An open hearted manifesto

The following is an excerpt from a short talk by Riyanka Subrahmanyam on Manifesto Weekend at Riverview Church. You can watch this experience by clicking here.

"Humour me for a minute and close your eyes.

Take note of your surroundings, the comfort of the chair that you are sitting in, the cool AC breeze on your skin, the community of people around you, the freedom you have to worship.

Now take yourself to Hay Street in the middle of Perth city. It is a warm day, you are hurrying to meet your friend for a coffee. You see a young man seated on the edge of the side walk, leaning against a building. You notice his tattered clothes and the soles of his feet, caked with dirt and tiredness. You barely finish reading the sign beside him that says ‘ Alone, hungry and homeless. Please help’.  You take a second to think if you have some change to put into his old soup tin, you realise you only have your card. You are running a little late for coffee.

Church, open your eyes. But do not get too comfortable in your seat. By being a part of this community, today we are saying that the future is about standing up and stopping for the most vulnerable in our city.  A church that looks out in compassion AND service.  And we have already started. In our Emergency relief program, in the last 365 days we have been home to the homeless, ex prisoners, refugees ,single parents, those who have lost jobs and people are who are simply struggling. We have seen 653 people, helped with 473 bills and handed out 300 bags of food. THIS is the church you belong to…A church where the hurt find healing and the despairing find hope.

Church, open your heart. By being a part of this community, today we are saying that the future is about loving God and loving people. A church that practises justice. And our practice is well underway. Through the Riverview Children’s Foundation, we bring the love of God along with aid and development to several communities in 4 different countries, through our support of 12 different projects. We have taken 26 people on 3 impact trips, handed out 650 kilos of care packs to prisoners in Cambodia and distributed well over a 1000 gifts to Children. THIS is the church you belong to… a church that has a heart for the whole world. A church that knows and shows God's love for every person regardless of where they were born or what they currently believe; that seeks to rescue, protect and empower.

Church, open your hands. By being a part of this community, today we are saying that the future is about blessing our community.  A church that helps people recover from crisis and challenge, disconnection and disadvantage and puts them on a path to wholeness. Through our Street Teams program, we have begun this commission. In the last two years, two teams have faithfully served our city over 86 weekends, helping 56 families, mowed lawns, picked up 350 cubic meters of rubbish, painted fences and scrubbed bathroom floors. We have seen people take positive steps away from hoarding and kept people from loosing their homes by simply helping them get organised and clean. THIS is the church you belong to… A church that shows we belong together and are better together.

Open your eyes, look at what your church is already doing, see the world that you live in and keep a little change in your pocket.

Open your heart, feel what others feel and know that you are a part of something bigger that cares for you and others.

Open your hands, and get ready to make a tangible difference in this city and in this world. Because THAT is the church that you belong to."

 

Ryan Gageler {@} Comments
How Can I Help?

by Ryan Gageler

‘How Can I Help?’ is the generic introductory line used by just about every retail worker. In that shopping environment it’s used as a throw-away greeting, however, it is a question I’ve seriously been asking myself.

About six months ago I came on staff at Riverview Community Services as the Project Coordinator, and since that time I’ve been exploring what it actually means to ‘help’ and how I, individually can do it!

I like to consider myself a ‘pretty good Christian’. I attend church frequently, I read my Bible as often as I can, I listen to the occasional song of worship, but the reality is I’ve let the convenience of life get in the way of compassion for those in need.

The truth is, it’s often easier for us to turn a blind eye, than it is for us to roll up our sleeves.

I believe part of the problem is simply that we don’t know where to start.

I love the story found in Acts 3, where Peter and John (two disciples of Jesus) found themselves in a situation we often find ourselves in – on our way somewhere, getting interrupted. Now, I think we can we agree from the outset, someone requiring help never comes at a ‘convenient’ time.

Acts 3:1-8 (NLT)

Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service. As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for some money.
Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!” The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money. But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, get up and walk!”
Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.

In a single moment the disciples decide to offer the beggar something far better than some silver coins. Acts 3 records that Peter and John ‘took him by the hand and helped him up’. They help transition him from his current situation into a future ‘walking, leaping and praising God’

The call to love others demands more than just meeting an immediate need. It's about us realising God's plan to restore humanity through Christ. As followers of Jesus, we are called to provide a 'full' solution. You see, in this passage - Peter and John realised that by helping this man in need, they would empower him to live a life 'to the full'. The beggar is now in a position to thrive under the fullness of God's restorative power. 

I’m still on the journey of figuring this out. I don’t feel like an expert, but nor were Peter and John. Scripture records that they were two ordinary men (Acts 4:13), but they equipped with a powerful knowledge of the Good News of Jesus.

