Thursday, 8 May 2014
Dear Inner Circle,
Two grown men teared up yesterday as we read a letter. It started with, “Dear Dad”, and that’s when the tears started. Allen has waited 33 years to read such a letter. Allen’s life had been a story of difficult family life and a string of failed foster homes. While hanging around Kings Cross in the 1970s, he met a woman and they had two babies together. Allen’s life was so out of control that he believed his children would be better off without him and so he dropped out of their lives and lost contact. He never stopped hoping that the kids were okay and that one day they might meet. Allen has been sober and drug free for 19 years. He is an active volunteer at Wayside and well loved. His efforts to find his kids over the years have yielded nothing. The letter he read in my presence came from his daughter who after years of trying, tracked down her father. “Dear Dad”! We read those words over and over. The letter contained photos. Allen has four beautiful grandchildren who are keen to meet their Pop. Soon there will be a face-to-face meeting. The letter finished with the words, “I have always been yours.”
The sweetest man I know is also the one that has suffered more than anyone I know. He’s been beaten countless times. One hit with a gun butt popped his eye out and he still gets headaches. He’s been imprisoned, not in a building but in a hole in the ground with a grill over the top. He spent three months in that hole with 20 other men. Think about the state of that hole. This happened to him twice and both times for three months. He eventually walked, bare-footed, across several countries in Africa, not so much to freedom but to a camp with 50,000 people and just one water tap. This was a school teacher who acted to protect his class from being taken by a militia. Not only did he suffer unspeakable punishment for protecting his little children but his own wife and five small children were taken from him and he couldn’t find them. He eventually sought asylum and was granted entrance into Australia. One of the achievements of my life is that the team I worked for at the time set aside every project until this man’s wife and kids were located and reunited with their father. It took us two years of superhuman energy but in the year 2000 I was at Sydney airport when I saw the man’s wife and five little kids walk through customs into the arms of the father they loved but thought they’d never see again. One young fellow in our team yelled so that everyone in the airport could hear, “God is good”.
I tell this story because last Saturday this man who has no money and doesn’t spend money, hired a hall and a DJ and a catering company and staff to throw a massive party for his eldest daughter who just graduated as a registered nurse. African people came from all over Australia to rejoice in the achievement of a young woman and a young family who has overcome odds that are beyond the imagination of 99% of Australians. Everyone in the hall made a speech. Everyone! Most beautiful of all was the mother who told the audience how proud she was of her brilliant daughter. She extended her arms fully and said to the crowd, “She’s my daughter, but she’s your daughter. It’s her achievement but it's our achievement and the achievement of all of us.” Yet another teary moment in my week! It is stories like this that make me also weep for our country who foolishly think some good is being served by treating people cruelly. The people we work so hard to keep out of the country are the very people who would work harder than anyone else to build the country and inspire us all to be better people. We are blind and we better pray that ‘who lives by the sword does not die by the sword’ or that, ‘you don’t reap what you sow’.
The Wayside Chapel has long had a history of not only serving the marginalised and vulnerable but also raising awareness about the issues facing our community. I am pleased to invite you to some events over the coming weeks that aim to highlight a number of social issues close to our heart.
On Tuesday, 13 May in our Community Hall at 10am, Adam Goodes, the Australian of the Year and Fred Chaney, the Senior Australian of the Year, will call for a referendum so that the Australian constitution recognises the first peoples of this country. Wayside has a long history of supporting Aboriginal people that extends to the early days of Ted Noffs, Charlie Perkins and the freedom rides of the 1960s. You are warmly invited to join us and show your support. More details here.
On Saturday, 24 May at 2pm in our Community Hall, we’ll screen the film, “Road to Guantanamo” and ex-Guantanamo inmate, David Hicks will be present to meet those who gather and to speak. More details here.
On Monday, 26 May at 10.30am you are invited to the official opening of a newly-created Memorial Garden at Wayside. The garden will act as a place of rememberance for members of our community who are no longer with us. Everyone is welcome to honour the lives of those they've lost by placing a lock on the fence of the garden. An engraver will be onsite at the event to engrave names and tributes onto the lock. View the invite.
Walking down Macleay Street this morning I saw a familiar face walking in the opposite direction. I don’t know the woman but she has one of the loudest laughs in Kings Cross so it's easy to know when she’s at Wayside. I waved and she yelled from across the road, “Thanks for being there for us, Father”. One phrase and it made my day.
Thanks for being part of our inner circle,
Rev. Graham Long
Pastor and CEO
The Wayside Chapel
Click here to listen to podcasts of past Inner Circle's, aired on ABC 702's 'Afternoons with James Valentine'
Be sure to follow Graham on Twitter if you have an account; @waysidepastor
Previous Inner Circles
1 May: Skuse the French
24 April: Lifting the curtain
17 April: Collective love
10 April: Cardiac arrest
3 April: Awe struck
27 March: You're invited to something special
20 March: Rather a prohet than a loss
13 March: It's all happening at the wayside
6 March: Love makes all the difference
27 February: What goes around
20 February: The joy of being empty handed
13 February: Loving the growth spurts
6 February: Mighty glad to be back by the wayside
23 January: Some criminals have class
16 January: Wonderful surprises
9 January: Ready, set
19 December: Thanks for an awesome year
12 December: Mission and wishin'
5 December: The ups and downs and all is well
28 November: Kissed by the community
21 November: Our cup runneth over
14 November: A revelation from wayside
7 November: When excrement happens
31 October: I am therefore I think
24 October: We are surrounded by heroes
17 October: When you least suspect
26 September: A wayside wobbly
19 September: Knowing a gift
12 September: Advancing at the retreat
5 September: A little dose of good
29 August: Fighting with a feather
22 August: The boom is just beginning
15 August: True riches
8 August: Small is beautiful
1 August: Sensitive people miss all the best views
25 July: A whole lot going on at wayside
18 July: Kings Cross a place of courage
27 June: Holy ground