Tag Archives: Inspiration

Term 2 Week 2

The Good Shepherd

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away… I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.” – John 10:11-15

How often do we run in the opposite direction to where we should run? I know I do far too often!

Last week we saw our students compete in Inter-school Cross Country for the first time, and we are immensely proud of the achievement and attitude of the students involved. As I attended this event and saw hundreds of students running, it was not uncommon to see students run the wrong way and go off-course.

It is a good image for us to remember. Jesus calls us to his path – a path that encourages us to do God’s work in the manner in which He calls. Sadly, we are often too busy running our own race, trying to meet our own goals, or following fellow sheep who are lost themselves. We run off the path and find ourselves off-course in the ‘race’ of life.

Jesus is our Good Shepherd – one who never runs from us or fails to direct us. This makes it clear that Jesus cares for us not out of duty or for personal gain. He gives his life out of love for the people in his flock, something which we do well to recall.

May we seek to be continually guided by God’s direction as demonstrated through the life of Christ. When we get off-course, let us seek God’s grace and get back into seeking to do our best each day to love God and his people a little more.

May we be constantly aware of God’s peace as we share the Good News with our brothers and sisters.

Blessings, Tom

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Sabbath – Wayne Muller

I finally got around to reading this amazing book – a must read for leaders, those who seek the spiritual, the busy people…let’s go with everyone!

A “successful” life has become a violent enterprise. We make war on our own bodies, pushing them beyond their  limits; war on our children, because we cannot find enough time to be with them when they are hurt and afraid, and need our company; war on our spirit, because we are too preoccupied to listen to the quiet voices that seek to nourish and refresh us; war on our communities, because we are fearfully
protecting what we have, and do not feel safe enough to be kind and generous, we cannot take the time to place our feet on the ground and allow it to feed us, to taste its blessings and give thanks.

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When the Mass begins in a cathedral, the space is transformed the instant the first prayer is offered. The space is not different, but the time has been transformed. When monks enter an ashram or monastery and sit in silence, only when the bell is rung does the meditation begin. The space may be the same, but the time is consecrated by the mindfulness that arises in the striking of the bell. When Muslims are called to prayer five times each day, all work ceases, and all the ancient words, spoken aloud for centuries, rise like fragrance to the skies. Just so, during Sabbath the Jews, by keeping sacred rest, could maintain their spiritual ground wherever they were, even in protracted exile from their own country. It was not Israel that kept the Sabbath, it is said, but the Sabbath kept Israel.
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If we forget to rest we will work too hard and forget our more tender mercies, forget those we love, forget our children and our natural wonder. God says: Please, don’t. It is a waste of a tremendous gift I have given you. If you knew the value of your life, you would not waste a single breath. So I give you this commandment: Remember to rest. This is not a lifestyle suggestion, but a commandment—as important as not stealing, not murdering, or not lying. Remember to play and bless and make love and eat with those you love, and take comfort, easy and long, in this gift of sacred rest.

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All Jesus’ teaching seems to hinge on this singular truth concerning the nature of life: It is all right. Do not worry about tomorrow. I have come that you might have life abundantly. Be not afraid. Over and over, in parable, story and example, he insists that regardless how it goes for us, we are cared for, we are safe, we are all right. There is a light of the world, a kingdom of heaven inside us that will bear us up, regardless of our sorrow, fear, or loss. Do not wait to enjoy the harvest of your life; you are already blessed. The kingdom of God is already here. It is within you and among you.

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Our reluctance to rest—our belief that our joy and delight may somehow steal from the poor, or add to the sorrows of those who suffer—is a dangerous and corrosive myth, because it creates the illusion that service to others is a painful and dreary thing. Jesus says there will always be opportunities to be kind and generous. Just as there is a time for everything under heaven, so is there a time for nourishment and joy, especially among those who would serve.

But we must ask this question: What if we are not going anywhere? What if we are simply living and growing within an ever-deepening cycle of rhythms, perhaps getting wiser, perhaps learning to be kind, and hopefully passing whatever we have learned to our children? What if our life, roughhewn from the stuff of creation, orbits around a God who never ceases to create new beginnings? What if our life is simply a time when we are blessed with both sadness and joy, health and disease, courage and fear—and all the while we work, pray, and love, knowing that the promised land we seek is already present in the very gift of life itself, the inestimable privilege of a human birth? What if this single human life is itself the jewel in the lotus, the treasure hidden in the field, the pearl of great price? What if all the way to heaven is
heaven? Sabbath challenges the theology of progress by reminding us that we are already and always on sacred ground.
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When we move too fast we shield ourselves from the actual experience of suffering; we see only its outward manifestations and appearances. In our frantic craving for relief, we try to make the appearance of suffering go away. But we risk eradicating the symptoms without ever understanding the disease.

