To reality and back again
When an overseas natural disaster occurs, the images can fade quickly from view, and life often goes on as normal for folks like me here in Australia. We don’t have to worry about the questions that might plague a survivor, like: ‘who is going to help me find shelter?’ ‘What will I do for clean water over the next few days?’ ‘How long will these images keep me from getting a good night’s sleep?’ and so on.
Having just completed my first official visit to TLM, one of our partners in Indonesia, I was running through and trying to answer the questions above before I even arrived. We met people whose homes were literally swallowed up by the earth or were shaken to the ground by the earthquake, and my expectations were exceeded and brought home the reality of what I thought I knew.
Pak Rozali – TLM’s director - organised a visit to Palu, a city which on September 28, 2018 was struck with an earthquake that caused a tsunami, soil liquefaction and numerous buildings to collapse. At first glance, it appears that the residents have bounced back far quicker than my preconceived expectations. Temporary shelters are now becoming more like homes, men and women have started working again, and TLM (who have a branch in Palu) want to pick up where the initial emergency response is ramping down.
We met Ibu Melani, a young mother, in one of the temporary camps set up for the survivors who lost their homes. Ibu Melani has had to deal with the deaths of 25 neighbours and family members in the wake of the liquefaction. At first glance, her situation might seem positive now – she’s cutting up sections of plant frond to sell for cake decorations - but in reality there are times at night where sleep just won’t come because she worries about how and where her husband will find work, and where they’ll move to before the temporary camp closes in two years’ time. The next day we met with Pak Oko – another survivor - on the plot of land he’s renting for his current crop of tomatoes. It covers a large area, and anyone would think he’s firmly back on track and flourishing. But this natural disaster has affected him deeply, having lost not only his house and farm, but his mother, father and brother. He mentions that he wants to run away to West Papua to get away from the daily reminder of what happened. But his wife has strong ties in Palu, and so they’ll lose something either way.
These are just two stories from a city that is a mix of people largely unaffected by the earthquake and those deeply impacted by it. It’s a reality that is so far removed from my life and experiences here in Australia, but is brought a little closer after being there physically and talking to the people who have survived.
As I get back in the daily reality of life back home, I’m left with the question of what to do from here? I have to remember that I’m in a position to help, and we invite you to join Amos Australia and TLM with the work we hope to do in Palu, as there is still plenty of reconstruction work to be done (physical, spiritual and mental). In the coming months, Amos Australia hopes to work out with Pak Rozali what our response might look like, and we would appreciate your prayers for God’s guidance in making these tough decisions, as the work required far outstrips our ability and resources. We can’t repair everything that needs restoring in Palu, but we do hope to uncover the particular 'work that God has prepared in advance for us to do’ there, and then we hope to do that work well – as best we can – so that folks like Ibu Melani and Pak Oko will know that the world hasn’t forgotten them, but that they are loved and supported by their Australian family in the south.
- Joel Bruning, National Relationship Officer, Amos Australia.
Media analysis of the Federal budget is always interesting. In order to engage the Australian public, there’s a regular format that seems to be employed: interview a few voters from across the political spectrum, outline with them how the budget will impact their financial situation and get their reactions. While I laud the media’s attempt to get Australians engaged and thinking about what happens in the political spheres (a seemingly challenging task!), the method of engagement has perhaps unwittingly taught us an unhealthy lesson. When media reporting on the budget encourages dividing our society into budgetary ‘winners and losers’ - pitting Barry the Plumber against Meredith the Single Mum and Andrew the Uni Student – we learn to analyse the budget along individualistic lines. We read the headline ‘what’s in the budget for you?’, and reach for our calculators to work out who we’ll give our vote to.
But the Christian faith invites us to assess budgets – federal, community, personal - using a different set of matrix, because the repeated indicator of how well the people of God were travelling in the biblical narrative was their treatment of the folks on the margins. The reason for this is because vulnerable people are the proverbial canaries in our (hopefully carbon-free) coal mines. Read the Levitical laws. Take a walk through the prophetic literature. Listen to Jesus’ manifesto in Luke 4, his response to imprisoned John’s question about whether the kingdom of God really had arrived. The common thread, the regularly applied indicator of whether the kingdom of God was increasing or decreasing on earth was the level of community compassion and generosity towards the vulnerable.
It makes sense really. If life is moving towards God’s restorative plan for the world, you’ll notice it first on the margins, because vulnerable folks are the first to feel fluctuations in community generosity, they’ll be the first to find the holes in our safety nets, the first to feel the shifting of coins in our variety of budgets.
If we apply a vulnerable person’s matrix to this week’s federal budget – instead of the individualistic matrix we’ve perhaps been taught by the media – I think we’ll have some concerns about where Australian society is headed. We’ve just cut another $115 million from the Foreign Aid budget, and swathes of the Foreign Aid budget continue to be diverted to line items that perhaps aren’t worthy of the title ‘aid’ – things like loans and border security.
