Chapter 2: Before the Walk
Late in 1981, and early in 1982, five of the seven Nullarbor walkers joined together in Melbourne, Australia. Brother and sister, Gary and Christine McKay, were only 13 and 12 years old then, but by that time they had travelled around Australia with their parents for nine years, talking to people in the towns, handing out Christian leaflets, and singing about God's love.
School friends, Robin Dunn and Roland Gianstefani were 15 and 18 at the time. They had been using drugs and having a few problems with police before they each had separate feelings that God was talking to them and leading them to change their lives. Their families did not follow any religion, and they were looking for some direction for their new faith when Gary and Christine came up to them on a road in Melbourne to give them a Christian paper. In a short time, the four were good friends. Robin and Roland's parents agreed for them to move in with Gary and Christine's family, who were living in a small house on a farm near the town of Albury.
These same young people travelled to schools in Melbourne to give out their papers. At one school they talked with 19-year-old Malcolm Wrest. Malcom was very interested in what they were saying. He did not agree with some of the teachings of his parents and some of the teachings of their religion, but he wanted to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ from the Bible. A few weeks later he, too, moved into the little farm house. His parents were not happy about the change in his life, but they did not stop him.
A short time later, the group was joined by Ross Parry, a 21-year-old music teacher, and 22-year-old Boyd Ellery. As well, they were helped by Gary and Christine's older brother and sister, Kevin (16) and Sheri (14). Kevin had dropped out of school when he was 14 years old to take up painting. By this time his works were selling for as much as $300 (Rs7,500) each. With money from Kevin's painting, his family had been able to pay for trips to Melbourne, where they talked about their faith in God with people who were walking to and from the shops there. Parents, David and Cherry McKay, had studied many different religions, and they had tried to teach the best from each of them to their children and to the people that they talked to in places like Melbourne.
By the middle of 1982, the group was finding that their farm house near Albury was not big enough, and the cold weather was giving David and Cherry too much pain in their bones; so they agreed to move north where it would be warmer. A friend had said that Casino is one of the warmest towns in the country. So they travelled to Casino. All that they owned was put into two cars, and anyone who was not driving a car went out on the road in groups of two to stop cars and ask for a lift 500 miles north to Casino.
David and Cherry were the first ones to arrive in Casino. That same day they learned that an old general shop in a very little town near Casino was empty and they could use it. It was a very big building, with one big room for all the boys, and separate bedrooms for the girls and for David and Cherry. The group moved in the next day.
David and Cherry then started the job of teaching their new family important Christian beliefs. To help the young people understand the teachings of different Christian groups, they listed all the churches in Casino, and some good points and bad points about each. Then they asked each person to choose the church that they wanted to go to each Sunday. The plan was for all of the group to go to different churches, and then to talk together about what they had learned when they returned to the house after the meetings. The young people agreed that they would help the churches that they were going to in any way that they could.
Sadly, the plan did not work from the start. On the first Sunday, the group returned to say that all the leaders in the churches had acted like they were afraid of these new visitors. It was not often that a little town like Casino had so many new young people coming to church meetings at the same time, and that without people from the churches having asked them to come. And when these new visitors said they wanted to help with any jobs in the churches, that was too much; the church leaders believed it was a trick. David talked to the church leaders on the telephone, asking for a meeting with them when the young people could talk about ways of helping the churches. But the leader said it would be a few months before they would have time for a meeting with the young people. Then, when the time came around for a meeting with the church leaders, those who went from the group said it was like they were robbers and the church leaders were the police.
"We were only trying to help, but they acted like we were in a competition," reported Malcolm. "They wanted to know how much money we had and they asked many other questions that were not important to our faith in God. Then they started asking us difficult questions about God that I do not think even they could agree on the answers for. After all that, they ended by saying that they didn't want our help!"
After this the young people stopped going to church meetings in Casino and they did their learning about God in the big living room of their own house.
In one of these meetings, David encouraged the group not to be afraid to say so if they disagreed with things he was saying. He talked about the problems they had had with the churches in Casino: "Many of the problems that happen in churches come because leaders will not listen to people who disagree with them, and followers are too lazy to work on having real faith in God themselves. They think they must go through their leader's faith, and when their leaders are wrong, they become wrong too. If you can see ways that we are not living up to our name as Christians, then you should point them out."
In answer to this, one of the boys said, "It would be nice if we could take the teachings of Jesus more seriously."
"The truth is that I was very surprised!" says David. "We had each left our jobs, our families, and all that we owned, and we were using all of our time to work for God. How could we do more than that!"