167

According to Henri Nouwen, Jesus’ three temptations were these:
To be useful. To be important. And to be powerful. Useful, important, and powerful—are not these the attributes that still tempt every one of us who seek to do good in the world?

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The word humility, like the word human, comes from ‘humus’, or ‘earth’. We are most human when we do no great things. We are not so important; we are simply dust and spirit—at best, loving midwives, participants in a process much larger than we. If we are quiet and listen and feel how things move., perhaps we will be wise enough to put our hands on what waits to be born and bless it with kindness and care. But in the end, we are granted the tremendous blessing of knowing that we do very little at all by ourselves.

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To the class of 2015

What follows is my address given at the Sunshine Christian School Graduation Service on Thursday 10th December 2015.

What a year it has been. So much has happened. So much has been taught. And let’s be honest, so much has probably been forgotten too!

To the parents of our graduating grade 6 class, I’m sure it feels like only yesterday you saw your child walk through our front gate for the first time. To our parents that brought their children to us in Prep at the start of the year, your child is only 6 years away from this evening. The advice I’m sure the parents of our graduating class would give you is this: “cherish these days for they will not last forever.”

This is the third time I have stood before our community at our graduation service and I thank God for the privilege and honour of serving this community. I thank the staff, parents, council and students for their continued support. A successful school is built on the strong relationship between students, parents and staff. We are indeed blessed by the richness of the relationships in our community.

I would like to particularly acknowledge the parents who volunteered with us this year. Whether it was leading a craft group, helping with garden club, hearing students read, covering books, making costumes, helping with events and excursions, assisting at morning teas, prep transition days, mother day and father’s day stall – your work has had a wonderful impact on our community and I thank you for this service. The school will hold be a special event for our volunteer parents early next year to acknowledge their service. Can we please acknowledge our parent volunteers with applause.

The school has experienced yet another successful year. Camps to Weekaway and Ballarat were wonderful. Music has been learnt and our walls have groaned from wonderful art. We have run and jumped our way through PE. We have read book after book. We have done sum after sum. We have programmed Bee-Bots. We have all experienced success and explored our God given gifts. There have been successes for all of us.

Tonight is a joyous occasion but also one that brings a small measure of sadness. In addition to farewelling out Grade 6 class, we say goodbye to other families as they moving out of the region. To the families leaving us this year, we wish you God’s richest blessings as you settle into new homes and schools. Thank you for blessing us with your time in our community.

And so, the time comes for the Principal to offer a few words of advice to the young men and women of the Grade 6 class.

On my desk, underneath a pile of paperwork, next to the Lego models, next to the ‘Mr Happy’ coffee cup and behind the book I’m currently reading, you will find a poem written by William Henley titled ‘Invictus’. Some of the parents here may know this poem quite well through being forced to study it at High School perhaps.

I will not read the entire poem, but will offer two verses:

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

Grade 6, you are old enough to know now that life is not always a pleasant road. The marks you have received this year have come not from sitting around but from diligent, and hard work. The relationships you have with your fellow classmates, I know full well, came with their fair share of arguments, hurtful statements and needed forgiveness.

The poem I read reminds me of one of Mrs Klammer’s favourite things – the ocean. I too have a great love for the ocean and for the skies too. Humankind seems to have the land under our control but try as we might, the power of the wind and the waves cannot be controlled by human hands. The ocean is a constant reminder that God is indeed sovereign and in control.

The poem finishes with the line, “I am the captain of my ship, the master of my soul. “

The temptation of young people is to believe that they alone have the power to control the destiny of their life. I speak from experience – I too was young once. Perhaps some of you know already that you may be the captain of your ship, but the ocean you sail on and the wind that rages, are beyond your control.

We all sail a ship on God’s ocean, blown by a wind of God’s making. He was the one who crafted your ship – a ship that contains the special gifts and talents that you have. Your ship is like no other on the ocean because God made you unique, special and precious.

As you leave our little community, don’t go sailing alone. Sail in the knowledge that your friends, family and God, sail with you and will support you.

As our reading from Philippians reminds us “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Isaiah tells us today “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defence he has become my salvation.”

Be the captain of your ship. Have great courage. There is a large world out there that needs people who care deeply about others. Go where God needs his people to work. Do not choose a path that is easy and brings reward for you only. Seek always to place the needs of others above your own.

