Stories of a good God

Posts tagged ‘Refugees’

Just do the next thing – God is Good!

So often in our lives, futures imagined, dreams envisioned, must be laid down. It is in these moments we have a choice: do we allow God to direct our steps, even though we are all at sea, disappointed, hurt; or, do we try to control everything, and keep directing our lives where we think we should go, regardless.

A while back, I felt a stirring in my heart.  We had just changed churches, and we were still trying to find our feet.  Our old church had been big, loud, there was a weekly mosh pit I had danced and worshipped in, and people were hungry for things of the Spirit. The church we had landed in was small, intimate, and sedate, at least sedate compared to what we had been used to, but regardless, we felt it was the right fit, and we believed the church was on the cusp of revival.

I was keen to serve somewhere.  I felt an urge to start a regular prayer group, and a recently made friend and I started fortnight meetings to pray for our church, the community and beyond; but, I was still restless.

Something was stirring.

Back in the late 1990s I often travelled to Far North Western Australia, where I provided legal representation to people who were illegally entering Australia by boat. It is common to refer to these people as “boat people,” or illegal migrants (because of their status of having no visas of entry). They predominantly came from Iraq. Some came from Algeria. A few were from China. That was the mix of countries when I was working. After I finished at that law firm the Afghans came – they were tough cases.

The stories moved me, the politics of human rights law saddened me, and the other lawyers laughed at me, saying: “you wear your heart on your sleeve” (a weakness in their mind). To this I would respond, “if I was in their position I would rather someone like me representing me, then someone like you.”

I didn’t stay in refugee work for long, and I left my position as junior lawyer to start a business of my own as a corporate consultant, while providing immigration legal advice to people on the side, just to keep my toe in. I referred any refugee work – it was too emotional, and too political. That was until 10 years ago.

When my youngest was about three, I received a call from a Melbourne businessman who wanted migration advice for a Christian Egyptian family he had met while overseas. The father was an Anglican Minister. The businessman wanted to help them. It was to be a straightforward case, but once involved I realised there were very serious persecution risks at play for the family involved. Each time I went to refer the case on, each time I tried to shake myself loose, I would feel God on it – He wanted me to see it through. While the case would have qualified as a refugee case (they were being persecuted for their faith) we did not run the case as a refugee case. Instead, we needed to run the case differently (the refugee landscape had changed and was getting increasingly difficult to negotiate). It took years, but we got the family into Australia under a different visa category. This case confirmed that I didn’t want to do refugee work ever again! The responsibility, the sorrow and the desperation, the trauma…

The Egyptian family that came established the first Arabic Anglican Church in Australia. Other Arabic churches exist, but not of this denomination. And, as I write, they now lead two such churches in Victoria (one in Melbourne, the other in Geelong). They head up a vibrant, growing Christian community. All led by the beautiful family who God would not let me shake loose – people I now call friends. The family reach the Arabic world in Melbourne, and people come to Christ.

Anyway…

We had just changed churches. All my dreams, plans, hopes and vision had fallen away. I was a ballet mum in a world of ballet I never saw coming (yes God has a sense of humour) and I was in a small quiet church, albeit, earmarked for revival. I wanted to serve God, but I did not see any opportunity to do so in my passion and gifting, and so I prayed a prayer that I do not recommend, unless you are ready to just obey!

I prayed: “God, I can’t see where or how I can serve you here. I want to honour leadership. There is no favour to teach what I know, or to release what I carry, but I want to serve you, what do you want me to do, I’ll do anything you ask me to do, I just want to serve you.”

I prayed the prayer, and I thought I knew how God would answer it.

That weekend we attended the opening of the new Arabic Anglican Church, on the other side of town. We were to witness the baptisms of recent converts, and the church’s official opening.  The service was full of the Holy Spirit. The worship was wonderful – all in Arabic, with a different beat, a different feel, but God was there, and I could tangibly feel Him. It was fun.

We stayed for dinner, and as we tried to eat, the people pressed in on me.  Refugees from Syria, refugees from Iraq, all trying to get the rest of their family here. People with heart break and need. They represented the cases I avoided for years. I prayed for many, prophesied over others, and listened to their stories. They all wanted my help, for word had got around.

Heading home I said to my husband I was feeling a stirring. I confessed what I had prayed. I could not believe it – God was calling me to act for these people, and it horrified me. Yes, I felt for them, but I did not want to do their legal work for them, I didn’t want to feel their pain, hear the details, they were all so desperate. And the legal landscape had radically changed – I was underqualified… but God!