The shy follower said, "We still use cars, and take money and other things with us. Do you think it would work if we didn't have money and cars, the way the first followers of Jesus did?"
David said that it would if it was what God wanted, but that things are different today: Towns in Australia are not as close together as they are in Israel, and there is very little water in Australia. He pointed out that the Bible exercise in Luke 10 was only for a short time, and that Jesus and his followers had a house that they worked from most of the time.
But the question stayed in the minds of a few of the young people; they had a feeling that there was some truth in it. A few days later, Sheri said that the only way to find out if it would work would be to start walking. It was 20 miles to Casino from their house, and she believed she could walk the distance in one day; so she was going to give it a go! If it worked, she planned to keep walking in a big circle around the nearest towns.
"Sheri has a sickness in her lungs, and it is very difficult for her to stay with us when we go for a run each day, so I was a little worried about her ability to do it," says David. "I said I would walk with her just to see how it went, and she was happy with that."
On the way to town, the two needed a drink a few times, but each time this happened, they would find a soft drink bottle beside the road with a little soft drink in it. Some were new; some were old. Some were full; and some were almost empty. But always it was enough to keep them going.
In the middle of the day they came to the only water hole on the trip, where they were able to drink their fill of water. They chewed on some very big seeds that Sheri was able to find near the water. The seeds were very filling, and they were not hungry again before coming to Casino. David and Sheri had some leaflets with them, and they handed these out to people going into and out of the shops in Casino. The leaflets helped people in the town to understand what the two walkers were doing and why. Some people gave them money to buy food.
David then telephoned the others to tell them that he and Sheri planned to keep walking for 100 miles to other towns that were close by. The others were so happy to hear that the walk was going well that six of them jumped into a car the next morning and went off to Casino to join David and Sheri in the walk.
They walked together for the next seven days. Some nights people on the way asked the walkers to sleep in their houses, but other nights the hard ground was their bed. On these nights they looked for timber to feed the fire before going to sleep and then worked in turns through the night, with different people feeding the fire for an hour or two at a time. The fire was all they had to keep themselves warm through the cold nights.
At one point in the walk, the group talked to a reporter from a small newspaper about the walk. The newspaper printed a picture and a report on the walk after it was finished.
"We talked to people in the towns on the way about God and faith," says Sheri, "and through the newspaper we were able to say something to even more people. But we all agreed that the best thing about the walk was how it helped our faith in God and our love for one another."
A few weeks later they made a longer walk, covering almost 180 miles between Casino and Brisbane. Again they reported that all of their needs were filled.
At one time, Jesus Christ said to His followers that they should travel from town to town with no money and with no bags or other clothes - and that is what eight Rappville Christians have been doing.
Walking about 100 miles at 13 miles a day for more than a week is no easy life.
Their leader is 37-year-old David McKay. The small group, who say they try to obey all teachings of Jesus, finished the last leg of the faith exercise on Saturday.
The group walked without money or food, only the 'good news' they were giving out to interested people on the way. People from the towns helped with food and places to sleep.
Mr. McKay said the group is trying to put the teachings of Jesus into action in today's world. "We believe his teachings can work today," he said. "We were sick of running around so much, worrying about money. By taking God's word seriously, we are growing closer to him, and to each other."
The walkers ate wild berries, nuts, bananas, and wild lemons when people did not help with meals. "This walk is not very different from the way that we live our lives," Mr. McKay said. "We want others to take a look at the teachings of Christ.
The walks were very encouraging, but the group believed there were parts of what they wanted to say that were not coming through clearly in the walks. They started making thousands of their own little 16-page books with pictures in them. Each book would say something different about life, truth, love, faith, and God.
Kevin, who did most of the pictures for the books, said, "Even with the books, we were not able to say all that we wanted to say. People will not read a leaflet if the writing is too small or if the book is too long. But by making our own little books we were able to say something in our own words, and not leave a newspaper reporter to say it in his or her words.
"By making many different books, we are able to cover many different parts of the truth. Each one has a little more teaching in it, and interested people come back for more. Some write to us, and we find that these people will read longer books; so we have made some longer ones, with fewer pictures and more teaching."
For a time, the group was giving out about 5,000 little books each week, and answering the letters that people were writing after reading them. The price of printing them was covered by asking people to give two cents for each little book.
"We could give out more if we did not take the time to ask for two cents," says Kevin. "But we did not want people to throw the books away. If they give two cents, we find that they almost always read them. At times we give them away freely, but when we do, we find them all over the ground because people do not think they are important enough to read if they are not important enough to pay for."