Remember always that God is your strength and he will be faithful to you through the storms of life. The land, the skies and the ocean are his.

May the creator God, who was with in the beginning, has walked with you at school, and now goes with you to High School, remind you frequently of his grace, mercy and deep love.

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Creative schools – Ken Robinson

This one is a must read for educators…and politicians making educational decisions too!

 

“If you design a system to do something specific, don’t be surprised if it does it. If you run an education system based on standardization and conformity that suppresses individuality, imagination, and creativity, don’t be surprised if that’s what it does.

xxvi

The students who feel alienated by current systems of standardization and testing may walk out the door, and it’s left to them and others to pay the price in unemployment benefits and other social programs. These problems are not accidental by-products of standardized education; they are a structural feature of these systems. They were designed to process people according to particular conceptions of talent and economic need and were bound to produce winners and losers in just those terms. And they do. Many of these “externalities” could be avoided if education genuinely gave all students the same opportunities to explore their real capabilities and create their best lives.

38

Education is really improved only when we understand that it too is a living system and that people thrive in certain conditions and not in others. The four principles of organic farming translate directly to the sorts of education we urgently need to cukivate. Paraphrased for education they might be:

  • Health. Organic education promotes the development and wellbeing of the whole student, intellectually, physically, spiritually, and socially.
  • Ecology. Organic education recognizes the vital interdependence of all of these aspects of development, within each student and the community as a whole.
  • Fairness. Organic education cultivates the individual talents and
    potential of all students, whatever their circumstances, and respects the roles and responsibilities of those who work with them.
  • Care. Organic education creates optimum conditions for students.

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A few years ago I bought a new car. It took a long time. Once I’d decided on the model, I was offered an endless series of choices to customize it to my personal tastes and needs: colour, fabrics, sound systems, number of doors, engine size and so on. It was like filling out a tax return. I asked the salesman how many versions of this car there actually were. He didn’t know but guessed that mine would be unique, just like all the others he’d sold. In contrast, I got my first car when I was twenty-three. Back then, there was only one question: “Do you want it or not?”

Nowadays, we take for granted that we can personalize just about anything, from the apps on our smart phones, to the clothes we wear, to our pages on Facebook. The same is true of health care. As technology and the understanding of biology continue to develop, the medicines you take will become ever more tailored to your individual body type. This process of personalization seems to be everywhere, but it has yet to take root in education. This is ironic, because it is in education that personalization is most urgently needed. So what does that mean? It means:

  • Recognizing that intelligence is diverse and multifaceted
  • Enabling students to pursue their particular interests strengths
  • Adapting the schedule to the different rates at which students learn
  • Assessing students in ways that support their personal progress and achievement

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Great teachers are the heart of great schools. In their various roles, they fulfil three essential purposes for students:

  • Inspiration: They inspire their students with their own passion for their disciplines and to achieve at their highest levels within them.
  • Confidence: They help their students to acquire the skills and knowledge they need to become confident, independent learners who can continue to develop their understanding and expertise.
  • Creativity: They enable their students to experiment, inquire, ask questions, and develop the skills and disposition of original thinking.

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In planning the school curriculum, I much prefer the idea of disciplines. A discipline is a mixture of theory and practice. Mathematics, for example, is a combination of methods and processes and of proposition knowledge. The student is not only learning about mathematics, but also how to do mathematics. The same is true of disciplines that involve physical skills and the control of materials and tools, including music, art, design, engineering, technology, theatre, dance, and the rest.

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Andreas Schleicher is director for education and skills and special adviser on education policy to the secretary-general at the OECD. “The world economy no longer pays you for what you know; Google knows everything,” he told me. “The world economy pays you for what you can do with what you know. If you want to learn if someone can think scientifically or translate a real-world problem into a mathematical context, those things are harder to assess, but they’re also more important in today’s world. We see a rapid decline in the demand for routine cognitive skills in our world and the kinds of things that are easy to test and easy to teach are also the kinds of things that are easy to digitize, automate, and outsource.”

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conditions for growth

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The principal – Michael Fullan

While I have been devouring books for my Goodreads challenge of reading a book every fortnight, I haven’t been able to catch up my notes. Here are a few choice insights from Michael Fullan’s book “The Principal”. More book related inspirations shortly.

On effective principals

“The more effective principals were those who defined their role as facilitators of teacher success rather than instructional leaders. They provided teachers with the resources they needed to build social capital—time, space, and staffing—to make the informal and formal connections possible.”