When I prayed, I had not envisioned this! When I prayed, I thought He would release me into my gifting in our church, in our local body, somewhere… anywhere. I thought He would place favour on me to minister, that I would have a green light to step up into my calling, while honouring, supporting and loving our leadership, or even maybe out into elsewhere. Anywhere where I could ignite others with a passion for God.

It was not to be.

Instead, I walked into the pain, trauma and hurt of these people.

I argued with God that others were more qualified, better trained, up to date, and professional. God just came straight back at me: “Step up.”

Every time I went to Him He would say: “step up.”

And when I argued I couldn’t do it, He just said “trust me – step up.”

I suggested I refer, that others were better than me in this area of law He just said: “yes, but they won’t pray as you will.”

And so I stepped up…

I did not know what I was doing, but each step of the way he would say:

“just do the next thing you know to do.”

When I quietened myself enough, I would know what I had to do next. The anxiety was dreadful. The stories traumatic. One day I cried my way through the reading and the videos, but each time I turned aside to talk to Him he would say again:

“Just do the next thing you know to do.”

So, in this time of change, turmoil and challenge, when our plans for 2020 seem lost in a haze of virus, lockdown, and shifting worlds. In a year that is not what we thought it would be, I encourage you to do as I am also trying to do (thankfully with friends and wise counsel by my side) and ask Him what he would have you do. Instead of looking at the entire job at hand, the surrounding trauma, the pain within you, while acknowledging that it is there, ask Him:

“What next?”

And then do it…

Just do the next thing you know to do.

Then it would be: “send that email”, “write that statement”, “make that phone call”…

Little baby steps.

And once taken I sought Him again, I would breathe, pray, listen, obey…

And as you do, the pieces will fall together, the focus will come, and the peace and the joy will rest upon you because…

God is Good!

He wanted to believe in the God I knew because he could see that my God is Good!

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 9:19-23Though 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.

“Step up” … “just do the next thing you know to do” because God is Good!

In recent years I have felt a call from God to return to a something I once did in 1996-1998.  To be honest I have judiciously avoided ever getting involved again, purely because it’s a tough industry for anyone that cares.

I have a background in law.  As a young lawyer, I was transferred to the immigration department at the firm I worked in, I was registered as an Australian migration agent (in addition to my law qualifications) and I was sent to Port Hedland (read middle of nowhere, amazing outback mining town on the far northern coast of Western Australia – pigeons are red from the red, red dust, huge road trains hammering up the highways, and huge salt mountains from local salt farms that shone to my right each time I drove from the little airport to the small township as a very green, young, “stars in my eyes” lawyer).

Port Hedland at the time was the location of one of the many Government run detention centres that Australia had for illegal migrants that had entered Australia by boat (read refugees that had no visa to enter the country, hence “illegal migrants”, that had been tricked by people smugglers to pay exorbitant amounts of money to get a berth in a dangerous boat to Australia).  These people were better known as “boat people” back then, and it was these types of people that have suffered terribly at the hands of Australian governments (from both sides of politics).  They are known by many names, but they are known more  correctly as human beings that are frightened, traumatised and whose dreams have been smashed and that are seeking to be recognised as “refugees” so that they may be granted a protection visa, because they need protection due to a fear of persecution in their country of origin.

I was completely thrown in the deep end.  During that time I worked and represented Chinese nationals, Algerians and Iraqis (who were then escaping the Gulf War recriminations of Saddam Hussein from the 1991 war).  The Afghanistanis came later, after I left in 1998. I primarily represented Iraqis at the time (many doctors and other types of professionals) who had escaped the ravages of persecution due to their religious beliefs, their cultural affiliations, and their family associations.

The work was tough emotionally, and I was mocked by my co-workers that I wore my heart on my sleeve, to which I responded that I would rather have someone like me represent me if I were a client, then someone like my co-workers, who were looking to meet budgets and many of whom simply did not care (I worked for a private firm that was contracted to provide legal assistance back then).

I left the law firm in early 1998, not long after my father died, when I realised that the ladder was against the wrong wall, and I went into private practise and did some corporate consulting instead, which pretty much finished up in 2002.  I had my first child in 2003, my second in 2007 through out which I did a little, but not much, immigration work from an office at home – throwing my energies into caring full time for our two poppets, learning and growing in my love of Jesus – it was a choice of love over money at the time, and a decision to intentionally invest into the next generation, and into my faith.

