Generosity and jealousy

For me (because of my lovely Mel’s birthday dinner on friday) Live Below the Line has begun!

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I’ll be doing this (if I can!) from Sunday to Friday this week.

This morning, as the LBTL begun, I was met with a challenge. The challenge of generosity in poverty. As the

offering bags went around Church this morning, I desired to give… but this desire entered a titanic struggle with the desire for whatever food I might buy with that extra cash! It really highlighted the difference between giving out of excess and giving “my very life”. It’s not really something that I’ve had to confront before.

Then I went to buy food. It was definitely a surreal experience, walking around the market seeing all of those things which I have bought so readily (eggplants, spinach, eggs etc) suddenly out of my reach. Watching other shoppers quickly moving about, taking baskets-full of food to the counter, I really began to envy them. I carefully moved through, looking at only the cheapest items.

The most intense moment came for me when, after going through the check-out, I was left with 60c. What could I buy with 60c? I really wanted to buy spinach but that cost more than a dollar! I looked around the store, a bit helpless. Hopefully those two carrots will do me good!

So, my menu for this week:

  • 750g oats
  • 750g chickpeas (from a Nepalese corner store)
  • 3 sweet potatoes
  • 4 mandarins
  • 2 carrots
  • 3 avocadoes – on the specials rack (a significant risk for $2 – I hope they don’t go off too fast!)

Ok, I’m off to find a place to sleep!

 

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Ticket to anywhere

Today I received one of the most precious things that I will ever own. It was pretty easy for me to get – it cost me about $200, and two trips to the post office – but it is worth so much more than that. Here’s the main message:
The Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, being the representative in Australia of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, requests all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer, an Australian Citizen, to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford him or her every assistance and protection of which he or she may stand in need. (p2)
This little book, my new Australian Passport is access to almost the entire world. There are very few countries that would knock me back while I hold this small blue book. Our nation has suffered no long-held grudges, few people want Australian blood. Not only that, but Australia has the power and prestige to gain us an open door, and in some cases the red carpet treatment, in our global society.  Almost every nation in the world is open to me for a short stay, if not for making a living longer-term. And you thought our governor-general doesn’t do much!
Charming, isn't he?
But even more, this passport is access to one place that people everywhere want to be – Australia. These 40 blank pages represent something that thousands of international students, refugees and young families risk years of time, wads of cash, closeness to family and even their own lives to obtain. The benefits of citizenship are enormous, from brith to death – as I have discussed in other posts. If I get sick, the government will pay for medical care; if I get fired, they’ll cover living expenses; if I get bored, they’ll help cover my education! And in our everyday lives, the benefits we have are enormous. So many international friends of mine are working their tushes off in order to gain resident status here, or even just to stay for a few more years in this safe, prosperous, free environment.
And it’s not easy these days! To be a resident, requirements have become tougher and tougher over the last 5 years. If you don’t have a family member or government agency ready to sponsor you to come in, you need to be proficient at English (scoring the equivalent of about 75% in speaking, listening, reading and writing tests), be experienced in one of the areas on the “[in-demand] skilled occupation list”, or else be signed up for a 2 or 3 year contract with an Australian business (and if you’re working in a city, you have to be worth $250 000 a year!). In short… I wouldn’t score residence here if I needed to earn it!
I walked down the street from the post office, looking at the quality of the roads, the posters advertising luxuries at my fingertips.
All from a few pieces of paper!
——-
This post is dedicated to my mum, an Australian Citizen.

How have you been this month?

Dad had us for dinner last night and we played some board games as a family, it was really nice. However, I left realising that for some of the people there, I still have no idea of what’s going on in their lives!

It caused me to think a little about how we find out about what’s going on with each other.

Have you ever been in a group, sitting next to someone you know well, and someone asks them, “so how are you going?”, and their answer surprises you? I’ve had that a few times recently with people who are close to me, where I found out that I wasn’t aware of the extent to which things were stressful for them, or how an event that had happened a while ago was still having an impact on them. And I think I realised part of why that is.

For my girlfriend Mel, for example (or my very good friend Leo), I’m always asking, “how are you going?”. And they will tell me what has happened to them in the last day or so: “Oh, work was tough today”, or “I’m really glad that I’ve got that assignment behind me”, or whatever. However, if someone who hasn’t seen them for a while asks the same question, “how are you going?”, they have to sumamrise their life in the last week, month or even year! And that actually gives a different perspective on things than dealing with the day to day.

So I’ve started asking Mel (and now that I’ve written this, I intend to ask Leo), from time to time, “how have you been this month?”, again, with surprising results! First, a surprised look on her face, but also insights about the story of her recent life which I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

If you’d like, have a try, and let me know how it goes!