But the little books were not able to help all the people. Many people are not interested in religion because all they know of it is the fighting and arguments between different religions. The group believed that this was keeping many people from even looking at what they had to say. "We needed some strong action that would show what we were saying about faith and love," says Cherry. "People who will not or cannot read about religion can still become very interested when they see faith in action.
"We were saying that Jesus talked of a world where all people work for love, and that God's Spirit in us right now can give us the faith to live a life of love. But people still believed we were all talk. So it was time for us to start doing something to help other people."
The group went to radio and television stations and to the newspapers to say that they would work for one day for free for anyone living in a fifty mile circle around Casino. People telephoned from all over that part of the country to ask for their help.
"We worked harder than any other workers would," says Gary, "because we wanted them to see that love makes people work much better than greed does."
Some of the people they worked for sent very nice letters to the newspaper telling others about their work, but little by little the number of new people asking for help dropped off.
"People were afraid," says Ross. "Some believed we would ask for money after we finished; others believed we would argue about religion. Because of this we tried very hard to do just the opposite.
"If they wanted to talk about religion, they would bring it up; and if they didn't bring it up, there wasn't much point in us trying to push them into it. Most people tried to give us something after we finished working, but we always said 'No thank you' to it. People were having enough problems believing that our work was really free without word getting out that we were taking money for it.
"I think pride was another thing that stopped people. We did what we could to tell people that we were not just working for the poor; this was for anyone. But some were afraid that friends would think they were poor if they asked for our help. We don't know what all of the reasons were, but we do know that fewer and fewer people were asking for help. People we had helped in the past often asked us to come and help them again; but the rules were that we only worked for one day for each family or company, and we were finding it difficult to interest new people in receiving our help."
Because of this, the group started to look for a new place to live. Wanting to go where the people were, they moved to Sydney, late in 1983, and again started telling people about their free work. At first they were afraid that thousands of people would want their help in a place the size of Sydney, but the opposite problem faced them. People from a very big town like Sydney were less interested than people living in small farm towns. It was not clear if this was because people in the city had more fear or more money, but very few people were interested. The newspapers were happy to tell the story about them doing free work, but they did not want to print the telephone number that people needed to have if they wanted to ask for help. Big town newspapers are against people using them to sell things, and that is why they have rules against putting telephone numbers or addresses in their stories.
"We were happy to have so many people hearing about our beliefs," says Cherry. "But it was still a problem of more talk than real action. We wanted people to know that we were serious about working for them."
The group printed up 20,000 papers asking "Is anything really free in this world?" The papers said that they were serious about giving free work. They handed these out to travellers at Sydney's biggest train stations. A few telephoned asking for help, but not many.
They even tried walking around Sydney with chalk, writing on the footpath, "We work for love, not for money!" followed by their telephone number. A few more people telephoned after that, but most of them were asking for girls … to come and see them in their hotel rooms! These were the only jobs that the group did not agree to do, and the chalk signs were quickly dropped from the plan!
One newspaper report did list the telephone number, and more than 100 people telephoned in two days because of it. But by March, 1984, all the jobs were finished, and the group was planning their next move.
Just before the move to Sydney, David had asked for a meeting of the group to talk about the question of receiving money from the government of Australia. The government there will give money to people who are trying to find a job, to help them buy food and clothes. All they need to do is to ask for it.
"Up to that time, we had been leaving it to each person to choose for themselves," David says. "Some of us had asked to receive the money but most had not. The problem was that some people who did not like what we were saying, argued that we could not say God was feeding us if we were receiving money from the government. It was not good enough that some of us were not receiving the money; as long as even one of us was receiving it, people judged all of us by that one person. My plan was to get us all to agree not to receive the money."
The meeting did not go the way David had planned. Those who were receiving money argued that the people who judged them for receiving government money judged them for receiving money from anyone or even for selling things they owned before joining the group and using that money to live on. "We were not breaking any rules by receiving the government money, because we were trying hard to look for work, and we were helping the country more than most people who receive money from the government," argues Robin. "If the government was ready to pay money to feed people who are too lazy to work, or who only use it to buy drink or drugs, then we believed it was right for the government to pay money to feed us. Our faith was not in the government, but if God was using the government to help us help others, then we should not be afraid of people who are going to judge us even if we did not receive money from the government."
The meeting ended not with the whole group going off the government money, but with the whole group choosing to ask for the money, believing that they could use it to do something good for God.
