In his role as General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Rev Dr Martin Junge has seen firsthand the devastating human impact of the world’s refugee crisis. So the Geneva-based leader of the world’s largest body of Lutheran churches was ‘deeply moved’ on his first visit to Australia last month when he met a man from an African refugee camp where relief is provided by LWF’s service arm.
Bosco Agulu, who lived at a refugee camp in northern Uganda’s Adjumani district from 1989 to 2005, is now a financial capability worker with Lutheran Community Care (LCC) SA-NT in Alice Springs.
‘It was a great encouragement to see how Lutherans are continuing to care for people after they leave the camps – as people are resettled in a new country, with a different part of the Lutheran world continuing to care for them’, Dr Junge said. ‘Meeting Bosco and hearing his story was deeply moving.’
Mr Agulu arrived in Adjumani with his family when he was only a very young child, after having fled the brutal civil war in what is now South Sudan. He grew up in the camp and came to know about the assistance LWF provides to refugees there. Mr Agulu said life in the camp was not easy – his father died after being bitten by a snake while working there.
Having come to Australia in 2005 and finishing his schooling in Brisbane, Mr Agulu is now keen to help others through LCC’s programs, which also covers the Central Australian towns of Areyonga and Hermannsburg (Ntaria).
Also on the Central Australian leg of his 11-day visit to Australia and New Zealand, Dr Junge met Finke River Mission (FRM) pastoral support workers and Indigenous leaders, and toured the historic mission precinct at Hermannsburg and FRM’s secondary boarding school Yirara College, in Alice Springs.
He was treated to a unique performance by the world-renowned Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir at Alice Springs Airport. Choir members were on their way home from the Melbourne International Film Festival, where a documentary about the group’s history had its world premiere.
In Victoria, Dr Junge met African refugees who have been part of a revival of the Lutheran community in Shepparton, thanks to the care they received in LWF-run camps in Africa.
He and his wife Marietta worshipped with Pastor Matt Anker and St Paul’s congregation, along with Lutheran Church of Australia Bishop John Henderson.
In a town of 30,000 people, the congregation had only about 25 members when, in 2006, 12 Congolese refugee families were resettled there by the Australian government. The new arrivals were all from African refugee camps, mostly in Tanzania, which formerly were run by LWF. The resettlement program at Shepparton has swelled church numbers to more than 150.
The story of the church’s revival and the people who sparked it was told on ABC-TV’s religious affairs program Compass last year.
While in Shepparton, Dr Junge interviewed Abraham Maken, who lived at Kakuma Refugee Camp in north-western Kenya for approximately nine years. Mr Maken has been in Shepparton for around 12 months and, along with his sisters, who were also at Kakuma for a few years, is very actively involved with the St Paul’s congregation.
Mr Maken fled violence in South Sudan when he was still a boy. He was reunited with his sisters at Kakuma years later.
‘What I have seen here today is the beautiful integration of people from different walks of life, colour and background who have found a common ground’, Dr Junge was quoted as saying in a local newspaper report.
Pastor Anker, who himself visited Kakuma in 2010, said Dr Junge had cherished the opportunity to meet people who had recent personal experiences of the refugee camps LWF helps to run.
‘It filled the circle in for him’, Pastor Anker said. ‘From his perspective it was a great encouragement to see the way in which former refugees have continued their connection with the Lutheran church on the basis of the care they’ve received in LWF–run refugee camps.
‘They’ve also engaged with the Lutheran church because of our theology, because of the high value we place on Scripture. They feel God’s word is respected by the Lutheran church to the extent that they do.
‘They also feel the church is a place where they will be cared for physically and spiritually.’
Pastor Anker said it was very encouraging for the Shepparton congregation – and particularly for the African members – to be able to host someone of such high standing in the Lutheran world, particularly given the previous connection for many as refugees. ‘Many of the African community in the congregation have some former connection with LWF camps and a handful of them even worked for LWF’, Pastor Anker said.
Dr Junge saw another side of the refugee journey in Australia by visiting the headquarters of Australian Lutheran World Service (ALWS) headquarters in Albury, New South Wales.
Accompanied by Bishop Henderson, Dr Junge met ALWS Executive Secretary Chey Mattner; ALWS staff including Program Director Leah Odongo, who previously worked at LWF-supported Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya; and agency volunteers and supporters.
Dr Junge said it was a privilege to visit the former migrant centre at nearby Bonegilla, near Wodonga, Victoria, where the agency began in 1950 as Lutheran World Service Australia and first established links with LWF.
Mr Mattner said Dr Junge expressed his appreciation for the LWF’s relationship with ALWS, especially work in the areas of child protection, disability and governance.
Mr Mattner, who sits on LWF’s Committee for World Service, said Dr Junge’s visit was a wonderful opportunity to share with the Lutheran leader stories of refugee journeys to Australia and about the people who continue to raise critical funds for ALWS.
During three days in New Zealand, commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation were high on the agenda for Dr Junge. LCNZ Bishop Mark Whitfield said he had spoken with the LWF leader about opportunities the Reformation anniversary gives the church all around the world ‘to proclaim the gospel that lies at the heart of reformation’.
‘I was also able to share with Dr Junge how we in the LCNZ – a small member of the international Lutheran family – have been able to contribute to the global commemoration of the Reformation, especially through such events as the Chatham Islands Dawn Ceremony on New Year’s Day’, Bishop Whitfield said.
The New Zealand church leader said he was challenged by Dr Junge’s comment that the church now needed to think about what it would do after 31 October. ‘In other words, how we will continue to use the energy and opportunity of the Reformation commemoration year to propel us into future mission’. Bishop Whitfield said.
Pastor Jim Pietsch of St Pauls Lutheran Church and St Francis Lutheran Church, in Wellington, said Dr Junge gave him an insight into the family of Lutheran churches the LWF represents, as well as to ‘the contribution that Lutheran faith and theology can make in all societies’.
The LCA is an associate member of the LWF, which has 145 member churches in 98 countries. The LCA is also an associate member of the International Lutheran Council.