Church


As a young teen living in Perth in 1981, the plight of refugees fleeing from Vietnam, or anywhere else for that matter, was not on my radar. But I had grown up in a loving church community called the Wembley Downs Church of Christ, it was here, and in my family, that I am sure the seeds of compassion for those in need were first planted. I know the people in the story below personally. I’ve eaten with them and (not for a while now) spent quality time with them. My passion for seeing desperate people be given a chance in this great country, no doubt, was borne in the following story;

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(Google Images)

In 1968, two years after qualifying to become a high school maths teacher, Kiem Do was conscripted at the age of 21. He successfully passed an exam that qualified him to join the Air-force and he quickly rose through the ranks to become the Chief Air Terminal Controller in Danang airbase with the rank of Lieutenant.  During this time the war between Vietnam and the United States (depending on who you ask) was raging and continued for 20 years.

Kiem was in the Airforce from 1968-1974 and during this time, in 1973 he met Ky-Anh who was a school teacher, they got married in the same year (it was love at first sight)! They welcomed their first child, Do Dinh Dang Khoa, the following year.

 

In 1974, when North Vietnam took over South Vietnam many allies were captured and placed in “re-education” camps – these camps were really prisoner of war camps (enduring extremely harsh physical and mental conditions).  The minimum sentence for all Prisoners of War (POW) was 3 years and the higher the rank the greater the solider would be held, some cases up to 15 years.

 

One of the things the prisoners were required to do was to write down details of their involvement in the war every month. If a prisoner’s story changed from month to month, their term of stay would be increased. Imagine the mental state of the prisoners required to divulge details of their “disloyalty” regularly.

WAR & CONFLICT BOOK ERA:  KOREAN WAR/PRISONERS

(Google Images)

Due to Kiem’s high ranking position in the South Vietnamese Army, Kiem was treated very poorly in the camp – his living conditions were horrific.  With little to eat and forced to do continual hard labour under harsh conditions, Kiem lost a considerable amount of weight. By way of example, POWs were forced to clear forests for farming and harvest lumber for furniture making. Sadly, quite a number of POWs died from illness, starvation, exhaustion and purpose to live. These POW camps were designed to strip their prisoners of dignity and their will to live – their biggest torture method was to slowly diminish their prisoner’s hopes. During his time in the camp, Kiem found it hard to imagine that there could ever be a bright future for him and his family.

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Ky-Anh and Khoa during this time were refuged back in Saigon at Ky-Anh’s family home where all her nine siblings and their families lived under one roof.  With food, resources and money being scarce, you can imagine the family squabbles Ky-Anh would have had to deal with. Saigon during this time sustained a great deal of destruction and loss. Ky-Anh lived in fear and saw terrible effects of the war first hand, including human casualty.

 

After three long years, Kiem’s name was called out for release. While detained at POW camp, prisoners wanted to hear their names called out on two occasions. The first is to announce the prisoner’s release, and the second was to clean the pots that the rice was cooked in because it meant that the prisoner could eat the burnt rice stuck to the bottom of the pot. Kiem was never told why he was released and he certainly did not want to hang around to ask!

 

Kiem slowly made his way back to Saigon, walking majority of the way.  Kiem was met with yet another hurdle. All districts of Saigon were controlled by the North Vietnamese Communist Party. The Communist authorities still considered Kiem as a POW and did not permit him to reside in the city. Unable to live in the city, Kiem continued to be separated from Ky-Anh and his son Khoa.

 

He was forced to live on the outskirts of the city and was only allowed to hold menial jobs. As a POW, Kiem was constantly told that his children would not be allowed to attend any form of higher education and there would be no opportunities for them. He and his children would be barred from holding any job with any social high standing of influence.

 

Ky-Anh and Khoa’s living conditions were getting desperate as their living arrangements had not improved and Ky-Anh’s siblings had begun to quarrel. Imagine living with 9 adults and 4 kids, all needing to be fed and clothed with little resources to do so.  Her family were on food rations and she was unable to significantly contribute to the household as she had no means of earning money, she had a young child to look after and a husband who was considered a pariah by authorities. And to make matters worse, Ky-Anh was being ostracised.

 

Kiem managed to secure a job at a pineapple plantation on the outskirts of Saigon. Desperate to see Ky-Anh and Khoa, Kiem would often sneak into the city, walking all the way from the plantation.

 

After working on the planation for 1.5 years, Kiem met a man of Chinese and Vietnamese decent who asked if he knew how to use a compass and read a map. Fortunately due to Kiem’s training in the Airforce, he had acquired the skills of using a compass and reading maps.  However, during this time owning a compass or even talking about a compass would put one’s life in danger. Luckily Kiem had a friend who he knew would be willing to sell this man a compass. This set things in motion and they agreed to work together to escape Vietnam.

