The refugee, my housemate: On opening our hearts…

Posted by on Oct 13, 2015 in Blog | 1 comment

Brian Harris with Vose student Alan McGrechan.Vose student Alan McGrechan recently shared something of his story at a chapel service… And what a story it is – of cultural readjustment to Australia after his time in Mozambique, of loss of purpose and confidence, and then of finding new challenge and meaning in opening his heart and life to others, others who in this case were Afghani asylum seekers. I find it inspiring, and I am sure you will to… It fits seamlessly into our current series on ethics, ‘Deciding what’s right…’

Currently I live in Midland with sixteen other people in a shared house called First Home Project. First Home Project was set up by Teresa Lee and Jarrod McKenna along with many supporters to show love and welcome as an alternative to the current inhumane policies surrounding Refugees and Asylum Seekers. It is an alternative to immigration detention centres that currently hold 240 children in conditions that Amnesty International say violate basic human rights. It is a first home and a rental record for families trying to deal with a language barrier, culture-shock, and all other stresses that come from escaping their home country and starting afresh in a new country. First Home Project is a place to show the love of Christ and to welcome the outsider, to welcome those who are displaced around the world and fleeing persecution.

For me living at First Home Project with four Asylum Seekers from Afghanistan isn’t exactly where I pictured myself in 2015, but looking back on last year I am constantly reminded of God’s goodness and how he can rebuild our broken lives time and time again.

About one year ago at the beginning of first semester I was faced with some significant challenges in life. I had recently returned from Mozambique after serving there as a missionary for two years, and upon returning to Perth life seemed to be crumbling all around me. I was suffering from reverse culture-shock, I was grieving the loss of the team and a community of friends in Mozambique that I was now separated from, and I had lost a sense of direction in life almost left wondering who I was, where did I even belong? I was in a dark place and had little energy even to leave the house let alone go and socialize with people. All of these small things accumulated into something too big for me to handle alone and it sent me into a downward spiral. I wondered what I was doing here in Perth and constantly longed to be working in Mozambique, a place where I had purpose and meaning.

From this place of hopelessness I had to find myself again and realign my identity in Christ. I had to find purpose and meaning coming from a place of disorientation. I had to find what place God had for me here as I transitioned from mission in Mozambique back to mission in Australia. As the fogginess of the reverse culture shock began to clear I gained more energy and felt I could be present where I was and find direction once more.   This was not an easy transition but again and again I was reminded that God’s mission to the world is the same wherever we are, and we are called to join God in it, wherever we are. I believe God’s mission to the world is Jesus, and what He came to do was proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God and to redeem the whole world, restoring our relationships. As Bryant Myers puts it, restoring our relationship with God, with self, with others and the rest of creation.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry when he was handed the scroll of Isaiah in a synagogue in Nazareth, he said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus came with the real good news!! He was speaking to the poor and the oppressed who were on the outskirts of society. Jesus was initiating the kingdom of God that would see those who were oppressed released from their oppression, and justice given to the poor and the powerless. This good news is also for the time we are living in now, the kingdom of God is here, it is a present reality, but it is also yet to be made full in Christ. At the end of Jesus’ ministry on Earth he appeared to his disciples following his resurrection and said to them “Peace be with you! As the father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21). The disciples of Jesus are called to continue proclaiming the good news of the kingdom not only to Israel but to the Gentiles and to the world. As the church, we are being sent and included in this work. What does that mean though? What does this actually look like for us as students preparing for ministry? What does it mean for us as followers of Jesus to proclaim the good news of the kingdom and live out that reality?

