Being a blessing to others often doesn’t require doing anything spectacular, sensational or extraordinary. In fact, God most often uses the ordinary things of life to shower his goodness on people.
This is the reflection of retired Lutheran pastor Jim Prenzler, who saw a simple need – specifically the need to support refugees newly settled in Australia.
For the past 10 years, Pastor Jim has been ‘walking alongside’ hundreds of refugees from Chin State in Myanmar, after their arrival in Adelaide, South Australia. The refugees are from a persecuted ethnic minority group of Christians from the Southeast Asian nation formerly known as Burma.
‘For new refugee arrivals from any country, their needs are simple yet significant, complex and complicated,’ says Pastor Jim, from Modbury in Adelaide’s north–eastern suburbs.
It was through his eldest daughter Donna that he began his journey with ‘people who had been dislocated in their lives’.
A teacher, Donna had accepted a call to home school a family of missionaries in Thailand in 2005, through the international, interdenominational non-government organisation Interserve. The townsfolk were worshipping in a small Christian community mostly made up of refugees from Myanmar. During Donna’s volunteering service, her parents visited, which opened a new door for her father, who had retired in 2000. ‘Not only did I become so enthused … my horizon was a broadened being with these people’, he says.
The beginning of retirement had been an unplanned journey for Pastor Jim. ‘As I had done on countless occasions, I listened to God’, he says. He was comforted by God’s word of reassurance – ‘I have it all planned out … plans to give you the future you hope for’ (Jeremiah 29:11 MSG).
After Pastor Jim returned to Australia, he began supporting a fledgling Lutheran church in Myanmar, visiting three times a year. Then he discovered through a pastor he had met there in 2007, that some Burmese refugees had relocated to Adelaide.
Pastor Jim told the Australian Refugee Association that he was interested in supporting people from Myanmar. That move initiated a meeting with a group of newly arrived refugees.
The group, from the Chin State, formed the Adelaide Chin Christian Church (ACCC), which was worshipping in a borrowed Baptist church in Salisbury. In 10 years they have grown to more than 800 members, with three full–time pastors, a Sunday school of more than 200, and a youth choir that participates in weekly worship.
There was no longer a need to visit Myanmar, for Myanmar had come to where Pastor Jim was!
‘They unconditionally accepted me, not because I was a pastor … but maybe because I had been to their country’, he says. ‘I had seen their poverty, I had seen some of the abuses … I had seen they had not had access to schools, so we walked together.
‘My daily life became a “walking the talk”. I wasn’t doing spectacular things, just being with people.’
The Burmese connection was not Pastor Jim’s first experience with refugees. As a pastor in the 1980s in Hahndorf, in the Adelaide Hills, his congregation had supported refugees from Vietnam. ‘That was my introduction to holding hands and walking with people who had been dislocated in their lives’, he recalls.
Throughout Pastor Jim’s journey Marie, his wife of 52 years, and mother of their three children, has been by his side. Both had been members at the Langmeil congregation in South Australia’s Barossa Valley, where Jim’s dad had been principal of Tanunda’s Lutheran school from 1938.
For Pastor Jim today the key to his service is welcoming and accepting new refugees as family.
‘They arrive confused, sad, and fearful. They can be cautious, timid and shy … more than anything else they yearn acceptance.’
His advice? ‘Accept these folk as family members, as children of God. It is in the ordinary things, like listening to them, accepting them and, most of all, welcoming them as family, as brothers and sisters in Christ, that we can be a blessing,’ he says.
Helen Beringen is a Townsville-based communications advisor who has been richly blessed through a career as a wordsmith. She is inspired by the many GREYT people who serve tirelessly and modestly in our community. She hopes by sharing stories of how God shines his light through them, others will be inspired to share his light in the world.
Know of any other GREYT stories in your local community? Email the editor email@example.com
Support for refugees and new arrivals
With its districts, the LCA provides support for, and ministers to and with, new arrivals in Australia and New Zealand. Some LCA District organisations and parishes, such as Lutheran Community Care SA/NT and St Paul’s African House in Shepparton Victoria, offer services to assist new arrivals. The LCA’s Cross-Cultural Ministry department has a vision to nurture an inclusive missional culture, in which new and existing cross-cultural communities are developed, strengthened and integrated into the life of the church. (See story page 18 for contact details.)
Our mission in Myanmar
LCA International Mission works with international partners to support the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Myanmar, the Lutheran Church of Myanmar, Myanmar Lutheran Church and the Mara Evangelical Church in Myanmar. You can be a part of this mission through prayer, by forming a partnership and raising project funds, by giving a donation, or by serving as a volunteer in Myanmar. To find out more, contact LCA International Mission Myanmar Program Officer Erin Kerber at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 08 8267 7300. To learn more about the ministry of LCA International Mission also see Border Crossings, included with this issue.
LCA International Mission has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Interserve, and together they help facilitate longer-term volunteers to serve in countries where the LCA does not have established partnerships.
This feature story comes from The Lutheran March 2018. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.