What do you get when you mix over 40 newly arrived Middle Eastern refugees, 60 beach loving Aussie locals, a load of sunshine and a pile of softtop surfboards…. A whole lot of joy!
On Saturday 31st of January, Shellharbour Beach saw the trial of a new idea for Welcome to Australia. In partnership with Gerringong Uniting Church and Christian Surfers Australia, the first ever ‘Surfers for Refugees’ day took place.
This much anticipated beach day was a small idea that had grown over the past 8 months. A couple of NSW South Coast Christians wanted to get to know and support Australian settled refugees but were unsure how to do it.
How does someone living in Gerringong – a rural coastal region 90 minutes south of Sydney – make worthwhile connections with people fleeing Syria and Iraq and living in Australia?
Simple, just phone someone who works with refugees! You never know what ideas might roll in.
The answer seemed so simple … invite them to the beach. We love the beach. Besides, going to the beach is a classic Aussie thing to do and these guys want to do what ‘Aussies’ do, right? So, hey, let’s build sandcastles together and get some salt water goodness.
So we broke out the sunscreen, boards and beach towels and arranged a day when people could hang out and enjoy the beautiful coastal area we are privileged to live in.
We thought maybe 5 locals and 5 refugees might be interested. We undershot that significantly. The idea spread out and in the end, over 100 people rocked up!
The South Coast locals (who now consisted of people from a number of churches, our non-Christian surfing mates and a few others who saw it on Facebook) arrived in a jumbled collection of surfboard wax, enthusiasm, halal food, cricket sets, sausages to throw on the BBQ and 20 big softtop surfboards loaned out from the local Christian Surfers movement.
Our new friends arrived with both a keenness and apprehension about jumping into the crazy surf they had witnessed since arriving in Australia. One man (who only 5 months earlier escaped from Syria with his family just intact) said he was both excited and terrified.
But over the next few hours he discovered not only a love for surfing but an understanding that there exists in Australia people who are truly welcoming of his family and want to support them as they begin to build a future for themselves in our country.
As kids played in the shorebreak, locals pushed people onto waves and women laughed as their husbands fell off face-first into the sand, this new community of friends experienced a glimpse of the way it can be in Australia. No fear, no division, no defensiveness and a whole lot of joy.
As we ate our mix of halal and non-halal food, a few of our new Aussie mates shared their horrific stories of fleeing for their lives. A lovely lady, who cried, told of torture, bashings, fear and imprisonment. Another shared of his hopes in this new country. One Syrian man said it was good for their souls to tell their experiences in this accepting context, saying it helps in their healing.
It was gold for everyone there. The locals were blessed just as much as our new friends.
Seeing our kids push other kids onto waves, even though they can’t yet speak the same language was inspiring. And watching our young girls swim happily with others who were still wearing their Islamic dress was terrific. Everyone grew from the experience.
We said goodbye to a chorus of Syrian boys saying; “More, more, two weeks more!” We agreed. This has got to happen again soon. And it will before the summer is out. To use a surfing phrase, “Everyone was pumped”.
There is no guessing what our approach should be towards those fleeing from persecution. The Bible is very clear. Old Testament and New Testament both – the message doesn’t change. We are to be a welcoming people. A loving people. We just need to explore how this may look. God has blessed us with a safe life in a wonderful part of the world. We realised we just need to share it and ourselves. We can’t wait to do it again.
- Contact your local community support services and find out how you can use your passions and hobbies to serve others.
- Want to plan your own ‘Surfers for Refugees’ event in your city? Contact the team from Welcome To Australia: Wollongong Branch and they’ll help you get started – firstname.lastname@example.org