Here are some practical ways we can help someone in need:

1. Listen. Stop and listen. Choose to give your attention to someone who really needs it. Look them in them in the eyes – show them that you value them! Offer to buy them lunch or a coffee and listen to their story. Chances are they’re more like you than you realise.

2. Be prepared. Keep helpful items in your car or backpack. Recently, I started making sure I always have a spare sleeping bag (you can get them for about $10 at department stores) in the back of my car. You can do the same with clothing, grocery gift cards or even flyers (for relevant programs). Give them something that could ‘help them up’.

3. Offer them something greater. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying, go commanding people in need to ‘GET UP AND WALK’, but what I am suggesting is that money isn’t always the solution. Peter and John didn’t say… ‘I don’t have any silver or gold… so go away’, they had a better alternative, and we as Christians have that in Jesus. Use your intuition to possibly share the Good News of Jesus with them or ask if they would like prayer (you’d be surprised how many times people say yes).

I’d love to invite you to join me on the journey of exploring ‘How we can Help?’ Please leave your thoughts to some of the questions below OR we'd love to hear your stories and experiences.

  • How have you dealt with the balance of convenience and compassion?

  • What are some practical ways you've been able to help someone in need?

  • As followers of Jesus, what do you think our responsibility is for those who are in need?

Ryan GagelerComment
Us and Them

by Gemma Uren

High school is an interesting place. Aside from the obvious receiving of an education, the main thing you experience is the reality of being plonked with a bunch of people and forced to co-exist for the best part of five years.

Most likely, you found a group to belong to who flocked together like birds of a feather to make it through the high school experience.

I was in the alternative group. We spent most of our lunches hiding in the art room, wearing black on black and listening to The Smashing Pumpkins as we self-imploded.

It was safe, it helped me survive the high school experience being a part of something, to be accepted and to feel superior to the “less cool groups” in our year.

This was the birth of the "Us & Them" mentality in my world.

However, it seems to me that I am not alone in this behaviour.

As I reflect on my experiences and observe human behaviour, I see the "Us and Them" mentality perpetuated time and time again.

We seem naturally drawn to people who are just like us, who think the same as us, who have the same opinions and who share similar political or religious viewpoints as us.

The problem with this model is that when you operate like this, your world becomes increasingly insular, your horizons remain unstretched, your views unchallenged and inevitability you isolate and hurt the many other people who do not fit into the safe little box you’ve created.

The least

The poor

The unlikable

The one who is sexuality different than you

The mentally ill

The elderly

The stranger

Us Aussies reckon we are pretty tops when it comes to diversity. It’s a boasting point for Australians that we are a melting pot of culture and we are generally a very accepting people. Now, I am not saying this is untrue, however there are huge gaps in that assumption.

The First Australians are considered one of the most disadvantaged Indigenous Peoples in the world with suicide rates being higher than any other country.

People who flee from war torn countries and abject poverty to find safety in Australia are not welcomed with open arms. They are turned away and placed in prison like environments but - unlike a prison sentence - they are given no hope of ever being released.

Children are still bullied for being overweight, for illness beyond their control, or for being any kind of different. A survey of schools in about 40 countries found that Australian primary schools were among those with the highest reported incidences of bullying in the world.

Boardrooms continue to under-represent women and 10,000+ Australians voted in a Senator who perpetuates the fear of Muslim people.

But then the voice of hope shouts in the wilderness of such disturbing realities.

The voice of Jesus. He is a breath of fresh air when I reflect on our "Us and Them" tendencies.

He deliberately sought out the "Thems" of society

The ones who people passed by in the street

The ones who were cast out of their communities

The ones who no one bothered about

The ones caught in adultery

His words in the book of Matthew perfectly summarise his modus operandi:

"If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:46-48, NLT)

If you call yourself a follower of Jesus, you’ll soon learn "Us and Them" cannot exist in the life you have chosen, a life modelled after the life of Jesus.

I have been a follower of Jesus for seven years and realised only at the beginning of 2016 that I did not know one single aboriginal person.

This broke me.

I began deliberately befriending aboriginal people, listening to their story, and learning about their way of life. Up until recently I didn’t know any refugees. Now I sit wide eyed and amazed when I listen to what they have gone through, in awe of their resilience despite experiencing such adversity.

I think Jesus was onto something golden when he befriended the “Thems” of the world

because when you sit with the “Thems”,

when you eat with the “Thems”,

when you become friends with the “Thems”,

They are “Thems” no longer,

They just become “Us”.

Imagine a world where we all chose to befriend each “Them” in our community.

“Them” would simply disappear and there would just be “Us” remaining.

And I dare say that this could be the beginning of Our Kingdom Come.

Alex McKellar {@} Comments
Love > Hate

by Riyanka Subrahmanyam

loverev

One of my most favourite pieces of clothing I own is this green t-shirt that says ‘Anything hate can do, love can do better’. It is two sizes too small, but I still give it prime hanger space in my closet. As I sift through what I want to put on for the day, the truth of the words encourages me. They wrap around my heart like a snug sweater, a push to the best choice I can make for the day: Love.

