by Jonathan Krause
Walk My Way was born inside a refugee camp in the desert in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa in 2016.
A group of teachers from Lutheran schools in Australia was there on an ALWS leadership tour. They met people who had lost everything. They saw a bare block of land that in six months our Australian Lutheran family would turn into a school for 2000 children through a partnership with the European Union.
They met Kalsuma, a refugee for 16 years, who fled the war that destroyed her home and farm in Somalia. ‘We welcome you with open hearts. We have not before seen visitors like you, interested in education’, she said. ‘We really appreciate that you put aside all your things and come to be with us. It seems to me an illiterate person is like a person who is blind. We who are parents see education as the light. We need that light of education to scatter. We are thanking all those who support education. Please keep telling our story to your people.’
One of the teachers from that leadership tour was so inspired, that they decided to walk from Melbourne to Adelaide to raise money to help refugee children go to school. When the logistics of that proved too difficult, ALWS instead created a walk down the Adelaide Hills from Hahndorf, following the trail taken by pioneer Lutheran women in the 1840s. The trail was 26 kilometres long, which ‘matched’ the average cost of supporting a refugee child in school for a year – $26.
So, Walk My Way was on the way.
That refugee camp in Djibouti and those at Kakuma in Kenya where our Lutheran church works through ALWS, are a long way from South Australia’s Barossa Valley, which was host to this year’s Walk My Way. And the original hope for the first Walk My Way in 2017, that perhaps 50 people might be persuaded to take up the challenge to walk 26 kilometres, is a lot different from the 650 people who walked on Saturday 1 May.
Yet, for me, being both in that refugee camp in Djibouti and at Walk My Way in the Barossa Valley, there are many things that intersect.
Walk My Way welcomes everyone, and especially celebrates the gifts of those the world sometimes overlooks – those who are senior, young children, those with a disability.
This is what happens in the refugee camps too, where our ALWS family works hard to make sure no-one is forgotten, and those who may be overlooked or ignored are instead welcomed with open arms, just as Jesus asks of us in Matthew 25:40.
Walk My Way has the simple goal of supporting refugee children to go to school.
Of course, throughout our Lutheran history in Australia, we have known the importance of a values-rich education. The 40,000 students in Lutheran schools parallels the thousands of refugee and displaced children who receive a Lutheran-supported education in places like South Sudan, Somalia and the refugee camps at Kakuma.
Walk My Way asks people to take on a challenge, to do something hard, in order to make a difference for others.
In this, we seek to echo the courage and commitment of parents who carry their children out of warzones in the hope that they may find safety, and perhaps even the hope an education can bring.
At the Barossa Valley Walk My Way, I spent some time at the 24-kilometre mark with my 85-year-old dad, Colin, and his four-legged best friend Oscar, as they directed weary walkers across the road. By 4pm, all but two of our 650 walkers had completed their walk.
Thirty minutes passed. Not a walker in sight.
Then, two figures appeared in the distance.
Slowly they stumble-walked toward us, clearly exhausted.
Sharon is a retired nurse, Fiona a farmer. They told us that cars had slowed regularly to offer them a lift. Each time they said no. ‘We want to do the full 26 kilometres, so our sponsors help out’, Fiona explained. ‘We are doing it for the girls.’
I walked with Fiona to the finish line. Telling her that, as Christians, we know the first will be last, and the last will be first.
By this time, the band at St Jakobi had played its last song. Stalls were being packed away.
Yet, as Fiona reached the finish, the cheer that greeted her was the loudest of the day.
Last. First. Jesus turns the world upside down. Seeks the lost; the overlooked; the forgotten.
That’s what the 650 walkers in the Barossa Valley … and the 200-plus walkers in other walks across the country … and those who sponsored them or donated … and the volunteers who prepared food, marshalled traffic, took photos, or emptied rubbish bins … did too.
Quiet humble service. Courage to care. Willingness to give the best they had, no matter what they had to give. Stepping out … so refugee children can step in to school.
Through Walk My Way, people like you do just what Kalsuma begged us to do. You make the light of education scatter. In doing so, you are a blessing ALWayS.