HCC M&J Blog #7: SOW Mid-year Mission Trip: Justice Week

Three months ago (July 2016), a team from SOW went up to Brisbane to take part of an incentive called "Justice Week" and be part of key community outreach opportunities. 

HCC and the ministry of SOW are committed to reach out to people with the Gospel, and in the process committed to mission, which in the words of Ps. John Piper "exists because worship doesn't". Therefore, reaching out to peoples who have had no or little exposure to the Gospel and learning how to care and love better become our goals.

In this blog, Sijin and Peter share their insights as I interview them about what they did and what they learned from their short trip in Brisbane. 

Q1: [Directed to Sijin] I heard you led the team over the short trip. Tell me about the overall trip and what you did up there!

Sijin: There were 6 of us in our team, and we spent 8 days in Brisbane in a suburb called Indooroopillly. The place is a 13-hour drive from Sydney, approximately 20 mins away from Brisbane CBD! The Indooroopilly Uniting Church opened their facilities for the seminars and invited a variety of guest speakers to speak on the topic of God's Justice. The training and outreaches were organised by TEAR Australia, a Christian organization committed to the work of advocacy to inform churches about concerns for the poor and injustice in Australia and how the Church can respond in prayer and action.

Q2: What did "Justice Week" consist of and what did your team do on the ground?

Peter: We had seminars in the morning and a dedicated time of outreach in the afternoon. We had time to pray as a team in the morning and at various times during the day. Among other things, the team engaged with a local primary school and helped out the local community. We helped with cleaning and in other very practical ways. One time, we were encouraged to reach out to people at a nearby park and during this time, we met a group of local aboriginal people with whom we had great discussions, asking them how their local community is doing.

Q3: That's awesome! Sounds like you had a very packed week; Tell me, what made you want to be part of this mission/training?

Sijin: I've always felt that the aboriginal community doesn't have a voice in spite of Australia's wealth and prosperity. The general feel I get from many organisations is that "other ppl" already take care of the welfare of aboriginal people, and therefore there is a general shift of focus on other areas of welfare except on them. I feel like the Australian Government considers the issue in the same light, so in the end, very little seems to be done to address the elephant in the room, which is the condition of "third world people in a first world country". Last year, IJM's visit at our church inspired me to think again about the local aborigines, so when the occasion presented itself to explore this (i.e. through Justice Week) I decided I wanted to learn more and speak to people who might be able to tell me about the next steps being taken about the issue.

Q4: What are "big picture" lessons you gained from the training?

Sijin: I believe poverty to be a lack of relationship between man and creation, man and himself and between man and God. If that's how we define Poverty, we are all poverty-stricken if not for Christ's work on the cross. This understanding truly paves the way we approach God's Justice, especially in light of our salvation in Christ. God's justice is a theme that runs through Scripture but many Evangelical churches don't have a big focus on social justice perhaps because of a innate reaction from the liberal movement focusing on people's welfare and well-being often leading to "Prosperity Gospel" message. That being said, if caring for people is God's intent, then so should His people, the Church.

Peter: One of the messages we sat at was themed "Helping without hurting" which touched on how the Church can help people effectively. The presenter taught that immediate practical alleviation is not all that the Poor need. Put frankly, just giving money or resources is not a solution. Instead, we want to develop them so they can look after themselves. "Helping people help themselves" is ultimately more important so it can yield a lasting effect for their future. Hence, ASKING what the people need is very important and we realize that more often than not what they need is not what WE think they need. Having a dialogue with the people in need also gives them ownership over their life.

Q5: In the light of this, what do you think is the role of the Church?

Sijin: At a local church/community level: Leaders should raise awareness and equip the rest of the church to understand Poverty to be an issue; one to be addressed and not brushed under the carpet. At an individual level: For every Christian to take responsibility for those in their life, for all of us to meet the needs of those we know and see and to grow a heart and awareness of poverty. We must embrace what Paul says in Romans 12:2, for us as Christians not to conform to this world, but to be transformed by the renewal of our mind, that we may discern what the will of God is, what is good and acceptable and perfect (in His eyes).