 

Escaping Vietnam was not something for the faint hearted. The Communist Party thoroughly patrolled the waterways and kept a close watch on residents living in regions surrounding the waterways closely for suspicious activity – mainly the shipyards where boats were constructed. Even moving Ky-Anh and Khoa from the city into the region to prepare for the escape was extremely dangerous in itself.

 

Kiem, Ky-Anh and Khoa attempted to escape Vietnam 7 times. But each time they were about to attempt their escape, a whistle blower would raise the alarm and they would not get very far. On their 8th attempt, with a new crew and a 11 meter boat installed with a repurposed engine from a wheat grinder, they successfully fled Vietnam.

 

The details of the escape was delicately planned and kept a secret. Kiem himself did not know when the family would be travelling until a core member of the crew informed him a week out from the day. The family had less than a week to prepare for the potentially life ending journey. The fact that Kiem, Ky-Anh and Khoa could not disclose to their extended family members of their plans to leave, made it even excruciatingly more difficult.

 

In the darkness of night, the family sadly left their home and made their way down to the Mekong region to the town of Tra Vinh, to meet up with the organisers. People travelling out of Saigon were required to have documentation issued from the Government outlining their travel. Kiem, Ky-Anh and Khoa had no such documentation, so every bus and ferry ride was extremely stressful.

 

Anyone who was found to be travelling to the Mekong region for the purpose or suspicion of escaping Vietnam were imprisoned, regardless of gender or age. During the family’s travel to the Mekong region they had a few close encounters with the authorities. However, luckily for the family there was usually a large movement of people in this region so the Communist patrols could not check everyone in the region. The family stayed in Tra Vinh at a acquaintance’s house while they awaited for favourable weather condition to travel.

 

Once they received the signal, the plan was to load thirty adults and ten children onto the eleven meter boat, docked halfway downstream at the mouth of the river. This area was usually well patrolled by the authorities especially during calm nights, so the plan was to move small groups of 5-6 people at a time, by rowing small boats to the main boat docked downstream. This operation was extremely risky as these waters were well patrolled, not only by the Communist authorities but also desperate locals seeking to claim reward money if they notified the authorities of escapees. The most difficult part was ensuring that the children were kept extremely quiet during the transfer.

 

Once everyone was transferred into the main boat, Kiem and the crew slowly navigated the boat out towards the open sea. The noise of the engine was smothered by sandbags and channelled into the water. About 100 meters into the journey a patrol boat headed up stream towards their boat. The crew agreed that if they were spotted that they would make a dash for freedom, even though they all understood the potential risk and consequences of getting shot at. They all knew that it was suicidal because their repurposed engine was not going to be able to out run the patrol boat, they had no choice at this point. As the crew held their breath, the patrol boat brushed passed them with no more than 5 meters between them. It was truly amazing that they were not intercepted, shot down or captured during this close encounter.

 

Once out of the river into the open seas, they headed in the direction of Malaysia.  March was the most favourable time of the year to escape Vietnam as the waters were much calmer. This was particularly important given that the boat they were travelling on wasn’t built to withstand poor weather conditions.

 

They travelled for 5 days and 5 nights. What an ordeal for Khoa, a little boy just 6 years of age! They had to survive on small portions of rice, but with a combination of the cramped conditions, anxiety, fear and sea-sickness no one ate.

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(Google Images)

On the 5th evening, Kiem noticed a light beaming from a light house off the coast of Malaysia. Uncertain about the depth of the water and whether there were large rocks at the base of sea, Kiem directed the crew to anchor the boat in a little cove. They watched the path taken by fisherman in hopes that they could lead them safely to shore, but Kiem knew that the fishing boats were too fast for them to follow.

 

The following morning, the crew got long bamboo sticks to probe the water to estimate the seabed depth whilst looking out for protruding jagged rocks. The crew navigated the boat as close to shore as possible. When it was safe enough, the crew and passengers jumped into the water and walked to shore. A local Malaysian from the island stood at shore and welcomed them. Everyone was exhausted, relieved and overwhelmed with so many mixed emotions. Some of joy and others of fear, but one thing they all knew was that they now had freedom. At this point, Kiem, Ky-Anh and Khoa finally saw a future for themselves as a unified family which they had been deprived of for so long.

 

The Immigration Department of Malaysia had predicted that Vietnamese refugees would be arriving from the east coast. The Malaysian government were happy to welcome Vietnamese refugees and agreed to process the refugees’ documentation.

 

All the crew and passengers were transferred by bus to their refugee processing camp in Malaysia. The camp was very basic, but everyone recalled it to be a place filled with positive energy. People had found a renewed sense of hope and aspiration for brighter futures. Meaningful traditional Vietnamese music was played over the camp speakers every day during sunset, whilst it sadly reminded everyone of home and loved ones they left behind, everyone knew how blessed they were to be given the opportunity to wake up each day with the knowledge that they had a sense of control over their destiny. This was a privilege that so many others have sought and lost their lives trying to pursue and for others will never have the opportunity to know freedom.

