Tuesday 20 June is World Refugee Day. The United Nations designates this as a day to ‘build empathy and understanding for the plight of refugees and recognise their resilience in rebuilding their lives’.
Australia has long been a refuge for people fleeing conflict, seeking a chance to rebuild their lives in safety, and this was the experience of many of our Lutheran forebears.
Unfortunately, world conflict continues to displace tens of millions of people, so peaceful places like Australia are asked to help. The sheer numbers can lead to compassion fatigue and reactions like, ‘These strangers are not our responsibility’, and the welcome mat is removed.
One of the waves of humanity to hit Australian shores in recent years are people who have fled a brutal ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. Several thousand Tamils came to Australia hoping for a ‘welcome mat’ but sadly are stuck in ‘visa limbo’, often unable to work and relying on charity – with the constant threat of deportation hanging over their heads. Officially, these Tamil people are persona non grata (unwelcome people) – but not to our Lord.
Jesus dealt with the pivotal question: Who is my neighbour? And his famous parable challenges us to show mercy, even across ethnic lines.
Some Lutherans in Geelong in Victoria are ‘being neighbours’ to these Tamil people. Some years ago, a group of young Tamil and Iranian men turned up at the Grovedale Lutheran Church looking for help. They came to the right place that day, and ‘mercy’ flowed.
This quickly turned into a group effort from the various local congregations (and schools), and funds were secured to employ Michelle Filipovic to work part-time in response to this growing opportunity among some of the neediest in the Geelong area.
Michelle was able to visit homes and share their stories among many supporters. Needs were addressed through generous donations, but more importantly, the people ‘felt seen’ after so many years of rejection and suffering.
The Holy Spirit was working in hearts to bring about something even better. Just when Michelle and Pastor Boyd Briese (at the Our Redeemer Geelong North congregation) were praying about taking things further, the Spirit directed Maha, a young Tamil woman, to come down to Geelong.
Maha and her family had been dramatically called by God out of Hinduism.
It was time to launch a Tamil language fellowship.
The group recently celebrated its first anniversary. More than 100 Tamil people joined the anniversary celebration, bringing their wonderful Tamil cultural interpretation to the worship, which included liturgical dance in colourful costumes.
It was a good day in the life of the Our Redeemer congregation to see what the Lord has done.
We read in Acts 11 that Barnabas went to Antioch, and when he ‘saw the grace of God’ on the new Gentile converts, he immediately sent for Paul. Surely, we are seeing the grace of God on these Tamil people who were once persona non grata but are now accepted in the beloved.
ACKNOWLEDGING WORLD REFUGEE DAY AND REFUGEE WEEK IN YOUR CONGREGATION
Individual congregations can mark World Refugee Day and Refugee Week by showing a short video clip to introduce and lead into congregational prayer during their Sunday service on 18 or 25 June.
The following suggested video clips are in various styles, so one should suit your situation. The first three are interviews with African refugees who are now in Australia. The other four explain and highlight some other elements of the refugee experience.
- Refugee Week: Jonathan’s Story – YouTube (4 minutes and 33 seconds): a story from Jonathan, who is from Sierra Leone and works for the Salvation Army in Auburn NSW.
- Interview with Monica – Once Strangers Now Friends Lismore 2015 – Vimeo (3 minutes and 39 seconds): an interview with Monica Matoc from South Sudan.
- Interview with Sibomana – Once Strangers Now Friends Lismore 2015 – Vimeo (3 minutes and 45 seconds): an interview with Sibomana Nzaramba from Rwanda.
- What does it mean to be a refugee? – Benedetta Berti and Evelien Borgman – YouTube (5 minutes and 45 seconds): a Ted Talk explaining what being a refugee means.
- Kids, refugees, questions: ‘What is it like to have no home?’ – YouTube (3 minutes and 11 seconds): British children and child refugees link up to ask and answer questions about the refugee crisis.
- This Is Home: Children Document Life in Largest Syrian Refugee Camp – YouTube (4 minutes and 50 seconds): Syrian kids being interviewed about living in Za’atari refugee camp.
- A Beautiful Animation of a Harrowing Story – BBC NEWS – YouTube (4 minutes and 38 seconds): an animation of a refugee family fleeing danger.
Craig Heideinreich is the LCANZ’s Cross-Cultural Ministry Faciliatator.