Peter: I want us as God's people to get messy and be involved in caring for people, to be interested in people and to intentionally get to know people. Only there will we start growing a heart to care for people. I have the conviction that Christians should be the ones acting first when something goes wrong.

Q6: How do you expect to personally apply this experience in your life? How do you expect to influence the people around you? 

Peter: I am certainly more aware of social justice from a Christian perspective now, but I am still seriously thinking and pondering over what it means for me to apply God's mercy and justice in my life. My wish however is that these insights eventually translate into action and devotion, however that may look like.

Sijin: This mission/training reminded me of what a church should look like and what to expect from it. The church is not (though it may often feel like it) just a fuzzy good place to catch up and chill with alike people, but the church is, among other things, a gathering of broken, damaged, deeply troubled and disturbed people, gathered to be ministered by the gospel, longing for relief and affirmation that they are loved by God through Christ. The church is where God speaks peace in people's life. This mission experience helped me diffuse some false perceptions of church and reminded me that as followers of Christ, we ought to meet people where they are, and in the process of sharing life, to let them come to meet the rest of the Body, the Church. Furthermore, it might appear that the gospel is more for the circumstantially Poor, but many of us in Sydney who come from rich/medium class families are in need of grace equally as much and I guess this is where I stand at present.

Author: Cyril Laugeon
Interviewees: Sijin Yang & Peter Kim

HCC M&J Blog #6: REVIEW: "Chasing Asylum"

This blog post is a review written by Josh Choi on the documentary "Chasing Asylum" tracing the circumstances undergone by asylum seekers in their endeavor to seek refuge in Australia. If you have heard the terms "boats people" or "detention centre", this is what this documentary is about and what this post is commenting on:

"Before watching the documentary, I think I held a general view held by many of us (though most of us wouldn’t express it publicly). What comes to mind when you think of refugees? For most people it would be "out of sight, out of mind", or a ‘crisis’ we overheard that made headlines for a while, then sort of faded away to be just one of the many socio-economic issues we face today. The reality is it just seems very far removed and foreign.

The old recurring view

We feel uncomfortable with the idea of turning away people who need help, but at the same time, there is an inherent fear of "refugees flooding into the country" - the cost of housing them, feeding them and integrating them into our society seems much more daunting. Furthermore, when we hear the news stories about riots and violence in these detention centres, people sewing their lips and protesting, we shuffle our feet and say: "oh well, we definitely don’t want to let these people in". They appear to us like violent criminals at worst and ungrateful immigration queue jumpers at best. Although there are some stories of possible abuses, we believe what we have been doing until now (as a nation) to be working to eliminate the refugee crisis: the boats certainly have ‘stopped’, and we tell ourselves that it was a necessary evil. "The ends justify the means" we tell ourselves – "there will be a human cost, but a small one for the greater good of the Australian community..."

Debunking misconceptions

The film, through its various interviews with ex workers and security staff as well as secretly recorded footage, explores the impact of our decision to keep refugees in offshore detention centres (Nauru, Manus Island (PNG) and Christmas Island) and that human cost we talked about earlier. Except that when we stop for a moment to think about what the human cost is, we are talking about real injustices happening to real people.

I caught a glimpse of what was happening and realised I would never truly understand the struggles and hardship faced by the people there; People who have lost and fled their homes and left family behind only to find themselves imprisoned in a place where they are subject to violence and abuse, where themselves (especially women) and their children may be sexually abused but are powerless to do something about it. People who are being kept in squalid ‘houses’ made of tarp and without proper sanitation. People, who have, through all of this, have started to develop deep mental health issues like depression and started to show distress, anger, frustration and hopelessness that no one knows or cares. For what crime? Seeking a better future.

I could go on about the abuse and go into the horrific details of real cases because, yes, it gets worse. However, I would instead encourage you to pause for a moment and imagine you and your family fleeing this country, reading the above paragraph replacing ‘people’ with ‘Australians’ and tell me if this evokes a different response in you, knowing that it only really scratches the surface.