On accountability

“Capacity building is to accountability what finance is to accounting. Finance is about how people organize and invest their assets; if you have only) accounting, you are merely keeping careful records while you go out of business! In the same way, there is more to accountability) than measuring results; you need also to develop peoples capacity achieve the results. Extreme pressure without capacity results in dysfunctional behaviour.”

Top 5 principal actions leading to results

1. Establishing goals and expectations
2. Resourcing strategically
3. Ensuring quality teaching
4. Leading teacher learning and development
5. Ensuring an orderly and safe environment

The ‘right and wrong of change’

Fullan - change

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Jesus does it again

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

John 6:5-7

I imagine it wasn’t easy being a disciple – the constant crowds, the threat of being caught by authorities, low pay and Jesus constantly challenging them to be better (Just to mention a few of the frustrations!). In last week’s reading Jesus was attempting to escape the crowds but “When he saw them he had compassion on them for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” In this week’s reading Jesus sees a people hungry and instructs his disciples to feed them. The reaction of the disciple Philip is not very promising at all.

Immediately Philip begins thinking about himself and the personal cost of doing as Jesus asks. Not to mention demonstrating a tendency to open his mouth before thinking! The reality of the Christian life is that Jesus calls us to listen closely to his teachings and to act regardless of the personal cost. As Philip shows us in this reading, even those close to Jesus get it wrong sometimes. As the gospel later shows us, the disciples get it wrong time and time again.

How often are we moved by the spirit to take action but ignore this call, act too quickly and mess it up or open our mouths and start telling God how he has it wrong? I often think that Jesus had a smile on his face when he asks Philip “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” Jesus likely knew that Philip would react like he did and then provide Jesus with a moment in which he could teach the disciples (as well as all of the people of God) about God’s power and overwhelming generosity.

As we go about our lives we must always be open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and be ready to react not with thinking “this is impossible” but thinking with great excitement “what is God going to do to enable this to happen?”
May all of us in the Sunshine Christian School community walk in the generosity demonstrated to us by Christ Jesus.

Blessings

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Ballarat

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
To declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night…
For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
At the works of your hands I sing for joy.” – Psalm 92

Last week saw our 5/6 class journey to Sovereign Hill in Ballarat. It was a wonderful camp and we give thanks for all involved with organising and running it.

At Sovereign Hill, the students had the opportunity to experience what life was like during the 1850s Gold Rush era – including attending school, dressing in period costume and undertaking mining and other trade tasks (even cleaning up manure!)

On the Thursday evening we watched a representation of the Eureka stockade. The students greatly enjoyed learning about history in such a real and tangible way. As I watched the students eagerly take in the unfolding events, I noted the involvement of the church in the person of Father Smyth.

The Eureka Stockade caused significant loss of life from both the protesting miners and the government police forces. In a time of great tension, Father Smyth did what he could to encourage both sides to seek peace. When violence broke out, he placed his life in danger to attend to the wounded and give comfort to the dying. Despite witnessing a terrible event, following the event he wrote “…better times I hope are dawning…May we have the good and just things that our people look for.”

It is not easy to look at the world with this type of hope, a hope that gives thanks to God in both good and bad times. In Australia our lives are generally comfortable; we are well fed, well housed and can freely express our faith and politics. The Eureka Stockade reminds us that it was not always this way in our country and it also calls us to remember those in our community who are not well fed or well housed. We also remember the myriad of nationalities that lost life at the Eureka Stockade in defence of justice and fairness for all.

At Sunshine Christian School, it is important for our community to share Father Smyth’s outlook on the world and to do as the Psalmist encourages us to do, “to declare God’s steadfast love in the morning, and his faithfulness by night”. As our students experienced firsthand, the early migrants to the Goldfields had little. Yet amongst their own problems, many put aside their own comfort in order to uphold the values of God. They suffered in order to protect the weak, to speak for truth, and they looked forward to a better time. Many diligently worshipped God in churches with dirt floors and flimsy cloth walls.

May the hopeful spirit of the early migrants of Australia inspire us to give thanks to our God at all times and work for justice and fairness.

Blessings

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A commonplace book

The other day I was reading a book and I came across a little anecdote. It was about the great Athenian general Themistocles. Before the battle of Salamis, he was locked in a vigorous debate with a Spartan general about potential strategies for defeating the Persians. Themistocles was clearly in the minority with his views (but which ultimately turned out to be right and saved Western Civilization). He continued to interrupt and contradict the other generals. Finally, the Spartan general threatened to strike Themistocles if he didn’t shut up and stop. “Strike!” Themistocles shouted back, “But listen!”