 

The camp was built with a few small temporary classrooms for the kids and adults to study basic conversational English. Whilst awaiting for processing both Ky-Anh and Khoa attended the school. Having worked with American soldiers during the war, Kiem knew basic conversational English. Instead Kiem assisted in the wood workshop which a Vietnamese refugee had established as he had been at the camp for a very long time. The local camp workers supplied thin plywood and small hand saws for the workshop. The workshop produced plywood pictures (before the likes of 3D printing and laser cutters) and ornaments, including timber replica model boats, which were sold to the local markets in return for small amounts of money.

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Given Kiem’s service in the Airforce with the United States allies, him and his family was given priority to migrate to the United States. However, Kiem felt that United States always seemed to be involved in conflict (he’s not wrong there) and he did not wish to see his family go through anymore wars, so he waited to see if other countries would offer his family the opportunity to resettle.

 

As side note, Kiem recalls an interview he saw on television in Vietnam during the war. He remembers watching Henry Kissinger the then Secretary of the United States under the President Richard Nixon. In this interview he said that if he could live anywhere in the world he would live in Australia. From this point, Kiem knew he wanted to raise his family in Australia because for a prominent diplomat like Kissinger who was well travelled, highly educated and informed, to publically announce that Australia was the best place in world was something significant. Australia was no doubt in Kiem’s mind and heart a place of peace and hope.

 

Kevin Sharp (who, the Do Family, now endearingly refer to him as Uncle Kevin) – was a member of the Wembley Downs Church of Christ. He had read and seen something about boat loads of refugees escaping war torn Vietnam and heading to the east coast of Malaysia and was disturbed by what he saw.  It was in 1981 when he was moved to do something about this tragedy.

 

Kevin presented his case to the Church and suggested we rescue a family and bring them to Australia from the Refugee Camp in Malaysia. He wanted to give a sponsor a family to give them the opportunity to start a new life, a life that we all at some point take for granted.

 

The Australian Immigration Department (under Malcolm Frazer’s Prime Ministership) was involved in sponsorship process. They selected 3 family profiles who were residing in the Malaysian refugee camp to the Church – the Church was to choose 1 family to sponsor. The Church was faced with a hard task and made their decision purely on the photographs that they were provided. The Church chose a family comprising of a well-educated man, along with his wife and son who were in desperate need of a new beginning in a country that could offer many opportunities and possibilities. The Do family had been selected.

 

It took 3 months for the Wembley Downs Church to get the Do’s house in Scarborough organised.

On the 11th of July 1982, the Do family were notified that all was prepared in Perth and they were to leave Malaysia and head to their new life in the land of hopes, dreams and freedom, Australia.

 

Three days later on the 14th of July, the Do family arrived in Perth. Kevin and Fay, [my Aunty], nervously waited at the airport to meet the family that they had sponsored. The flight was filled with refugees who had been successfully sponsored by different churches and organisations.

 

Kevin and Fay distinctly remember seeing a little family coming towards them with all their worldly possessions in a small torn suitcase and under Kiem’s arm was a timber boat, a handmade replica of the boat that they left Vietnam in, which he presented to Kevin as a small token of his gratitude.

 

Perth welcomed the family with one of its coldest winter nights! Coming from humid Malaysia, they were not adequately prepared for such cold weather. Warm clothing was given to the family as they were bundled into a bus with the other refugees and was transferred to Graylands Immigration Centre to start their new life in Australia. At that time, Graylands was used as a holding place for quarantining newly arrived refugees. Here the refugees were involved in an orientation and assimilation program covering language and culture for a period of 6 weeks – this was supposed to be a soft-introduction to living in Perth, WA. After the 6 weeks, the Do family were free to take up residence in the home the Church prepared for them on Scarborough Beach road. When they were transported to their new home, their first reaction was of astonishment and disbelieve that this little flat was so gracefully and generously provided for them.  And it was from that moment this family the Do’s become part of my family.

Over the years I came to see this family as just another family connected to my family, but beautifully different;

  • We had fun with the language barriers.
  • My Mum drove Ky-Anh to the hospital when she was in labour.
  • Ky-Anh learnt to swim in our pool.
  • Khoa went off to school, not being able to speak a word of English.
  • He played basketball in our church team with Dad as the coach.
  • We had fun eating delicious authentic Vietnamese food before there was any of these authentic Vietnamese Restaurants in Perth.
  • We had fun watching their three children grow up, awarded university degrees, getting married, having children, receiving professional recognitions and national education awards.

 

Our little Church with a big heart gave a family a new start in life.

Khoa is now married with three kids: Zachary (10), Amelia (8) and Elysha (2). He currently holds the position of Associate Professor at Curtin University within the School of Built Environment and Design.

 

The middle daughter born in Australia, Gina is married with one daughter, Emily (6) and is currently residing and working in Geraldton. She is the Deputy Headmaster in Nagel Catholic College High School.

