In the April Crosslight, Jim Wakelam challenged readers to think about ways to respond to need. As volunteers, mistakes are made and, over the decades, many changes have occurred in the way Christians witness across the cultures: from the White Missionary days, to volunteering in work parties, to eco-tourism, cheque-book activism and more.
The motto of St Stephen’s Uniting Church Wodonga is “To so live so that Christ is seen through us”. It is no surprise then that this congregation is active in mission, both locally and globally.
At the community level, UnitingCare Wodonga provides emergency relief and financial counselling at the centre of the daily activities, and offers programs such as Mainly Music, Cuppa and Chat, Dad’s Army, Op Shop and more.
St Stephen’s global missions began approximately 10 years ago. Jess Butcher (whose mother, Kate Tierney, was our minister at the time) was working for the synod’s Justice and International Mission unit. Jess speaks Indonesian and has a strong interest in the interfaith movement. She led a group of St Stephen’s people to Indonesia to provide a Muslim-Christian experience with people from Percik Institute. The 10 or 12 people came back fired up with ideas for breaking down the barriers and stereotypes regarding Muslims.
Out of this developed a relationship and an interfaith program which is maintained today. This includes programs to sponsor overseas guests to spend three months as part of the congregation. Visits from a group of Indonesians, and then pairs of Indonesians, have fostered greater understandings over the last 10 years and broken down stereotypes as Muslims and Christians work, study and re-create side-by-side.
Our congregation’s relationship with Vanuatu has developed over many years. One of our members, Peter Prenter, grew up in Vanuatu with his missionary parents and has led annual travel groups – and one work party – to the island nation.
Several years ago a student-and-teacher delegation from Vanuatu visited for a short time to gain experience in Australia. This year St Stephen’s has hosted two nurses for three months to share Christian fellowship, gain invaluable professional knowledge and to experience life in another society. This is not an interfaith program, but one where we share Christian practises and provide professional opportunities for the guests.
Edna Iavro and Helivson Tabe are both nurses. Edna is a Community Health Nurse on Santo Island, and Helivson is in charge of the Paediatric Ward of Northern Provincial Hospital. They are both involved in Health Care Christian Fellowship.
St Stephen’s congregation is working on ways to best help our neighbours. The congregation finances the visits and congregational members provide guests with home accommodation. Programs are planned in line with the guests’ work situations and, in this case, visits to health-care facilities are high on the agenda. From the large Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, to smaller hospitals and clinics in country Victoria, and nursing homes on the edge of country towns, these nurses are experiencing a wide-sweep of health care.
Lifting machines are new to the nurses, and they have plans to improve patient care and alleviate injuries to staff by speaking with their bosses about such machines. Even one in every hospital would make a power of difference. Helivson was very impressed with the play rooms at the Royal Children’s Hospital and plans to set one up in her ward. No such room is available in Vanuatu. A traction bed would also be invaluable. Music therapy is a new idea which has excited the nurses.
Being able to speak with health professionals, visit hospitals and care centres, see first-hand the way Australians manage care of the young, ill, elderly and disabled is empowering and giving much needed professional development. They are seeing, touching, learning and taking home ideas which can become part of their nursing and teaching in Vanuatu.
With improving English helpful for interacting with tourists at home, to appreciation of the structure of church services here and ideas to implement at home in the Mothers Union (Helivson) and Sunday School (Edna) the nurses are enthusiastic about the opportunities given to them, and would like to encourage other churches to consider such programs.
Uniting Journeys has come up with the simple formula for volunteering: “Build understanding, relationships and the connections first. The rest will follow as it should”.
The relationships, understanding and connections have been forged at St Stephen’s and no-one knows what will follow.
To raise money towards the cost of sending a shipping container of medical supplies, furniture, books, toys and second-hand goods to Vanuatu, a function has been organised at the church for 7 pm on 29 April. Everyone is welcome. ph: Helen Young on 0407 281 345 for more details. If you are unable to attend but which to support this Vanuatu project, please donate online in the following account.
Name of account: Wodonga Uniting Church St Stephen’s. Account# 176107. BSB# 033264 and tag ‘Vanuatu funds.’
Adrienne Dyall is the church council chairperson at St Stephen’s Uniting Church Wodonga