Sacrifice and service are woven through the ANZAC Day Service. They are enduring themes and provide a fitting coda to our visit to Timor Leste.
The alarm went off at 4.45am, Gary Ware’s first and Rob Duncanson’s one minute later. It’s hard to explain in detail, but with our phones still reflecting the half hour difference between Australian Central time and Dili time, it takes the two of us a full five minutes to set our alarms last night. We put it up to tiredness. Really. RD changed the time on his phone, just to be sure.
David had told us the location and time of the dawn service which the Australian and New Zealand contingents would observe in Dili. Robert Benn has graciously agreed to remain behind, just in case we are delayed in return and our friends turn up to take us to the airport and are confused if we were not there.
We walk out of the Turismo Hotel at 5.15am. We have been told the service will start at 5.45 and it would be good for us to be there about 5.30. Crossing the street we rouse a taxi driver from his rest and are on our way to the Heliport. The trip continues without incident. It seems incongruous, but joggers and early morning walkers are out and about. Apart from that the city is largely deserted.
Motoring along the road toward the airport, GW mentions the presence of some helicopters back behind a building. A quick tap on the shoulder of the driver by RD and some words of clarification result in an about turn and prompt arrival.
We are welcomed with a familiar accent and told that early breakfast is being served. This is a ‘gunfire breakfast’. The aroma of Bundaberg Rum is prominent. The lore of the ‘gunfire breakfast’ is that consumption of alcohol settled the nerves before combat. Though there is no threat of combat this morning, those present embrace the tradition with gusto. Foam cups with a (generous) shot of rum sit out. Coffee powder and hot water are added. Milk is optional. The presence of Milo just looks odd. GW, as many of you know, will always pay homage to tradition, RD makes his coffee in an empty cup.
Everyone gathers in the driveway area in front of the company office. As mentioned earlier the Service is being observed by Australians and New Zealanders. It probably counts as the most ANZAC ANZAC Day Service I’ve been to. It is also the first time I have been priveleged to be present at its service in an active military environment. We stand before the two flags of our nations, at half-mast. A modest white wooden cross is planted in a catafalque of sandbags.
The Service is printed out in full. Service personel, including Chaplains, read the parts. Before we commence a reading from the writings of C.E.W. Bean, the noted World War 1 historian is read. My library is a long way away, but Bean’s prose, in no small part, was instrumental in the ANZAC legend becoming embedded in the national conciousness. The catafalque party take their places.
Those of you who have attended these Services in other places would find the order and the elements familiar. That commonality of language and structure helps unite the individual commemmorations with a larger whole.
I appreciate the simplicity of the language, but also the depth which is present. Part of what was called ‘The Serviceman’s Prayer’ was read to us by a New Zealander, and contained these words: ‘When I am inclined to doubt, strengthen my faith. When I am tempted to sin, help me to resist. when I fail, give me the courage to try again. Guide me with the light of your truth, and keep before me the example of Jesus, in whose name I pray. Amen.’ The prayer for peace asked: ‘It is our prayer this ANZAC Day that the suffering inflicted by men on men may cease, and that all people will turn to the only source of peace, which is found in the Lord Jesus Christ.’ These words show more Christian understanding than some I have heard used in similar Services.
The Odes of New Zealand and Australia are recited and then the Last Post is played. Today we stand for a full minute’s silence, the only irreverence is displayed by a particularly noisy cricket. As Rouse is played the flags are raised high.
The familiar words of the twenty third Psalm are read with an accent that is reminiscent of the Pacific Islands, and after a benediction we listen to the national anthems of NZ and OZ. Later in conversation RD will mention that playing God Defend New Zealand and Advance Australia Fair back to back is unfair to one of the anthems. GW grudgingly concedes the point.
After the Catafalque party dismount and the flags return to half mast, the assembled company are invited to the mess for a proper breakfast and ‘traditional games’. Even Rex, the Army Dog goes along too. He will probably be the only one not out of pocket by the conclusion of the festivities.
We talk to David, expressing our appreciation for being able to be present. To our knowledge we were the only civilians there this morning, but the light was not good. RD expresses how good it will be when David rejoins them in Darwin.
From there we return to the Turismo, where Arlindo and Robert Benn are waiting for us. Arlindo has a wedding to conduct in the Ermera district today. We marvel again at his work ethic. Check in at the airport involves not only our luggage being weighed, but also ourselves. GW wins. There does not seem to be a prize. Maybe a gym membership.
On our flight home, a team from YWAM (comprised of largely of young people from Greenacre Church of Christ, Hawkesbury Baptist and a local Anglican Church) are returning from a short term project that involves rebuilding a village near the town of Manatutu. When completed over a series of yearly visits, they hope to have constructed in a village thirty seven houses, a school and a clinic.
RB receives his customary seating in the exit aisle. RD and GW are seated in a different exit aisle and find we have almost another seat row of leg space. We breakfast on soft-drink, Kettle Chips, Arnotts Biscuits and Snickers Bars, all provided as inflight catering.
Tormorrow we will worship with the Darwin Presbyterian Church and also fellowship with the Darwin Indonesian Congregation. Pray for RB as he preaches to both groups and as we try to provide helpful input about our recent activities. I will probably post some summary of his sermon, as well as giving you some sense of worship with the Darwin Presbyterian folk.
Our homecoming represents the conclusion of a beginning. Now comes a work of reflection that will involve distilling a report and recommendations for mission partners/APWM. We also have many stories to tell. We have deepened some friendships and begun others, we have listened to the leaders and people of the EPC-TL and have been touched by their committment to the Gospel and to integrity. They have forsaken much for the cause of the Kingdom, in that respect we have little to give them and much that we can learn. In their situation there is much support that could be given if partnership is possible. Our hope is that we can encourage these brothers and sisters in their response to the gospel, and walk together in a mutual Christlike expression of sacrifice and service.

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