Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Descendant Of An Asylum Seeker

For anybody who observes my ministry, follows me on social media or engages with my blog, you would know how passionate I am about asylum seekers and refugees.  There is something that stirs deep within me when I see vulnerable people being treated unjustly regardless of their culture or circumstances.  I resonate strongly with Jesus' prophetic declaration recorded in Luke 4:18-19:  "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."  This is not surprising given that God has called me to be a part of The Salvation Army whose primary mission is to the poor and marginalised.

In my current ministry appointment I have been given the privilege of connecting with a number of asylum seeker families for whom we continue to provide practical and spiritual support.  Through this personal interaction I have been deeply impacted by stories of unimaginable desperation that has driven families to seek no more than what I want for my family.

However, through a recent discovery in my own family history, this has become way more personal and real for me!  It turns out that I am the great-grandson of an asylum seeker who jumped ship and entered Australia "illegally" during the 1920's.  My great-grandfather was a German who fled his homeland between two world wars and whose siblings were a part of the Nazi resistance, resulting in their imprisonment and the gassing of one brother at a notorious concentration camp in Germany during WW2.  His daughter, my grandmother, suffered cruel taunts when she was a young girl growing up in Australia during wartime from kids in her neighbourhood who would raise their hand and shout "Heil Hitler" every time she walked down the street, because of her nationality.  After the war my grandmother married an Italian man when she was only sixteen years old, so you can just imagine the cultural and social challenges my grandparents faced in post-war Australia.

My national identity is owed to my great-grandfather who risked everything to escape a life of persecution and pursue a life of freedom in this country!  

My diverse cultural heritage emerged out of the struggle and perseverance of my grandparents who overcame racial prejudice and social stigma.

My values and passion were instilled by my parents who taught me to seek after the God of justice and mercy and live according to His Word.

Everything I am is a sum of my family's culture, circumstances and choices that laid a foundation for me choose the sort of life I will live and legacy I will leave for my children and future generations.  I choose to fight for the same privilege for asylum seekers and refugees today!  I choose to honour my great-grandfather's courage by emulating God's character.  I choose "to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God" (Micah 6:8).  

Therefore, I fully embrace my cultural heritage and will continue to passionately engage with the cultural diversity of our nation in a way that advocates the same opportunities for others that were afforded to my family.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Art Of Conversation

Isn't it interesting that we live in a time when communication couldn't be easier or more accessible through the medium of smart phones, social networks, email, Skype and other forms of technology, yet actual face-to-face conversation seems to be a diminishing art form?

In my leadership and ministry role, I get to converse with a variety of people from diverse backgrounds and I have noticed four types of people who engage in conversations...

  1. Those who aren't fully there
  2. Those who over share
  3. Those who constantly compare
  4. Those who don't care

As I observe and engage in all sorts of conversations I have also noticed some conversation killers common to these four groups of people.  These observations are not only of others but of myself, as I am a passionate, talkative and opinionated person who is often guilty of perpetrating these conversation killers in my own conversations!   

What are they, you may ask?  

Let me answer by offering six conversation cultivators that seek to remove the conversation killers and restore the art of conversation...

  1. TUNE IN - Be fully present in your conversations.  Put your phone away, remove distactions and look people in the eye when you talk to them.  Let them know that they have your undivided attention.
  2. TEST INTEREST - Give a snapshot or summary before telling the whole story.  Don't assume others will be as interested in a detailed account as you are.  Share enough information for them to want to hear more.
  3. TAKE A BREATH - Provide escape routes.  There are a variety of reasons why a person may want or need to exit a conversation.  Also, give them a chance to engage in dialogue, not just listen to a monologue.
  4. TALK LESS - Don't forget to listen!  Active listening often speaks louder than our words.  It says that you want to hear as much as you want to be heard.  It fosters mutual interest in each others stories.
  5. TRANSLATE SIGNS - Observe body language and emotions.  It is said that communication is only 7% of the words we use and the rest is made up by our tone and non-verbal indicators.
  6. TRY NOT TO COMPARE - Avoid counter-stories.  You may identify with a story or have a similar experience, but the quickest way to kill a conversation is to divert attention to yourself and risk making the conversation all about you.

Effective communication is essential to all relationships and face-to-face conversation remains the foundation to all human interaction.  Avoiding conversation killers will enable us to rediscover and restore the art of conversation.