‘My struggle with Struggle Street’ – Jon Owen

struggle street, sbs, documentary, blacktown, mt druitt, Jon Owen, UNOH
SBS promo shot for Struggle Street

As soon as I heard about SBS’s Struggle Street I thought of Jon Owen, Minister-at-large, who has a long term commitment to Mt Druitt as part of Urban Neighbourhood of Hope (UNOH).

Unlike the makers of this program, he lives within the community he works with, has local people coming and going from his family’s home and is in every way an integral part of the neighbourhood.

Here’s a bit of what he had to say about Struggle Street in his regular email newsletter, called The Huddle. It is not only insightful commentary on this program, but also on the opportunity, more broadly, for journalists to either hurt or heal, to reveal people or problems:

‘Journalists have the power to heal or to hurt.

‘There is no doubt that there is some satisfaction to be gained (and perhaps ratings) by unfolding a story that invites ridicule on the part of the wider community who knows little or nothing of the neighbourhood I call home.

‘There is a dark side through our whole culture that seems to enjoy feeling a bit better because there is always someone else to look down upon.

‘We ought to be wide awake to any attempt that looks like it might be concerned for the community that might really be inviting disgust on a large scale.

‘Journalists can investigate and reveal “problems” or “people”. If they take the time to ask why someone might be living in a deplorable state, they can show a story that explains the circumstances that reveal the person.

‘The effect of such a exercise in journalism would be to cause the viewer to discover a neighbour in need.

‘The effect of revealing mere “problems” will cause a viewer to recoil in judgement and disgust.’

Someone like Jon has earned the right to speak on a topic like this because he has done the hard yards of ‘incarnational life’ in the community where he longs to see life and hope flourish. It’s a good model of ‘sharing our lives’ that the New Testament exhorts us to (and that Jesus modeled) in preference to a distant preaching…

Let’s hope we all learn something from this process. Read more from Jon Owen on Struggle Street

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Christian aid worker rescued in daring SAS raid

“We are deeply grateful to everyone involved in her rescue, to those who worked tirelessly on her behalf, and to family and friends for their love, prayers and support over the last twelve days.” The parents of Helen Johnson.

Committed Christian Helen Johnson, her Kenyan colleague Moragwa Oirere and two Afghan woman who all worked for aid agency, Medair, were rescued in a daring night time raid by members of the British SAS and US Navy Seals over the weekend.

“David Cameron authorised the rescue attempt after military forces in Afghanistan briefed him on the planned operation. Speaking outside Number 10 after the raid, he described the rescue effort as ‘extraordinarily brave’ and ‘breath-taking'” reports the Daily Telegraph, London.

Helen’s father Philip, a theologian and senior lecturer at Cambridge University, said he and his wife Patricia were delighted that Helen and her colleagues were safe.

Medair is Christian charity based near Lausanne, Switzerland:

“Our mission is to seek out and serve the vulnerable women, children, and men in crisis who live in often difficult-to-access regions in Africa and Asia, and other areas with extraordinary need. We are a non-governmental organisation (NGO), with internationally recruited staff who are motivated by their Christian faith to care for people in need. Our work is compassionate and practical, providing life-saving care and support that upholds the dignity and independence of every person, regardless of race, religion, or politics.”

Read more about the rescue of the four Medair workers:

Sydney Morning Herald

Sunday Telegraph, UK

Midnight arrival of world’s youngest, Christian nation

Click on this photo to learn about the John Dau Sudan Foundation's work in South Sudan.

The world’s newest nation, and one of the poorest, came into being at midnight on July 9. The Republic of South Sudan gained its independence after decades of civil war with northern Sudan and more specifically following a 99% vote for independence in a referendum held in January this year.

The 10 southern states of Sudan now form South Sudan and the population of more than $8 million consists largely of Christian and animist Africans in contrast to the Muslim Arab north.

As well, South Sudan contains between 75-80% of Sudanese oil reserves although this has not benefited local people in the past due to northern domination and violent civil conflicts.

And while estimates vary as to the extent of Christianity, some statistics report South Sudan as having 2,009,374 practicing Roman Catholics and a large membership in the Episcopal Church of the Sudan as well as smaller Christian denominations. How many people identifying as Christian are also incorporating traditional animist practices is another matter.

For a fascinating history of Christianity in South Sudan and indeed north Africa, visit The Sudan Project blog (article written in 2006).

One area of conflict that continues between Sudan and South Sudan is the disputed area Nuba Mountains region where violence continues between the largely Christian and pro-Sudanese People’s Liberation Army Nuba people and northern government forces.

