One of Micah's young advocates, shares what she learned standing for the poor at our post-budget banquet.
“We want you - young professionals and students willing to come to Canberra for the budget announcement - to stand with us and raise a voice for the world's poor.”
This kind of invitation might sound exciting for some, naive for others, grandiose to a few and for others still, perhaps a little confusing. What does it mean to ‘raise a voice’ for the world’s poor? And really how much impact can one action - focused specifically on the budget - have on people in genuine need?
As one of the organising team for Micah's budget event, we had a bit of a wild idea which we quickly realised had potential. This was to be a public response to a political decision. From the outset we wanted to demonstrate the heart of Jesus that would set apart our event from a typical, angry, even awkward protest.
It was clear in the lead up to the budget that further cuts to foreign aid were likely to occur. But we refused to grow weary in advocating for the voiceless - our approach was to be fresh, Biblical, informed and kind. A two fold planned was decided on.
Firstly, a night where we gathered young adults at a local church to hear the budget announced, equip them with thoughtful words from leaders in the world of international justice, and exercise our faith by dedicating the entire situation to God in prayer and worship. Secondly, we headed to Parliament lawn bright and early the following morning, to stage a symbolic banquet and share our heart for the poor with those who would listen.
Evening of Worship and Action
As the budget announcement commenced, I stood outside the church waiting for late arrivals in the bracing Canberra autumn evening. A familiar muffled bellow came from inside. But instead of a preacher sharing the life-giving news of the gospel, it was a politician on the television declaring what could become defining factors of fate in the lives of many Australians. Mildly peculiar seems a fitting description.
Listening to the budget announcement, I felt undecided on whether I was hearing words from a heart striving to reflect the needs and wants of a nation’s citizens, or a political parties' rhetoric, carefully designed to keep hold of reigning power.
When the live stream ended, we immediately entered into a powerful time of prayer and intercession. As we were lead in worship, I stood back a moment and watched as young adults from over 12 denominations earnestly appealed for the outworking of God’s good kingdom, here in our nation.
My gaze was drawn to the front of the room, a stunning stained glass depiction of Christ at the last supper, around none other than a banquet table - befitting, I thought, for what was planned the following morning.
Hearing from strong advocates for justice such as Matt Darvas, Caroly Houmes, Stevie Wills and Jarrod McKenna, the reason driving why we’d bother to gather in Canberra at all, was revived in me.
Staging of the Banquet on Parliament Lawn
A slightly bizarre feeling hung about while we dashed to set up our banquet table against the backdrop of Parliament House. As media tents set up further down the lawn, and warmly dressed politicians, staffers and police solemnly made their way about, our large group of young adults skittered around; cutting fruit, spreading foliage on trestle tables and blankets on the damp, frosty grass.
As Jarrod Mckenna addressed the group, I found myself standing next to an unfamiliar woman. Striking up conversation, I quickly learned I was speaking with the Shadow Minister for International Development and Pacific Affairs, Claire Moore. A sense of unreality washed over me, and a wonderful, encouraging conversation unfurls.
Claire kindly addressed the group and invited the opposition leader Bill Shorten over. We were also visited by Tanya Plibersek, Chris Crewther, and most surprisingly, Pauline Hanson. Each politician shared their thoughts and addressed our concern in their own way, but most striking was the reaction of the group. So admirably, the leaders of Micah spoke and acted towards the politicians with respect, gratitude and grace, while also remaining firm in their belief, that as followers of Jesus we have a mandate to give generously to those who lack. Where I might have rebutted or interjected, a quiet respectfulness commanded the entire group. We didn’t necessarily agree with everything that was being shared, but we weren’t there to argue, only encourage.
Nearby, there was a woman also set up on the lawn, struggling through a difficult legal situation and looking for support from the government. Micah’s participants encouraged her, and offered her to join us at the table, to which she shyly declined. So instead, they brought the food to her.
The interaction with this woman reminded me that sometimes people don’t understand the language of generosity we are speaking. It is often void from our day-to-day experience, and tragically our intentions can be painfully misunderstood. It was difficult to perceive at the time, but I feel the imagery of the banquet with ‘plenty to share’ was the most effective tool we had to achieve clarity and purpose, and was perhaps our most significant achievement.
For many of the politicians who were not prepared for our early morning feast, the presence of a banquet table as a visual expression of concern for others seemed to be disarming. Some general words about the budget were shared, but behind the familiar rhetoric there was an undeniable, even quizzical, peak of curiosity. Why would these young adults travel across the country to display nothing but radical generosity?
My hope and genuine suspicion is that after a long and busy day, as the buzz of the budget settled, our banquet table would come back into view - a visual reminder of kind and abundant hearts.
Afterward, social media was a somewhat unexpected mix of encouragement, suspicion and even hostility, revealing to me the necessity of going beyond one-off encounters. It was a reminder that not everyone has my background, or perceives the same issues in the way I do, thus I need to be consistent and always proceed with grace.
So now we have completed an event that claimed it would ‘raise a voice for the world’s poor’, what does that actually mean? Truthfully, there is power in our words and actions. As we collectively declared God’s will to be done, our prayers effect change. As we sang, our hearts were realigned to understand the value we have as His children, and a servant heart is ushered into all our actions.
As each of us stood by the abundant table, we represented a multitude of voices from across the nation, sending a clear and strong message to those we engaged with. As each of us return home and share our experience to curious friends and family, the life-giving truth of kindness and generosity is a seed scattered farther than we could measure.