Suneith and Eva Sukumar live in Melbourne’s south east with their two children. They are both teachers – music and primary school respectively – and are witnesses to the fruitfulness of an everyday, steady pursuit of justice in the home, workplace and community.
Suneith: We’ve been in Australia now for 12.5 years. Back in India, we lived up in the mountains and worked in a boarding school there. One of our close friends, a doctor, was working for a local Christian organisation called Emmanuel Hospital Association (EHA). Through EHA’s partnership with Tearfund Australia [Tearfund has supported EHA’s work in Indian communities since the early 1980s], we heard of Tearfund. When we moved to Melbourne in 2007, and I saw literature from Tearfund, I straight away picked it up. It connected me back to the work that EHA is doing: it’s outstanding work, there’s a lot of dedication and sacrifice on behalf of EHA staff and volunteers. When we found jobs in Melbourne and thought about where we give our money, Tearfund was one of the first ones that we as a family started supporting, and we've been doing it ever since. Tearfund’s sense of justice came to me very clearly through things like recognition of indigenous people and culture – I really like that Tearfund is on the front foot with that.
Eva: In the public school where I work, it’s very multicultural, the refugee intake is huge, some kids have come straight from detention centres. There are a lot of welfare issues. Other staff say “this or that student should be in Eva’s classroom, with Eva’s calm and presence”. It’s not my calm and presence – it’s Someone within me, I reflect in the way I speak and the way I teach. I try to live that sense of justice in being who I am – I don't have to preach, but my life is what preaches.
Suneith: The Rubbish Campaign last year caught my attention – that’s something I have close to my heart. Coming from India, there are a lot of problems with the disposal of garbage. People would use something and not think beyond that moment. In Australia I noticed the same problem. In church groups and things like that, and at the end of each gathering, we'd have these huge bags of garbage, distributing it amongst ourselves, asking each family to take a bag home and put it in your bin! I thought, it doesn't have to be that way.
We meet monthly with a prayer group, praying especially for the mission field and concerns in India. As we Indians always do, we have to have food to eat at the end of it! There was the same issue of disposable stuff and garbage at the end. Inspired by the Tearfund resources on plastic and reusables, Eva and I decided that we’d make a change and started talking to people about not using disposable stuff. At first there was a lot of resistance – people never thought beyond what happened at that session. So we used our own money and bought dozens of plates and bowls and cutlery. Now we have a box of reusable crockery that circulates to whoever is hosting the prayer meeting!
Eva: God has given us this beautiful world, and he’s given us dominion over it, and we are the ones causing the problems. Where we get stuck is we have a so-called ‘Christian’ side, and then this other side that we don’t want to mix. While we are praying for each other, supporting each other and saving souls, we also have dominion over the earth that God has given us. So how can we seek to mix the two? It’s about stewardship.
Suneith and Eva first connected with Tearfund through one of our partners, EHA. With a vision for ‘fellowship for transformation through caring’, EHA supports people and communities throughout north, north-east and central India.
Eva: During lockdown, I decided once every day I would think of someone I haven't connected with in a long time, and reconnect. Very often they're elderly, they are just so thankful that people have taken time to think of them and talk to them. That’s a ministry in itself. Pray with them, talk to them, uplift them. It’s done wonderful things for me as well as for others.
One family we reconnected with in India have a son who has been getting together with friends to cook up big meals and take them to tough areas, bus stations and train terminals and places like that, providing food for people. We’ve encouraged and prayed for them, and also let other (local friends in India) know about their initiative. We seem to be like the catalysts who can connect people and let them know what's happening, so that the locals there have ways to help.
Suneith: What is so touching is that many of those young people are on their first job. They don’t have much, but they’re pooling their resources together, spending their own time and money and trying to do good in helping total strangers.
Eva: My mum and dad have been a huge influence in my life, my brother as well. We were a close knit Christian family, not just in going to church, but trying to live the Beatitudes. That's my favourite part of scripture – just trying to understand and live out the social justice that fits into it so well. My parents talked it, they lived it, they preached it, and now we carry it on – and hopefully our children will carry it on as well.
Suneith: I’m inspired by listening to and reading about the lives and teachings of people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Junior and Nelson Mandela. Even St Francis of Assisi – one of his songs is my favourite: Make me a channel of your peace. I think that's what the world needs us to be now.
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Related projects have received support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).