 

Christina, the youngest daughter also born in Australia is married and recently had a baby boy Noah only 8 months ago. She is a qualified lawyer and Lecturer in the Curtin Law School. She is due to commence her Doctorate at the University of Western Australia next year.

 

It has been a truly amazing journey to date for the Do family and those who have been involved in the whole process. It is a story of how a little kindness goes such a long way, if we only dare to care.

 

There is an old Chinese proverb that: “When the winds of change blow, some people build walls, others build windmills”. The Do family would like to publicly thank the Wembley Downs Church of Christ and all our church family for their unconditional generosity, kindness and love. Kiem says;

Thank you for building windmills and not walls. Your kindness gave a little refugee family hope and a future where there was none. We are forever grateful that you chose us and we found you!

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Ky-Anh and Kiem Do in October 2016.

 

*Postscript – At the time of publication there are 1233 people in Australia’s off shore detention centres Nauru and Manus who have been told there is no hope of ever placing their feet on our great land. I wonder if there are families with stories like our friends – The Do family, amongst them? I’m sure there are. I wonder if there are any churches and community groups in Australia who will ‘carry’ refugees (no matter how they get here) through the tough years of settlement in a new land? I KNOW there are!

I often ‘fantasize’ about going back…you know back to good old fashion church pastoring. A good mate, Hamo – the Backyard Missionary – he did it. Went back that is. He is heading back to Quinns Baptist Church in the next few weeks to be their main man🙂

In my fantasy I ponder the kind of pastor I would be in a local church nowadays. So much has changed in side my head as well as in my day to day practice and lifestyle. I commit so much more time to staying around home than I did when I worked for a local church.

Someone once shared with me about a church they are involved with and how their pastor had been doing a series of messages compelling the church to ‘follow the vision’ and ‘get with the program folks’. On one particular week he shared all about leadership and how with him at the helm he expects everyone to follow. God has given him the towel, the mandate, the baton, the anointing, the apointment to lead this church so you should follow, if not bugger off. (my interpretation of the message I was told about!) The illustration was used about a bus. The senior pastor told the congregation that he is the driver and expects all on board to want to go the direction he is going. When the bus stops at the bus stop and you say “i want to go to Hillarys” the driver says ‘you will need to catch a taxi as this bus does not go there”. The pastor told the congregation (so I am told) that taxi wil COST you dearly. NEVER go it alone, this will cost, it is expensive.

Just to drive the point home, another one of the pastors in the church took to the stage mid-sermon to emphasise his blind obedience to the senior pastor and the blessing that comes from being on his bus no matter what, he was thanked by his boss and the congregation assured that no extra pay would be forth coming for this guy for his comments🙂416FS34YYHL._SL500_AA240_

Now – all this obviously  was shared to me by someone who was present and I have used my own language, but it got me thinking about the book I once read called Renegotiating The Church Contract by Thwaites. In the book he argues that the above model of leadership is very Old Testament. Picture Moses climbing the mountain on the peoples behalf, meeting God on the peoples behalf, hearing from him on their behalf, sharing the message about God and his commandments. Never would they try to presume themselves worthy of seeing God or hearing from him themselves – ohhh no! They sent Moses to do that on their behalf. He was their man, their priest in a sense. They followed Mo and he showed them the way to go according to what God had told him. Get on the Moses bus!

In the New Testament we open to see Jesus model of ministry as he sits in the place of a servant and washes the disciples feet in order to equip them to eat and hear from God about his imminent death. We move further and see a tear form in the curtain that seperated God and man (Read Hebrews). A new way was being formed, a new path for people to gain equal access to God, no longer needing a priest to hear from God for us. We become a priesthood of all believers, then we see an outpouring of the Holy Spirit for all people to enable them to hear God, to call on him, to do his Kingdom work begun in Christ. The leaders of this movement seem to ‘antenna men’. People moving amongst the believers encouraging them hear God, tuning in their radar to be able to discern his good pleasing and perfect will for their lives, on an equal journey confessing sins together accepting that others may provide insite for their [the leaders] own walk with God. Not telling the people God’s will, but helping them hear God. In fact more like a mountain guide taking the church up the hill rather than going himself and returning and saying ‘follow me, this is where God wants us to go’. In fact It looks more like a fleet of taxis driving all over the city doing Kingdom acts, serving people, serving God, loving people, loving God than it does a bus driver calling people onto his bus and all heading off in his ‘God given direction’.

How would I do it different if I was to go back…hmmm I know I have pondered this before. I think I would get the sack inside of a year for not attending enough meetings, not caring about the money in the bank or the budget or the building or the garden or the cafe…ok, I would care about that, not preaching proper sermons, not being in the office, swearing, drinking too much, wearing shorts and thongs on stage…and a shirt🙂 Not sure about it really. Not sure entirely that I would say no, but not sure I would say yes if the right looking ministry job came along.

