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Each of my parents was married twice, due to the death of their first spouse. Subsequently, I have half-siblings and stepsiblings. So, I suppose I should know something about blended families! Thankfully, my experience is not like Cinderella’s, Snow White’s or Hansel and Gretel’s in those dark, scary fairytales. My stepsister is anything but wicked, and while I’ve never had a stepmother, my stepfather has always been the epitome of loving-kindness.

Through my relationships with other people, I have also seen that the blending of families, including through adoptions and foster care, can bring about joy or sorrow, or both, depending on the circumstances and personalities involved. There are simply no hard-and-fast rules about whether family members unrelated by blood will fight or flee, or that those from the same gene pool will form firm bonds.

Yet the only thing I really do know is that a so-called blended family is much like any other. There will be challenges and pain caused by our imperfect efforts at togetherness and, hopefully, there will be love aplenty and the comfort and security of belonging. Sometimes, as with a good salad dressing containing competing ingredients such as vinegar and oil, family dynamics need to be shaken up in order to harmoniously blend.

As one of the people I interviewed for this edition said, it’s really unconditional love and support rather than genetics that are the hallmarks of a family.

So, this month, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus into an ‘unconventional’ family, we can remember that God sent his Son not just to live in an earthly family but to suffer and die, to reclaim us as members of his eternal family.

In this edition, we are truly blessed with beautiful stories from our LCANZ community about what ‘family’ means. You’ll also read the final Heartland column from LCANZ Bishop John Henderson before he retires. In February next year, we’ll welcome the incoming LCANZ bishop, Pastor Paul Smith, with a new column.

We also meet Brett Hausler, the new executive officer of the church, in ‘The inside story’ section, and share the news of graduate pastor placements, home faith-life and other resources and uplifting features from our church family.

As this is the last edition for 2021, I would like to thank you, our readers, subscribers, group collectors and other ambassadors (you’ll hear more on that opportunity soon) for your loyalty, and we look forward to your continued support. Please keep encouraging others to join us – a subscription makes a great Christmas gift! My gratitude goes, too, to our wonderful team which brings you The Lutheran. Thank you to Linda Macqueen (executive editor), Elysia McEwen (graphic designer), our regular contributors Helen Beringen and Rebecka Colldunberg, proofreaders Lyall Kupke, Kathy Gaff and Pastor David Strelan, Gaynor Gower in subscriptions and Trevor Bailey and all at Openbook Howden.

Have a safe, joyful and blessed Christmas,

Lisa

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JESUS IS GOD’S LOVE.

HE GIVES US NEW HEARTS –

TO LAY ASIDE OUR OLD WAYS,

TO BELIEVE AND FOLLOW HIM,

TO LIVE WITH HIM EVERY DAY.

HEARTLAND

Rev John Henderson

Bishop Lutheran Church of Australia

‘From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”’ (Matthew 4:17 NRSV).

The four weeks before Christmas are the Advent season. Advent is, in effect, the Christian new year, the first season of the church calendar. This year it began on Sunday 28 November, when we changed the church colour to violet, for repentance and to honour our coming king.

I wonder how many of us noticed. Did we share it with others? Our Hindu neighbours visited us during the recent Diwali festival, or Hindu New Year, with a gift of homemade Indian sweets. It was a lovely, neighbourly gesture. The Christian new year, Advent, however, is not so well-known, even among us. It tends to be swamped by Christmas, which has crept forward to whenever the merchandise hits the shelves or the online shopping site. Advent, however, gives Christmas its context. Together, Advent and Christmas direct us to the great festival of Easter, preceded by Lent and followed by Ascension and Pentecost. This rhythm of festivals, drawn from Scripture, is the backbone of our worship and faith life. In this way, we always remember and celebrate what God has done and is doing to save the world.

Advent comes first. It is the backdrop, the scene-setter, that puts the rest into perspective. Taken from Latin, ‘Advent’ means ‘arrival’. God arrives on earth in tangible, specific ways. Our God is not just a remote eternal being, somewhere ‘out there’ beyond the universe and therefore impossible to find. Rather, God is with us, right here, right now, physically and spiritually. God chooses to be available to all who believe and is never far away.