How much of the world’s daily decisions centre around hate? A bomb here, a shooting there, a war started, a child in detention, the homeless ignored, the elderly forgotten, a debt owed and a shoulder turned?

I guarantee that if the question that sparked the decision was answered in love, rather than hate, the outcome would not only be drastically different, but radically better.

Love: a verb, a feeling, a revolution.

Choosing love can often be hard, especially when who you must love is hard.

EVERYONE. You are called to love everyone. Did you hear me? I said EVERY.SINGLE.ONE.

Your mother, your brother, the girl in the sari on the bus, the homeless guy you pass in the city every Friday, the old guy who religiously sits behind you at church and sings a little too loudly, and yes, even the one who started the war. THE NEIGHBOUR. You are called to love your neighbour.

You see, this is the thing about people. We all started the same. Little babies who had nothing but good intentions and smelly diapers. We are part of the same earth, entrenched in the soil that is daily life. If we are nourished with love and watered with freedom and acceptance, and pruned regularly of our sins, then something beautiful happens. If we aren’t, then we often become the people that society fears. But almost every time, the ones we fear most, the ones that are the easiest to hate not love are the ones who have experienced more fear and hate than we can imagine.

If you get this, I mean truly understand that love will always win because it simply is better than hate, then YOU can start a revolution. Not a regular, violent, war like one - but the kind that Jesus started, a revolution of love.

There are at least two choices to every situation- an evolutionary change or a revolutionary change.

An evolutionary change is small incremental change.

A revolutionary change is a radical, heightened, fast paced kind of change.

But you should know this - these times that we are living in are too important, too precious for evolutionary change. Take a moment and smell the urgency in the air. The little boy caught in cross fire in Syria, the gay teen contemplating suicide, the indigenous grandmother taking on the responsibility of another grandchild, they are too precious.  We cannot count ONLY on slow, step by step change.  Yes, that can happen in the background and it should.

But the light? YOUR LIGHT? It must shine on the revolutionary change. The radical acceptance of all people, the loving your neighbour - your Muslim, gay, Indigenous, < Insert your prejudice here> neighbour. Put down your judgement and wear your love shirt. If there is not a revolution already started in your neighbourhood, start one.

This might sound farfetched, easier written and read than done. And you are right. It is easier to read a couple of lines, feel feelings of empowerment and then do nothing about it.

Jumping on the back of someone else’s hard work takes minimal effort. Starting on your own takes sacrifice.

The word ‘love’ is first used in the bible in the book of Genesis, chapter 22. God calls on Abraham and says this “Take your son, your only son - yes, Isaac, whom you love so much - and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him…

This Abraham and Isaac story has multiple lessons in it, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first time God uses the word ‘love’, it is followed by sacrifice.

Often loving the way God wants us to love involves us firstly trusting Him, and then sacrificing the thing that is most important to us. And as the story of Abraham goes, God always comes through and uses your sacrifice for a greater purpose.

Money, pride, status - whatever that is for you, I urge you to sacrifice it, lay it down. Lay it down and love instead.

Love alone is not a revolution,

love lived

love shown

love extended &

love chosen over hate

THAT is a revolution.

 

Let there be love on this earth, and let it begin with me.

Let there be love on this earth, and let it begin with you.

Let there be love on this earth. 

Ryan Gageler {@} Comments
Turn Towards

by Alex McKellar

Everybody suffers.

None of us will get from the cradle to the grave without facing seasons of pain brought on by the death of someone close, an illness or an injury, the breakdown of a close relationship, or the longing for a child that never comes. Suffering is an intrinsic part of the human experience. It is terrible but inevitable.

When we see others in distress, our natural instinct is to want to ease their pain, put a stop to their heartache and make things right again. But stopping suffering is complicated. It’s not always possible. Stopping suffering on a larger scale is expensive and complex. And there’s so much of it all around us - which issue do we choose to focus on? Will our efforts make any difference anyway?

And then it becomes all too hard, and we switch off the news reports, and turn away because we don’t really know what to do and we definitely can’t fix it.

I get it. I’ve done it myself so many times. Sometimes we know when we just need to retreat a little in order not to despair.

But there’s a little problem with that. In Proverbs 31, we read the advice of a mother to her son:

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.
Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice”.

The son, whom these words were spoken to, was believed to be a king – someone of influence and responsibility. And when I read those words, I am reminded of my own responsibility. You see, I don’t live in a king’s palace, but a three bedroom house, and yet that still places me in the top one percent of the worlds wealthiest. I got to finish high school, and pursue tertiary studies. I am blessed to have a job, and a car and free healthcare. Many of us who live here in Australia have these same privileges.

