Having a state governor attend your little country church on Christmas Eve and do a Bible reading, then bring his family to join yours for Christmas Day lunch sounds like the stuff of a movie script.
But that was the true story of Christmas 2015 for Ken and Daphne Schwarz, members of Bookpurnong Lutheran Church, between Berri and Loxton in the South Australian Riverland.
The visit to ‘Booky’ and the Schwarzes’ home and fruit block was a trip down memory lane for His Excellency the Governor of South Australia, Hieu Van Le, and his wife Lan.
The governor and Mrs Le had experienced the hospitality of the Pilgrims of Zion congregation and the Schwarz family before – back in 1977. Then, as a newly married couple, they fled their war-torn homeland of Vietnam and came to Australia in search of a better life.
The Schwarzes answered a call for Australian families to host Vietnamese refugees over the Christmas period. Mr and Mrs Le and another young man stayed at their home and worked in the family orchard for several weeks – and spent Christmas Eve at the Lutheran church in Bookpurnong. He also did a Bible reading while at the church.
The Le family never forgot the kindness of their hosts back in 1977 and when Mr Le was sworn in as South Australia’s 35th governor, the Schwarzes were invited guests at the ceremony.
The governor also asked the Schwarzes whether he and Mrs Le could come back to Bookpurnong and again read a Scripture lesson. The congregation invited the vice-regal family for its Christmas Eve service, and the visitors included one of their sons, Donald.
Two young members of the congregation, Mikaela Schwarz and Kelsey Reilly, sang for the governor and his family during the service.
From his first visit to ‘Booky’, His Excellency said he remembered going spotlighting on a local farm, meeting locals, reading at church and the kindness of many people.
Mrs Le said she remembered it being just as hot 38 years ago as at Christmas 2015.
Read more about this story in Rebecka Colldunberg’s ‘Turn of the Tide’ (The Lutheran, December 2014), which won Best Profile Story from the Australasian Religious Press Association last year.
Lorraine Fielke is a member of the Bookpurnong congregation.