Meeting together and sharing the journey of faith; working for change together; making space to connect with God in a deeper way - for more than 20 years, the members of the Cairns Tearfund Action Group have been sharing a journey of justice.
Cairns Tearfund Action Group is made up of nine members, aged from their 40s to their 80s. We meet monthly on a Sunday afternoon on the Cairns Esplanade and if it’s wet, at someone’s house. This group has been meeting for about 20 years. Members have come and gone but a core group has remained together all these years, appreciating the wisdom and insights gained from our monthly Tearfund studies and the discussions and sharing we have together. We believe this is a pretty significant achievement.
Individually, we are each involved in working towards a more inclusive and welcoming community in our own area of interest. Some of these areas are working with at-risk youth, working with people with disabilities, working in Indigenous housing through empowering local ownership, teaching theology at Wontulp Bi-Buya, an Indigenous Registered Training Organisation and welcoming people from refugee backgrounds into the Cairns community. Some of us have lived and worked in Indigenous communities and two have been Tearfund fieldworkers in Laos. Some are very actively involved in their churches, while others are more on the fringes, exploring their faith in other ways. Some of the members have also been involved in the past in helping host a Tearfund DEEP trip. This trip helped raise awareness about Indigenous people through meeting individuals and visiting their communities.
The following are some stories from different people in our group.
“I guess it’s probably quite a personal journey, in that it was a way to explore my faith around justice that I wasn’t able to get at church. I was with people who were like-minded. It was significant in keeping my faith alive. Practically, I was a big shopaholic, I had little interest in environmental issues and I certainly didn’t know anything about social justice. Now I’m becoming more aware and changing – and wanting to change – how I live, to be more just,” says one group member.
Another shares: “It gave us a chance to talk about issues that weren’t discussed in churches, and how the church can respond to them. These weren’t generally discussed in the churches that I was involved in anyway.”
Another says: “It helps me to feel less of a misfit when there are other Christians around who have similar perspectives.”
For another group member, “it has really helped me understand how much God cares about the way we live and relate to people living in poverty and suffering unfair treatment. The Tearfund Bible studies over the years have challenged me to look at my attitudes to money, how I spend my time, poverty and its causes and social justice issues. I am more aware of how I can change my lifestyle to better the lives of others.”
Another came across former Tearfund staff member Dave Andrews. "I went and did his community orientation course in West End in Brisbane. Dave and Tearfund shared similar positions on some of these social justice issues. Dave’s theology allowed me to reengage with Christianity. Growing up, Christianity didn't make any sense to me. And then Tearfund has brought some organisational structure around that theology, and our group has reflected that. I found it very refreshing that Tearfund was able to hold that space of pushing some boundaries and asking important questions about faith and justice, whereas other Christian organisations haven’t been able to hold that space.”
Collectively we share a desire to see God’s Kingdom come on earth, internationally, nationally, locally and personally. Our Tearfund group is where we are challenged to understand the world of the Bible through the eyes of the poor.
For many of us, living more sustainably is important, and encouraging each other in doing this by sharing our efforts is important. Last year, one of us spent a month using no soft plastics at all, and we are all noting that this is difficult but possible. Collectively we share a desire to see God’s Kingdom come on earth, internationally, nationally, locally and personally. Our Tearfund group is where we are challenged to understand the world of the Bible through the eyes of the poor. Sometimes this can be confrontational to traditional understanding but it’s also inspiring. Here are some reflections from the group:
“I want to seriously seek to live more sustainably and encourage others in my church to do the same. Things like being conscious of buying ethically produced products and products that minimise harm to the environment. I feel I would rather do this and encourage others to do the same, rather than to be involved with advocating for political actions on climate change. I realise they are not mutually exclusive but time limits are a consideration," says one group member.
For another, “climate change awareness has got to the point now where people are recognising how it’s going to impact them and their lifestyle, and that’s making them say ‘quick, we’ve gotta do something about it’. But what worries me more is that it’s an issue that’s going to impact people in the majority world. Right now people’s responses to climate change are not a cognitive thing, they’re an emotive response, and I worry they are motivated by self-interest. Most people might not even recognise that that’s what is motivating them. We’re so wealthy – there’s more wealth in the world than there’s ever been – we could solve inequality. But people’s greed and self-interest is stopping that.”
Part of what we want to do is to support one of our members, Stu, in the work he is doing in supporting and empowering local Indigenous people to take ownership of the housing in their communities. This is such important work and we are in a unique position to be advocates when needed, to approach governmental officials and ministers etc. on issues that need changing and to pray for Stu in this work. And we are interested in still doing Tearfund studies and putting into practice what we are learning through the studies. Also we want to keep hearing about the work we are each doing in our different areas and to keep praying for each other.
Meeting together and sharing our faith journeys. Having a hope that together we can produce change. Making space in our busy lives to connect with God in a more deeply meaningful way, and to be guided by Him in the issues we engage with and how to do this. After all, following His direction is the only way our efforts will be effective.
Over the years, we have grappled with difficult and challenging topics through the Tearfund studies. Our friendships and great respect for each other’s insights have helped us negotiate significant differences and in so doing we have realised how much we all value our group ... and this seems to grow stronger.