Look at the evidence: his mother bore him, people physically touched him, and he touched them. They penetrated his hands and feet with nails. Even in his death, they touched him, laid his body in the grave, and mourned him. And when he rose from the dead, they ate with him and knew him as a living human being. He ascended into heaven, God our brother going ahead of us to welcome us home. And for now, here on earth, God is present in his church, the physical gathering of baptised saints and believers who hear the word and receive the sacrament.

In Advent we remember that God, who has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ, is always with us. He restores our life. We are alive in him. He comes to us daily through the Spirit and the word. He comes in the sacraments, in water and the word (baptism), in the meal of bread and wine he instituted for us (holy communion). God comes to us, the same God who also waits for us on the last day. We know him now, and he knows us.

In Advent we learn to wait – and wait well – for the coming of our Lord. We do so in humility and with repentance, since salvation depends entirely on him and we contribute nothing. We remain confident and we are not afraid, since, as Hebrews says, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever’. He is, and will always be, our Saviour, who came to live among us and never leave us. All glory be to God.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

This edition of The Lutheran marks my last Heartland column during my time as bishop. It has been a pleasure and a joy to prepare these articles. I express my thanks to Lisa McIntosh, Pastor David Strelan and the LCA Communications team for your encouragement and support in making this possible. I also thank the many readers who have written in over the years, sharing your own stories of faith. Thank you all so much. I pray that our great and merciful God will continue to bless and restore every one of you, until the great and glorious day of the resurrection to eternal life.

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by Lisa McIntosh

What makes a group of individuals a family? Being related by blood or marriage? How about definition 7 in the Macquarie Dictionary: ‘a group of persons who form a household and who regard themselves as having familial ties’?

Is our understanding of family more to do with shared lives and values than being ‘descended from a common progenitor’, as definition 4 states? Jesus certainly takes a more inclusive view of family, as we are reminded in this month’s Bible study (see John 19:26,27 and Matthew 12:49,50).

TJ Krause was almost four when he and his younger brother Abebaw (AJ) came from an orphanage in Ethiopia to become part of a new family in Australia.

Now 20 and an apprentice carpenter, he still remembers the feeling he had meeting his new mum, Julie, for the first time and, ultimately, his new siblings and, later, his new dad, Jonathan. Each of his parents also has children from previous marriages.

‘It was really exciting, and it was rather interesting and bizarre and surreal’, TJ says of the experience of meeting and joining a new family, who now live at Maslin Beach in South Australia. ‘We don’t call it “blended” but it is a blended family.’ He says that even though there are particular challenges to being part of a family in which members come from different backgrounds, the best element is that ‘there’s no judgement whatsoever’.

‘We all make it work really well, and Mum and Dad are just super accepting. When you’re younger and you don’t know where your real parents are, sometimes you question that.

‘But you do realise that the parents you have really do love you and they cherish you and protect you. That makes you realise that they are your real parents even though they’re not blood.

‘I think family keeps you motivated to keep pursuing life because you’re showing them that you’re grateful for the opportunities they’re giving you. A family’s always there to love you, support you, be there for you through thick and thin, and there’s nothing that can beat unconditional love.

‘If someone’s willing to support someone else throughout every single thing and be there for them through the good and bad, that’s the definition of family, whether it’s your brother or it’s your best mate.’

Blending two families and households into one challenges parents, too, with things such as setting disciplinary boundaries, territorial feelings and behaviour, different parenting styles and basic practical issues all requiring attention.

Pastor Mark and Beth Kaesler, of Seaford in South Australia, merged two households into one when they were married. Between them, they had four children from their previous marriages, including two sons named Paul!

‘It’s a funny thing when you join two families and two houses’, Beth says. ‘You don’t mean to be, but you’re quite threatened about trying to maintain territory. When Mark, Elisa and Paul moved in, there was all this sorting about what we would throw out and what we’d keep. You know, like, whose egg flip will we keep? It was very, very territorial.

