In 2009 a Worldview staff member met a family of four at the airport. They were arriving from a refugee camp in Eastern Nepal. Since then a genuine friendship has developed, advice sought, driving lessons given, meals eaten, the gospel shared. Not this family, but others have come to faith and there are now Nepali churches in Launceston.
Presently the main refugee groups are Bhutanese, Burmese and Afghan; and this year an intake of Eritreans has begun to arrive. The practical needs of refugees are numerous, but learning English is fundamental to feeling a sense of belonging and being able to access educational and employment opportunities.
While there is a very good women’s support group for Afghan ladies which meets weekly, many with pre-school aged children voiced the difficulty of attending English classes and asked if there were volunteers who could come to their homes. Worldview students are able to step into this opportunity. For these ladies it might be their first chance to meet a follower of Jesus. Some of them are illiterate in their own language. Their education has been limited or disrupted through conflict, poverty and cultural beliefs. The most important thing is not whether they learn to conjugate a verb correctly but the relationships that develop. Acceptance and encouragement builds confidence. If they can say a few words to the cashier at a supermarket or speak to their English-speaking neighbour it makes them so happy. The demand far exceeds the number of volunteers able to serve in this capacity.
The Worldview timetable allows students to meet with ladies after lunch before children come home from school. Sitting on the floor is the norm. Drinking tea and eating healthy snacks, e.g. roasted chickpeas, is not a chore. Yes lessons are disrupted by toddlers who sit in Mummy’s lap or scribble on the worksheet, but there is lots of laughter and they are so appreciative. Your ears will prick up when you hear news from Afghanistan as there is a real possibility that family and relatives are affected. You learn to put the English aside, to empathise with sickness, grief and anxiety, e.g. from immigration and citizenship requirements.
The women’s group is so successful that a local church began an evening group for the men. Worldview students can also be involved in this group.
Cooking is another avenue for building friendships. A staff member visits Maryam on a Friday and they experiment with food from different cultures. Through Maryam she has met many other families and been invited to special celebrations, and in turn has been able to invite them to Christian events.
Some of the refugees come from an agricultural background and enjoy growing vegetables for their own consumption and to gain a little income. Worldview was happy to sign a memorandum of understanding allowing people use of a section of the Worldview farm as a community garden.
What a privilege it is to be part of what God is doing in reaching out to refugees in Launceston.
Marylou is in the Faculty at Worldview and she coordinates the corporate worship and prayer mornings and supports the student ministry program.