For the ex-workers and guards that came forward to bring this issue to light, I know that it did evoke a response. A response that I was starting to feel as I was watching the film. A deep sense of shame that through my ignorance and voluntary inaction, I am contributing to this system of abuse which in essence, is designed to break people mentally and they risked prison to bring this to our attention. For those of you who don’t know, Whistle-blower protection does not apply to the workers in offshore detention centres and they can be prosecuted for speaking out, even in child abuse situations.

What to make of it?

Don’t get me wrong, there is no simple solution. This is a complex issue. This is an uncomfortable issue. It is also a highly divisive issue. Some believe that every refugee must be settled here immediately without delay, others may be convinced that though it’s not ideal, deterrence is a necessity to stamp out other corrupt practices like people smuggling. Whatever your view is on this matter, I do believe that we can all agree that our current policy (of deterrence infringing the UN Refugee Convention) does not reflect our Nation’s values of respect for the equal worth, dignity and freedom of the individual, freedom of speech, mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion.

For those who haven’t seen this film, I would strongly encourage you to take time to see it. The ex-staff and security that decided to do something were not activists or social justice warriors; they were just ordinary people like you and me, confronted with a situation that was so morally and ethically wrong, they decided to take responsibility. The first step all of us need to take is to get educated, accept the evidence and acknowledge that what is happening on Nauru and Manus is wrong. Only then can we take the right next step."

Author: Josh Choi
ditor: Cyril Laugeon

HCC M&J Blog #5: God's Call to Care for Refugees

At Harbour City Church, one aspect of our Mercy Ministry is our desire to care for refugees and asylum seekers as God calls us to. This is particularly important because the Bible calls us as Christians to have a particular heart for refugees and asylum seekers, not as an add-on philosophy, but as you will see a calling that must be embraced as part of the Church's identity.

Refugee? Asylum Seeker?

refugee is someone who, because of war, conflict and persecution, must leave their home and seek asylum/refuge in a foreign country. Refugees, and the reasons why someone qualifies to be a refugee, are legally recognised by the United Nations and signatories to the UN Human Rights Conventions, of which Australia is an official signatory, fully acknowledging the commitment and responsibilities. Someone who is seeking refuge but has not had their application processed yet is defined as an asylum seeker. Essentially, every refugee has at some stage been an asylum seeker.

Refugees in the Bible

Does the Bible say anything about refugees? In fact, one might argue that the word refugee doesn’t textually appear in the Bible. However, Scripture shows  some very prominent examples of refugees.

In Genesis 42, we see Jacob (or Israel) and his family seeking refuge in Egypt because of a famine in Canaan. Furthermore, we see the Israelites are continuously called sojourners in Egypt—which is to say, they were strangers who were only ever passing through (Ex 22:21). They may have lived there, built houses there, but it was not their home. Moses fled Pharaoh’s wrath and likely death if he had stayed in Egypt—he sought refuge in Midian and called himself a sojourner,  living in a foreign land (Ex 2:22).

Sojourner, then, is a word that means someone who is a foreigner in a strange land, an alien without a home, an exile fleeing from harm. In other words, a refugee. The most prominent refugee in the Bible is Jesus himself. After the Magi’s visit following his birth, the murderous Herod sought out Jesus to kill him, so his father Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt:

"Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him. And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt I called my son."" (Mat 2:13-15 ESV)

We see therefore how Jesus was fundamentally a refugee in Egypt as his parents and him sought asylum from Herod's decree. As Christians, we consider ourselves as sojourners, for we are God’s people and our citizenship is in heaven, but we sojourn for a while in this world, and live lives profoundly different from those around us. (Phil 3:20). Peter also  writes:

"Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.  (1Pet 2:10-11 ESV)

We see in the last verse that being spiritual refugees has practical ramifications for living in this world.

God's Intentions: Refugees on Earth as in Heaven

God insists that because his people were refugees, they should care for refugees. Recalling their status in Egypt as sojourners, he instructs them to love and care for aliens and stranger, the needy and the sojourners in their midst:

You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Exo 22:21 ESV)

God’s ideal nation has a place for the poor and the needy and the foreigners. More than that, sojourners should be cared for, and treated as equals:

"'Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen.' (Deu 27:19 ESV) 

That doesn’t just mean refugees get the benefits of legal protection. The law asked God’s people to provide for the poor and the needy, the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner (See Deut 24:19-22).