By the time the jobs were finished in Sydney, the young people were seriously thinking about using their new wealth to do something in a country that was not as rich as Australia. Roland says: "Rich people do not really need our help; so they can listen to their fears and choose not to ask for help. But if we said to really poor people that we would work for them for free, we believed that it would be very easy to make them believe us. We studied different countries and learned that people from Australia could stay as long as they liked in India without special papers, so we agreed on India." [It is now much more difficult for people from Australia to travel to India.]
In a short time the group had enough money to send four people to Bangalore, India, where they were to look for ways to help the people there. They lived in a room in the small town of Dookanahalli, where about 3,000 other people lived. These four workers were later joined by four more, who lived there for the next year.
"We had not come to India to give people money," says Roland. "We were here to teach that money was not the answer. We looked for ways to make life better for people without spending money, because this way other poor people could follow us and do the same things. We learned that there are many things people can do to change the quality of their life without spending money. Most of our money was used to pay for the trip to India and back on the plane."
The group worked teaching English and doing other little jobs, but most of their time and interest went into the toilets that the Indian government had made for the people. Few people used the toilets at that time because no one would do the humble work of cleaning them. The dung-covered floor (with live worms moving in the dung) was where most of the sicknesses in the little town started.
In the past toilet cleaning in India was the work of people that no one would even touch, so many people are too proud to even clean after themselves when they use a toilet. When these people from Australia started to do this humble work, the people in Bangalore were very surprised. Many Indians want to be friends with people from other countries because they believe these people can help them with money, jobs, or papers to leave India.
"Cleaning the toilets fixed two problems at one time," says Roland. "It gave us a job that would help many people and stop many sicknesses-much like Jesus Christ touching sick people that others believed were dirty-and it put off the people who were trying to be false friends for what they could receive from us. When people tried to say that they agreed with us, we would give them some rubber gloves and a brush and lead them to the toilets to do "Christian work" with us. That was the last we saw of most of them!"
After a year in India, all of the young people had to return to Australia, early in 1985, because their plane tickets were only good for one year. They returned to Australia in February, bringing two sisters with them from the little town: Rachel and Elizabeth Sukumaran (12 and 14). When some of the group had been working in India, others had been working in Australia. David and Cherry had started a job as house-parents in a Catholic house for boys having problems with the police, and Boyd and Sheri had been trying to make people think about greed by burning a piece of money in front of very many people and asking them to look at how people were acting when it happened.
"I could have poured a hundred times as much milk on the ground and it would not have made people as angry as it did when I burned just one small piece of paper," says Boyd.
Because of this, a government leader tried to make a rule that anyone who burned money should not receive any money from the government; and a newspaper agreed with him in print. The newspapers were full of angry letters, most of them from church people, judging Boyd and Sheri for even thinking about burning money. The police and courts joined together to stop these two young people from burning any money. [They burned a sum of $5 over five days.]
"We were trying to tell people that they have stopped using money and it's starting to use them," said Boyd. "They act like it is a god. But it was difficult to believe that the government would go so far in trying to stop us."
At that time Australia did not have a rule against destroying money. There was a small rule against cutting or marking money and then asking the government to give you new money in its place, but if the money was destroyed, there was no problem. This is what the police learned when they studied the rules.
But they were not happy with this. There is a rule against destroying anything that the government owns (buildings, planes, and things like that), and the police tried to say that the money Boyd and Sheri burned was owned by the government (because the government must give you new money if the old money becomes too dirty). For breaking this rule about destroying anything that the government owns, a person can go to prison for two years.
The judge sent Boyd to prison for three months for burning $1, and said he would send him to prison for two years if he did it again. Sheri was too young to go to a prison for adults, but the police put her in a prison for young people for 16 days.
Amnesty International, a group that helps people in prisons all over the world who are there because of their beliefs and not because they have hurt anyone, sent a report to Britain, asking for action by the world body. At the same time, a report was printed in a newspaper in Britain, asking people to write to the government of Australia to say that they disagreed with what was happening. A lawyer from another group that helps people who are sent to prison for their beliefs agreed to help the two for free. He was able to get Boyd out of prison after Boyd had been there for one month.
The court meeting came up just after the others returned from India. The police lawyer said that he would not argue the line that the police had asked him to argue, because it was foolish to say the government owns a person's money. The judge agreed and said the action by the police against the two young people was worse than that of the robbers they should be protecting people from. He said the police must pay $1000 to them. (The police never did give this money to Boyd and Sheri.)