I wore shorts and 2 odd socks to preach last week at Quinns, my pants were falling down as I left my belt behind and I forgot to shave…I think those guys overlooked most of that!

Matt (OEUp) sent me this link. These reflections are definitely thoughts I regularly ponder!

Taken from – here

Pioneer and/or Pastor

Just at the moment I’m struggling with energy, it’s not tiredness in the traditional sense, it’s more a sense of being de-energised… this morning feeling incredibly down I began to reflect on just why I’ve been feeling so down/depressed for the last week or so… it’s fair to say life isn’t easy, financially things are tricky for us as a family but I began to realise that there is a deeper personal/spiritual issue for me… I’m a Pioneer, a creative etc. I need new challenges, new projects to sink my teeth into, to get my creative juices flowing again.

In the business world it seems accepted that entrepreneurs are always entrepreneurs, they specialise in “blue sky thinking” and they then work with managers and administrators… the worst thing to do with a new product/initiative is to leave it in the hands of the inventor!  Yet in the Church it seems to be assumed that a pioneer will gradually morph into a manager/pastor… I’m beginning to doubt this model.  There is nothing wrong with managing, and we all need to manage to some extent, but as a Pioneer I’m finding it’s killing me!  When I worked in the Theatre a project would last 2/3 months then it would be time to move on to the next challenge, I could never be (and never was) a stage manager who would stay with the show for the foreseeable… I had to move on… I’m beginning to realise this is my nature, I’m energised by risk, by new problems to solve, by the creative dynamic… when left to manage something I stuff it up, not by making a mess of it but because I find myself gradually drained and I lose the energy needed and I get distracted or just thoroughly demotivated… and as hard as I try I can’t find energy from nowhere!    With the creative bit between my teeth I get told off for being a workaholic, without it I can turn into a couch potato!  I’m not sure what the answer is, but it worries me that the CofE has put a lot of work into developing the Pioneer Ministry stream (both Lay and Ordained) perhaps assuming that once they have started new things they will cease to be pioneers and become Pastors… I just wonder how sustainable it is to wind up all these Pioneers if we are going to sooner or later squeeze them into being something they are not?

So what might the church of God’s future look like? Perhaps a snap shot might start to get the imaginative juices flowing. I’m not offering a one-size fits all blue-print, but a few fringe thoughts to get the cogs turning, so here goes:

On Monday Morning, upstairs at the local Pub, a group of professional women and men meet to read the scriptures, relating them to the ethics of their workplace. They pray together and support one another. One of them is a priest, who nurtures and leads this group each week, before heading off to work in an office for the week… A group of single parents meets on Tuesday morning with some elderly widows, one of whom is a deacon, to offer mutual support, have their kids play together, and practise Christian meditation in the midst of a busy week…. Later that day, a group of people with special needs, and their carers and friends, gather in the church hall to sing songs and share fellowship, and to pray for one another as they face the joys and difficulties of life… On Wednesday afternoon, a group of restless young people meet to read the scriptures with some theologically trained middle-aged mentors. They plan ways to raise awareness of injustice and to be activists for good in their local communities… Sometimes the Bishop pops in to offer them encouragement – she has plenty of time, because she’s a self-funded retiree, who has a pastoral ministry to the flock, and is not weighed down by administrative concerns… A congregation of children and their parents meet on Thursday afternoon. They share a meal and Eucharist together, the kids play some games, and they all read the bible together, before breaking off into groups to explore more deeply, each at their own level. A married couple with children are both priests for this congregation, and an older married couple are deacons… On Friday night, a group of creative artists open a café in a warehouse just out of town, where people of all ages can come and explore spirituality through music and art and multimedia. They only share the Eucharist a few times a year, but everyone contributes something to the liturgy from their own creative impulses. Their priest is a 26 year old bare-footed sculptor with dreadlocks, but nobody seems to mind… On Saturday evening, a classic sung Eucharist takes place in the old church-building. People from all sorts of backgrounds show up, including some people who feel marginalised in society, and are looking for a safe place to meet with God… From time to time the local resource priest meets with the leaders and facilitators of each of the 26 congregations in his care to offer advice, accountability and encouragement. Part of his job is be on the lookout for opportunities to plant new congregations, and to encourage and raise up new lay leaders, deacons, priests and bishops. There is a vague rumour that, once upon a time, there were these things called parishes, each with its own building and resident, full-time, paid priest. For the life of them, these Christians can’t imagine how it would have worked.

With his arm elbow deep in muddy water Eddie looks up and winks and mentions that if this mud crab gets a hold of his fingers we had better watch out as we will all know about it! We were out on the Mangrove flats that the people of Ngamagkoon belong to. Eddie is part of the Sampi family, made well known by the Eagles player Ashley Sampi, a Bardi from the mob at Ngamagkoon.

