support Worker for the Pitjantjatjara Area of the Finke River Mission Parish.
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This feature story comes from The Lutheran May 2018. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.