‘When you get past that physical territorial stuff, then you have to move on to the emotional territorial stuff and spiritual territorial stuff. You know, like, I’ll give a bit here and you give a bit. And I think we learned fairly early that we both had to give a lot more than 50 per cent to make it work.’

Both Beth and Pastor Mark say that God’s support was critical in blending their families.

‘God is part of everything, really’, Pastor Mark says. ‘God is never absent. He is speaking to us in all sorts of ways. And I guess you really can’t put a value on all those little bits of knowledge that he gives you in this journey.’

‘I think it starts with a sense and an understanding of how much God has given you and how much God has forgiven you’, Beth adds. ‘That gives you a huge sense of God’s grace which you can then give out.’

And they agree that God is the one in their family who can best break down the barriers that members may put up for their own feeling of safety and security.

‘So, the only one who can heal and open up doors where both of us are not able to, or our kids aren’t able to, is God’, Pastor Mark says. ‘He opens the doors and somehow changes our hearts, works out ways so that we can find a common thread to cling to again, to go forward.’

God is also central to the family life of Pastor Colin Simpkin, his wife Tanya, son Brad and niece Abbie Williams, of Grovedale in Victoria. Abbie became part of the family household after the death of her mother, Joanne, Tanya’s sister, as her father is not able to look after her.

The Simpkins say they always wanted two children and believe that God had plans for them to be ‘a complete family with Abbie’.

‘With Brad being an only child, Abbie coming into our family brought him a sibling and he learnt how to share everything – toys, home and parents’, Pastor Colin says. ‘As a family, we miss one another when any are away. We have the joy of seeing the accomplishments of the others. We have brought God into Abbie’s life and we learn a lot from her, too.

‘Having all of the members of our family now has added extra love into each of our lives. Abbie loves having a female role model and support person, and Tan is what Abbie needs to guide her through many difficult areas.’

Pastor Colin says that while there were challenges for each of them in getting used to the new family dynamics, the family unit is really important to them ‘because God put us together’.

‘Everybody needs to know they belong somewhere and that they matter to others. Everyone needs people to support them in life, with love, care, protection and company. God is love and we know his love through Jesus, who calls us to pass that love on to our families.’

You can read more of Beth and Mark’s story, or listen to their Messages of Hope interview at www.messagesofhope.org.au/blended-families/  

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Brett Hausler will fulfil a long-term wish to work for the church when he becomes the next Executive Officer of the Church (EOC) early next year.

Brett’s appointment to the senior LCANZ leadership position was announced last month. He will succeed Peter Schirmer, who has served as EOC since 2012 and who has resigned to pursue other opportunities.

Currently Chief Governance Officer and General Counsel for AEMO (Australian Energy Market Operator Ltd), Brett said he felt called to apply for the role, which will enable him to pair his work with his passion for church service.

‘I’ve always had a desire to work for the church at some stage and probably the key driver is that I’ve volunteered for many years, but I’ve found that my involvement has always been limited due to my daily work commitments’, said Brett, whose mother worked as an assistant for the Victoria District president when Brett was at school.

‘This is an opportunity to focus on what I’m passionate about, and in a role that will be able to perhaps leverage some of the skills and knowledge that I’ve developed over the years in other roles.

‘I believe God called me to apply for this position and that he has equipped me well and blessed me through my work roles and in my faith life to serve in this way. I’ve been fortunate to have been responsible for a wide range of areas throughout my career and I would hope that they will assist me in performing the EOC role.’

Brett’s name will already be known to some in Lutheran circles, as the chair of the Board for Lutheran Education Australia (BLEA), having joined BLEA as a director in early 2013.

In his current position with AEMO, he oversees corporate functions including governance, legal, risk management, audit, compliance, insurance and transmission procurement, and has recently been involved in establishing a new subsidiary to assist the NSW government in implementing its energy roadmap. Previous responsibilities have also included public affairs, finance, regulatory affairs and human relations.

Before starting with AEMO in 2009, Brett was General Manager, Corporate Services at the National Electricity Market Management Company (NEMMCO), held various executive roles in the energy industry and also worked as a lawyer in private practice.