When I read this, I immediately began a ritual that I have practiced for many years–and that others have done for centuries before me–I marked down the passage and later transferred it to my “commonplace book.” Why? Because it’s a great line and it stood out to me. I wrote it down I’ll want to have it around for later reference, for potentially using it in my writing or work, or for possible inspiration at some point in the future.

There were two reasons I started my blog. Firstly, to have a space to deposit papers, presentations and resources I had created. Secondly, and what I have lately been using it more and more for, is as a place to share articles and links of note. It turns out that what I am creating has been called a ‘commonplace book’ (or ‘commonplace blog’ in this case)

The beauty of a commonplace blog is that you can have your notes, musings, articles etc. ready and available anywhere that has internet access. There are other methods to do this of course, Evernote or OneNote etc. but the blog format is working well for me at the moment. Is anyone else out there using their blog for similar?

Have a read of the full article on the topic of commonplace books written by Ryan Holiday here.

 

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#acelconference thoughts to remember

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Where love comes to life – address to LCA Victoria/Tasmania District

What follows is a rough account of a presentation I gave at a regional gathering of Lutherans recently. I suspect you will find errors in the text – please forgive them! I have been asked to make this available rather quickly and thus I beg your forgiveness in this area.

I have thrown out some challenging questions towards the end. Please engage with the questions I ask. I have no easy answers and I do not hold my life up as an example of what we should be doing.  Send reactions and feedback my way.

I recommend Dr Jenning’s piece (http://goo.gl/wdErGq) for further reading on issues of finances and Lutheran schooling in Australia.

 

Where love comes to life

I would like to tell you the stories of 3 men – Stephen, Duan and Charlie. (All names in this piece have been changed to protect identities)

 

Stephen is Egyptian. His family is Coptic Christian.

In 2011, the president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, stepped down in response to the Arab spring uprising in his country. This took place at a place called Tahrir (freedom) square and both Stephen and his brothers participated in the protests against the wishes on their parents. This is the same place that your speaker tonight discovered what tear gas tastes and feels like.

There are 87 million people living in Egypt and as my friend Ibrahim said to me, this is the first time in recorded history that the Egyptian people had been free. From the time of the Pharaohs, they had been ruled by dictators.

When you apply for a visa in Egypt you have to supply your religion on the official form. So you carry a card as an Egyptian citizen or a visa if you are a foreigner which states your religion. When you greet someone you have the choice ‘Salam alykuem’ (peace be with you) which is considered a Muslim greeting or Sabah alcher (good morning),  which is considered Christian (because you aren’t using ‘salam alykuem’!). You proclaim your religion immediately with your greeting.

Unlike the west where we consider it impolite to talk about religion, politics or sex – in Egyptian society these are fair topics. One day I was talking to a Taxi driver who had 9 children – he asked why I didn’t have any children. I said in my less than perfect Arabic that my wife and I were not planning to. He then pointed at this crotch and asked sincerely ‘andak mushkilla?’ which translated means ‘do you have a problem?’ Reproductive problems are very much fair game for taxi conversation in Egypt.

Stephen went to a government run high school and he told me great stories of the ineptitude of his teachers. Teachers in Egypt are paid less than $100 per month by the government. How do they make a living? Many refuse to teach the content during the day and then run night tutoring sessions at a great profit. Current estimates suggest that following the chaos of the revolution and on the back of years of mismanagement, half the Egyptian population is illiterate. Perhaps only 25% of women are literate in Egypt.

Stephen had an interesting time in university. Due to corruption, his professor of English had a PhD but could not read, write or speak English. As a result, the exercises and assignments Stephen had to complete were flawed. Stephen would be required to write incorrect English in order to pass in this professor’s class. Stephen passed with distinction after spending endless hours figuring out exactly what elements of English the professor had incorrect. Stephen then helped his classmates pass by teaching them these skills. In order to make sure he knew English, he watched every English language film he could find and read every book in English he could find. His English is extraordinary.

Egyptians are having a very rough time at the moment. The week that my wife and I arrived in Egypt an elderly Egyptian woman died from food poisoning as the hospital refused to admit her because she had no money. Work is scarce – with tourism representing 13% of the country’s GDP. The tourist industry in Aswan, in the deep south of the country, is currently running at 4% of what it once was.

