Last Thursday 14 of us left for the Surrender conference in Belgrave, Victoria, which is found in the Dandenong Ranges. It was a epic 12 hour road trip each way and I arrived home early this morning around 1:15am. Our accommodation for some of us was in a demountable building at the conference centre in which we threw a few mattresses on the floor, while others stayed at the parents home of one of the guys who came down with us. So I can in all truthfully say that I have roughed it in the Dandenong Ranges.
So then, what is Surrender. Surrender is a conference that centres around Christ within a social justice framework of ministering to those on the margins of society, such as the poor, sick, refugee, orphan, disabled, disempowered and indigenous people of Australia. This year the central theme of the conference was the issues of the history of disempowerment of our indigenous people.
We heard testimony from our Christian brothers and sisters about the shattering effects and the dysfunctional results that came about from the stolen generation. I personally know someone who is close to me who when very young experienced government officials arriving at her mothers door, telling her that she was too sick to look after her 5 children and that she had 30 seconds to make her mind up as to which 3 would be taken from her and placed into a foster home. Years later when married with her own children, her estranged siblings tracked her down, telling the heart breaking story of how the past 10 years her mother had lived only a few blocks away, and had died 2 years previously. And like many others whose testimony we heard during the 3 days, this person had also been systematically sexually abused by one of her foster careers.
On day one (Friday) I sat in a morning session by C. B Samuel who powerfully spoke how much of the church actually worships a god that is made in their image and not worshipping the God whose image we are made. The thrust of his talk was on how we soak in his grace, speak of his grace and yet don’t want to reflect, live out and invite Christ into our day to day living and into the world in which we live.
During lunchtime, I sat with a few people in a creative writing workshop which was personally interesting and worthwhile.
That afternoon I joined in a 2 part indigenous session which was led by a number of very switched on indigenous pastors and church leaders from around Australia. Kyle, spoke of the frustration of indigenous people living in the cultural gap within our society. One of the interesting things that was raised up is the different world views of work which the predominantly European culture and our Indigenous people have in Australia. He spoke how in their culture, if he goes fishing, he is actually working for his extended community. The first fish he catches is for the elders who can no longer gather food for themselves. The next one is for his neighbours, his family and friends and finally he takes what he needs for himself. Yet, the government will come to him and tell him he has to do some job training so he can can get some gainful employment – so that he can feed his family.
Kyle shared a lot of his own personal pain and heartache of how only a few generations previously his “mob” as he called them, we shot down by police in a murderous spree while looking for 2 specific people not associated with his tribe. And the rest of the family we rounded up and placed on a “Mission” station where the then authorities tried to “convert” them into a reflection of white European culture – and in doing, created a mind set within the indigenousness population that they were significantly worth less then the whites around them. Another shared how his grandmother had burnt all of her families birth records and changed their name and in doing so, totally and irrevocably destroyed all past paper and verbal records of who they were… all because she had been brainwashed that aboriginals were dirty and that white people were clean and she needed to become a white person.
Later on, he and others were to talk about how this disintegration of culture affected their own Christian walk. The reality he said the mission stations on which they lived were trying to convert them to become white Anglo Saxon people, which was equated to being what it meant to be a Christian.
Kyle powerfully pointed out, did Christ really want to destroy one culture so that they could reflect another culture that wasn’t really reflecting Christ anyway. And so began his own spiritual journey as to what it meant to be a Christian and Aboriginal at the same time. And he spoke about the issues of what is good in his culture and what needs transforming in his culture and just what does it mean for them to become Christ like and not “White like.”
To be continued…