Among his voluntary church service, Brett was a member of the LCA’s reference panel for its governance and administration review, served on the Victoria District’s regional education governance committee and is a past member of Luther College Council.

While his new role will involve significant changes both professionally and personally for Brett in that he will relocate from Melbourne to Adelaide along with his wife, Heather, in due course, he said those changes would ‘pale into insignificance in terms of the purpose of the role’.

‘To me, it’s so important in life that what you do is aligned with your purpose’, he said.

‘I am looking forward to seeing where God will lead us as a church in the coming years. My great hope is that we as a church will bring love to life for those in our communities as we serve.’

A member at St Pauls Box Hill in suburban Melbourne where he worships with his family, Brett will begin the new role from mid to late January.

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by Lisa McIntosh

Celestine Rowe believes family is ‘the most important thing’. And that’s why the mum of four is thrilled that her children are growing up connected to their wider family and their country in Central Australia’s Western Desert region.

A Pintupi-Luritja woman from Papunya northwest of Alice Springs, Celestine spent her childhood with a foster family in Adelaide from 12 weeks of age. She was born prematurely and was unwell as a baby, which meant frequent stays in hospital and led to her being placed in foster care in South Australia.

While she said her foster family was kind to her, she felt something was missing in her life. By the time she reached her mid-teens, Celestine moved back to the Northern Territory and set about reconnecting with her biological family, including her mum. Her father had died when she was young. She also reconnected with her Lutheran heritage and today worships at St Paul’s Ferryden Park, which incorporates Adelaide Aboriginal Lutheran Fellowship.

‘I was missing a sense of belonging within the family – I grew up without my family but I knew that they were there’, says Celestine, who works as a stable hand at Morphettville in suburban Adelaide. ‘I just had a big hole there. I was feeling lost, I felt I had no family, and I don’t want my kids to be feeling the same thing that I did growing up.’

Around the time she returned to the Northern Territory as a teen, Celestine lived at the Alice Springs Youth Accommodation Support Service, where she met celebrated First Nations poet Ali Cobby Eckermann, who became her mentor and carer. Thanks to Ali, Celestine began writing poetry and, since the age of 16, she has been performing her work around Australia.

Celestine has one brother and one sister, but her grandfather had 12 children, so she has many aunts, uncles and cousins and a large extended family. Despite being based in Adelaide for work reasons, Celestine and her children, aged 6, 7, 13 and 15, visit and spend time with their Central Australian family regularly.

‘I think the connection, the blood connection is a lot stronger for the First Nations mob’, she says. ‘For mob that’ve been taken away or removed, their friends are close considered like family. The family’s the most important thing because it comes back to who we are and where we’re from, and it’s our connection.’

Celestine’s Christian faith also informs her views on family and why God wants us as part of his family. ‘I believe that’s so we don’t feel left out and so we feel like we belong to something.’

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At Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, where our Lutheran family in Australia and New Zealand supports new arrivals and long-term residents through Australian Lutheran World Service, there are many types of blended and extended families. Some have come together by choice after fleeing or being displaced from their homelands, others by necessity. Each family has been touched by trauma and tragedy. While living in a crowded camp far from home is hard, there are also plenty of examples of kindness, love, generosity and inspirational resilience.

Cousins band together

Cousins Wali*, 17, Matu*, 15, and Malook*, 13, live together at Kakuma, having left their home country of South Sudan because of the war there.

Wali explains, ‘We have no other family. They are all gone. It is just us. We live in this compound with other Dinka people. We can feel lonely, just the three of us, so we often share our hut with others – sometimes there are nine of us sleeping here.

‘Each morning we walk 10 minutes to the school. I dream of being a lawyer and my cousins would like to be a doctor and a teacher. We all like to play soccer. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays we all go to the choir at church and do other activities. And then we go to church on Sundays.

‘We are thankful for the LWF (Lutheran World Federation) Child Protection Officer who helps us if we need something.’

*Their names have been changed for child protection reasons.