Nubian Christianity traces its origins to the “Ethiopian eunuch” who come to faith through Philip the evangelist who ran alongside the man’s chariot and explained to him how the Old Testament scriptures pointed to Christ.  The story is recorded in Acts 8 from verse 26 and concludes with the African man being baptised in a pool beside the road.

‘The “Ethiopian eunuch” of Acts was in fact not from the land today bearing that name, but from Nubia. (The queenly title given in Acts 8:27, Candace, is peculiar to the ancient Nubian kingdom of Meroe.)’ – From Nubian Christianity – the Neglected Heritage by Paul Bowers.

With such a strong link to the very earliest days of Christian faith, it is fair to say that the youngest nation in the world is also the youngest Christian nation.Read More »

Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory…

The Sydney Morning Herald has taken a cheap shot at Hillsong and the Seventh Day Adventist church by linking them to federal budget legislation that ‘will put a lid on the practice of so-called charities using their tax-free status to  generate business income for no charitable purpose whatsoever.’ (SMH, May 11, pg 4)
The story reports on changes to legislation expected in Tuesday’s budget which will require not-for profit organisations to pay tax on profits kept for commercial purposes.
The article then lumped Hillsong and the Seventh Day Adventist Church into that category: ‘The Hillsong church has links with the Gloria Jean’s coffee shop franchise,  while the cereal company Sanitarium is owned by the Seventh Day Adventist  Church.’
The SMH has been like a rabid conspiracy theorist in relation to Gloria Jeans and Hillsong for some time and failed again to acknowledge or understand that the fact that the owner of Gloria Jeans attends Hillsong does not equate to the church owning the business. Hence the nebulous ‘has links’ in the article. If every charity or church is to have its tax status changed because it has ‘links’ with a business, then most would be impacted.Read More »

Finding faith in the deathly grip of AIDS

Being unable to sleep sometimes has its rewards such as seeing some extraordinary world cinema late at night (or early morning) on SBS.

Early Saturday morning as part of SOS (Shorts on Screen), SBS showed an 18 minute film by somewhat notorious French director Gaspar Noe called, Sida.

In Sida, Noe moves away from the explicit nature of his feature films such as Irreversible, and instead presents the story of an AIDS victim, Dieudonne Ilboudo, in Burkina Faso.

Dieudonne tells his story, withholding nothing, and as the story of his illness is portrayed, so to is his Christian faith, to the extent that the film ends with Dieudonne reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

Sida is part of a longer film titled 8 in which each segment promotes one of the eight Millennium Goals. Sida picks up the theme of Millennium Goal six which is ‘combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases’.

Another of the films, The Water Dairy, is directed by Australian producer, Jane Campion.

Please take 20 minutes to listen to Dieudonne’s story – to honour his life, to remember the plight of AIDS victims worldwide and to be inspired by the power of faith even in the darkest hour. (The film is in French and if subtitles are not showing, click the CC button at the bottom of the YouTube screen.)

Enabling churches to be more inclusive

‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ Luke 14:21

Christian Blind Mission Australia has long worked with the disadvantaged across the globe but has recently fixed its gaze on an apparent injustice closer to home.

According to a CBM, disability ministry is a growing need yet only 5 per cent of Australian churches have any intentional programs to include people with disabilities.

Inspired by Jesus’ call in Luke 14, CBM Australia has developed a program of the same name that seeks to better equip churches to meet to be more inclusive of people with a disability.

Information about the launch of the program says:Luke14 is a CBM initiative aimed at equipping churches to welcome and include people with a disability. It is a process that assists churches to both reach in to improve church access and understanding, and reach out to offer support and friendship to people and families living with a disability in the community.

‘Many Australians living with disabilities aren’t a part of a caring church family, let alone involved in ministry. Luke14 seeks to help make our churches places where every person is appreciated, welcomed and encouraged to serve.’ 

CBM’s Luke14 will be launched with special guest speaker Therese Rein, wife of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, at St Anne’s Ryde Anglican Church Conference Centre on Thursday, November 25 at 9,30am and in Wollongong at Figtree Anglican Church on November 26 at 9.30am. Both launches are free. Check out the CBM website for details.

Change comes from global action and the smallest deed

Millennium Development Goals
Image by jiadoldol via Flickr

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on world leaders to attend a summit in New York next week, to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, aimed at halving world poverty by 2015. Newly appointed Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, will be attending.

In the meantime, some good news from Britain today with these comments from British PM David Cameron in an article regarding the Pope’s visit:

‘The Holy See is a partner in pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals, which will be discussed at United Nations headquarters in New York again next week. For our part, we are totally committed to meeting the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of our national income on aid by 2013. And we want to ensure that the money we spend goes to those who need it most. Sustainable economic development is closely linked to political stability and security. A world in which there is a yawning gap between the rich and the poor will be more dangerous and less secure for all of us.’