Some are trying to use religion to divide the people but as one of my good Egyptian taxi driving friends said: ‘Muslimeen behab allah, messaen behab all. Koolo eizeen schokel, akl, modrassa wa mostespha. Mushkilla eh?.’ (‘Muslims love God, Christians love God. We all want a job, food, schools and hospitals. What is the problem?’)

When Stephen learnt that I was lecturing at a Bible college for Sudanese refugees and after hearing their stories, he started volunteering to translate at this college. He heard the need and wanted to help. After I left Egypt I was very happy to hear he became the head administrator of the college and has begun studying alongside the African refugees in order to become a pastor himself. This is truly amazing. The hatred between Egyptians and Sudanese runs very deep.

Not that long ago through Facebook I learnt that Stephen’s brother was killed. Stephen’s brother was actively involved with protests against Mubarack and then the Morsi regime. Egyptians fear that their internet is being watched and thus don’t write some things online. But I have a pretty good idea about what happened to Stephen’s brother.

Stephen is choosing each day to live a different life. He has given up a good salary teaching Arabic to foreigners in order to teach God’s word to refugee pastors and to train refugee teachers.

 

Duan is Ugandan and has the brightest and most sincere smile I have ever seen.

Duan’s story is quite interesting. He speaks 7 languages. When I asked him how he learnt French his answer was. “It wasn’t too hard. I had some friends from Congo who liked soccer and so we played soccer in French”.

English is Duan’s sixth language. His schooling took place under a tree. He sat in the dirt with another 50 or so young people and learnt language from an elder. The elder would write a word in the dirt and Duan would copy it in the dirt. The teacher would return after seeing the other 50 students check it and issue another word.

He is now the director of African Hope Learning Centre (AHLC), having begun as a technical assistant, becoming a primary school teacher, then primary headmaster and now director.

He is assisted by deputy directors Jacques, James and Matthew. Jacques is from Congo and is a political refugee as all of the men in his family has been killed due to his father being involved with an opposing political party. James fled South Sudanese to avoid tribal warfare. Matthew was a Christian born in the Muslim north of Sudan. For a time, Matthew lived naked in the fields as he lost contact with his family.

The UN interacts officially with about 250,000 refugees in Egypt. Having worked with NGOs like MSF, refugee researchers, long term missionaries, I know the number of refugees currently living in Egypt is closer to 4 million. There is a major UN processing centre in Cairo which acts as a funnel for those hoping for resettlement elsewhere. However, the Egyptian government bars refugees from accessing healthcare, education and from working.

So African Hope offers education to 500 students from grade 1 to grade 11. Staff and students have a basic healthcare program including dental care, vaccinations, health education. The school also provides employment for more than 50 refugee teachers.

Over 20 African nations are represented in students and staff. From Sudan into the horn of Africa, Somalia, Ethiopia, through down as far south as Uganda and Burundi, then west to Angola and up to Nigeria.

The goal of this illegal school is to provide an education to build the African community which is in sore need of doctors, engineers, teachers and business people. It is hoped that this education will allow students to define and build a positive future for their countries.

This of course is difficult. Finding the finances to run the school is very difficult in a very competitive global aid market.

AHLC is reliant on volunteers due to the low educational levels of teachers.  Our refugee teachers would barely pass Grade 7 in Australia.  While staff training can help, volunteers are essential to improve our student outcomes. That was why I was there – to provide staff training. Put simply – you cannot teach what you have not been taught. At one stage we could not teach maths because there was not a single person in the refugee community who knew maths beyond a grade 2 level.

I discovered this naively when I set some benchmarking tests for all the students and I discovered that not a single student in the school knew what a rectangle was. I discovered the reason why when I saw the look of confusion in the eyes of my maths teachers when I asked them what a rectangle was.

Duan first came to Cairo to work in a call centre on a very good salary. Duan chose to give up this lucrative salary to lead the education of 500 hundred young Africans. We pray that he can lead this school into a positive future that helps to build Africa.
 

Charlie is Australian.

Charlie was borne to Deli owning parents in the great wine country of McLaren Vale, South Australia. Charlie’s family are not really religious. He recalls a story of a rather tense moment and vigorous theological argument when Charlie’s mother stared down the priest who took issue with her demand to remove the promise ‘to obey’ from her marriage wows. There is also a rumour that Charlie’s grandfather tried to burn down a church after copping a hiding from the priest for being insolent during Sunday school.

