This weekend we will move our entire lives into what was previously an old 10 bedroom Nuns convent and open our doors to families who have fled their countries due to unspeakable violence and persecution in a desperate attempt to find peace and stability for their children. We want this new house to be one of love and welcome, where potential is nurtured and dreams of a new life in this country can be realised. We want you to join us.
After months of planning and dreaming, finally the lease is signed and we are all set to move in this weekend. For Britt and myself this marks a completely new chapter in our lives, one we have been working towards ever since we first met. When we were married (just over a year ago!) we finished our vows with the promise that, “From this day forth I’m on your team!” Our intention behind this promise was to take hold of what Dietrich Bonheoffer casts in his vision of marriage,
In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal – it is a status, an office. (Bonheoffer, A Wedding Sermon From A Prison Cell)
Finding ‘The Convent’
For the past year we have lived in facsinating little suburb in Newcaslte. It consists of run down fibro cottages and public housing – signposts of the suburbs working-class past – mixed in with the stylish new apartments and renovations of a rising young middle-upper class drawn by the close proximity to the city. We have lived in the former rather than latter style of residence. Our home has the nameplate ‘Boragi’ nailed to the front, for which the only definition we can find is its aboriginal meaning, ‘A small hole or depression’ (A gloomy contradiction to the fun and warmth we’ve experienced in our little home!).
Living here, one thing I’ve learnt is how greatly your location shapes your calling to serve those around you. The homes around us and the streets in front of us are shared with hardworking single mums, Congolese refugees and a rag tag bunch of kids who try their best to get run over every afternoon after school (I hit one once, he ran into the side of my car, I was more frightened and worried than he was!).
Experiencing the richness of living amongst such diversity we’ve come to love our community and dreamt of ways that we could further our ability to serve in it. However, trying to practice an open style of hospitality in a house with only 1 bedroom, a dining room that only fits six and a kitchen with bench space for 1 measly chopping board, we decided it was time for something bigger!
One afternoon we punched the words ‘rentals in Newcastle’ into Google and stumbled upon ‘The Convent’. I had walked past the old compound a bunch of times without thinking much other than, ‘What’s the go with that?’ Its vacated church buildings stand dormant alongside the huge empty house adjoining. As we walked through that same house the very next day with the real estate agent we both felt something beginning to stir.
Who are the housemates?
Whilst we knew we wanted the house, we didn’t know who would end up in it with us. All we knew was that we wanted to create a place of community and warmth where we could share our lives with others and in turn experience the joy that comes from multiple stories mixed together.
As we looked again at the house we saw how it divided into three family quarters (kind of), enough for ourselves and two other families. We saw the large dining room and communal areas and dreamt of the conversations and meals that could be shared, noticed the adjoining halls and thought of the community programs that could be facilitated and stood in the open garden courtyard out the back and thought about what we might grow here altogether.
Asylum seekers and refugees have been made homeless and often hopeless by violence, persecution and upheaval, in the process often uprooted and disconnected from their families, friends and culture (Check out the fantastic new campaign by the UNHCR is sharing the message that ‘No one chooses to be a refugee’). We didn’t want to just settle them into a new life of isolation here in Australia but rather welcome them into a community where they would experience acceptance and affirmation.
What is the vision?
So now everything is in place. We will move in, set up and hopefully within weeks receive the first families. As we set out on this new adventure it’s helpful to set some kind of vision for what our hopes for the house are. The purpose of the vision is not for us to hold so tightly to it that we insist ‘this is what must happen’ but rather to let it serve as a reminder to ourselves in the weeks and months to come, during both the good and bad, that ‘this is why we started this.’ We also hope by casting such a vision that others, perhaps you, will be able to take hold of it and share in it with us.
Our vision for the house is two-fold;
To create a community where asylum seekers and refugees are empowered to reach their potential, whilst demonstrating a positive public example of how we can welcome them as individuals and families into our communities and homes.
How can you partner with us?
We would be foolish to attempt this on our own and that is why we invite you to be a part of our community. For those who can make it we invite you to come and work alongside us in the house, volunteering your time to assist with the various needs that will arise or even just coming around to share in a meal. For those who can’t ‘be there’ we ask for your encouragement, support and prayers as we seek together to change the conversation on asylum seekers and refugees in our communities and nation.
We look forward to what is about to come and will be sharing stories from the house and our experience in creating community here on this blog.
Matt and Britt