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The 5 of us  began our journey in Broome 4 days previous. We were on what we called a “listening journey”, as part of a programme I run called OnEARTH for Global Mission Partners. We were there to listen to country, to story, to legend, to the people of the Dampier Peninsula –

  • Jawi
  • Bardi
  • Nyulnyul
  • Jabirrjabirr
  • Nimanburru
  • Ngumbarl

Before the arrival of Europeans, the natural environment on the Dampier Peninsula provided plenty of bush tucker for the indigenous people.  Creeks, tidal areas and the ocean are full of fish, dugong, mud crab and oysters and the vine thickets provide fruits and berries to make a varied and nourishing local diet.

Dampier Peninsula people still have a strong affinity with the sea and bushland, as we discovered along our journey.

After driving from Broome we arrived in Looma (120km S/E of Derby) with a population of around 400. We stayed with Natasha and Jamie Short, a wonderful couple who pastor the People’s Church as well as look after the community youth centre. They are fantastic people. Jamie is a White fella from Perth and Natasha, an Aboriginal from the Halls Creek area. They have been serving at Looma for about 7 years now and have 2 great kids.

2009 07 28_1108After lunch and a swim down on the stunning Fitzroy River we drove up to Derby to visit the Whites. Paul and Laurel White pastor the Derby Baptist Church among other activities.  They have bought the Aboriginal Training Centre just out of town and have big plans for growth and extension. Whilst there we did some manual labor… we raked up truck loads of dry leaves (fire hazard) and were asked to remove the stumps of 2 recently cut down Boab trees- hmmm??!!

Laurel White looked after us while we were there. She is a great lady, she has a wonderful gift of hospitality and generosity! Paul, her husband and pastor at the church is a pilot and was away in Perth during our stay.  Outside the life and ministry of the predominantly white church Paul and Laurel have some amazing relationships and ministries in Aboriginal communities.

Kimberly Aid – This business has began as a result of RFDS having bigger planes and not being able to access smaller community airstrips around the Kimberley. Paul and Laurel have got a bunch of medical people and pilots to donate their time to assist in evac when RFDS can’t make it in.

Kingdom Aviation – Paul and Laurel run a 3 plane ministry that flies all over the Kimberley sharing their faith, serving the poor and running programs in schools, parent support group, and other training.

Dentistry – Laurel is a dentist nurse and in her work in Derby has made many an indigenous persons dentistry journey easier as a result of special favours and ‘working the system’ that does not always serve people from remote communities very well at all. Her willingness to make all sorts of tough things just ‘happen’ for people who otherwise couldn’t get there was wonderful! She tells a great story too!

After 2 nights in Derby we drove ‘the back way’ on some very out of the way tracks to get to Cape Leveque up on the top of the Dampier Peninsula. Upon check in at Kooljaman we drove over the hill toward our beach campsite, as we rounded the hill the most amazing view was taken in to gasps from all on board – this place was paradise! Kooljaman is jointly owned by Djarindjin and One Arm Point Aboriginal Communities and sits 220km north of Broome. We visited one of these communities on the road on the drive up the Peninsula –

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Some 200 km from Broome, there are two communities very close together with about 60 Aboriginal (Bardi) people in Lombadina (first settled in the late 1890’s by Thomas Puertiollano who sold the land to the Catholic Church) and over 200 in the more traditional Djarindjin. We called in to Djarindjin specifically to catch up with Barry Ennis, the Principal from the Lombidina/Djarindjin School. We had heard through Sabrina 2009 07 30_0986Haan/ABC radio National that the EON Foundation from Perth had been helping the school set up a organic community Kitchen Garden. Barry showed us around the garden but was also good enough to spend time sharing with us the history of the the area. This community is not without some of the usual issues we read about in the media in remote Aboriginal regions, but there was something about the place that we all loved. We sensed a slowness and peace about it, a friendliness that  drew us in.

P6060072 copyOn our first night at Cape Leveque (and every subsequent one!) we made our way down to the Western Beach and watched the sunset – undoubtably some of the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen!

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On Friday we went to One Arm Point community (Ardiyooloon). This community is the home of the Bardi and Jawi people who were the traditional inhabitants of the area. These people are still active in hunting around the local area and in most cases still using traditional hunting methods as they hunt for sea turtle or goorlil (we saw the evidence of a fresh catch along the beach!), dugong (odorr), and many many of the amazing fish (aarli) up there. They also collect the trochus shells and make jewellery, oysters, mud crabs and more. These people are proud of their hatchery on the point where they nurture all sorts of creatures in giant tanks.

Here at One Arm Point we stopped and and chatted with a wonderful couple called Brian and Violet Carter. Their son is the Chairman of One Arm Point Aboriginal Community. This lovely old couple can tell some stories! Brian moved to Derby as a pilot in 1956, later married Violet and have lived in One Arm Point community for many many years, to look at Brian you know he is not Aboriginal but to listen to him speak and hear his heart beat, you know he is on the inside! They both sat with us and shared some great insights into the local culture, politics, and … well fishing and tides🙂  Brian and Violet are both followers of Christ

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and asked us excitedly if we had seen their ‘church’. It was a roof and some poles with a piece of shade cloth they were quite happy with – we fell in love with these guys and their beautiful faith and love for life and one another.