Charlie’s parents were told, when he was a grade 1 student, that he would never learn to read and write at an adult level. “He should leave school as early as he can and get a trade”, his parents were told. Charlie was lucky to have parents who knew this was rubbish. He shifted schools but it was at that time that his parents started looking for a suitable high school with great teachers. They did not want this to happen again.

As it would happen, a new Lutheran school was opening in McLaren Vale, Tatachilla Lutheran College, the very year in which Charlie would commence high school. Charlie happened to be enrolled number 65 of 67 sof that first intake of students.

Charlie became a Christian through seeing the teachers at Tatachilla model a Christian life of service. As Charlie often says,

“I can’t pinpoint the moment that I became a Christian – I just felt an increasing belief that this stuff the pastor talked about in chapel was true because the teachers lived it. They didn’t just talk about it.”

Charlie found himself the first in his family to attend university. Not long after starting university, Charlie starting attending his local Lutheran church.

He was enjoying quite a successful opera singing career (a talent fostered by his teachers) when a vocal injury forced him to take 2 years off of professional singing. He had two options before him. With his passion for God, young people, sharing big ideas and music, he considered becoming a pastor in the Lutheran church or becoming a teacher. He chose the latter, studying education through Flinders University and through Australian Lutheran College. Charlie gained a job at a very prestigious Adelaide Lutheran school and began his teaching career there.

Around this time a nice young girl came into his life and it wasn’t too long before friendship turned into marriage.

Through the Lutheran Church, Charlie had the opportunity to discover that not all Lutheran schools were as nice and well resourced as his. He travelled to Papua New Guinea and the US on social justice trips. Charlie’s wife had for a long time had a passion to work with African refugees – specifically Sudanese women.

A flame burned a little brighter – a flame that was lit at a Lutheran school which emphasised active love for others. Charlie remembers his principal at Tatachilla, Richard Bruss, saying often “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

So it came to be that Tom (or ‘Charlie’)  and his wife left their comfortable lives in Adelaide to serve in Egypt.

 

What would you die for?

Working in Egypt caused me to come to terms with a willingness to die for a belief. I will not pretend like Egypt is anything like current situations in the Congo, Afghanistan or Iraq. Rarely did I feel my life was in true danger. However, as foreigners began being killed Robyn and I had to think about what was going to be line where we fled. Robyn spent a week at home at one stage as a public threat was made against foreign white women working for churches.

Living with a packed bag and $1000 USD under your pillow to buy your way out of a country changes your perspective. It brings a certain clarity to things. You think “am I willing to die in order to provide a service to those who need it?”

How much am I willing to personally suffer so that others don’t?

 

What is God’s will?

Few things annoy me more than people who try to give me comfort by saying that I don’t need to worry about those who are still in Egypt working with the refugee community or the refugees themselves. “God will look after them” or “God will rise up those to do what he needs done.” When I was working at African Hope there were more than 10 international volunteers – now there are two. I chose to leave and I left behind work that now goes mostly undone. That is something I need to deal with.

We live in a protected bubble here in Australia. Our faith, our worldview, our lives are all symptomatic of a society that lacks suffering. We choose to ignore the great pain and suffering of our brothers and sisters across the world.

As Christians in the west we have blindly followed a lie. Many believe that it is enough for us to have our faith in God and just live our lives as best we can. It is shameful that the lives of most Christians look no different to the lives of your average Australian – mortgage, shiny car, shiny kids, overseas holidays. Is that really what Christ taught us? Is that what God sacrificed his son for? So that we could live Christian flavoured lives hidden from seeing the suffering of others?

Experiences like mine change your perspective. So much so that I still think of money in different units. When I was working at African Hope, every $50 meant another day that I could afford to feed the 500 students at the school. At my current school, when I buy an iPad, I cannot help but know that for the cost of the iPad I could have fed 500 African refugees for about 2 and half school weeks.

I know what it is like to form a contingency plan for running out of money for the food program. You remove the meat from the dish, you remove the vegetable, you half the amount, you feed the youngest only and then as a last resort, you stop the meals. Thank God it didn’t ever get to a point where we had to stop meals.

Please don’t put me, or anyone else on a pedestal and say “I could never have done what you did”. It isn’t a case of can’t – what I did was not difficult. Anyone in this room could serve in this way usefully if they wanted to. Robyn and I made a choice to serve in Egypt. To simply say “I couldn’t do what you, Stephen our Duan did” is an excuse. An excuse so often used to justify inaction and to do nothing to help those in need.

The world is the way it is because we continually make choices that allow it to be so. It is humanity’s will that is causing the suffering the our world. This is not the will of our loving God who suffers with the oppressed.