Well, that is a long explanation to now move on to say that a couple of years ago I was frustrated.  I felt that there were no freedom for me to fully express my gifts, to serve freely.  I was serving faithfully within the capacity that I was permitted to serve – I was leading a prayer team that met and prayed for the church once a fortnight, I often interceded privately for leaders, and others, I would stop for people on the street as I felt led, I was mentoring one or two people privately at the time and walking with them into their call, I served in kids church, I played in the worship team, but there was no freedom to fully step into prophetic words etc that I had held close for a long time – in fact every door of ministry was shut, sealed and secured, and I was in the throws of walking through what may be described as the dark night of the soul, and I could not see anyway that any of the prophetic words spoken over me by recognised international prophetic voices would ever come to pass – I still don’t see how, but I am more at peace with that one now.

So, I prayed what I now know to be a dangerous prayer – “God I love you, and I want to serve you, but I do not see where I am free to fully serve, give me something, show me what you would have me do” (or something along those lines).

Within days Rev Farag called.  Rev Farag (and his family) were clients over a five plus year process of getting them permanent residency.  He (and his family) are now friends.  He is an Egyptian Anglican Priest (who became a Christian years ago as a teenager) and who has led churches and orphanages for the deaf in Egypt, who has worked in outreach into Jordan, and Upper Egypt, and who to this day continues to lead churches, outreaches into Egypt and now into Australia, who speaks and travels and has completed peace keeping courses and who is a world recognised expert on teaching teachers of the deaf in Arabic communities, and who is heading up a team to translate the Bible into Arabic sign, for Arabic deaf people to hear the Good News of Jesus).  It took more than five years to help him obtain permanent residency, during which time his daughter was being kept at home due to kidnapping attempts and they were dealing with attacks on the road and at their offices etc.  With his case I found myself back in somewhat familiar territory of people in danger, at risk, who beg for help, and for whom I felt responsible.  I knew I had to stay the line for his case, I felt God on it, but after his case (which on the surface had looked like a basic case) I did not want to do any such work again, ever!

Well, back to the call from Rev Farag.

Rev Farag calls and says “B, I need your help, I need you to see some of my people, I need someone I can trust”.

At first I said “no”.  I explained that I was no longer practising in immigration law (I had decided that I was not going to take immigration work any more, it was too hard balancing the case loads with the responsibilities of full time at home parenting, which had turned into parenting of two ballet children at the elite level (the result of another dangerous prayer).  It was too much to manage, together with the various health issues I had been dealing with, and that I was still overcoming, and to be honest I didn’t want to be a lawyer, or to work as an immigration agent any more. I had turned my back on that, and was waiting for what God had in store for me.

Rev Farag did not let up.  He said “just see one”, so I agreed to see one – he said it was a spouse visa case so I thought what could it hurt?  I still had a valid migration registration, I could give an advice and help one.

I saw one, gave an advice for a couple of ours for free, discouraged them from proceeding with what they wanted to do with me, but they insisted (in fact begged me to do the work) and so I helped them at radically discounted rates, and left it at that.

I then got another call from Rev Farag: “B we need your help I need someone I can trust”

I sad “no”.

He persisted and said “just see one”.

I reneged feeling God on it, and I arrived in town where I was meeting him and this one in town, and there were three desperate people – all refugee cases, or a variation on the theme. I had been tricked!

I heard them out and gave a basic advice to each.

One was a Syrian (“boat arrival”), who had just recently given his heart to Jesus, and whose wife and 3 young daughters were in a huge refugee camp; the second was an Iraqi Catholic nun whose family overseas had survived a church massacre, and other horrors after the 2003 war on Iraq, whose family had fled ISIS as ISIS invaded northern Iraq, and one was a woman who was being tricked by a man who she had fallen in love with – that was the easy case to advise – the others I desperately wanted to avoid.

I went home and battled with God.

I knew I had to take the cases, but I struggled.  I said “God I love you, but I don’t want to do this” He said that He wanted me to “step up …” in fact He was quite firm, whenever I argued he’d say “step up” and not much more.

Regardless, I argued some more – “the laws have dramatically changed, I haven’t worked in this field for 20 years, there are other people so much more skilled than me…”

All I heard was “step up”.

I said “why me” I don’t want to do this – remembering my prayer and wishing I had never prayed it, and He explained quietly that I would pray for them, I would pray for the clients, that others would not do that, and that it was time for me to “step up”.

So I did …

I had nightmares to start with – blood dripping down walls, my children attacked by ISIS, threats against my safety, running from crumbling buildings war torn and bloody – dreams such as those haunted my nights, and I would wake heart racing, seek God, try to discern whether it was a demonic attack, or whether it was a God dream of warning, I would have to calm myself, and remind myself that if God was calling me to this, and I believed He was, so then I would be ok, I would be able to handle the cases.  I had to bring my thoughts under the authority of Jesus Christ.