Always room for one more

Lucy has been at Kakuma since 1992, having also come there from South Sudan because of the war. She is now the mother of 13 children in a blended family.

‘I have eight children of my own, but they are mostly grown up’, she explains. ‘Noah, my elder son, is living with me plus a couple of the younger ones. I have now fostered another five children because their mother passed away. I have my own little compound with a kitchen and a sleeping area. The children have all blended well and are enjoying school.’

Missing home

One family has come to Kakuma from the Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC] due to a decades-long land feud with one of their neighbours. The family’s grandfather was targetted.

Two children, 11 and 12, are being fostered by this family as their own father was a friend. He fled their home in DRC after the children’s mother was raped and died.

Then the foster family became a target of the feud and fighting, so they took the children with their own family and fled to Uganda. They then travelled for a week before reaching Kakuma.

The foster father is a choirmaster at the local church and would like to be a businessman. They have a small blackboard where they practise their English and have made a little vegetable patch near their hut.

They are very grateful for the set-up items they received at Kakuma, including mattresses, clothing for the children, school supplies, pots and pans, but they are all missing their home.

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LCANZ Reconciliation Ministry is embarking on a new phase of ongoing development.

Since its inception in the LCANZ in 2012, the department has focused on growing a lifestyle of reconciliation across the church. After sponsoring the US group Ambassadors of Reconciliation to provide basic teaching and training for all pastors and lay workers in 2009, LCANZ leaders adopted the approach in earnest. The principles of Biblical Reconciliation have been offered to individuals, parishes and church organisations as a way to work through conflicted situations, and for training individuals and groups to better handle conflict in a Christlike way.

Reconciliation Ministry has been working with LCA International Mission to provide teaching and training in our mission partner churches.

Recently, the General Church Board resolved to change the way Reconciliation Ministry operates, moving it away from a departmental model. Specific details of how the ministry will be transitioned are still to be determined.

Dr Nigel Long, Secretary of the Church, said, ‘This is part of ongoing adjustments to Churchwide ministries, some due to implementing strategic change, and others due to environmental changes, particularly financial pressures’.

Calls to Churchwide positions are on a synodical-term basis for three years. Accordingly, Pastor Paul Kerber’s call to serve as Assistant to the Bishop – Reconciliation Ministry will conclude on 31 December 2021. ‘Pastor Paul will take leave early in 2022 and God willing, he will soon receive a call into another LCANZ ministry setting’, Dr Long said.

Reconciliation Ministry has engaged in many complex situations and provided training across the church. ‘It’s been challenging work’, LCANZ Bishop John Henderson said. ‘Sadly, conflict is never hard to find among human beings, and the workload grew exponentially.’

In 2019, wanting to make the best use of resources, the bishops moved Reconciliation Ministry solely into a training role, rather than also taking on casework. ‘The intent has been to develop awareness, skills and a spiritual approach of reconciliation “upstream” of actual conflict situations’, Bishop Henderson said. ‘Reconciliation Ministry has been funded by LLL grants, for which the church is most thankful. This support has made it possible for the ministry to grow.’

Reflecting on his years serving in Reconciliation Ministry, Pastor Paul said, ‘I thank God for the opportunity to serve as a teacher and trainer in Biblical Reconciliation Ministry. Since this ministry was introduced to the LCA in 2012, there has been significant movement and formation in the life of individuals, congregations, schools and the pastorate. ‘I have been encouraged to see bishops, pastors, principals and members grow in the teaching and in being led by the Holy Spirit to enact confession and forgiveness in their relationships with others.

‘Let us continue to pray for this “core business” of the church, and for the ongoing teaching and encouragement for God’s people to live with God’s gift of confession and forgiveness.’

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by Lisa McIntosh

The devastating bushfires that razed parts of the Adelaide Hills in December 2019 not only claimed a life, killed livestock, destroyed homes and charred the landscape – they also left painful emotional scars for some locals.

So, to help restore the confidence of children from the area and encourage their connection with the surrounding countryside after the tragedy, Lobethal Lutheran School has teamed up with the nearby Trinity Lutheran congregation at Spring Head to establish a forest learning program on church land.

