The refugee issue in Australia is a bit of a hot potato at the moment. For many, it’s an emotionally charged issue; one that has much anger, innuendo, misinformation that is propagated from the many facets of this complex problem. Currently our nation has a little lower than 5000 detainees in a variety of detention centres onshore and offshore. The current government ran a successful stop the boats campaign prior to the last election amidst a number of other policies and won the right to govern in an overwhelming way. Since then the government has implemented a ‘successful’ turn back the boats policy where very few boat arrivals have made it to our shores.
The intent of my post is not to examine the pro’s and con’s, the rights and wrongs of this policy and action. Rather my aim is to look at the issues of the people we have in detention. From a Christian perspective I believe that we need to treat all with dignity and respect. The Orthodox church has a great theology that is built upon the foundation that all are made in the image of God, and therefore, because all are the image bearers of God, all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect; not because the person in question deserves it – instead, it’s because we are made in the image of HIM who is worthy of all dignity and respect. The question of what constitutes treating someone with dignity and respect is a huge topic on its own in this discussion. There are millions of displaced people all around the world., most of them living in less than desirable circumstances; simply because they are victims and in many cases perpetuators of not treating all with dignity and respect.
Our country is a signatory to the U.N Convention in which it agrees to care for those who seek its protection under international asylum law. Under this law we have a mandate to treat all who come to us for protection with dignity and respect. There is much circumstantial evidence that our governments may not be doing so to those they have placed under detention. My heart breaks for them. My soul yearns deeply towards God, and I pray that our government will treat them with dignity and respect and that they will have the wisdom of the Lord in making governmental policy.
It’s also important to note, that stopping refugee’s coming by boat has a complex set of reasons – a major one being that every arrival here by boat has been a victim or target of smugglers. Thousands of desperate people have been conned and lied to by these smugglers. There have been many cases, perhaps in the thousands, where smugglers have taken their monies beforehand, and told them to turn up to a non-existent boat, never to hear from the con artist again. Thousands of others have died in attempting to sail to Australia in unseaworthy vessels which have sunk. While the rest who do make it to our shores, or at least into the hands of our navy and customs personnel, discover that the smugglers had absolutely conned them with a pack of lies about the reception they would get here. The ABC 4 Corners Program, did an expose on the smugglers who are active in targeting people from their country of origin. Once again we are faced with an issue of treating people with dignity and respect. Part of this mandate is to protect the vulnerable; and therefore its right and proper to stamp out those who profit in a major way from the lies they tell to the vulnerable they prey on.
As such, I strongly believe that we need to keep our government accountable in the way it looks after those who come to us for protection. We need to ensure as a nation that indeed we do look after and treat well, all who come under our care. This belief stems out of my own personal faith as a Christian that indeed we are to treat all with dignity and respect. At the same time – as a Christian, I also believe in the mighty power of a living God. A God who revealed himself to us through Jesus Christ. A God who came to take away the sin of the world. A God who came to reconcile all to himself, A God who wants all to be in relationship with him, and personally know his mighty power to save and to transform lives and nations from the power of sin. This very God, has given us the encouragement, that our weapons of warfare are not based on the worlds way of fighting – instead, they have divine power to pull down strongholds. And the main two weapons he has given us are twofold. One is God himself, we access God to work on our behalf through prayer, intercession and petition. The other is ourselves – with the guidelines given to us through Scripture to allow the power of God to flow through our prayers.
It’s my firm belief that God answers prayer. I have seen God answer prayer in what can only be considered miraculous on many occasions. He gives us a great promise regarding prayer, that if we pray in secret and not make a public fuss about it for all to see, he will answer our prayers. Yet on the other hand, if we stand on the street corner for all to see us pray, we have already received our reward. God also calls us to honour all in authority, to obey the laws of the land. And so we see the twofold weapons of God coming together as one divine action as together – we partner with God.
Recently a group of passionate young men and women, some whom I personally know. And I make a note here to say that I admire them for their passion, their love, their zeal, and their care for the poor and displaced throughout the world. The work they do, the organisations they represent do tremendous work, faithful work and they do Godly work. It’s strongly evident that the power of God is working through them, over them and within them. However, passion, love, zeal, care and faith, needs wisdom to go with it.
Through their passion, zeal, love and faith, they planned and executed an activist action, which involved them arriving at the minister for immigrations office, sitting on the corner of the foyer and holding a prayer meeting. They politely told the staff what they were doing, and invited them to join in, which the staff declined. During the two hours they were there, they sang songs of worship, had a time of confession and lament, and then prayed for the refugees, staff and our government officials. I believe this went on for two hours, before they were asked to leave the premises – both by staff and then the police. Upon refusing to leave, the police arrested a number of them for trespassing. One of them was elected to be a spokesperson, who went outside to talk to the media.
I believe in activism. I have been involved in a lot of it myself. I believe in advocacy work, and likewise, have been involved in a fair bit of it myself. I have had the privilege of being on committees and working with local councils, state and federal politicians on a number of issues. In fact, I was in year 8 high school when I first got involved with activist work, which involved going around our neighbourhood, getting a petition signed to get another bus on the bus run, to pick up and drop students off – and I must say, a successful campaign it was also. Other successes involved in getting the state government to provide our local country town with an extra police car and the establishment of a suicide prevention and awareness campaign across our shire and a number of other more significant ones which I won’t go into here for now.
However, as a Christian, I strongly believe that prayer is what undergirds the success of all activism. It’s the dynamo power of walking in intimate relationship with the creator of all that is seen and unseen. What is done in private, achieves much of what is seen in public. The act of praying itself is nothing. The words and activity of prayer is nothing on its own. But, when prayer is the intimate dialogue with the creator, then it becomes precious, and through our intimacy with the Lord, our activism becomes empowered and God’s favour works through us, over us, in us and goes before us. Many heroes of the faith learnt this important lesson. One such man, George Muller fed and cared for tens of thousands of orphans over many years, through the power of prayer. Not once did he ask the government or any other person for a handout.
I commend my friends passion and zeal for wanting to get the plight of the refugees in detention back into the public eyesight. I agree in petitioning governments and even to picket an office or organisation if need be. In the past, I have been involved in some myself. But, I have some serious concerns about the use of prayer being seen to be the actual activism. I have some concerns that there was an aim for the group to be arrested, that they had the intention of being arrested for civil disobedience – within the framework of it being a prayer meeting. I have concerns that the act of being seen to pray was a political action and in doing so, the power that comes from praying in intimate and private relationship with the living creator was lost. I have concerns when the people in question, use the headlines that “Group arrested after praying” giving the implication that they were arrested for praying – when instead, they didn’t have to be arrested – they could have quietly left when asked to, trusting that the Lord of Lord, the creator of all that is seen and unseen, had heard their prayers, and trustingly left them in his capable hands.
The world is broken through the effects of sin. The world is torn apart from the effects of sin. Sin affects us all. None of us are immune to its insidiousness. Even Christians, despite our passions and zeal, can likewise sin in our passions and zeal. I certainly know I have. Wisdom and grace is the key.
Despite my deep concerns that God was used for political purposes, that the ‘activity’ of prayer was meant to be seen as a political weapon – instead of the trusting reassurance, stemming from relationship that God would answer their prayers and that the honouring of the law within a reasonable requested context, meant that arrests were made – I do once again admire them for their passions and concern for the vulnerable in our society and in this case the plight of refugees in detention.
So to my praying friends I urge us, let us pray.