The anxiety was extreme.  The law had dramatically changed.  I had to sit through and read numerous accounts of extreme terror and cruelty, take statements from traumatised people that took hours, learn the law as fast as I could. I even had to watch a video from Baghdad News of one of my clients walking out of a church massacre, as one of only a few that had survived the attack.  The scene was filled with dismembered bodies of Christians whose only “crime” was that they had dared to attend church and worship. I was at sea. I would freeze in fear not knowing what to do, and each time I would seek God, He would simply say quietly: “just do the next thing you know to do and I would feel a gentle leading”, and so I would, “just do the next thing”, all the time my heart racing as I told my mind and body to be still and know that he is God.

That was over two years ago.

I am still doing the work.  I still feel overwhelmed.  I cry when the refusals come.

I don’t have a huge number of cases, I don’t have the resources, but I have enough to be overwhelmed at times.

I held the nun as she sobbed, telling me (as the first person she told) that her mother had died in Turkey of breast cancer the night before, and that she had not seen her before she had died – her mother had been refused a visa three times prior to me taking on the case.

I had a client who was very upset with the news that his family had been refused help, who stood up and looked like he was going to get violent with me (some think I am the magic, even though I tell them I am not, I always explain that it takes prayer, diligence and a great deal a favour against the odds to be granted a protection visa).  Rev Farag was thankfully there as interpreter on that occasion stood and talked him down, as I made myself very small at the table.  As I did, I had a flash back to a time I was threatened by a client years back in a locked interview room, my hand on the hidden emergency buzzer, that he would have me killed if he did not get a visa.

I had cried when this man’s case was refused.  I called and told him and we met. He was furious with me at the meeting, and I was the blamed for it’s failure, when in fact there had been circumstances well beyond my control at play.

I sat at that moment and reminded myself that God had asked me to step up.

I have taken on more cases – they just come.  I tell them I have no magic, I have no contacts or special relationships, there are no guarantees, but I do pray.  They are all sad.  They are all desperate.  Some want me to act, even after I disillusion them, others say they had through I was a guarantee, and they go to the agent that will promise them the world.

I am now working at times with a play group leader from another church who works with refugees in a country town church.  She’s overwhelmed at times too.  I am a point of reference for her, for which she is grateful, a legal min in her corner to work things through and to refer people to if required.

Not many cases have been successful to date.  It is much like throwing the fishing line in again and again in the hope that a fish will just jump into the boat, such is the numbers.  It’s statistically worse than lottery odds – but God says keep going.

The refusals – I sit and cry before I call and tell them the news.  They know I care.

I resubmit …

The wins are AMAZING! Often the clients have no idea just how amazing a win is …

Many professionals don’t do the work because it is too depressing.  You mainly get refusals – and that is not fun!

I know my job is to prepare their statements, make sure the forms are completed well, and make sure everything has been told that should be told … and pray.

The cases I take are families who are here, that have loved ones waiting for years overseas.  The families here sponsor them to come.  Generally their loved ones have had a number of refusals before they come to me for help, so there are often no other visa pathways available to them. I have a well qualified single female Iraqi teacher, a young talented male graphic designer (who cant leave because his mother and two younger brothers need his protection in Turkey); I have a family that are the last generation of multiple generations to carry the secrets of how to weave fine beautiful textiles from scratch (from sheep or goat to finished product) – many of these people can trace their heritage right back as being original inhabitants of the lands that Jonah visited (now the current northern Iraq area) and may be related to some of the oldest Christian heritage we have (evidence of which was sadly destroyed by ISIS as they went through Northern Iraq).

To be honest, I have felt other stirrings about my destiny, and I have started stepping out into various other prophetic words in obedience as I have felt led.  I have no idea how that will play out.  I had hoped that maybe this time, this season of refugees would come to an end, but recently, at a conference where Heidi Baker was speaking, I felt I heard Him say again as I was overshadowed by Him, “refugees” and so I know the season has not ended … and I do not know where it will lead.

I have had a few refusals recently.  I will prepare the paper work to resubmit. One I am hoping to get in through a sponsored refugee visa – but he needs a job offer (that is my graphic designer) and even if he gets a job offer, I then need to work out how to raise about $40,000 for the family … it’s a “new” idea being offered by our government – let desperate people find a job offer and we may give them a visa if they pay for everything … as I started the process I threw the responsibility to God saying “well you work it out”, and to be honest Heidi Baker’s testimonies encourage me that God can and will do amazing things if I just keep at it for the one in front of me …

I don’t know where any of this will go – I just know to keep on stepping up and “do the next thing I know to do” and the rest is God’s work, and I trust and hope and choose to believe (because at times I do struggle given all they have been through) that He will take care of them, and their cases, even if they are refused, because …

God IS Good!

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: