Earlier this year, I took a road trip with John Sandy from CatholicCare’s Refugee Hub. We were headed to Bowral in the Southern Highlands for a weeklong experience called Neighbours without Borders, a cross-cultural training hosted by Palms Australia. The lessons from that week transformed my understanding of how mission is lived within our communities. However, that road trip stands out for me as a key lesson in story sharing and getting to know someone from a background and culture different from my own. Not just getting to know someone – but becoming friends on the journey.
What really struck me from the Neighbours without Borders training was how the wisdom from cross-cultural ministry (Palms Australia supports multiple missionaries working abroad) could be applied to the day-to-day ministry which many of us undertake in our own local communities. By recognising that we come as a ‘guest’ into each new encounter, we can be more present to the gift of the other’s story. Whether we cross divides of religion, ethnicity, generation gaps, sub-cultures, or lifestyle, we find ourselves in new territory when we meet someone for the first time. Our faith informs us that the presence of God already dwells in this undiscovered land and, like Moses, when we metaphorically remove our shoes and step gently into this sacred space, we are open to learning from and learning with new people, communities, and cultures.
It begins with listening.
So it was for John and me. With over 3 hours of driving time together, we took the opportunity to share our life stories. I don’t think I had ever really listened to the story of someone forced to flee his homeland before. Readers of this column might be aware of John’s story from the current edition of Aurora. Having the opportunity to be curious and to ask questions opened a whole new understanding of the plight of refugees. It was also refreshing to find that we shared many of the same hopes and dreams. We traded stories about family, study, and life in Australia. I remember joking at the time that I would welcome the chance to interview John for our Church without Walls series.
Two years ago, we began sharing stories of mission and outreach from across our Diocese under the banner, Church without Walls. While the primary goal was to inform the wider community of the great works taking place, the underlying hope was that the series would inspire more of us to respond to God’s unique call to be a transforming presence in the world.
We chose the theme, Church without Walls, to invoke a sense of mission without limits; God’s transforming love is not confined within systems, spaces, or people. (Neighbours without Borders, Church without Walls – you can see a theme emerging as we imagine our communities moving on mission!) God’s love goes beyond all boundaries and beyond even our own expectations. It is also an invitation for us to think outside our comfort zones. Mission is who we are in the world.
This coming Sunday, 24th September, is the 109th World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Communities across our Diocese will mark this occasion with reflections and prayers, as well as taking the opportunity to explore how we might better engage and accompany migrant and refugee experiences.
In Pope Francis’ message for the day, he reminds us that:
“We are called to show maximum respect for the dignity of each migrant… constructing bridges and not walls… The important thing is that there will always be a community ready to welcome, protect, promote and integrate everyone, without distinctions and without excluding anyone.”
In the lead up to Sunday’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees, we are privileged to share John’s story as the next Church without Walls story. Like our previous stories, we invite you to take this opportunity to share the video beyond our usually spaces. This video may be shown during our gatherings this weekend. What conversations might be opened in our communities? How might we respond more fully to the invitation to accompany migrant and refugee families in our own localities? How might our community further support the work of the Refugee Hub? And importantly, how is God inviting me to respond?
Feel free to share this video (and the others) on your social media feeds. By sharing our ‘good news’ with the wider community we open new opportunities for deeper engagement.
“The synodal path that we have undertaken as a Church leads us to see in those who are most vulnerable – among whom are many migrants and refugees – special companions on our way, to be loved and cared for as brothers and sisters. Only by walking together will we be able to go far and reach the common goal of our journey.”
(From the Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the 109th World Day of Migrants and Refugees)
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