Our foreign aid assistance continues to be the lowest it’s ever been as a percentage of GNI, and this year’s cuts drive it lower still – far lower than we committed to, and far lower than community perceptions and expectations. This is all the more alarming given that our government has predicted a budget surplus of $7.1 billion. Can we really celebrate a budget surplus that is created - in part - by reducing our generosity to the economically poor? The relative silence of the Christian community on this issue is both strange and concerning.
While Amos Australia doesn’t receive any Australian foreign aid funding or benefit directly from it, we firmly believe that generosity is an important part of our national responsibility in the global arena. We believe that foreign aid is highly effective at addressing economic poverty and establishing regional peace and stability, and we’re convinced that it’s good for our national soul. God designed us to care for one another, to use our gifts and resources to bless and support each other – locally and globally. When we follow God’s design for life, we will experience shalom in greater measure than we would do otherwise.
Our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, quoting Desmond Tutu in his maiden speech, said:
"... we expect Christians ... to be those who stand up for the truth, to stand up for justice, to stand on the side of the poor and the hungry, the homeless and the naked, and when that happens, then Christians will be trustworthy [and] believable witnesses."
He immediately went on to say:
"These are my principles. My vision for Australia is for a nation that is strong, prosperous and... above all, generous in spirit, to share our good fortune with others, both at home and overseas, out of compassion and a desire for justice" (Morrison 2008).
Whether you support Amos Australia or not, we encourage you to take our Prime Minister's advice to "...stand up for the truth, to stand up for justice, to stand on the side of the poor..." by getting in touch with your local MP and expressing your concern about these further cuts to the foreign aid budget. We have some resources to assist you in contacting your MP, but if you’re still unsure about how to do it, get in touch and we’ll work on it together.
- Clinton Bergsma, Executive Officer, Amos Australia
She runs a little warung in the hilltop valley of Kannangga, the pit stop that everyone looks forward to. The road to and from her timbered café is winding, ever winding, twirling back and forth through the mountains, dancing up and over, ‘round and doubling back again, twisting and spinning to the rhythm of vehicles switching between first and second gears as they attempt to stay upright and forward-moving on a road that seems more pothole than asphalt.
It’s a longed-for pit stop for me, but it’s home to her. It’s a place where I rest a while, sip some sweet black coffee and build up some courage for the next hour of gorgeous, spine-pounding road. But it’s the place she grew up in, the place she knows intimately. It’s home to her, and its memories and company were sweeter and more compelling than the steady job she tried in Surabaya some 900 kilometres away. So when home called her name, she returned and began serving kopi to weary travelers like me.
I again saw the power of ‘home’ when we visited a water project in the community of Paranda the next day. Pak Isaac leads the community, and his perpetual bare feet are perhaps a metaphor for the way he feels about the place: always comfortable, ever at ease. While YRM arranged the materials and some technical help, Pak Isaac and his community have been hand-digging the 3kms of pipeline that carries the spring water to their homes. Each of them moves comfortably through the jungle. They know the bends of the river, the quiet places to rest, where to find beetle nut when stocks run low. They converse with one another with a familiarity that only years – perhaps generations - can provide.
Later that day we head out and arrive at the intersection in Wula. The way back is a left-hand turn. If we turn right, and head a few hundred metres up the road, we’ll find Ruba’s house. Ruba’s a lively, good-natured guy I met 15 years ago. We’re a similar age - early 30’s - but he’s dying from a cancer that’s turned his chest into an open, festering wound. He was told he would need 30 thousand dollars and a trip to Java to sort it out, but that’s an impossible amount of money, and he was told even that amount of funds and travel might not fix it. So he chose to save his family the debt and is preparing to die at home.
It’s a common assumption that reducing poverty is synonymous with getting economically poor people to adopt the lifestyles of their rich brothers and sisters in more industrialised countries. Move to the city, get a waged job, increase your personal wealth. I beg to differ. Like many people the world over, connections to community, culture and land mean they’ll probably never want to move far from their place of birth. It’s home. You can hear its call from thousands of kilometres away, and you know you’ve arrived when you look down and your feet are bare.
Reducing poverty shouldn’t mean giving away all that is ‘home’. A person with wealth but no connections to culture, community and land would struggle to be classed as a person, let alone a rich one, by most indigenous people. Rather, communities need to decide for themselves (perhaps with some external facilitating and input) what needs changing. The lady in Kannanga perhaps needed the travelers and bustling stories of Kannanga to feel most alive. Pak Isaac and his community wanted clean water so they’d not get sick so often. Ruba probably wanted access to affordable medical care.
As I write this on my way back to Perth - and feel that longing for the familiarity and comfortableness of my own home and family, I’m fairly sure that none of the good folks I met this past week would want to trade all of the beauty that is their community and their landscape for significant financial gain. They don’t necessarily want piles of cash or a solid investment portfolio. That’s usually not the kind of wealth they’re chasing. They’d just like to have a decent quality of life and a few safety nets for the times when things go wrong.
And I reckon that’s a reasonable and attainable - even admirable – goal for us to work towards together.