P6070117 copySaturday morning saw us pulling into Eddie’s place at Ngamagkoon, just south of Kooljaman. We had asked if Eddie could spend a few hours with us telling us about his people and their culture. He was willing and would even show us the basics of living in a coastal Bardi community. We drove out into the Mangrove Flats and went on foot (with spears) into the thick mud searching (and finding!) some VERY large crabs hiding under trees. After crabbing we headed back to the Melaleuca scrub (not venturing too far in as there were sacred ceremony sites in behind) looking for bush honey and pollen. With our ears against the trunks listening for bees we wandered through the scrub until Eddie found the right spot, cut it open and allowed us to sample the most

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beautiful tasting honey and pollen (tastes like sherbet). Interesting, one white person we met, not knowing or respecting much of Aboriginal culture told us with some disdain that “Aboriginal people set fire to everything!

2009 08 01_0804But Eddie taught us that his people light the bush to thin it, also to make it better for collecting their fire wood, as well as for hunting the stuff in the long grass, such a different window we were now looking through! From there we went out onto one of the most stunning coastal scenes I have seen. The Ngamagkoon people’s land has a creek running out into the ocean where they do much of their spearing and fishing from.

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This site was one of untouched bush and mangrove reaching to long white beaches and crystal clear aqua coloured lagoons. After extracting our car from the soft sand we headed back to Eddie’s place to bid him farewell and be told that we were welcome back to his country and community any time.

This time with Eddie was more than we could have hoped for and all voted it as the highlight of our trip that was drawing to a close faster than we wanted. We headed back to camp for one more afternoon sleep (a tradition we embraced…or did we start that one?), a fire with some reflections of our time away, and a dinner of local Barramundi, Kangaroo and … cow! Eddie mentioned that morning that there were a few ‘stray’ cattle around🙂

Sunday morning, time to make our way back to Broome for a 1pm flight to Perth. On our return down the challenging stretch of unsealed road we took time to visit Beagle Bay Community. It was looking very nice and manicured after a week of political meetings discussing a report written by an old school mate Steve Kinnane. I read Steve’s book Shadow Lines while we travelled this week. The book follows the lives of his Grandmother (a Mirrawong woman stolen from Argyle Station in the early 1900’s) and his grandfather (an Englishman) through to today. What a brilliant read! (See below)

The Beagle Bay community is located 120 kilometres from Broome. In the centre of the community there’s a beautiful church, built of stone from 1914-1918 by German Pallottine monks, who settled here around 1901.

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On entering the Sacred Heart Church you can see a stunning pearl shell altar. Coloured windows create a special mood in the building. But, we forgot it was Sunday and church had already started and we had a plane to catch, so we missed the insides😦

The community’s name was derived from the vessel “Beagle”, which moored at the bay when the priests were looking for a suitable mission place in 1889, ironic really as this was the ship Charles Darwin sailed on. It was much of his work that was used to base most of the atrocities done to our Aboriginal people!

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If you are wanting to connect and learn more with the rich lives of the first Aussies, grab a copy of The First Australians (SBS), or Read Steve’s book Shadow Lines (2003, Fremantle Arts Press). One review says that … “Shadow Lines revolves around two people born a world apart, a half caste Aboriginal woman by the name of Jessie Argyle, and an Englishman named Edward Smith. Edward was born in 1891 and emigrated to Australia in 1909 as an eighteen year-old. Jessie was born in the Argyle region in the far north of Western Australia in 1900, and was taken from her family in 1906 under the newly created Aborigines Act of 1905. This book makes the often dry history of Western Australia since white colonisation come alive, and is probably a far better way to learn about the sordid history of this state than by way of the official history textbooks.

What Kinnane has done here is weave together a rich tapestry of historical tales”…read the rest here.

Not everything we saw ‘impressed’ us. Not every road taken in order to work among the people of the Kimberley would be a road I would have taken. This makes neither my road right or the road we observed wrong, just different tracks people take and our reactions to them. We went to look listen and learn from all we encountered, I trust this is what has happened.

Well I have to say that sometimes I love my job – last week was one of those times🙂

Thanks to The Wembley Downs Church of Christ (where I hung out for the first 18 years of my life! As our new friend Eddie might say “they grew me up”) for making this trip a reality and for those who travelled the journey Dennis R, Steve M, Matt B and Ken V – What a great a bunch of guys to hang out with for a week, Thanks!

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Well if stats from Melbourne are anything to go by…not good! Do you think we are doing something wrong?

