Sharing in the body of Christ through language

The Lutheran Church of Australia has many partners around the world. Last month we saw two demonstrations of the way we share in the body of Christ for the task of Bible translation, through our links with Wycliffe Bible Translators Australia and SIL International.

On 14 February, at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Aberfoyle Park, in Adelaide, Rev Matt Anker (Assistant to the Bishop – LCA International Mission) participated in the Commissioning Service of Dr Philip Townsend for Phil to take up a new role in the ministry of Bible translation. Two days later, in Darwin, Pastor Joseph Theodorsen (Top End Lutheran Parish) along with The Right Rev Dr Greg Anderson (Anglican Bishop of the Diocese of the Northern Territory) prayed for Phil during his Induction Ceremony for the position as Director of the Australia Timor Group (ATG) of SIL International.

In the early 1980s, Phil worked for three years as a school teacher in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands at Pipalyatjara community in the north of South Australia. That’s where he began to learn about culture and language, living alongside Aboriginal people. He then spent most of 23 years as a missionary in Papua New Guinea, where his main role was as a Bible teacher in a bilingual ministry training centre. He also assisted in a Bible translation program. When he returned to Australia in 2010, Phil worked for six months with the Bible Society of Australia, producing resources in languages for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. He also did a doctorate looking at the training of Indigenous people to become school teachers and has worked with four universities.

This year is the 60th anniversary of the start of Bible translation work by SIL in Australia. Over that period, SIL staff worked among 23 traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, two new languages, as well as Aboriginal English. Printed material includes one complete Bible, seven New Testaments and portions in 16 other languages. There are also audio recordings in some of these. ATG staff are currently working in five languages and assisting work in 14 other languages. There are continuing opportunities to work alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The ATG works through the agency of the Australian Society for Indigenous Languages Inc. (AuSIL) and has personnel working with two language groups – Alyawarr and Anmatyerr – in partnership with Finke River Mission. Most of the New Testament and some of the Old Testament in Alyawarr have been printed. It is exciting that a short version of the New Testament (11 books) in Anmatyerr has now been printed and special events to launch it are planned from March to May, including in three communities and at the Alice Springs Lutheran Church.

God has prepared Phil for the role of director through his extensive cross-cultural experience with Indigenous peoples in Australia and PNG in remote, bilingual contexts and his academic qualifications and networks. Please pray for him and contact him for further information, by phone on 0468 931 370 or via email at

This story was also published in the April 2021 edition of Border Crossings, the magazine of LCA International Mission.

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