 

What motivates you?

Why did a teacher and his wife from a nice Lutheran school in Adelaide go to Egypt and spend 35k of his own money and 10k of generous people’s money, to help people? Because there was a need. Robyn has always wanted to work with Sudanese refugees and the largest population of Sudanese outside of Sudan is in Cairo. Faith without works is dead. Nothing more than that. We went because there was a need we could meet. Within each of us, the Holy Spirit is working to bring us to love our neighbours as Christ taught us. We must choose to take this call or ignore it.

Moving to Melbourne was not really part of the Brennen’s plan after Egypt. But at the same time a Lutheran school leader with refugee and migrant experience comes home at the exact same time that the only Lutheran school in the country serving a significantly refugee/ new migrant/low income community needs a leader.

Sunshine Christian School is a lovely primary school in the western suburbs of Melbourne. Being principal there takes as much passion, perseverance and dedication and fortitude as working in Egypt did.  The issues are different but the goal is the same – to nurture young people to serve God and his people.

Ask yourself – Would you get up tomorrow and do your job if you were not paid? Do you believe what you do each day is truly serving others as God would have you serve?

 

A great Lutheran social justice heritage

Lutherans have a great heritage to offer. I was in demand as a lecturer at a bible college in Egypt because Lutherans are known in Africa for having biblically centred and sound theology.

Ask many a Sudanese refugee about Lutherans and they see it as a word that represents comfort and support. This comes from their time in Lutheran run refugee camps.

It has been written of our spiritual father, Martin Luther:

“[He argued that] God’s justice is a life-giving justice for all persons regardless of gender, race or ethnicity, social or economic status – a justice that should underpin human relationships and the education of future leaders in society. Indeed, he was among the first of his generation to protest business, banking, and religious practices that favoured the wealthy few and impoverished the many. And yet…Lutheran history is marked by the refusal to heed the ancient call to act with justice, exchanging that more difficult task for charitable endeavours or stoic silence in the face of oppression.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote :

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself”

As Lutherans I think we are very good at the loving God bit and feeling saved. What we need to do is to commit more to the mystery and gospel imperative of loving others.

 

There are many choices we make as a church.

A choice we make at the moment is to allow our schools to exclude families on the basis of their economic status. I live with the knowledge that if I were born now my parents could not afford to send me to a Lutheran school – not on their income. My family situation is not unique. What might Luther say if he were here today and saw that our schools, that were first set up to serve Lutheran refugees newly arrived to Australia, now exclude refugees through their fee structures?

Could our church find new funding strategies to sustain and plant low fee schools in areas of great need in order to provide a Lutheran education to children that need it most?

Last year I met with a family who wanted to enrol their daughter at my school. Knowing that they were a practising Buddhist family I asked them why it was that they wanted to send their child to a Lutheran school. They said this:

“I don’t want my daughter to go to a public school. I know your school is a good school. You will not ignore her soul. You will teach her about God. You will teach her about duty to others. This will not happen at the other local schools”

According to the enrolment policies of most Lutheran schools we are required to give first preference to Lutherans and then practicing Christians. Had there been an abundance of enrolments in the previous categories this child would not be attending a Lutheran school. What do we make of this?

As a church we make the choice to pay our school principals an annual salary that alone would be enough to run African Hope Learning Centre for an entire year. My wage alone is more than enough to feed, educate and provide healthcare for more than 500 refugee students while also giving work for another 50 refugees. What does this information mean to us as schools of the church? How do we process it?

As we look at approving church budgets, how are we spending our money? Are we investing in supporting the oppressed and needy or perpetuating nice buildings with empty pews?

Could the current shortage of Lutheran pastors, teachers and leaders suggest that we have lost a culture of service to others that we once had?

Germaine Greer was educated in the Catholic schooling system. She writes:

“(The Catholic nuns) brought out the best in me and it needn’t have been brought out – it could have stayed right where it was. I could have married a stockbrocker and settled into a life of three cars and a carport. They made that impossible because I was hungry for something else”

This is what the Lutheran church did to me. It made me hunger for justice for all people. Are all of our Lutheran schools and churches encouraging this and making it central to their culture?

Our world is full of need and we must respond. A response more than turning away, throwing in a few dollars or praying for someone else to do it for us.

I don’t care how much money you make, what country you come from, what your religion is, what your qualifications are, what you have achieved or what others say about you.  What I am most interested in, what I want you to show the world, is that you can love others amongst your own struggles, brokenness, grief and despair – because that is where love comes to life.

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