When I first walked into church I knew as much about politics as I did about faith. As I immersed myself in fundamentalist Christian culture, I found myself breathing in the conservative views of the church I belonged to. “Boatpeople” entered my lexicon at some point, and soon my perspective of immigration was set. In post 9/11 western culture, I picked up the fight to protect what little Christian culture we had left. “Send them back” seemed like the only option going in my Christian circle, and so I took it on.
I really didn’t know yet how to pray and ask what Jesus had to say.
Then I met Armin.* This newly arrived young person walked into the homelessness service I worked for and suddenly “boatperson” became “teenage kid.” I learnt of the horrors of child soldiers in war-torn nations and saw firsthand the effects of PTSD. I watched on as he battled demons and blurred the line between reality and nightmares. Years later he would turn up at the service in a psychotic episode, and I would be reminded again that suffering, while out of sight, never goes away. He was 16 when I first met him. There were many more stories like his.
As with all things that challenge our deep-seated understanding of the world, I tucked it away, somewhat aware of the incoherence of my worldview and the reality I was encountering.
I still didn’t pray and seek what Jesus had to say.
Years later, I would take up studies and one of my first lecturers had been working in ministry on one of the Australian immigration detention centers. I learnt what a refugee was, heard stories about boat journeys and families left behind. I heard the stories of risks and tragedies, persecution and war, and the horrors that continued after arrival to safety.
Finally, I began to pray and seek what Jesus had to say.
I began to seek what He had to say in the midst of things that life was teaching me. I sought voices that were expressing and living a Christianity that was consistent with the Jesus I was encountering. As I immersed myself in scripture, I found that genuine Christianity looked much more like the Jesus who had opened his arms and welcomed me when I had no right to be welcomed. The Jesus who loved, cared, and pursued when I rejected, stumbled, and failed. If Jesus could do that for me, I knew he could do it for anyone.
Jesus led me to see the humanity of every person that God created. Once you see your brother or sister through the eyes of their suffering lord, you must wake up in a way that will change you. And you can never comfortably put your head down again until all is made right.
So now to my confession…
A week ago, I broke the law to make a point. I was arrested. It made national news. I wasn’t alone, others like me were alongside me, and others have gone before me. #LoveMakesAWay is a movement of church leaders who are moved by compassion to speak up for those who are being neglected and mistreated in offshore detention facilities. To call on our government to live up to the Christian values they so often claim. To give a voice to every one of those men on Manus, the people in other camps, and those in limbo here on the mainland. They all have a story. They all have hopes for their future, love for their families, abilities, qualifications, interests, quirks and humor. They are people.
This was not an easy decision for me. Since finding faith, I have tried to do things right. I have not always got it right, but you could find me debating with my Christian friends about why they shouldn’t be streaming TV shows or illegally downloading music, I’d go back to the shop to pay for the forgotten item in the trolley, I’d yell at drivers (ok my husband) for going the wrong way down a one-way street when no one is around.
It’s not in my nature to be defiant, and it is in my conviction to uphold the law and honor authorities. But when the authorities oppress, when the power structures are inflicting suffering on already vulnerable people, when men go days on end with no food or water or medication, when five years of people’s lives are stripped away by my nation, I want it on the record that I am not okay with this. Not in my name.
So I prayed and sought what Jesus had to say.
The same Jesus that defied authorities was arrested and ultimately crucified. The Jesus that sacrificed his life for my freedom. The Jesus whose followers I admire, from the apostle Paul to Martin Luther King Jr, have done the same.
I knew there was no other choice.
I walked in and sat on the ground of Christian Porter’s office, armed with cupcakes, flowers, and apologies for the disruption, and I prayed prayers of repentance for all the times I hadn’t sought what Jesus had to say.
I prayed for the men on Manus, and I prayed for us, that we would all seek what Jesus has to say. I also prayed that one day soon he could say to our nation: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”