- Clinton Bergsma, Executive Officer, Amos Australia
Running amuc in 2019
About 8 years ago I somehow ended up at AMUC - an inner-city week-long camp run by TEAR Australia and Scripture Union that invites regular suburbanites like myself to consider issues of poverty and justice in light of the Gospel, and visit local agencies and organisations working with marginalised people here in Perth.
I found it to be both challenging and encouraging - Perth is littered with good people doing great work in quiet but incredibly important ways. I tend to see (or think that I see) holes and gaps all over our society, but in reality, there are a whole bunch of people already attempting to fill those gaps in loving and gracious ways. This camp puts you in touch with some of these well-known and lesser known gems of Perth while also inviting campers to consider the practical implications of the good news of Jesus and how they might play out in everyday suburban life in Perth.
I highly recommend this camp to anyone. While there's no Amos Australia label on it, it aligns very closely with our goals, values and understanding of the gospel, and so it make absolute sense that we encourage you to consider attending. AMUC runs from the 8th-12th of July and you can find more details here.
- Clinton Bergsma, Executive Officer Amos Australia
Here's to The year ahead
Over the past year or two Amos Australia has been trying to develop a plan of ‘where to from here’. We believe that in the past 10 years we’ve been obedient to the heart of the gospel in serving the poor as equals before God, in the eastern islands of Indonesia. We have come to realise that that the way we view the poor and the way we live also impacts poverty in various ways.
The Bible is clear on God’s love for the poor and downtrodden, so we hope to cultivate a deeper understanding and partnership between us. By the time you read this, our newly appointed Amos Australia team will have worked together, God willing, for just two weeks.
Joel Bruning has joined Amos Australia as our National Relations Officer, and will be helping out particularly with the Australian side of things, putting together events, publications and the like. We feel that Joel has a lovely nature, is really approachable and considerate, and so we’re really thankful he’s joined us. You can look forward to Joel sharing the privilege of serving our neighbours through Amos Australia.
Jake Turvey has also joined Amos Australia as our International Relations Officer, and will be assisting with the relationships we have with our international partners, visiting them, translating proposals and so on. Jake has had some experience working and travelling in Indonesia, speaks the language, and he loves the people and reflections that come with travelling cross-culturally. He has a humble posture and an adventurous spirit that we feel will be a blessing to Amos and our overseas partners.
Clinton Bergsma has been appointed as Executive Officer, directly answerable to the Amos Board. Clinton, well known to our overseas partners and the board, has been an integral part of Amos for over 7 years. During this time Clinton has visited our partners 3 to 4 times per year, completed a Masters in Transformational Development (MTD), and lived in Indonesia with his family for 3 months while he completed a higher level Indonesian language course. He has developed a love and admiration for our closest overseas neighbours, learning from their local knowledge and skills, while bringing together the varied resources God generously gives to his created beings.
Arlene Ward has also joined us as a volunteer Creative Director, so no doubt you’ll see some of hers, and other volunteer artists’ handiwork in the future. We think that the arts (from poetry, music, photography, painting and sculpture) have the ability to help us consider things that spoken or written words might struggle to express. We’re glad to welcome her and we’re keen to have other artists bring these gifts too.
Carolyn DeHaan, one of our Amos Board members, will stay on as our volunteer Accounts Manager, and will have her workload somewhat increased. We’re really grateful that God gives varied gifts, both in art and numbers, equally admirable.
Diane Bosveld, also an Amos Board member, will stay on as our volunteer Sales Officer, and looks forward to meeting you all at the various stalls and events. We hope this gives you an opportunity to give glory to God through the various textiles and art created by our friends in Indonesia.
These part-time remunerated and volunteer staffing appointments mean that we’ll have a greater presence in Australia. We’ve penciled in a number of events: a mini conference for the 20th of July 2019, where you’ll hopefully be able to meet Pak Rozali – the director of TLM, our partner in West Timor - and explore the intersection between poverty, the gospel, and life here in Australia.
We’re also hoping to bring a small group of interested people to Sumba for the week of the 21st of October 2019 to learn first-hand from our partners about poverty, its local causes and impacts, and how our partners are attempting to address it.
We’ll also be hosting three or four smaller evening events through the year where we hope to share a little more about Amos Australia’s work alongside our partners, and how that might interconnect with life here in Australia.
Join us by exploring the rest of our website or Facebook page - maybe leave us a message. Get in touch with Joel if you’re interested in coming along to Sumba, or helping at some planned events, by email to email@example.com or by text to 0430398028. Lastly, we hope to put out a small publication in late September that we hope will be packed with insights, thought-provoking articles and engaging art.
Needless to say, we’re both nervous and excited about the coming year. We don’t know what lies ahead, so we’ll hold our plans lightly enough to adapt willingly if God guides things differently. Amos Australia has walked alongside our overseas partners for 10 years, and we’re looking forward to seeing what comes out of having a greater focus in Australia.
Our hope is that this will be good news for everyone – our partners, the communities they work with, ourselves, and the rest of creation. Our desire is to reflect God’s love and concern for the poor, and that Jesus’ words concerning the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the unfairly treated, would evoke our response towards them, for his love towards us.
- Daniel Bosveld, Amos Australia Chairman