The Refugees and Us (the Church)

We live in first-world luxury, but refugees arrive in Australia with barely the clothes on their back.
Although the United Nations provides a legal status for refugees, we no longer live in Christendom (an age when Christian faith is prevalent and wholly accepted), and our secular government is unable and unwilling to provide for the refugees who arrive in Australia and Sydney (and deterring anyone seek asylum)

As Christians, we are called to love everyone: called to love our Lord, love our Christian family, and love to our neighbors. God does not call His church to be insular but I believe we need to show love especially for those who are needy. To refugees, we can extend material aid, in the form of food, clothes, and tangible gifts. We can extend practical aid: lifts to the doctor and help with English. We can extend love and care: showing them patience and company and friendship. All of that testifies to them of the love that Christ extended to us, and puts us in a perfect position to extend spiritual aid, and explain the reason for the love and hope that we have.

uthor: Haoran Un

HCC M&J Blog #4 - Another Outreach, like No Other (24/07/16)

Here we go again!

It is now the third year in a row that our church goes out to the streets of Sydney CBD and reach out to rough sleepers. No outreach opportunity is quite the same because the people we encounter are different and unique in their story

This year, we decided to change direction about the "platform" of the outreach as I like to call it. Instead of care packages, we opted for hot soup made by the Ju, Un and Zobrosky families of our church! By God's providence, we also got donations of blankets and socks which are always prized by people sleeping rough. (big thank you to the Son family!)

As in the previous years, we split in two teams starting from Wynyard station and stroll the streets in search of people for the next two hours... Yool's team were reportedly successful in distributing all their blankets and soup, while Haoran, Micah and myself though encountered less people, had perhaps more time sitting down with the few people we met, serve them some hot soup, bread and blankets.

Grant's Journey

As we headed towards Central Station, we encountered a man who was sitting in the park under a tree, with his belongings tucked in on the side. He was a middle-aged man, part or wholly of aborigine decent, originally from western NSW. He told us how he was Sydney for a court case which he pleaded as the victim of a home invasion which happened almost 2 year ago. Sadly, his court case was postponed to March 2017 and so he decided to stay in Sydney on the streets until the court case. The man had apparently suffered injuries from the people who beat him and is still recovering from the physical hurt and the emotional pain experienced from the ordeal. 

We did not want to ask him further about his reasons for persisting in staying on the streets instead of going home, but the glimmer of hope I felt came from his laid back tone of voice; he was clearly no airhead because despite his circumstances, he was contemplative at the prospect of gathering art supply, draw paintings and make boomerang and sculptures out of a hunk of wood he found in nearby areas. I couldn't tell whether he was a saved-by-grace Christian, but he mentioned that he's been reading the bible and visited a church nearby. He also seems to be followed by pastoral care which reinforced my thoughts that he is accounted for, at least to some extent; it is in fact not uncommon to hear from rough sleepers that ministers in the city are taking care of them. Isn't it comforting to hear that many in the church in Sydney are still passionate to extend mercy and grace to people? 

Looking back at the time we met with the man, I am reminded through Romans 8:28 "that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." Though I do not know why God put Grant in the life circumstance he is in, I have a glimpse of hope that the Lord is drawing him closer to Himself. My hope and my continual prayer is for our new friend to trust in God's justice in the coming trial; Praying also that He who delights in providing good gifts to His children in need, would provide abundantly in practical ways as he sojourns the concrete desert of Sydney.  

We decided to pray and parted from him as he waved the cross sign in a Roman Catholic fashion. Lord Jesus, may you bless his soul.

HCC M&J Blog #3 - An Overview of Homelessness (as of 2016)

Over the last two years, we have covered and reiterated the issue of Homelessness in Australia (and will not cease to do so), outlining some of the resources that are readily available to the public to be informed on the issue.

In this issue of M&J blog, I have revisited and updated the material from the last few years in a form that I hope will help you re-catch a glimpse on this significant issue plaguing our Australian community:


HCC M&J Blog #2 - The reasons I serve the Poor and Homeless

People sometimes ask me about my motivations to serve the community of Newtown at the Jordan Cafe and about the other serving opportunities I took part of in the past so I thought I would make this the first meaningful post of this blog as this is such a big component in my life. 

