As mentioned in my previous post, I have felt led to step into an area of legal practise that I have been deftly avoiding since 1998. I am a qualified Australian migration agent with an Australian law degree. In a previous life I worked as a lawyer (solicitor in Australian legal terms) for a number of years, before giving up my legal practising certificate. I held onto my migration agent’s registration (and therefore ability to provide Australian migration advice).
I was on the verge of letting my migration agent’s registration go when an old client, and current friend, Rev Farag, approached me and asked me many times to help him with some of his parishioners. I said “no” many times, until I started to sense God’s desire for the work. I soon became aware of two stern words of direction from God, who was saying “step up” as I tried to squirm off the alter of dying to self.
And so with a brutal fear of failure, fear of inadequacy, fear of not being good enough, fear of “stuffing it all up” I did what I was told and “stepped up”.
One of the first people I was asked to help was a Syrian man, who had arrived by boat, whom had been put into a holding place offshore by Australian authorities, and who had been one of the more fortunate ones to be released into Australian society pending his refugee claims.
While he waited for his claims to be processed onshore in Australia, he had arranged for one of his brothers, one who was an Australian citizen, to sponsor his wife and 3 young girls for a protection visa (a refugee visa). All four were waiting in an overcrowded refugee camp in Erbil, located in Northern Iraq. They had no male protection (culturally essential), and the eldest daughter was rapidly approaching the “acceptable marrying age” of 13 years, something that made my Syrian client most distressed.
While I can’t say too much more about the case and circumstances, I can tell you that this man met someone that was a part of Rev Farag’s church community. He was included into, and loved to such a degree that he chose to explore the Christian faith, and after some time chose to commit his life to Christ. This was how Rev Farag came to know about his plight, and asked for my help.
After meeting with him it was decided that I would be best served to take his statement, and to provide it to the Department of Home Affairs in support of his wife and children’s case. He had representation for his own case, and I did not want to interfere with what was being done for him, even though he earnestly asked me to at the time.
It was at a meeting with him that I met another brother, one who had also fled Syria by boat, years prior. A brother whose case had been processed “onshore” in one of our detention centres, and who had been granted protection, and with it, Permanent Residency. Note: that does not happen any more.
His brother was somewhat younger than my client. He was a gentle person, well read, and had done his best to make a life in Australia, working hard in what I think may have been various low skilled jobs. We finished what was a long a tedious process of taking a statement from my client – essentially obtaining my client’s “life story”. We were all tired after hours of clarification, explanation and for the brother, hours and hours of translation.
At the end of it all, I summed up in the way I always do with my refugee clients, and said that getting a protection visa was like winning the lottery, and that they should pray for the case. My client nodded enthusiastically in agreement, but his brother looked at me and said, after everything he had seen, everything he had experienced, he did not believe in any God, he was an atheist, he was not a Muslim, he had no interest in a God that demanded people believe in Him and do such terrible things to others, that would allow such terrible things to occur, and the sadness and bitterness of what he had been through, what his country had been through, was clearly evident in the anguish that flashed across his face.
I looked at him and said I understood why he would feel that way. I said I would be tempted to feel the same way. I also said that the God I believed in was a good God. The God I believed in did not condone violence. I said that the God I believed in was and is greatly grieved by how we treat each other, that what had happened in Syria, in Iraq, was not His will, but that He had also given us free will. That He loved us so much, that He did not force us to believe in Him, for that would not be freely given love but manipulation and control. I said that my God loved us so very much that He sent HIs one and only son to die on the cross so that we could choose to believe or not, but He wanted us to come to Him. I said that the God I believed in gave the freedom to choose to believe or not to believe, but He wanted us to know Him, so He desired us to believe. He loved us so much that he died on the Cross for us to be free to choose. That we were to respect and honour those that did not choose to believe, and to love them regardless, but we were not to force or manipulate them into believing what we believed. I said that I believed that my God’s heart breaks as He witnesses the cruelty in so many places around the world.
To be honest, I can’t quite communicate what came out of my mouth, but as I spoke and told him about my God, and His love, and how He provided freedom to choose to love Him, my client’s brother’s face softened, and he quietly looked at me and said:
“I would like to believe in a God like that, He sounds too good to be true”
I said to him that I understood that he had been through so much. I said I understood why he would want to reject God for the pain and suffering and injustice. I also said that it was a matter of eternal life and death as to whether or not he chose to believe and that it was a matter of great importance for him to explore thoroughly, as his brother had, what I said. He said he would like to do that, and asked if I would give him something to read, he said he liked to read and think. So I promised to send him a copy of “A Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel for him to read, telling him that he could also seek out more information from Rev Farag and I encouraged him to do so. (Note: culturally he needed a man to lead him, not a woman. I believe we need to be culturally sensitive to those we reach out to in the name of Christ see 1 Cor 9:19-23).
We stood to say goodbye and as I did I offered to pray for him.
He agreed, and so I laid my hand on his arm and as I prayed he looked at me in astonishment and said:
“I feel heat, it’s hot, I feel all hot”
And he looked hot – he had started to sweat.
“That is God” I said. “That is the Holy Spirit. That is God letting you know that He is real, and that he is inviting you on a journey to find Him. He is pursuing you because He loves you”.
And with that I again promised to send him a book, encouraged him to search out the truth of who Jesus was and is, I affirmed that God is Good, as I quietly said goodbye.
To follow is a UNHCR video about a refugee from Syria who fled his home, and who was granted asylum in Serbia. These people, who we fear so much, are people, with dreams, aspirations, joys and fears, they have lives, families, homes they have left, even pets they adore, and they have people they love … See UNHCR video
1 Cor 9:19-23: Though I am free of obligation to anyone, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), to win those under the law. To those without the law I became like one without the law (though I am not outside the law of God but am under the law of Christ), to win those without the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men, so that by all possible means I might save some.
I do all this for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.