Come on Jules and Kev, don’t let the Brits get the jump on us!

Meanwhile in the same article, which touches on the beatification of Cardinal Newman while the Pope is in the UK, David Cameron says: 

‘Cardinal Newman once said that one little deed, whether by someone who helps “to relieve the sick and needy” or someone who “forgives an enemy” evidences more true faith than could be shown by “the most fluent religious conversation” or “the most intimate knowledge of scripture”.’

Huge Chinese mattress hides $US1.4 trillion…

There is no political, social, educational or philosophical quick-fix for human nature. Figures showing the growing gap between the rich and poor in so-called communist China highlight this once again.

Despite decades of communist indoctrination and more recently, greater freedoms and openness to world markets, the Chinese people still like to keep money under their mattress so they can spend it on ‘things’.

And like anything in China, or India for that matter, that’s one big mattress.

A study conducted for Credit Suisse Group shows that China’s households hide as much as 9.3 trillion yuan ($US1.4 trillion) of income not reported in official figures – 80 per cent of it by the nation’s wealthiest.

One reason economists believe this figure is because the strongest area of economic demand in China right now is the domestic purchase of consumer items from designer handbags to flat screen televisions.

Taking the mattress cash figure into account, it turns out the average urban disposable household income is 32,154 yuan, or 90 per cent more than official figures. The bad news is that this means China’s rich-poor gap is most likely much bigger than realised.

The Gini coefficient is a single statistic used by economists to summarise the distribution of income across the population.Read More »

Dying while bringing sight to the blind

The headline read ‘Taliban massacre big-hearted team devoted to helping Afghans’ and accompanying the written report was a video featuring the widow of one those killed.

Before the video plays, on the SMH online site, it is preceded by an advertisement for electric toothbrushes.

The team killed in Afghanistan was providing basic medical care, including eye and dental care and one of the workers was a dentist who had handed out thousands of toothbrushes over the years, to children who had never seen one.

This juxtaposition reminds us of the implausible position we in the west too often take – that our wealth and freedom has no connection to another’s poverty  and restraint.

This post is in honour of the six Americans, two Afghans, a German and a Briton who were slaughtered on August 8.

Many of them were Christians, most having given up their life in the west to embrace life in Afghanistan so they could be an example of kindness and goodness.

Read the full report here.

Watch the video report (minus toothbrush ad) and particularly note the response of widow, Libby Little, as she calls down God’s mercy on those who killed her husband.

Read the full statement about the deaths from International Assistance Mission, the Christian organisation for whom the team worked. This is an example of a deeply committed, intelligent, genuine Christian response to the world’s poor.

Asking the poverty question.

Will we remember the world’s poor this election?

Everything from ear lobes to budgie smugglers to Mark Latham’s handshake has received media attention during the election campaign but quite a few serious issues have gone missing in action.

One life and death question for millions is this: Will Australia as a nation, and in particular, it’s would-be leaders, remember its responsibility towards the world’s poor?

When walking towards the start line of the City to Surf on Sunday I noticed one of the many homeless people who sleep rough in the city and was glad of two things – firstly that I noticed him and secondly that I can be grateful for what I have while sharing it to the best of my ability.

I’m sure many of my readers are the same, so let’s make sure our nation is committed to that path.

Check out Australian Christian Voter about how we call all put the poverty question to our politicians this Wednesday.

Jeffry leaves us far too quickly

One of the boys lingers after morning devotionsOne of the last times I saw Jeffry alive was as we gathered around a single candle flickering on the white tiled floor of the children’s home in Bali.

It was the first time that I had stayed overnight at the home and, although the home-parents had set me up in my own room with a fan, a blackout had left me too hot to sleep.

As I listened to the noises of the night – geckos, frogs, dogs, babies – it seemed only moments before I heard the sound of children and adults rising to share devotions.

As the children began to sing, I shuffled bleary eyed from my room and sat on the floor among them. We sang to Jesus, candle shining, and the tiles providing at least some coolness.

Jeffry was there, nurturing the candle as boys love to do, singing with the others his love for God.

Later that morning – it was still only about 7am – I enjoyed a specially procured breakfast of fried bananas and took photos of some of the kids as they headed off to school. Four other boys travelled on the back of motor bikes, but Jeffry rode his bicycle.

I had ridden his bike myself a day or two before. It was just before church at the children’s home and I was wearing my preacherly best, but caught up in the playfulness of children, hopped on the bike, riding up the lane, much to the amusement of the kids and arriving churchgoers.