I remember my first time at the Jordan Cafe (which previously was called the Newtown Mission Drop-In) was in the late first or early second quarter of 2011 as part of SOW UNSW's outreach opportunity (led then by Phil JRDB). At the time, my faith in Christ was still consolidating and slowly shaping the tangible desire to respond to God's call to serve the Poor and to love not just in word but in deed and truth (1 John 3:17-18).

It became clear to me that God speaks loudly about providing succor and care to the Poor, the Oppressed, the orphans and widows and the sojourners, and was not something He meant to be unilaterally provided by Him to His people in times of needs; but like other communicable attributes He instilled in us, mercy was meant to be exemplified and lived through His people towards one another and our neighbours. In my striving to respond to His call to show mercy to those in need, God also helped me gain a deeper and more stratified (multi-layered) understanding of His heart to care for the Poor as I will try to explain below. 

What is God's stance towards the Poor?

As I just mentioned, God's perfect mercy compels Him to care for the Poor and oppressed, which means that He also desires His people to do, being His image-bearer. We can see by reading Scripture that God's requirement to show mercy spanned from the time of Israel and continued through His Church.

When I read the Old Testament, I see God's heart of mercy as He speaks through His servants and prophets such as Amos, writing a heart-wrenching retort to the people about the social inequality occurring at the time among God's people and their obvious disobedience of His laws and divine providence, against which he also announces His judgement leading to Israel's exile. Way before Israel's state of decline and ultimately exile to Assyria, God had already purposed His people to enact social justice through for instance the institution of:

  1. the civil laws He gave them  to follow,
  2. their system of tithing which benefited the nation as a whole, providing one another with what they needed.
  3. The "feast" of Jubilee also called Sabbath year which encouraged forgiveness, cancellation of debts, producing a reduction in social inequalities.

In the New Testament, we see Jesus' earthly ministry practically consisting of reaching out to the Poor, unloved and rejected; those that the Pharisees and the rich would discard because they wouldn't fit in their agenda towards a dignified success and social image. Finally, the apostles and the growing churches (post-death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus) followed His example as they dedicated their time to care, heal and minister to the lesser to ultimately share the good news of Jesus Christ, our true hope.

We could dig deeper into God's word and find numerous cases and arguments defending the fact that caring for the Poor is neither a past time nor a dignified add-on to the Christ follower's life, but one intimately fused with how we ought to live as Christians in a response to God's grace, remembering that we all at one time were lost, but now are found, were poor in Spirit, but now treasured children of the Most High God. 

A Case Study: My time at Newtown Mission's Jordan Cafe

Ps Brian Unterrheiner, compassion pastor of Newtown Mission came to Harbour City Church to take part in our monthly Sunday school in May to share some of his experience of serving the local community in Newtown and the surrounding suburbs. He shared with us stories of a handful of people he has been ministering and counselling over the years, some heart-breaking, leaving us feeling quite powerless and furious at the injustice and harshness of many of the folks living on the street and in the community. Him and His team not only provide pastoral care to the Homeless, drug-addicts and the Lost, but also direct them to professional care such as partnering hospitals and professional counselors. As Ps Brian often reiterates, the role of the Newtown Mission church (and of any church, unless specifically available) is not to supersede or work in isolation of external secular help, but instead to partner with professional carers to better care for the people coming through the doors. 

As you read these things, I also want you to understand that "serving the Poor" is, though it requires commitment and sacrifice, also a heavenly joy on many levels because (in my experience): 

  1. It offers you the opportunity to break down personal barriers and see Kingdom diversity in the eyes of the people you meet.
  2. God uses these experiences to sanctify you as He reveal your sins, flaws and unnoticed prejudice
  3. It keeps you in touch with reality and the brokenness of our city
  4. It humbles you as God works in the people you speak to in miraculous ways
  5. It teaches you obedience, endurance and patience in the face of rejection or often lack of breakthrough
  6. God can use your experience in serving the Poor as an inspiration to others around you to do the same, hence revealing God's character through you.