Brad Chilton and J. McDonald explain it better than I can, so I will to read it from their book Jesus and the Ethics of the Kingdom, The Kingdom of God is not about what God does while humans stand by passively; nor is it about our effort to build the kingdom while God passively watches. The kingdom of God is performative: it is God’s performance in which we actively participate” Chilton and McDonald go on to describe “the praxis of the kingdom” – They say that the kingdom in practice is “the reversal of worldly values and a new lifestyle of service, servanthood and humility… The one who enters the kingdom is healed from blindness and follows Jesus’ way with faith-perception, seeking justice and surrendering false values such as wealth, status-seeking and power. ‘The focus of the new obedience is found in the twin commandment to love.’” So what is it that we are supposed to do as we actively participate in God’s new kingdom? With the risk of oversimplifying it I believe the focus is to love. To love God, to love our neighbors, and to love our enemies.

This might look like being a friend to a homeless person, or supporting a single mother. It could mean signing a petition and standing with the 150 Aboriginal communities that could lose their homes, It could mean giving time to someone with a mental disability, or it could mean welcoming a refugee or an asylum seeker to your house for dinner.

Recently at West City Church where I attend, we had Brad Chilcott a pastor from Adelaide come and speak. He spoke on what it means to love others and something simple yet profound that he shared was deeply challenging and confronting for me. Brad said that “to love others we must draw near to them.” He said that “at times we claim to love people we have never spent time with, never listened to, never loved.” The point was that we cannot love from a distance. This was deeply challenging for me and it made me rethink how I loved others and what that meant.

As I struggled over last year to find my place here in Perth and what mission meant for me here I had some choices to make. I was living in a one bedroom apartment in Leederville surrounded by great restaurants, great coffee, good looking people, and life was pretty comfortable. Life was easy but I was also restless and lost. I longed to have the clear purpose I once had in the past –I had come back from Mozambique and was going through a phase of chasing the false values of wealth, status and a comfortable lifestyle – again. I was separating myself from the opportunities to love others, to draw near to those in need. This was exactly the fear that I had had coming home, that I would slowly slide back into this lifestyle and become apathetic to the injustices of this world, indifferent to the needs around me. Fortunately God did not allow me to feel comfortable in this space and I became increasingly restless.

When the opportunity came to live at First Home Project it was a scary thought. I began to justify where I was living in Leederville; that it was helpful for studying, there were good cafes to study from, I was closer to Vose, as an introvert I needed alone time… Where was I going to get that living in a house with sixteen other people? That is still a difficult question to answer.

In all of this the truth is I was restless where I was, and my lifestyle was not creating opportunities to draw close to people, to love them. I felt compelled to move to Midland to First Home Project, and about 6 months ago when the opportunity came up I did. I knew that it would mean giving up many things but I never knew how much I would gain in moving there. As I try to surrender these false values of wealth, status and comfort and try to love others, even if that is ugly at times, God has been piecing my life back together and giving it purpose and meaning once more. My life has been enriched living with and learning from these guys from Afghanistan. The love and welcome they show me and those around them compared to what they’ve received from our country’s current policies is hard to fathom. The love and inclusion they show their neighbor who suffers from a mental disability is beautiful. The hospitality they show and the food they cook is amazing!! What a great gift food is, that God has given us to bring people together.

Sharing in the lives of those living at First Home Project isn’t about “helping them” or about loving with the secret agenda of converting Muslims to Christianity. What it is about is friendship, it’s about sharing in the struggles of life with one another, and sharing in the joy when someone passes their driving test, or finds their first job, or graduates from high school, or gets to surf for the first time. All these things are made possible when people have the opportunity to be resettled in community rather than locked up in detention canters. I have learnt far more than I could ever hope to give from living with these families and young men, I have discovered that the closer we are to people the more love can be shared. It is hard to experience or give love from a distance. To be honest I don’t see why anyone would want to “stop the boats” and I really hope that we can be part of a better future that is one of love, and welcoming the outsider. Lets join God in his mission whatever that may look like in the ministries that we are a part of. Lets actively participate in the kingdom of God as we draw close to others, loving them as Jesus loves us.


One Comment

  1. Loved reading this. Thankyou so much for sharing.

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