What I loved about James’ reflection was that he challenged us to reflect on the Good Samaritan story in our own contexts, asking the questions - “Who is our neighbour? What does it mean to love our neighbour?”

By John Pobhudan

When I arrived shortly after 9.30am at Hughes Baptist Church, I was greeted by huge smiles from the Micah Australia volunteers.  Soon the day began with prayer and worship led by Pip Bergland. This was followed by a reflection from Rev. James Bhagwan from the Methodist church in Fiji.

What I loved about James’ reflection was that he challenged us to reflect on the Good Samaritan story in our own contexts, asking the questions - “Who is our neighbour? What does it mean to love our neighbour?”

James opened with the reflection that when the people of his islands meet, they like to share stories of themselves. That is the norm for their culture, but it is also a way of creating a space for ‘the other’ to be welcomed into one’s life. So James shared with us how a king from the northern island has adopted all the Indo-Fijians and those who were brought to Fiji by colonial rulers (and their descendants), officially making them part of his indigenous Fijian community. This was significant for himself and the whole Fijian nation.

James also pointed out that perhaps one of the reasons the people of the Pacific are so generous is because all of the world’s land could fit into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.

James reminded us that although with technological advancement the world is becoming closer and better networked, we actually know less and less about each other, and we know less and less about our neighbours and their lives. For example, about our Pacific neighbours, like the people of the island of Kiribati, who are on the verge of becoming climate refugees. Often we don’t even know how our actions are affecting these neighbours of ours. And it is not just climate change. James also told us about the great Pacific garbage patch, and how under the sea it is likely to be as large as the size of NSW or even all of Australia!

It is in this very context that James challenged us to think of the story of the Good Samaritan and how we can live it out. I loved how James encouraged us to think about ‘What would the Good Samaritan do if the same thing was happening again and again? Would the Good Samaritan attempt to change the neighbourhood? Or would he just continue to tend the wounded?’  

I found these questions powerful as it poignantly challenged us think about when to offer charity and when to ‘speak up’ for those whose voices are drowned out in the clamour of the mighty, powerful and privileged.  

Rev James reminded us that we are a gathering of people from different denominations and traditions but we are bound together by our shared faith in Jesus Christ. We are an ecumenical gathering. The root word of the word ecumenical is ‘oikumene’ - the whole inhabited earth. It calls on us to think about not only of humans but also the ‘care’ and ‘custodianship’ of the whole creation.  The Gospel says that “God so loved the WORLD” - so we must live in such a way as to restore our relationship with the ‘whole of creation’.

Following the opening reflection we split into our advocacy groups and were encouraged to share our own stories. In my team were Mercy, Joel and Ana.  Of all the very beautiful stories that everyone in the group had to share, it was particularly heart-warming to hear Mercy’s story. Mercy is a participant from the Australian Student Christian Movement. Originally from Uganda, Mercy is a human rights activist whose life has been under threat since she started speaking out against the irregularities of the government of her old country.

Before lunch we also took part in a simulation activity where our group had to try to survive as a village family. I can safely say we did not survive well!

Our discussions around sharing stories continued after lunch and then we were briefed by Eliza Johnson from Baptist World Aid and Brendan Joyce from Caritas to equip us with all the information we need to go and speak to the members of the parliament and law makers on issues of international aid and climate change.

In the evening, we shared a delicious traditional meal from the Pacific and listened to Vasiti, Tinaai, Mary-Ann and Joseph. I had the privilege of sitting next to Joseph, who is a climate change campaigner, and hearing his story. 

After dinner the story telling continued on with Rev. Dr. Seforosa Carroll from Uniting World, who challenged us to share how we view story telling from the perspective of our particular cultures and what story telling means for us.

Rev Carroll enlightened us with the wisdom that “story telling in the Pacific is sacred and covenantal. When we share our stories, we make ourselves vulnerable - not only in telling the stories but also in hearing them.”

What stood out most for me during the evening was the talk by Vasiti Tebemare from Kiribati who spoke passionately about her people and their skills, resilience and relationship with their land. She spoke about how the people of Kiribati hold a high degree of respect for their elders and for foreigners. In Kiribati people live with their elders and they feel it is their responsibility to look after the elders in their family. “Without our elders in the family it is like losing our library” she said. She highlighted that when Kiribati was flooded she was surprised and it felt like something she should be watching in a film, but instead climate change is very real for her and her people. It made me think that it is quite sobering to reflect on the way that although indigenous communities are the lowest contributors to climate change and often the first to act in facing this threat (for example, Fiji was the first nation to ratify the Paris Climate Agreement), they are nevertheless stuck on the front line of the consequences of climate change.

One of Vasiti’s last comments stayed with me at the end of the day: “I am a youth from Kiribati but I am also the future of Kiribati. We encourage each other to fight against climate change so that we won’t lose our traditional home, our culture and our ways of life.”

Hearing all these stories in just one day was a very powerful experience. Yet in midst of so much activity it was also a time reflect, pray and share about how to be part of God’s greater story. A story that calls us to action as people of faith, and that calls us to faithfully live according to the example of Jesus Christ - as both good neighbours and Good Samaritans.

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