This post is dedicated to Jonathan Choy, who asked.

Hosen Kiat’s Day

Wow, is it September already? Happy Father’s Day, everyone!

To commemorate, I thought I’d reflect on what my father has done for me.

My dad grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia. He seems to have been a very independent kid, because when he was 16, he told his mum, “could you please drive me to the passport office? I’m going to Australia”. All on his own, he had decided that he was going to finish his high school in a completely different country, and one where he didn’t even know the language, no less.

Dad did brilliantly at school, and made it into medicine. On completing that, he worked at Westmead hospital in Sydney, where he met my mum.

Not long after they were married, they moved to Los Angeles so that he could work at Cedars Sinai, one of the top hospitals over there as I understand it. It was a great job opportunity for him, and he ended up directing his department over there. However, things broke down between mum and dad, and when I was 9, mum realised that she didn’t want to be in the US any more, or with my dad. So she moved back to her hometown Sydney with my two brothers and I.

Now, dad had it all going over there. In LA he had a very prestigious job, his family (my grandmother and aunt live in LA too), a beautiful house, and his closest friends. In Sydney he had… three little boys. However, dad made the choice to leave all he had in the States for those three little boys. He quit his job, sold the house, said goodbye to all his closest supports, and followed us to Sydney.

Until recently, I don’t think I really understood how much love he had for me and my brothers. I didn’t really get what a powerful force it was inside him that drew him to find a place to live that was a close as possible to us as possible (even though it was number 13 on his street, and he was fairly superstitious at that time!). I didn’t realise that his love for us was so costly.

If you meet me, you might notice that I have an accent, from being brought up on the other side of the Pacific. Everyone asks me about it. Recently I resolved to tell the story of my dad as much as I can, when someone asks me about where I’m from, because he crossed the Pacific for me.

I think that I still have to fully appreciate what he has done for me; when I do, I’m sure I will be a much better son to him than I have been. But what he has done for me stays the same. This whole dynamic reflects beautifully what my father God has done for me, and also the slowness by which I’m coming to appreciate that loving action. I’m reminded of the story of the two lost sons, which is an illustration of God’s fatherly love for us. Enjoy your father’s day!

I’m “back”!!

Yes, it’s been a while, but there’s more to say.

I’ve been more and more aware that as Australian citizens we have a lot of extraordinary benefits. It’s not just the huge free healthcare plan and free education up to postgraduate level; it’s having the irrevocable right to live here, in a place with very good employment opportunities, remarkable infrastructure and a peaceful rule of law to boot.

The recent mini-series on SBS, “Go back to where you came from” was a great confirmation of this. Watching it last week, particularly in the company of people who are planning to serve God in places like Malawi, Bangladesh and Mozambique, I was prodded and moved once again.

In brief, the show was (for all you potential asylum seekers reading this) a powerful contrastive exploration of the issues besetting people who come here as refugees. Six Australians, all opinionated on the refugee issue, were put on the journey of two refugee families, in reverse. Visiting them in their new Australian homes, they then visited an Australian detention centre, boarded a dodgy people-smuggling boat in Darwin, lived amongst people “in transit” in Malaysia, got perved on in a refugee camp in Kenya and finally slummed it in DR Congo and Iraq. The personal stories of both the refugees and the Australians were sharply in focus. But, if you haven’t seen it, just watch it, ok?

There’s so much to say about this media event and the issues it raises, I may have to do it over a number of posts (promises, promises…).

But firstly, there is the issue of refugees itself.

It was really clear that the life we have in Australia is one incredibly blessed, and there is every reason to risk life and limb to be able to live over here. We (by which I mean “I”) would never dream of voluntarily staying in conditions like the ones they experienced. The big question really is not “is it reasonable for them to come here?”. In fact, that is not our responsibility to ask. For us, the question is “how will we treat those who come?”.

I think it is natural to approach this question with some fear. Although we have much, resources are still finite. Admitting others into our nation will harm us!

This line of thinking is most likely exactly correct. If we want to make a difference in this world as a nation, it will cost us. If I give half my lunch to a hungry friend, I only get to eat half my lunch. But I think we need to be ok with that.

And if we’re ok with that, it will change the way we do foreign policy. “National interest” will not come first. “Good” administration will be well organised, yes, and it will be organised for the good of many. Our dreams will include people beyond our borders.

