Junior loved to play Rugby League.
Junior loved to play Basketball.
Junior loved Physical Education class.
Junior loved school.
Junior loved family.
Junior passed away at 14 after he and seven of his family piled into a ute driven by a 13 year old cousin and crashed into a tree on the way to a local lake.
This is another tragic story from Central Australia and another story that moves me to want to make a difference in the lives of indigenous youth.
Where is God in all this?
The LORD is sitting with me around a camp fire last night with 13 young indigenous "fellas" (a generic term used for all indigenous males at my school so no differentiation is made between non initiated boys and initiated men), as I lead this group, (alongside their House Parent), to become the men, God has called them to be.
The program I co-lead challenges these young adults to leave their childhood behind, leave their past hurts and frustrations with family, themselves, house mates, teachers and friends, and make a new beginning.
Junior would have been part of this group.
Amongst the group are "fellas" from 10 different communities, (Junior was from one of these).
One of his cousins sits with us for the first time since his funeral. We challenge the "fellas" to find a stick, show the group their stick, vote on which stick, as a group, will become their talking stick for the year. We will learn together to sit, listen and respect the person holding the talking stick.
By the end of the year, my prayer is that these young adults will open-up to me and share their life, hopes and dreams for a better future.
Junior got really angry with me once. He kicked a football at me. He then broke down and told me he had just lost a young cousin and didn't know how to deal with the loss.
But a miracle happens in the next hour. These young men take turns to share from their heart the things that excite them, the things they look forward to, the things they wish to explore about themselves this year and what makes them afraid or scared.
Many of them share about their hopes for a better future for themselves and their family- one free of violence, alcohol and one tragedy after another. Many share about their desire to know their future and the desire to know God in a more intimate manner.
One of the "fellas" from a community in South Australia - the quiet, reserved outsider - challenges me in front of the group to speak of "what makes me afraid". I must oblige and allow myself to also be exposed and bare my heart to these indigenous youth.
Junior challenged me to speak up for our basketball team and get the basketball association to check their figures on the league table. We had beaten the team on top three weeks before, but they had no losses recorded on the table.
Sometimes I spend so much time focussing on trying to "feel" God, trying to make sure I know He is here, that often I miss the opportunity to sense His presence in the everyday conversations I have with my family, colleagues and the students I teach.
This land is so vast and so unique and His fingerprints are everywhere. His presence was heavy and real last night. Nothing I can say or do could manufacture the very genuine presence of God I felt last night.
It did not take place within four walls on a Sunday, but around a campfire, amongst towering gum trees, with a fast approaching Central Australian thunderstorm rolling towards us, 78km from Alice Springs.
Junior, I will miss you. We had some good times and some good wins. I will endeavour to coach our basketball team and teach our Physical Education class to the best of my God given ability.
God be with your family and your community during this very sad time.