Let the little children come to me, echoes Barbara in life and death

The funeral of Barbara Holborow today showed that she was a woman of faith as well as the woman of constant action that we all knew her to be.

No doubt planning the event meticulously, she included a welcome to country by Millie Ingram and then the funeral continued with the ‘negro spiritual’, Shine On Me:

‘Shine on me
Let the light from the lighthouse
Shine on me’

Phrases such as “Therefore in faith and hope we turn to God, who created and sustains all things” sat alongside Scriptures such as “I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die.”

The congregation was invited to pray:

“Heavenly Father,
in your Son jesus Christ
you have given us a true faith and a sure hope.
Help us to live as those who believe in the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
and the resurrection to eternal life;
through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Beautiful hymns, the Lord’s Prayer, Scripture readings from Ecclesiastes 3, Amos 5:24 and Psalm 23 accompanied perhaps the most fitting passage for a woman who devoted her life to the protection and nourishment of children: Mark 10:13-16, which includes the well-known words of Jesus:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

One sign of Barbara Holborow’s guiding hand was the involvement of clergy from the Anglican, Catholic and Uniting Churches and the Salvation Army. The tributes from Father Chris Riley AM and Reverend Dr Bill Crews AM, both close friends of Barbara’s, were deeply moving as they spoke of the sadness and challenge and love felt as she approached death.

There were many other highlights for the those gathered, including the Irish recessional and Goodnight Sweetheart sung by Col Joye as young men – perhaps some who have benefitted from Barbara Holborow’s benevolence – carried her towards her last earthly journey.

Armondo Hurley sang What A Wonderful World which connected with a radio interview with Richard Fidler in which Barbara had spoken about her hopes for a wonderful world. Hear it here.

One memorable quote, in response to the question, “Have you upset many of the lawmakers over the years?” Barbara answered, “Oh yes, and I still am. The day I stop is the day I know the marrow of my bone has melted.”

Many have asked the question since the death of Barbara Holborow, who will step up and continue her role as a champion of the most vulnerable of society. Probably it will not be just one, but will take many, similarly equipped – as she apparently was – with a faith that brings hope and love.

As my wife and I go through the process of becoming foster carers, we hope in some very small way to be part of continuing her legacy.

‘Jesus had two daddies too…’

Guido Reni's Joseph with the Infant Jesus, abo...
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Sitting in a Christmas Eve service I was enjoying a short film from the kids of St Paul’s in New Zealand, when a phrase spoken by one of the children went off in my head like a gun.

‘Jesus had two daddies, God and Joseph…’

While people sometimes stumble over the paternal origins of Jesus, the children who made this Christmas film had no trouble accepting that there were, in some sense, two fathers in Jesus’ life.

And why would the kids of today have trouble with this concept when so many of them live with this reality, and even more complex ones.

In the work in which I’m currently involved, I spend much of my time with children and young people coming to terms with a constellation of adults who represent mother and father figures to them.

It is particularly difficult at times for foster children, who find themselves in a loving foster home with carers they regard as their mummy and daddy, while at the same time having regular contact with other people who are, in many cases, equally loving parents.

It is one of the main challenges of child protection globally to know how to resolve this issue in a healthy and a whole way, for the benefit of the child. It rarely is easy and often encounters incredible difficulties.

Hundreds and thousands of foster children will be faced with this dilemma this Christmas season and how well they negotiate it will depend a lot on the selflessness and security of the adults involved.

Then there is that other broad category of children who have multiple parental relationships – those from families touched by divorce.

Perhaps for the first time it occurred to me, during the Christmas eve service, that Jesus had found yet another way to identify with the heartache of this world – represented by the complexity of having two dads.

I know it’s different, and I know having God for a dad is unique, but in the moment that child spoke these words, ‘Jesus had two daddies’ I knew many children would feel happy to hear that they were not alone in working this out.

For many years I have attended church and was aware of and in touch with global poverty, local disadvantage, the ravages of substance abuse and the struggle of mental illness, but I had scant knowledge of the hundreds and thousands of children balanced in the fulcrum of parental responsibility. Who has responsibility for them – mum and/or dad? Uncle and/or aunt? The government and its delegated foster carers? Or have they taken responsibility for themselves at far too tender ages?

Jesus had two dads who both took responsibility for aspects of childhood wellbeing. We live in a time when more and more children are finding their parents will not or cannot take responsibility for them. These are rarely clear-cut or easy decisions.

Stepping into this breach are a range of government and non-government caseworkers, relative and foster carers trying to replicate the love and belonging of birth family, something that is remarkably hard to do. And yet many do it well – and deserve special recognition and thanks.

