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On a wing and a prayer

Kate MatthewsCountryman
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Modern day missionaries, dubbed outback angels, are bringing face-to-face contact to farmers battling drought and isolation.

These four-wheel-driving padres and flying pastors are travelling thousands of kilometres a year just to say hello.

Albany Presbyterian Church Padre Chris Woonings travels 80,000–100,000km a year driving to the South Australian border and throughout the Wheatbelt.

Funded by the Presbyterian Inland Mission, Padre Woonings spends 19 days away every month to offer spiritual guidance, counselling and support, even helping out on the tractor.

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“The church wants to show support. These people do need help, they are the forgotten people and are isolated, ” Padre Woonings said.

“Farmers usually suffer in silence and it’s not the way to go.

“For many, the closest church may be 2000km away and they go without a lot.”

Dunn Rock farmers Darren and Erica Wiech and their two children, Steven and Craig, often travel a five-hour round trip to go to church.

It’s a social outing they build in to include lunch and catching up with friends, but during busy periods, like harvest and seeding, there is no time off the farm.

But thanks to Pastor Heath Pukallus, from the Katanning-Narrogin Lutheran parish, they can now ‘look to the skies’ and be served by their flying pastor. Pastor Heath, who grew up on a grain and livestock property in Darling Downs, Queensland, spent more than 230 hours building his four-cylinder, two-seater, 100-horsepower Skyranger in his Katanning garage.

The light aircraft has allowed him to combine two passions — being with people and talking flying.

“For me a plane is just the same as my four-wheel drive — it’s just another means for me to travel to visit people, ” Pastor Heath said.

Travelling between Boyup Brook and Dunn Rock, the pastor has had a bird’s eye view of the dry season.

Having watched his parents struggle with drought, Pastor Heath said his visits involved asking farmers how they were going and having some face-to-face contact.

“Church is about community and for me as a pastor, I take Christ to people, ” he said.

“It’s just about going and saying g’day and that someone is thinking about them.”

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