My great-grandfather, James Castle, came to Australia in the late 1800s looking for somewhere to use his skills as an art metal worker. One of the stories I have been told – that highlight how strange people in England thought Australia was – is about him sending a dead cicada home in a matchbox to his family, telling them this was the size of flies in this new country! I think that story also helps to explain where my father got his sense of humour!
James did not find it easy to move all the way across the world and to establish himself in a new place. It was made even harder when his brothers, who he had invited to join him, stole his money and burned down the business, and he had to start again. But he did start again, building a factory in Newtown, and becoming friendly with the local publican’s daughter who became my great-grandmother. (My wedding ring incorporates her wedding ring, and our dining table and chairs are the ones they gave their daughter, Florence, when she married my grandfather, – ‘Pop’ – Cyril Groves.)
I finished Sunday’s sermon by saying:
“Most of us are people whose families and ancestors came from other places. We, too, have stories of what it is to be strangers, stories, perhaps, of suffering and trauma, and stories about welcome and belonging.
And this is our story as people of faith. We have been called as Abraham and Sarah were, seen as Hagar was, embraced and forgiven and welcomed into God’s family through the love – the lived-out love – of Jesus.
We are therefore called again – as our reading (Hebrews 13) says – to go beyond our safe boundaries to identify with Christ, to travel on – to look for a city that is to come – to ‘not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.’”
There have been a couple of stories in the Canberra Times this week about the work of Canberra Refugee Support, of which Doug Hynd, a member of our church is President.
One of them https://canberrarefugee.org.au/2023/06/19/a-refugees-very-hard-road-to-canberra-and-freedom-refugee-week-2023/ is the story of Zerghona Jawadi – who is well-known to some in our church.
She arrived in Canberra just under 20 years ago, a refugee from the horrors of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan when people were being hanged before crowds in the football stadium and women risked stoning if they asserted any sort of right.
She was married at the age of 14. When the Taliban were at the height of their power, her father, a judge, was in the sights of the hard-liners.
…So they fled. They stayed in Iran for a couple of months but life was impossible without permits or ID. They risked being sent back to Afghanistan. Malaysia for a week followed and then Indonesia for two months. And then Australia – or at least a rickety fishing boat to Christmas Island, followed by three years on Nauru where her second son was born.
“It was a very small boat for eight days. There was no space to put my feet. We had to sit very close together. Very tight.” She reckons there were 100 people on the boat. The price the traffickers demanded was around $10,000.
And finally after the three years on Nauru, approval of a visa – a night in Brisbane and a lifetime ahead in Canberra.
The rule was that people without a family elsewhere in Australia had to move to the capital. “I had never heard of Canberra. I thought it was like the countryside.” And cold. “In Nauru, it was always hot. We had never had cold weather. In Canberra, it was the middle of winter. It was freezing for us.”
Zerghona is now studying at the Canberra Institute of Technology in Bruce. She’s passed a series of exams in English after starting from scratch and is learning how to work with those in need in the community.
The son she came out of Afghanistan with at the age of seven is now a mechanic who owns his own business. The son born in Nauru is studying psychology at the University of Canberra. She is divorced from the husband she married at 14.
We are currently in the middle of Refugee Week. Yesterday, 20 June, was World Refugee Day, an international day designated by the United Nations to honour refugees around the globe, shine a light on their plight, and work together to find long-term solutions to displacement.
If you would like to find out more about Canberra Refugee Services, or volunteer your time or donate money – go to https://canberrarefugee.org.au/
Let’s ‘be the church’! Let’s “not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”