On a day of firsts, it’s not only been an occasion for my first blog entry but the first day of my first Voices of Justice conference. Unsure about whether my contribution for either was going to be up to it but convinced that the issue of global injustice needed a better response than just pondering, I’ve come along to be both inspired and challenged.
So, what have I learnt so far?
Our stories are worth listening to. Voices for Justice Coordinator, Pip Berglund’s message that our voices are stronger when they are spoken in unison began with the timely reminder of the importance of listening to those around us. Listening to God, who knows and has heard every cry for help from out of the wilderness; listening to others, whose inspiring stories stir us out of apathy and into action; and lastly, listening to our own stories. Probably the greatest challenge of all for many of us, right? We often ignore our own histories out of a fear of inadequacy. Pip challenged each of us to note and value the details of our own stories: who and what were the people and events that pushed us to awareness and action? What are our values or faith and how does acting on justice link with them? Over picnic lunches, we shared our stories with an added keenness - inspirations, doubts and hopes.
Our lunches probably sat a little uneasy in our stomachs during the early afternoon session. A simulation game suddenly transformed us all into adult and child members of a rural Filipino fishing village. Courtesy and civility collapsed into desperation and panic as we all became fictional victims of the unrelenting cycle of injustice that persists in many places far from our own rich nation. We scrambled shamelessly for paper crabs and shrimp. We rapidly depleted our fish stocks through greed. We begged our buyers and cheated each other. Then, as we listened to the rising wind, the storm struck and changed everything. Families were displaced, children were lost or wounded, our livelihoods were shattered. A climate change-induced disaster story was all of a sudden a little closer to being our own.
Everyone loves a good news story, especially given the persistent media negativity about all stories foreign. So as Gershon from Baptist World Aid shared the policy brief with us, we listened to a positive and compelling case as to why we should be joyful about the justice that has been upheld so far through the achievements under the Millennium Development Goals. These stories are good news and they are worth listening to and retelling amid the gloom.
The storytelling didn’t stop with the conference participants, of course. Gai Brodtmann MP, the Federal Member for Canberra, shared part of her tale with us, along with some tough love intended to shape us into competent lobbyists. Sure, there were the useful ‘do’s and don’ts’ of how to meet your MP. Being on or ahead of time. Good. Long PowerPoints. Not so good. But Gai’s personal story of how her family’s experience with polio had made her an ardent supporter of child immunisation underscored the reality that our politicians are people with powerful personal narratives that have led them into office and which need to be listened to and understood. Relationships that dignify and value others lie at the heart of both the church and successful lobbying. God values politicians and we should do likewise.
Over a closing and celebratory dinner, we heard the story of Micah Challenge, now Micah Australia, intertwined with the personal accounts of its supporters, whose faith and action has grown through their involvement with Micah. Linked fittingly with my fellow attendees by a ribbon that wound its path around us, I thought about how the world is often a deafening cacophony of injustice, but that for those who seek God, the call is to learn to listen intently amid the noise, with ears that truly hear and focus on his voice and of those that cry out for his justice and mercy.
Dan Ong is a passionate advocate who volunteers for TEAR Australia.