A Christian response to God's love
March 28, 2022
By Rev John Jegasothy – Working for Justice Panel Member
The response to God’s love to the ‘least of Jesus’s brothers and sisters
As for me and my Tamil congregation, the mission to asylum seekers and refugees came as a call, even as a wakeup call to join hands with our Lord. Our response to the call came later. Mary responded with gratitude to Jesus’s love for the family and raising Lazarus his friend from death and offered that precious gift of devotion. Our response as individuals and as a church was to share our love with others who were less fortunate ,especially those who were vulnerable in the society.
The call to respond came as a phone call to me from a Tamil Christian asylum seeker in a detention centre. He asked me to come and see him.
That same year I moved from country ministry to Sydney, based in Dulwich Hill – Hurlstone Park. Hence, my story is the story of the Tamil congregation that we planted the same year with mostly Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka and later with new refugees and asylum seekers. We worshipped in our mother tongue, Tamil, and welcomed the refugees into our wider church community and offered them a community to belong to.
My ministry as a mission agent began as a volunteer pastoral carer from the church. My ministry as an advocate began with the first visit in Villawood, which led to regular service working closely with the immigration officials as well as other fellow advocates.
Dulwich Hill – Hurlstone Park Church moved from being a comfortable church maintaining the status quo to a church with a mission to the multicultural communities and to asylum seekers and refugees in the detention centre, first in Villawood and later in other detention centres. This involved us taking risks and making sacrifices as we moved into unknown territory. We found that it was important for the whole church to be involved in offering prayerful support to the team and the mission agent. Preaching, teaching and prayers in the church were centred around our call to mission, to remind and encourage the people to respond to God’s love for us in reaching out to these vulnerable people with Christian hospitality, just the way God reached out to us through Jesus who even laid down his life for the whole world.
The mission involved walking alongside refugees who had fled their country because of persecution, torture and fear of death, leaving their families and familiar surroundings. We were called to see them as fellow human beings, loved by God and precious in his sight.
First thing the asylum seekers in detention and community needs is someone to trust with their needs and their terrible stories, which includes torture and trauma. They need someone to listen to them, offer torture trauma counselling and be their support person as they go through incarceration. Hence, I have had to work with other organisations and be a spokesperson to talk to immigration and the company that managed detention. The next stage is to see them settle down in community and care for them.
There are hundreds of stories that our church and I have been involved in over the last 26 years. We have offered the love we first received from God in Jesus, offering them hospitality in many ways, such as fellowship, sports, BBQs and outings. We have supported them through immigration and legal processes, working with advocates such as Refugee Council of Australia, Amnesty International and Refugee Advise & Case work Service. We have needed to find accommodation, jobs, health and safety advise, drug and alcohol education and be there in times of crisis.
We have journeyed with them as the risen Christ does for us, both in life and in times of death. We have shared in their joys and sadness; success and failures. They are one of us, brothers and sisters of Christ.
This is the story of our Church in Dulwich Hill – Hurlstone Park (pictured) and the Tamil congregation, which is now worshipping in Northmead.