“We will not only win victory for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Four years ago I was working a corporate job for a national AFL team. It was well paid. I had great opportunities. Life was good. If you had told me that I was going to become a Christian, I would have laughed in your face. If you had gone on to say I would leave my well-paid job to spend my days running a Welcome Centre for refugees while working side jobs to make ends meet, I would have questioned your mental health. If you had added that I would be arrested with church leaders and a rabbi while continuing Martin Luther King’s work, it would have certified to me that you were crazy.
On Monday I walked into Austrailian MP Jamie Briggs' office to be arrested with seven Christian leaders and a rabbi. It sounds like the start of a joke. (My life is teaching me God has a great sense of humor.)
Why were we arrested? There are 983 children and their families currently in Australia’s detention centers.
These children are kids just like our own, with their made-up games, whispered jokes, and giggles. Their families dream of a future of safety. Our incoming Governor of South Australia, Hieu Van Le, arrived by boat in Darwin seeking refuge 36 years ago, with “nothing but a suitcase filled with invisible dreams. A dream to live in a peaceful, safe and free country and to live a meaningful and fulfilling life.” In the past, Australia has been the kind of nation that grants dreams like this – why not for the 983 future Hieu Van Le’s and their families in detention?
A world away and so many years later, how is Martin Luther King’s freedom movement related to the current plight of asylum seekers in Australia? Well, the links are stronger than you think.
Our action on Monday was part of the growing Love Makes A Way movement. We join nearly 50 faith leaders who have been arrested since March this year. Some of them Pentecostals like me, most of them from every major church group. Martin Luther King’s advisor and strategist, Dr. Vincent Harding said of the first Love Makes A Way action: “[Love Makes A Way] is not only influenced by, but a continuation of, Martin [Luther] King’s Freedom Movement.”
I have never been arrested before. I haven’t studied theology like the leaders I was arrested with. Heck, I’m new to this following Jesus thing! But when I heard in the Love Makes A Way training the stories of ordinary people who in faith risked themselves for freedom, I sensed I was being called to be part of the continuation of that story.
Pastor Jarrod McKenna of Westcity Church in our training told us, “This isn’t just about the absence of violence, but the presence of love. Love Makes a Way’s DNA is a commitment to ‘enemy-love.’ Our DNA is ‘double victory’ nonviolence.”
He went on to paraphrase Martin Luther King to name what he called “the DNA of this prayer-in-action movement:”
“We will not only win victory for asylum seekers; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.”
So what does this “double victory” theory look like in action? As nine of us sat in MP Jamie Briggs’ office, we shared our hopes and dreams for the impact of what we were taking part in. Beforehand all agreed, not only did we want to draw attention to children who continue to suffer in detention, we wanted to win over those we came into contact with.
I believe we did.
The police officer that arrested me was deeply moved by our actions. He asked about why we decided to spend our Monday in the MPs office. He opened up and told me about his own family’s migration to Australia. I shared stories of my friends’ journeys that I hear daily at The Welcome Centre. I can’t tell you how profound it was. In his response I felt the “double victory:”
“You’d do anything for your family wouldn’t you? I know I did and it was a lot easier for me than what [those in detention] they’re going through.”
As we spoke more about my friends and their experiences in detention, I struggled to hold back tears. As I shared stories of despair and human courage I looked up to see the police officers also visibly affected. I invited my arresting officer to join us at The Welcome Centre. My hope was that he could experience first-hand the simultaneous inspirational hope and debilitating despondence our friends go through.
To my surprise, he accepted.
Double victory is winning over the cops who had to arrest us.
Double victory is the officer who arrested me telling me of his admiration for what we do and lamenting, “it’s a shame you have to go to these lengths to get your voices heard.”
We were treated with the utmost respect and dignity by arresting officers. While in lock-up I found myself thinking and those men, women, and children who have committed no crime in merely seeking safety, yet aren’t given the same dignity.
Double victory is Amy, the worship leader at my church, explaining to her arresting officer about 983 children who would spend that night in indefinite detention, and his response was to thank her for opening his eyes and educating her on an issue he was previously unaware of.
Double victory is officers bonding with the mums and dads they arrested, sharing stories of their own kids, recognizing there is nothing that fundamentally separates them and their rights from those languishing in detention centres in Australia and offshore.
Double victory is the officer who walked my friend to the hotel where her daughter was waiting, holding the door open for her and ensuring her safety.
Most excitingly, the impact of these moments doesn’t end here. Imagine the ripple effect of the conversations that will transpire between these officers and their friends and family now that they’re equipped with this knowledge and personal stories of asylum seekers in detention.
“You’d do anything for your family, wouldn’t you?”
Our arresting police officers get it. Love makes a way. Australian politicians, your move…
Kate Leaney is the Managing Director of The Welcome Centre ; a drop-in center service for refugees, asylum seekers and new arrivals in Adelaide. She was named “2014 Young Citizen of the Year” by the Charles Sturt Council for this work, and is an active member of Activate Community Church (ACC).