Before giving the people of Israel the 10 Commandments, God said: ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery’ (Exodus 20:2). Not only did he save the refugees, he also cared for them and gave the 12 tribes a community, protected by the 10 Commandments.
So, too, we at St Matthew’s Footscray, in the inner-western suburbs of Melbourne, have recognised the clans and tribes, the languages and customs of refugees, from the moment their feet touch our soil. New arrivals are welcomed at the airport even though it may be at 2.00 am! Then there are prayers, speeches and blessings at their sponsor’s home or at the church, followed by a banquet.
The 10 Commandments remind us how to truly love and serve our new neighbours.
You shall have no other gods before me – African people are often shocked that many Australians don’t worship God.
Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy – For refugees, the Sunday service and fellowship was the climax of their week back home. At St Matthew’s we find that regular phone calls and home visits with prayer and blessing inspire a hunger for worship and service.
Honour your father and your mother – Refugees are often orphaned or don’t know what happened to their parents. They will look to your church as family. You will need to explain Australian laws about discipline.
Do not kill our neighbours – instead support them in all of life’s needs. Refugees know about death. Listen to their stories of loss.
Each of us loves and honours his or her spouse (Do not commit adultery) – Generally refugees from Africa and Asia follow clear gender roles, with men leading life in the outside world, and women nurturing life in the home. Add to this the way gender roles have changed here in recent decades and we need to listen and empathise.
Do not steal from our neighbours – instead help them improve and protect their property and income. Other help may be needed, too, with bills, forms and job applications. At St Matthew’s we run a Care Fund, funded by generous Lutherans, which helps cover the costs from small emergencies to giving a proper funeral. Our Friday Open House and Op Shop also provides for life’s needs, including food, clothing and friendships.
Don’t tell lies about your neighbours – instead come to their defence, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light. We write references, mediate and advocate for our refugee neighbours.
Don’t covet your neighbour’s house – instead help them keep what is theirs. Having lost their home, refugees are very grateful for their new home. They are very glad to find accommodation, furniture and, with that, the opportunity to show hospitality. They are keen to have a house blessing with word, prayer and song.
Refugees have become our neighbours. Our loving Lord says, Love your neighbour as yourself. For Jesus the neighbour is the needy person near you.
Pastor Cecil Schmalkuche and his wife Jane served the Footscray Parish in suburban Melbourne for more than 27 years, before Pastor Cecil retired last November. The congregation, now served by Pastor Sam Davis, has approximately 15 different nationalities within its membership. The church has had a special mission welcoming the stranger and caring for refugees dating back to its early years in the 1950s.
This feature story comes from The Lutheran March 2016. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.
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