Jeffry loved to call my daughter (Rebekah) bebek which means duck. She would ask for the names of animals to say back, and her attempts left Jeffry and the children rolling with laughter.  

A couple of days later I flew home but that little corner of Bali, down a back lane in Denpasar, is never far from my heart, or my family’s.

There was no candle, no white tiles, no smothering humidity when I got up yesterday morning, heading to make coffee and breakfast.

I noticed a text had arrived on my mobile. I opened it and read: ‘P please pray 4 Novi, motor bike accident young Jeffry died Novi in coma we r at hospital.’ Later we learned a drunk rider had collided with the two children.

My own sadness at this news cannot be compared with my daughter’s who has used almost every available holiday in the past few years to visit these children. We can only imagine the aching grief of those whose lives entwined with Jeffry every day.

It was many years ago when I sat in the room of a small boy as he died of AIDS, contracted from his mother. He had spoken of visions of Jesus coming to his room to speak with him. These memories tell me that Jesus is never outdone by tragedy.

Experiences like that, like this, remind us that every child is beautifully special and that somehow God, in his great love, makes provision even in the darkest hours. Our prayers and our presence are part of that provision, the reason we care, that we go.

One of Jeffry’s  ‘sisters’ at the home wrote, ‘everyone very sad , and also still not believe that Jeffry must go quickly…’

It is true, he has gone far too quickly for us, but he finds himself in a place where time, or tears, will never bother him again. Till we meet again…

Politicians fail to deliver on asylum seeker policy

Check out some comment on the asylum seeker issue I’ve made on my other blog, Australian Christian Voter.

Christians, along with just about every other section of the community, are divided about how best to respond to the arrival of refugees by boat.

The politicians have no hope of coming up with cohesive policy because they are playing to political audiences. But Christians are often not much better, sniping at each other from behind entrenched views.

If a forum of Christians across a variety of perspectives could provide a united voice, we might actually lead the nation in a prophetic way. We need national Christian leadership to do this – it’s there I’m sure but where do we find it? PH

Aid attack makes Micah’s voices all the more important

Just a few weeks out from Micah Challenge’s Voices of Justice conference, News Ltd publications such as The Daily Telegraph are carrying a story questioning the Australian Government’s overseas aid commitment due to alleged rorting of payments.

The article begins: ‘Australia’s foreign aid program is under siege after revelations tens of millions of dollars are being wasted on mega-salaries for consultants and rich contracts for private firms. An extensive investigation revealed a lucrative foreign aid “industry”, raising questions on the Rudd Government’s decision to double funding to $8 billion-plus a year.’

The main issue raised by ‘aid experts’ is the payment of extremely high salaries to a variety of consultants. Examples listed include a senior justice adviser to East Timor receiving $757,960 tax-free paid out of Australia’s aid budget for a two-year contract. Read More »

Running with Jesus to provide Bibles for schools

While the battle lines have been drawn over Special Religious Education in NSW public schools, the Bible Society has uncovered a desperate need for Bibles in SRE classes across the state.

Earlier this year the Bible Society sent out a notice to public school scripture teachers in NSW and ACT, inviting requests for Bibles. Anticipating a need for about 10,000 Bibles, the society was instead inundated with requests for 70,000!

‘The few Bibles I have are old, torn and falling apart,’ says Rebecca Mawhinney who teaches scripture at a school with 1,000 students at Beverley Hills.

‘I bring my daughter’s Bible to my class and leave it with them – 23 children have to share it to have a look,’ says Rev Karen Jansson from Stockton.

In response to this need, the Bible Society has joined up with the Jesus All About Life campaign and under the ‘Big Rescue’ banner will field runners in this year’s City to Surf on August 8 to raise sponsorship dollars so they can meet the call for Bibles in schools.

Christians and interested people are urged sign up as City to Surf runners and then visit the fund-raising website Towards the Goal and register individually or as a team. Last year 1200 runners raised $30,000 for the Bible Society and this year they are hoping for 2000 runners to raise at least $60,000.

I am personally considering signing up for the City to Surf so I can help raise funds for Bibles. As it has been some time since I’ve done any running, I need to work out whether this is even humanly possible! Encouragement and promises of sponsorship might just push me over the line… PH

Tobacco tax hits the poor hardest

The increased cost of cigarettes is not just a tax or health issue, it is also one of justice and compassion.

The people hit hardest by the Rudd government’s 25 per cent increase on cigarettes, are the ones least able to afford it and the least able to choose the alternative – giving up.