MELBOURNE: 3.6 million people (2006), 248 Nationalities, 289 languages,128 religious faiths
THE CHURCH

  • 300,000 people attend church weekly, another 300,000 attend about once a month.
  • There are over 1700 local churches of more than 30 denominations and over 80 nationalities
  • There are 60 Chinese, 52 Greek, 41 Italian, 35 Samoan, 30 Vietnamese, 24 Korean churches
  • “NO RELIGION” up 20% in 10 years
  • Under 34s: 1.2million (48%) in population BUT only 48,000 (4%) attend church(=16% of attenders)
  • Over 55s: 819,000 (22%) of population and 20% (122,000) attend weekly (= 54% of attenders)
  • About 5000 people come to faith each year, about 9000 people leave the Church

City population increasing at 90,000pa, here is a net loss of 4,800pa from church attendance.

Thanks Phil for these stats…I think🙂

I don’t often post on The Joondalup Thing these days based on a request by some for me to shut up🙂

But in rebellion – I post!

TJT for those wondering, is our little church group in the City of Joondalup…It actually meets weekly in Currambine, not Joondalup, but Currambine is in Joondalup City…. so it counts🙂

Starting a church intentionally sounds challenging. Accidentally starting one is even more so! What I mean is that when you set out as a pastor or a group of ‘sent ones’ from some church or denomination to intentionally start a church you usually have a plan, maybe some core values, theological imperatives and the like. Then you set out to a given area (that you have done some demographical study on) and hire a hall, set out your chairs, get a band and away you go. OK maybe you will operate out of a different paradigm to that, but yo uget my drift? This from all reports is hard work!

‘Accidentally’ starting a church, in my opinion is even harder. Trust me, I think we did this. A group of friends…well actually in reflection, not all of us were even what you would call friends, we had some connection with one another, some were very close friends, some had worked with others, some were friends of the friends of those guys. Anyway a group of friends over time were all  thrown together for varying motivations. Some came early when it was a small group attached to Whitford Church, some plugged in later on. Some said early in the piece “this constitutes ‘church’ for me”, others said, “I will go to ‘real church’ on Sunday and come here on Wednesday”. Some said “if this is Church we need more ‘stuff'”. Still others suggested that if we added more ‘stuff’ they would not be comfortable.

Four or so years down the track and it feels a bit more formal than it did back in the begining, yet many still hold to a flexible dream, a loose…dare I say “organic” approach to church. No set leader, no building or fixed liturgy. We have a loose plan of what we will do each week and recently we have gone away on a … again, dare I say … strategic planning weekend!!!

Well it was a weekend at which we dreamed about who we were, what we were about, could we continue with such diversity of theology and opinion and issues and if we did what would it look like?

Well, we did not get through all of those things, but we did manage to discuss some very deep issues, personal issues deeply embedded in the very fabric of what church is (should be?) about.

How is this for one topic;

If I say our church is about “eating food together” as it’s base core value – anyone can come an feel welcome so long as they eat food…at some point in their life :)  BUT it makes moving forward as a group and agreeing on some stuff difficult. Why, I might suggest we study the stories of Jesus, and ‘Abdul’ suggests that he came for the great food, not wanting to ever hear about Jesus.

So we lift the bar a notch and say our group is about loving God and loving others. Good, but what about the fact that any religious person could just about say ‘yes’ to that. So do we lift it higher? But the more we add, the more we restrict. We could go high and say we believe in a trinity God, that His will is revealed in the inerrant scriptures, that … you know?

So I am not telling where we ended, but I am telling you that it was a great ‘chat’!!

One thing that did come out of the weekend was a further 2 nights of discussion.

Night One – We asked on butchers paper the following questions;

  • What do you see as our strengths, Weaknesses, Threats and Opportunities?
  • At our best, what do we look like?
  • At our worst what do we look like?
  • What would you say are our core values? Practices?
  • In your wildest dreams what do you see for The Joondalup Thing ?

Some great discussion flowed from that night and since.

Night Two – We asked (all, including kids) What would you like to see happen on our fortnightly Sunday gatherings?

There was some wonderful and creative expressions brought forward for our ‘gatherings’ on every second Sunday.

There is still a part of me that wants to ‘package’ this whole thing. For two reason I suggest;

1. So I can have it all neat and tied up with a string to simply give me (others?) boundaries so we know why we are, what we are and where we are going…but maybe God has much of that in hand and I should trust Him more for that rather than making it all up for Him and pretending He led me/us to do as such🙂

2. So I can replicate it. I would love to ‘franchise’ this. That is a secular term for multiply, plant, replicate whatever. I just feel that something in there that we have is too good, or could be too good to keep to ourselves, even if it is just ‘the love of God’…I guess people have been trying to ‘package’ that for 2000 years and look where that has got us!! But I would love to see small ‘organic’ relational groups/churches who are committed to loving God and others, following Christ and making a Kingdom difference all over the shop.

Anyway, where are we at? I think we all agree that we are a group of committed friends that dare take up the radical call to live out the Kingdom of God on Earth as taught by Jesus of the Gospels in the midst of the empire! [thanks Lance!]

We will keep working on something like that and see what happens hey?

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