From this year students from the Foundation to Year 6 school have been going by bus one day each week to a forest glen haven at Spring Head church, to engage in ‘Beyond’, an ‘innovative, rich outdoor learning program’, says school Principal Steph Kriewaldt.

Students are given challenging but achievable tasks, linked to the Australian Curriculum, which are aimed at building their confidence, skills and independence. They are also allowed time to explore their thoughts, feelings and relationships. The day begins with a summit fire, to ground learners with the environment. This time and reflective practice develop inter and intra-personal skills, which are well documented as being directly linked to learning skills and wellbeing, Steph says.

‘All of our learners from five years old onwards light fires without matches, learn how to cut trees and wood, build shelter, tie knots and identify local flora and fauna – all learning experiences carefully designed by our facilitators to support student agency but also cover key literacy, numeracy and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) outcomes’, she says.

‘It’s been intentionally planned to develop confidence and resilience through challenge and risk in a range of nature play and discovery experiences. Beyond encourages the children’s emotional and physical development through exploration in a bushland environment.’

Originally a concept developed in Denmark, research has shown that ‘forest schools’ had students who were found to have developed strong social skills, an ability to work effectively in groups, and generally had high self-esteem and confidence.

The program at Lobethal Lutheran School, which involves all year levels and staff, has led to the school recently being recognised by The Educator national magazine as a 5-Star Innovative School for 2021.

‘This award is a fabulous acknowledgment of the outstanding hard work of staff, our awesome learners and special community, and a fabulous partnership between Lobethal Lutheran School and Spring Head church’, Steph says.

‘Beyond was initially developed after the devastating [Adelaide Hills] bushfires, as we were searching for a way to reconnect students with nature and nurture a positive relationship with the outdoors.

‘As we dug deeper into the amazing research around improved wellbeing, resilience, creativity and independence associated with forest learning, we knew that it was a must for our learners. We met with Nature Play SA and local bush experts to devise the program.

‘We knew that Spring Head church had the most beautiful site that would nurture authentic engagement with nature. The congregation supported us with ideas and material which are a big part of the success of the program. Pastor Tim Castle-Schmidt is a huge advocate for outdoor learning and was very supportive as we developed the program, and he pops along when we are on site. It has been great to have fellowship with the congregation as they share their unique space with our school.’

Established by the Lobethal Lutheran congregation in 1842, Lobethal Lutheran School today has just 52 students, making it one of the smaller schools in the Lutheran Education Australia community of 80 schools and approximately 40,000 learners – and this makes its recent recognition even more noteworthy.

Steph says Lobethal Lutheran was also the first primary school in Australia to offer a STEM-AG program. ‘Students work across traditional school levels finding and solving real problems within agriculture. STEM-AG begins with students, supported by teachers, identifying what they believe needs to be addressed within our local agricultural community.’

And she says feedback to the Beyond program has been ‘100 per cent positive’. ‘Parents are thrilled that their children are experiencing learning that develops resilience and have been surprised at how quickly the skills have been displayed – with little five-year-olds tying hitch knots and lighting fires.’

One parent, Nicky, says of daughter Amber: ‘I love that (she) can be pushed to challenge herself, it has been great to see her confidence and knowledge grow because of Beyond.’ While another parent, Nick, believes there have been benefits across the student body. ‘After the bushfires, it was really important that we watch out for the wellbeing of the kids’, he says. ‘This program has helped their wellbeing, their resilience has improved, and they feel okay to be in nature again.’

After each session at Beyond, the students write in a journal about their experiences, which Steph says also brings educational benefits. ‘A delightful surprise for our teachers has been the improved literacy outcomes as our learners are so engaged in journalling the learning of Beyond’, she says.

Teacher Meredith says: ‘The learning is authentic and there’s agency for the learners to drive the experiences. Engagement is a key factor of Beyond, everyone wants to learn, to work together. It’s a peaceful, joyful classroom.’