There is little sympathy for smokers when tobacco is slugged with new taxes, the common cry being, ‘let them give up’.

But if you have grown up with smoking from before birth, had every significant person in your life as a smoker and if you have beaten off various other addictions with only nicotine to beat, that cry is offensive and simplistic. Add to this list social isolation, unemployment, mental illness, poverty and violence, and you might understand better why telling people to ‘just give up’ is not good enough.

I know many people who have, over a long period of time, beaten serious addictions, usually well after these addictions have destroyed their life. In almost every case, smoking is the one thing they cannot overcome.

When you live on a disability pension or minimum wage, are locked into nicotine addiction and with no sensible access to support for quitting, a new tobacco tax may as well be an arbitrary fine levied on you – just for being alive.

That’s why I’m urging support for independent South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon’s call to other Senators to block the Government’s recent tax hike on cigarettes unless more money raised from the tax is put towards helping smokers quit.

While the tax has already been introduced, it must be ratified by the Senate within 12 months. Senator Xenophon would like to see subsidies for nicotine patches, money for counselling services and more spending on health awareness campaigns.

‘My plea to the Government, to the Opposition, to my colleagues on the cross benches, is that just a little more money – in the vicinity of $100 million over the next four years, two per cent of this increase – could go a long way in assisting people to quit smoking for the Government to achieve its targets,’ he said.

So come on Mr Rudd, Mr Abbott, Mr Brown and Mr Fielding – do something for the least in our society to take another step towards a decent life.

If you put these resources in my hands, I’ll make sure those that really need them get the chance to give up and be free of this destructive habit. PH

Fairer chocolate and quicker check ins!

Catching up: I had my first enjoyable taste of Fairtrade Cadbury’s chocolate today.

Cadbury’s hoped to have all their chocolate in Australia and New Zealand certified by Easter and I have finally caught up on Mother’s Day (thanks Aud!).

The move by Cadbury’s in Australia and New Zealand to seek Fair Trade certification is expected to triple the volume of Fairtrade certified product currently sold. It will mean that farmers in Ghana, where Cadbury’s source their cocoa, will benefit from a guaranteed minimum price (or higher) for their cocoa. This could result in an additional AU$500,000 for these communities. Well done Cadbury’s! Let’s hope that other mainstream chocolate-makers do the same.

Forging ahead: I had the pleasure of startling flight attendants on Friday when I was an early adopter of mobile phone check-ins.

Sitting in my motel room late Thursday evening, I was wondering how I could do an early on-line check-in without access to a printer. Right at that moment (there is a God!) I got a marketing email from Virgin Blue, announcing they had just begun mobile phone check-ins. I quickly visited their site, received a SMS a link to a bar-code which displayed on my phone. This was later scanned at the departure gate, allowing me to board the plane.

Staff were suitably impressed and I did my best to look like I’d being doing such things all my life. However I was so sleep deprived that when one attendant asked me how the mobile process had gone, I spoke two strange non-words, convincing her, I think, that I spoke only Czechoslovakian. My moment of technological dominance was dashed to the tarmac. Nevertheless, it was very convenient. Well done Virgin Blue. PH

Farm in a bag brings food to the slums

The greatest population  movement in human history is underway as people on all continents leave rural areas and flood into ever-larger cities.

Africa is no exception and one community organisation has devised a way to bring the farm to the city, even the crowded slums of Nairobi, Kenya.

Life is hard in Nairobi’s densely populated slums but thanks to the innovative farm-in-a-sack project, some residents at least are able to return to their agricultural roots.

Poor families in the Mathare slum are given more than 40 seedlings which can be grown into food in just a few weeks. And even though the streets are narrow and garbage is strewn everywhere, mini-farms are cropping up on spare land.

The project was started by the Italian organisation Cooperazione Internazionale  (COOPI), which brought in rural agriculturists to teach community groups how to create vegetable farms in the slums.

COOPI provided each participating household with one sack containing soil mix and 43 seedlings to cultivate: 25 spinach, 15 kale, 2 capsicum and 1 spring onion. 

The vegetables can be harvested many times for at least one year. Capsicum and spring onions provide passive pest control instead of chemicals while the spinach is a rapid growing source of nutrition – sometimes even growing out of the side of the sack before being properly planted.

Claudio Torres, from COOPI, said of the project: ‘There are two effects. First people really have more food,  nutrition and micronutrients. But also, this brings together the community.’

Earlier this year, it was inspiring to meet in Sydney Pastor Evans Mage from Nairobi who is planting churches through the slums. How amazing it would be to join his spiritual planting with this natural planting, to truly change lives. PH (Source: CNN)