Loving Strangers in Melbourne
13 Mar 2017
A Pioneers team based in Melbourne is bringing the gospel to asylum seekers and refugees through a ministry of love. Naomi, the team leader, shares what this love in action looks like:
As an Afghan and a Muslim girl, the last place 17 year old Salma* ever thought she’d find herself, was standing up in front of a church congregation in outer Melbourne sharing a part of her story. It was a story of her family and their brutal persecution because they were considered to be from an inferior tribe. It was a story of them running for their lives in the desperate hope that they wouldn’t be killed. It was a story of unthinkable courage, as they risked their lives to find a safe place, a place of refuge, where they might have hope of some kind of life.
Salma drew in a sharp breath and said the following words, which are etched into my memory:
“We don’t need your sympathy. We need your empathy. We need you to put yourselves in our shoes. If your family was being killed would you wait in some imaginary queue or would you grab your husband, your wife, your children… and would you run? Run for your life. And when you’re running for your life there is no such thing as borders.”
Our Pioneers Victoria Diaspora (Refugee) team is passionate about sharing Jesus’ love and walking alongside with people like Salma. At the same we are committed to partnering with the local church and equipping and empowering them to do the same. One way we do both of these things is by taking groups of asylum seekers away for the weekend to be hosted by local church congregations, even billeted out into their homes overnight. Each gets to hear one another’s stories. Barriers and misconceptions are broken down and relationships built. Muslims, many for the first time, get to meet and know Christians and even go to church. For many, the love and welcome they experience blows them away and leaves them wanting to know who this Jesus is that the Christians follow.
This is exactly what happened for Mustafa*. After fleeing persecution in his home country, Mustafa landed right here on our doorstep. Attending our English classes and these weekends away, Mustafa experienced the love and hospitality of Christians. Christians who served him, listened to his story and even cried with him. Mustafa was bewildered and ask them why they would love him so unconditionally? They told him of the wonderful, saving, good news of Jesus. Mustafa could respond in no other way than to follow Jesus. He was baptised and now has the greatest missionary zeal of anyone I know, longing to share the love of Jesus with his fellow country people. He even dreams of one day returning to his homeland that is so dangerous to him, so that people might know the truth.
That is the upside down, crazy, unexpected kingdom of God at work. And we have the indescribable privilege of being part of it. If only requires that we dare to allow ourselves to love with Jesus’ love.
*Names changed for privacy