And that brings me to another verse - “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return…” (Luke 12:48)

Just like the king in Proverbs, I have been given privilege, and as the verse challenges us, with that privilege comes responsibility – the responsibility to face suffering in our world and to do something about it. So how can we do this well?

1.     Find an issue that grabs your heart. We are often most effective when we try to focus on one issue, learn a little about it and find a productive way to jump in and get involved.

2.     Have realistic expectations. You are just one part of the puzzle – God calls us to walk alongside and speak up for those who suffer, but we can’t just “fix things”. Solutions are complex. We aren’t the hero that is going to magically make things right.

3.     Be in it for the long haul. Whether you are called to walk alongside an individual, or be an advocate for more systemic change, be patient and committed, and you will see good things happen over time (often over a long time!)

4.     Know that God is in it with you. God never ordains suffering, but when people suffer, He is with them in their midst. Whenever we choose to face situations of suffering, we are entering into a partnership with God in which He longs to bring hope and restoration, but wants to do it through us and with us. God has also gifted us with the Church and when we as a community can face suffering together and then try and tackle it, it becomes so much easier than going at it alone.

Whatever you choose to do, don’t turn away. Challenge yourself to face the suffering of others and look for God in the midst. He is never far from hurting people and broken dreams and will meet you there if you’re willing.

 

Alex McKellar - Manager, Riverview Community Services.

Alex McKellar {@} Comments
Closer To Home

Gemma Uren

I wonder what pops into your head when you hear the word Poverty?

Is it the slums in far off exotic lands?

A homeless man sleeping on a park bench?

You’d be right to come to think these situations speak strongly of poverty in our world. But I wonder if you’ve ever considered what poverty looks like in your neighbourhood? Next door? In your own backyard?

I run a program for Riverview Community Services called Street Teams. We come alongside people facing a crisis situation every week by helping them practically in their homes with anything they cannot do themselves.

A lot of people think that all Australians are blessed with the same opportunities. We all get a fair go, we get an equal chance to build a successful life.

I probably thought the same thing a few years ago too.

But now I have seen poverty in my own backyard, I cannot hold that belief anymore.

*Julie often lingers in my mind as I ponder poverty in my community. Julie is a single mum with seven children to two absent partners and lives in our southern suburbs. I arrived at Julie’s house admiring her little fairy garden she had out the front. Julie greeted me warmly at the door and let me inside. It was small but she kept it clean with cute trinkets everywhere she has picked up from op shops and the like. We sat down and Julie immediately began pouring her situation out into my open hands. I asked to see outside and I discovered why she had been referred. Rubbish of all kinds, everywhere. One pile was half burnt and nearly two metres high - a friend had tried to burn it off and nearly destroyed her whole home. “Bloody idiot”, she laughed. I could see her embarrassment, I could see she was ashamed of how bad it had gotten. But to me, she was a hero for surviving for so long, for protecting her children from the violence she had experienced, for trying to be kind... to her own detriment it seemed.

Julie’s situation is a classic example of what poverty looks like in Australia. This type of poverty is not primarily material. It is a poverty of the soul, a poverty of community, of relationship, a poverty of the mind and health, and poverty of opportunities. Julie was simply surviving, that is all she knew how to do.

I am often secretly overwhelmed when I am faced with situations like Julie’s. How could I possibly begin to assist this woman? The answer always whispers within me, “Do what you can and do it with all the love in your heart you possibly can, that’s where miracles happen”.

Our volunteer team rocked up on a Saturday morning with our gloves, rakes and wheel barrows in tow and we began helping Julie clear her back yard of rubbish. As I’m digging through the plethora of items that had accumulated over the past 13 years, I couldn’t help but think of this pile as metaphor for her life. It was just one symptom of deeper issues in her world.

If you lifted up a few layers of broken bottles you would find two failed relationships, years of physical and emotional abuse and one partner leaving for prison just as another baby was on the way. You would find the rusted bike frames of her sons before they were caught up in a life of drug use and petty crime - what’s a boy to do when his father doesn’t hang around? What’s a mother to do but her very best? You might find under some charred furniture, the loss of a steady job - no income, months of being out of work and eventual depression, hopelessness, complete loss of motivation and purpose.

You wouldn’t find any of her “friends”, you wouldn’t find any family either. After a bit of digging you can completely understand how this would happen. It could have been me. It could have been you.

The reality is this: Poverty is right next door.

Will you look around your neighbourhood and find people like Julie? I have found Julies in the affluent suburbs too. There are Julies everywhere.

Lonely

Without community

Without a tribe

Without support

Struggling to survive

Pretending that everything is just fine

Will you look and choose to act?

I hope we all can. We might see poverty in Australia be a thing of the past.

 

Gemma - Streets Teams and CVS Coordinator

*Names have been changed.