Thanking the Refugee (The Plank in Australia's Eye, Part 2)

By Jarrod McKenna 11-10-2009

[continued from part 1] Philosopher Emmanuel Levinas reminds us that "the other" is not an object for us to control but a subject of the Holy One for us to encounter that will inevitably leave us different. In welcoming the stranger we cannot be left the same. Or to put it differently, the Christian vocation to hospitality is inherently transformational.

This has been my own story. In small and humble ways (that pale in significance to the efforts of so many others), our church community have sought to open our homes to "the stranger in the land." In a country that has sanctioned a policy of exclusion we have sought to let God's grace form us into a people that embody a kingdom embrace. The Holy Spirit has opened the scriptures to us in ways we never expected! The stories we read and sing every Christmas of the young refugee family fleeing to a new land nursing "Emanuel" (God with us), have become ours in ways that have wounded our comfortable lives with the wonder of our transformation being found in the liberation of others. Sharing communion with our friends who have shared our home, we have not just received Christ in the bread and fruit of the vine; we have received Christ in them. In visiting our imprisoned friends whose only "crime" is fleeing torture and war-torn countries we have encountered what Quakers have traditionally called "the visitation of the Presence."

091106-baxter-detention-center-vigilOne of my favourite images of our church community is a photo I took outside Baxter Detention Centre while surrounded by riot cops. As the powers that be defended the 'night-side' Australia seeks to hide, there the church was found crying out in worship at these gates of hell, to the God who's about bringing heaven to earth. That night as we cried out in worship we literally heard from behind the barbed wire the cries of the innocently imprisoned refugees pierce dark desert skies with the humbling words in response to our protests and prayers, "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"

But really it's the refugees we should be thanking [and asking for forgiveness]. Thanking them for their courage, their resilience, their faith, their prophetic challenge to our xenophobic racism. It is encounter with "the other" that makes it possible to dissolve our xenophobia. Our rejection of the Lord's commandment to "welcome the stranger" is the rejection of our encounter with "the other" that would transform us into a more compassionate people. And there is a generation of young Christians determined that when people look back on this period in Australian history they will see the church was not silent to the cries of the most vulnerable.

This video by a 15-year-old student is a beautiful example:

The Holy Spirit is calling God's people in Australia to open our hearts, and homes, and lives to living sacrament that comes to us on leaky boats from across the seas. The God fully revealed in Jesus to be love, comes to Australia as Refujesus. If we are to deal with our night-side we must ask whether at the end of time he will say to us "I was a stranger and you welcomed me."

portrait-jarrod-mckennaJarrod McKenna is seeking to live God's love as a dad, husband, brother, activist trainer and [eco]evangelist. He is a co-founder of the Peace Tree Community serving with the marginalised in one of the poorest of areas in his city, in Western Australia heads up an award-winning multi-faith youth service initiative called Together for Humanity, and is the founder and creative director of Empowering Peacemakers (E.P.Y.C.), for which he has received an Australian peace award in his work for in empowering a generation of (eco)evangelists and peace prophets.

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