Keeping the Faith

Whatever you do for the least of these…

The photo of that woman has not dimmed in my mind since I first saw it a week ago, a few days after another refugee boat capsized north of Christmas Island. The petite woman wore a scarf over her hair, there was a tag hanging from her wrist – probably with processing information for Customs authorities, and her face was furrowed with grief. Because strapped around her torso was a baby carrier that dominated the image due to the absence of its contents.

It was empty.

We were told that a baby boy, not yet one year old, was pulled from the choppy seas that day, drowned, and another eight people were missing. Such a sad day.

That photo said many things to me. It showed a refugee. A person seeking asylum by illegal means. She was one of about 90 passengers from Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. But strip all complications of her plight and she is simply a woman, a mother, a daughter, a friend. Like me. She’s all that and she’s alone, grieving the death of her son in a strange place.

Let’s never forget the person cloaked in that strange veil, the person represented in the statistics, the person locked away or dead at sea or waiting, waiting.

For some reason we were born here, into our privileged families, in this Western democracy, into the 21st Century. For some reason, we weren’t born into poverty, injustice, war and persecution. And whatever that reason, it leaves us with a tremendous responsibility to uphold the cause of those worse-off.

Jesus was a refugee. Shortly after his birth, Mary and Joseph fled with him to Egypt to escape King Herod’s barbaric decree that all boys in Bethlehem under the age of two be killed. They only returned after Herod’s death (Matthew 2). Later, Jesus tells a parable that lends from his experience as a refugee.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)

Jesus’ implication that the “I” of his parable wasn’t Jesus so much as all of humanity, is confirmed a few verses later, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (v.40)

Sometimes it’s difficult to find the humanity concealed behind veils and tags hanging from the wrist. Sometimes we can’t see the person for their description, the noun for the adjective.

Example? Well, there’s a certain wardrobe, neighbourhood and vernacular associated with the word ‘bogan’. Is it fair to write a person off for the adjectives they attract? Labels are necessary – they help us to break down knowledge into cohesive tablets of information. But it shouldn’t be the only value weight applied to a person.

As long as the person across from you is living and breathing, you have something in common and a reason to extend love and care.

“Whatever you do for the least of these…”

 

As printed in The Examiner newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday July 22, 2013.

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6 Comments

  1. Beautifully expressed Claire & a great reminder to us all to not lose sight of the individual.

  2. mark hawkes says

    Claire, is it fair to suggest that if it weren’t for religion this poor lady might never have boarded that boat? Do you stop and think of all the worlds religions and Gods why your one is true? Have you ever critically questioned your ‘faith’ or just accepted it from tradition? You seem smart and caring, dump the god myth and be your own boss.

    • It is not a matter of what religion the refugee is. A refugee is a refugee who needs help from others. It is not up to Claire or any other person to answer why persecution, suffering, poverty happens.

  3. I received a really interesting email on the asylum seeker issue this morning, and Cindy gave me permission to share it here. She speaks from a position of greater understanding than most, having worked in Africa for 12 years with the poor and marginalised – this involved seeing and living with people fleeing persecution as well as people who were opportunists. Here’s what she said:

    ” I don’t think the PNG solution is the right one as well, however I do understand that one of the basic responsibilities of a nation is border control and under the Howard government they had the tightest border control but had the highest record of immigration—there is not a conflict between good border control and regulated immigration. People often get these confused. A lot of resentment can build up in a community when immigration is not controlled. Australians are very generous and want to help, but it needs to be done in a way that brings all Australians on board. There has to be a mixture of mercy and justice. After years of living with the poorest of poor, if you don’t regulate how you are going to help and think it is your duty to help every single person and presume everyone is telling the truth, then you will burn yourself and your family out, waste all of your resources and grow bitter and cynical in the process. The same goes for a country like Australia, we are wasting billions on unplanned arrivals, making citizens angry, not because they are racist, but because the process is chaotic and needs to be managed and because we are still working through our own country’s needs including the vast amount of homelessness and growing poverty.

    In regards to the fallacy that people get on unsafe boats because they are desperate, everyday in Africa people do the most dangerous things bordering on what we would call stupidity including getting in matatus (mini buses that are falling apart with no seat belts, no road rules with a driver that drives like Jehu) that kill thousands every year and yet do not think twice about it. Safety has been drummed into us from the moment we are born, our lives are lived in complete fear of everything that could go wrong—there is no such teaching or mindset in developing nations, so putting ourselves in their shoes by assuming we would be desperate to do that to our family and therefore they would too is a long call. Anyone who has lived in developing nations and has studied culture will know that.

    I really think that what needs to be injected into this debate is some common sense, and logical planning instead of decisions based totally on emotion, or in the case of this government, scoring voting points. John Howard got it right.”
    (by Cindy)

    • Roger Martin says

      I agree with Cindy.

      My starting point is that we need to see everyone through the eyes of Jesus.

      Somehow, I think that Jesus would set parameters for anyone wanting to receive assistance rather than accept the terms and conditions wanted/demanded by every person.

      I have no doubt that Jesus would want to end all the suffering caused by boat smugglers. Maybe, He would significantly increase the number and quicken the process to allow all the people who abide by His parameters to come through the “front door”
      If people could see that there is a risk free (and probably less expensive) way to travel to Australia, I’m sure that the boats would lose all their potential customers, other than those who reject the parameters.

      Just a thought.

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