I once wrote to our Prime Minister saying that I care about other nations as much as I care about Australia, and I am willing to live a lower quality of life as part of accommodating others. It’s a simple message, but one person doing it alone won’t turn this ship. It’s a simple message, and our leaders need to know that this is how we want our nation to act. I’m going to write again. Will you?

 

Who IS my neighbour?

Hm, I thought I was going to post every few days after last week! Well, can my excuse be that it’s been a rough week?

I ran out of actual photos of Central, so from here the pics will be more and more spuriously linked. But no less attractive as you can see!

I had another memory about our time at Central (to continue the Live Below the Line theme before moving on!).

On that night when N stayed with us, she told us that she was bashed by her partner. Tim asked her, “have you called the police?” and she said, “yeah, I called the cops, but I don’t know what they’ll do.” Notice the change in language. Tim later told me how silly he felt, he said, “it’s like me asking you ‘have you contacted the law enforcement authorities?’; it must have sounded so pompous!”. And it’s true, we spoke totally differently to the people at Central. We could understand each other, but I’d say that there was not a single sentence we said where we wouldn’t have to add some swear-words, change our terminology, or even the order in which we placed our ideas, in order to blend in.

At Central, we were welcomed, and yet it must have been so obvious that we were tourists of some kind, or at least new to the scene. At a coffee van one night, I was standing there trying to get to know people, when someone walking by came and said to me, “there are so many of them [homeless people] around here!”. He was shocked to find out that I “was” one of them, and quickly changed his tune.

So that got me thinking, if these are our neighbours, we have to answer a pretty important question, who are they? What are they actually like? What are the cultural norms, what makes sense here, what are the rules of engagement? As in all interactions, if we’re going to provide any encouragement or strength in this kind of scene, we will need to make space for the difference between ourselves and the other. What does that look like? Does “f***ing … ” just mean, “I’m serious about what I’m talking about here, you should listen”? Are the words (these great words!) “I’d like to help you; what can i do for you?” really meaningful to people of a very different background to myself? Does me showing up in my nice fleecy jacket look totally preposterous?

Communication can be a tricky thing, as I learned in China.

My wonderful girlfriend Mel had a fundraising dinner for Hope Street yesterday. One extraordinary thing about that ministry is that it is incarnational. That is, they believe that if you’re going to really understand someone’s needs and help them out, you need to live amongst them and be in their situation. Maybe not absolutely true, but on a good track.

It makes me happy that God didn’t just just yell down from heaven, but came to deal with us on earth, on two feet, in Aramaic and Greek, like those around him.

We are not poor! (Part 2)

In reflection on the week past Living Below the Line, although we were living on $2 per day (the equivalent of what others under the poverty line have based on Purchasing Power Parity), the three of us have actually had it a lot better than the

people around us, and incomparably better than the other 1.4 billion do…

  • We had a clean place to brush our teeth.
  • We had a place to store things – on the street possessions are limited to what someone can carry.
  • We had a microwave to cook things at college – a street cooking facility could help folks out there to not rely on handouts all the time and get something nutritious!

And that’s only a few! But there were deeper differences.

First, we knew that we could rely on each other as a team, and we also had money, family, friends etc to fall back on if we got in trouble. Having something stable like that, having the back-up plan, makes a world of difference. And having people you know are on your side, who you’re not worried will lie to you or steal your stuff – that gives both peace of mind and a much greater ability to function. Essentially, this is what I’d call trust, or faith.

And then, I knew that at the end of the week, it would be over. Every time I lay down at Central Station, it was deep in my mind that this was not the final reality – and neither was it the ultimate one. I knew that in a short time, I would

be able to leave this place. I knew that, despite where I was at the time, I was rich! I think that not only kept me going, but it allowed me to focus on doing good to others there. I didn’t have to be concerned with my self-preservation, because of a sure confidence in a future reality. That is, because of hope.

And most of all, every day I got to leave Central. I interacted daily with my community who cares for and respects me. On the tiles of the terminal, people’s gazes told us a lot about who we were. They would either look at us with pity, bewilderment or disgust, or just fix their eyes on the floor ahead. I’m sure the lack of esteem people are given there, by each other or outsiders, plays no small part in keeping them there as they live up only to what is expected of them.  A short walk to college, and I was amongst people who respected me, who treat me as valuable in myself, who genuinely want every good thing for me. I had the precious experience of the constant goodwill of others – I had love.

Faith, hope, love. These three are the things that made all the difference at Central. They aren’t just feelings, they were based on realities.

Trust, future, goodwill. They are what we need in a world of poverty – not just economic, but poverty of every kind.

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Thank you again to everyone who supported me through words, sighs and actions this week.

If you would still like to donate, please visit my fundraising site.

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