And what do the children think? Hudson says, ‘I love going to Beyond. It’s so much fun, we get so dirty’. Fellow student, Jensen, adds, ‘I like learning about the animals – catching the frogs and finding out about their habitat’, while James says, ‘It’s not like real school. It’s hard but it’s fun-hard.’

Other Lutheran schools to be named 5-Star Innovative Schools this year are Faith Lutheran College Redlands in Queensland and Immanuel College at Novar Gardens in South Australia.

You can find out more about the Beyond program at Lobethal Lutheran School through an online video at: https://youtu.be/Odk3cHFvx5s

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by Lisa McIntosh

The COVID-19 pandemic has so dominated the lives of many Australians and New Zealanders at home for the past 18 months that it’s been easy to forget that around the world people are suffering who need our prayers.

But Peter Gerang Deng has not forgotten the troubles and tragedies of his homeland of South Sudan in north-eastern Africa. South Sudan is a diverse nation of more than 60 major ethnic groups, which has long been wracked by civil wars, violence, political instability and natural disasters, which have displaced millions of people and left many others living in poverty. Peter, who like his wife Rebecca Manyang is from South Sudan’s Denka ethnic group, is an educator and an elder at Immanuel Lutheran Church in North Adelaide. The couple has three children, who have all been born in Australia, and is expecting a fourth child.

Concerned that local people were no longer aware of needs beyond their own restrictions and borders, Peter raised the issue with Immanuel’s pastor, Rev Dr Mark Worthing. ‘He said, “Pastor, can we do something to encourage people to pray for South Sudan? With everything else going on in the last year, people have forgotten the needs there’, Pastor Mark explains.

‘So, the next week Peter made a presentation to the congregation about the needs in South Sudan. Afterwards, people said we should do more to focus on this. Someone else said it would be nice to get families involved and make it an intergenerational effort. That’s how the “November Family Prayer Challenge”, with its focus on South Sudan, came about.’

With the backing of the congregation’s Grow Team, Peter and Pastor Mark launched the month-long prayer challenge on 24 October, giving out laminated guides so that members, along with their families and friends, were ready to start the innovative program the following Sunday. The guides were also sent out via email and are available on the congregation’s website (www.immanuelnorthadelaide.org.au under ‘News and Resources’, ‘Other Resources’).

While prayer was pivotal to the program, there were three key elements of the challenge each week for four weeks for those taking part – learn, pray, act.

‘We wanted to encourage everyone to learn more about the current situation and needs in South Sudan, to pray for its people, and to explore ways to concretely help the situation there’, Pastor Mark says. ‘We also wanted to encourage people to do this as families, or with a friend or group of friends, either within or outside of our congregation.’

Each week a distinct focus was identified, built around the principles of learning, praying and doing.

‘It is important that we inform ourselves if we are to better pray for others. And when we pray for others, we need to ask whether there are ways in which God might use us to help with the needs for which we are praying.’

One or two concrete activities were suggested each week of the program that fit the learning and praying theme for that week. Families and individuals were also invited to share their experiences in worship from the previous week.

The prayer challenge linked in with Australian Lutheran World Service, which supports aid and development projects in South Sudan, and which provided Immanuel with a guest speaker to help raise awareness about its ongoing work and partnerships in Africa.

Peter, who became a teacher through Lutheran World Federation at Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, where he met Rebecca, said the prayer challenge was helping to raise awareness locally of the ‘chaotic’ situation in South Sudan, even though the country was technically in ‘peacetime’ after multiple civil wars.

He says when people have a greater awareness of a situation, they then can pray and understand how best to do something to support people in need. ‘[We have a saying that] if you want to help somebody, don’t give them a fish, give them a hook or a net to go and feed themselves’, he says. ‘Give them something to do beyond war.

‘Despite having no war now, there’s something called negative and positive peace. There may be peace there – no guns going throughout the country – but there are pockets of instability going on.

‘I often speak to elders at North Adelaide who came from Germany after World War II. They share their stories of when they arrived here. They think they are no longer refugees but when people talk about refugees and what they face, it’s something they can relate to easily. Now they have a better picture of the people of South Sudan.’

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