I have now been serving as a volunteer for 5 years and I don't know how long God wishes me to remain a servant at the Jordan Cafe to wash dishes and make relationships with the folks there, but one thing that I wish will not extinguish with the passing of time is my conviction to provide to the (practical and spiritual) Poor because I believe that this is something that the Church is called to do at all stages of life. I will admit that my heart to serve is not always steadfast, but my comfort is in the fact that I am a willing reflection (by faith in Christ) of God's mercy in that particular community, in hope that God uses me to magnify Himself through me and through the many faithful and hard-working brothers and sisters who I serve alongside with.

That said, the Jordan Cafe has been to me more than a place where I wash dishes, do life with people and share the Gospel to, but a place where I feel I belong rather than a place i simply feel like i should go for altruistic ends. It is where God has taught me, and by His will, will keep teaching me about grace and compassion.

HCC M&J Blog #1 - For starters...

Not long after giving my life to Jesus and attending HCC, I started thinking of how I could best express God's persisting longing for Justice and Mercy in our city through our growing church. (See: Isaiah 58:6-8) And so that's how M&J started at HCC.

<<Looking back <<

For the third year in a row, our M&J Ministry department has been offering quarterly "prayer rallies"/topic drives which are now integrated in our Sunday school on a quarterly basis. They have mostly consisted of a combination of interactive information sessions and guest speakers from various organizations and churches. The goal is to raise awareness of significant areas of brokenness in our community and in the world and whenever possible to rally resources.

In addition, we have been providing our church community some avenues to serve the Sydney community like street outreach to provide care packages during winter, participating in fundraisers, food collection drives during Christmas, singing carols for the elderly, as well as collaborating with local organizations to serve the poor and homeless.

>>Looking forward>>

I'm really excited about what God will lead our church into to keep serving the seekers and the lost of our city, especially those who are less fortunate and struggle with the basics of living. As I looked forward, I couldn't help but feel that something has been missing all along, and it leaves me with a feeling like the one you have when you eat cotton candy at a fair; it remains for as long as you eat it-- and then it's gone.

We've had great information and prayer sessions, and provide some serving opportunities, but then what happens in between? I groan and ask myself: "How do we follow up after hearing stories of conversion in the midst of debilitating circumstances? How effective are we as a church in keeping in the loop of recent current affairs pertaining to refugees in our country? How do we continually help and pray for the homeless people in our own city? How steadfast am I, as a member of this local church, in praying for liberation of people against slavery happening in a country that is just a few hours flight from Sydney? Where do I even start and what do I even pray about?"

This is the struggle that I (and I'm sure you) encounter on a daily basis. So I go about my days forgetting it all and not thinking or caring for even a single one of them. Oh the apathy! There are many social issues in our communities  which require our attention, prayers and action-- and they are so plentiful that it gets overwhelming to the point of despair. And so I reached a point where I needed counsel from God to address my dilemma.

>>Now what? <<

God reminded me at IJM's annual prayer gathering two months ago (in the context of Justice work overseas) that ultimately the burden is not ours to bear, but it is God's. God calls us to do what He appoints us to do, though on the scale of an individual like you and I it may not seem much. The Lord certainly calls us to the work of prayer and support (through practical means and financial); but what a relief we have in knowing that God is truly in control in the final outcome we yearn for, which is the liberation of His people from oppression and bondage. 

My hopes are that this blog becomes another medium (along with outreaches and point events) to actively grow a heart for the broken for myself, and in the process to share it with you church. I cannot by myself care for every issue all at once, but if I trust God to do the work of liberation and salvation for and through His people, it should give me ample amount of space to step back a little to write and share slivers of thoughts which highlight His work of mercy and justice.

While my writing is by no measure excellent, I'm hoping that through this blog, myself and other members of our community can voice out our discontentment for injustice, share prayer requests, personal stories, and articles to hopefully grasp God's heart for mercy and justice and how you can get involved in the process.

Make sure to regularly check the "Serving Opportunities" section for updates in what our church is getting involved in and keep watch of this space!

Soli Deo Gloria