So if you are going to pray this Christmas, spare a line or two for kids with too many parents or too few; for parents who have lost their kids and can’t seem to work it out; for carers who are family and those who are not, who raise kids with love; and for government and non-government workers who try to put this stuff together, usually with not a thanks to be found. Happy Christmas. Jesus had two daddies too…

Fake men, lots of kids and not enough housework…

Sydney Opera House with a tall ship in the for...
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The Opera House was a dangerous idea in its time and so it is fitting hat it hosts the Festival Ideas of Dangerous Idea in early October.

Having argued that there is no more Dangerous Idea than Jesus, let’s check out a few of the less dangerous ideas under consideration at the festival: Are all men fakes?; Why the religious will inherit the earth; and Australian husbands are the worst in the world and why it’s women’s fault.

Oh, and at the end of the story, check out my ‘Biblical perspective’ on the ‘dangerous ideas’ covered…Read More »

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…

Are new ethics classes ethical?

‘Sounds like a serious ethical issue has arisen even before the first class is taught,’ Australian Christian Lobby managing director, Jim Wallace, says of the introduction of ethic classes in NSW schools.

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Wallace continues ‘…with the pilot trial due to start next term in 10 public primary schools, it has emerged they are being pitched with the obvious aim to draw students away from Scripture classes, despite the Government’s assurances they would not.’

I posted the following comment on the SMH site in support of the article:

Jim raises important questions that the NSW Government needs to answer. If the ethics course is so important, why not make it available to all students to complement Scripture? If this course is being funded and taught by professional teachers, then should Scripture be given similar assistance? How can you teach ethics and leave Christianity out? It is the ethical base of our laws and institutions and, more importantly, of a huge number of Australian families (not just church goers). Scripture teaches ethics that are beneficial and applicable regardless of religious belief. Ethics classes should be just as balanced.

Last time I looked there were about 150 comments with a good representation of views. Maybe you would like to join the discussion? PH

‘Miracle of God’ saves driver

I am perennially ‘God-spotting’ or ‘finding-faith – looking for those little heartfelt references to God in popular culture or current events.

This morning a garbage truck ran into a house in Haberfield (saw it for myself while driving my wife to work) and the man living there, Danny, told ABC radio that he’d been thinking the house would be better as open plan but this was more than he’d bargained for.

He went on to say that after the impact he ran out of the bedroom and found the driver emerging from the living room saying, ‘I hit a tree.’

‘You hit my house too, mate,’ he countered in typical Aussie fashion.

Then, seeing the state of the truck’s cabin – with the steering wheel impaling the driver’s seat – he said it was a ‘miracle of God’ that the driver survived. He also ‘thanked God’ that his wife and two small children were also unharmed.

Thanks God! We love it when you show up.

Typically, one of Dan’s little kids slept through the whole thing and was taken to his grandmother’s for a ‘special breakfast, none the wiser… PH

One man stand comes to a game end

Jim Wallace of the Australian Christian Lobby told me recently there was disappointment in the Christian community with church leaders who are perceived as failing to take public stands on tough social issues.

He said this reluctance often stemmed from the ‘hard hits’ they received in the media and opponents whenever they spoke out from a Christian perspective.

Perhaps church leaders have been watching the treatment dished out to former South Australian Attorney General, Michael Atkinson, who has single-handedly held back the introduction of R18+ video games in Australia.Read More »

From cage to carefree cooking

Harry*, a healthy, happy young boy cooking tempe at the children's home in Bali.

I first met Harry (not his real name) in Bali when he was jut a few years old. His mother, overwhelmed by the need to work very long hours for a pittance, had been unusually cruel to him, locking him in a cage and even attempting to kill him.

Someone knew of Tania’s (not her real name) children home and convinced the mother to allow Harry to be cared for there. As supporters of the home, we were privileged to meet the little fellow who was fast recovering from his ordeal.

The spark of intelligence in him was unmissable and his need or attention irrepressible. But the steadfast love of God expressed through the beautiful staff of this home, has met the need for attention in the most healthy way – balanced, unconditional, accountable love; and at the same time helped him excel in all kinds of way – cooking and surfing being just two.

This is one of many great stories coming from this home which is a partnership between a local woman and other staff and western people who want to reach out beyond their own comfort zone.

There are many huge organisations that do wonderful things for communities and nations at the aid and development level but we must never lose the ‘amateur lovers’ of this world who are moved of heart enough to change a child’s life through hugs, smiles, a room and one good day after another. PH

Beach and the blind in Bali

Rebekah searches for shells at Turtle Beach, Bali, with some of the kids from Eternity Blessed Children's Home.
Take a few Aussies with faith and give them a chance to build relationships with people in another country and culture and God can do great things. Sharing our lives is as simple as searching for shells at the beach and as supernatural as praying for sight to be restored in a church service in a children’s home. We Sydneysiders have been here under three days and have experienced so much already, even blue Fanta… Maybe a post on that later.