Faith in Jesus is the common denominator for this group of friends.
About four years ago, my wife and I met two families — one from Iran and another from India — and a lady from New Zealand.
They had all arrived in Australia through different circumstances — as asylum seekers, international students and as a migrant.
Harman and Sudesh, from India, were studying and caring for their daughter Vera. They became our good friends and out of that friendship they came to know Jesus.
As an international student, Harman had to pass an exam to secure permanent residency in Australia. One of the questions asked by her examiner was: “Can you tell me something about your character?” She explained how her character had changed since she started believing in Jesus, and spoke about the difference Jesus had made in her life.
Harman was awarded the highest possible mark in this section of the exam. During these past four years, we have seen Harman and Sudesh grow spiritually.
Recently, they purchased an old house that needed extensive renovating before they could move in. This is where Lily and her family from Iran enter the story.
We met Lily when she left an asylum seeker detention centre and arrived in Melbourne. She was struggling to settle, but with the help of many people she and her family found a community with us. As our friendship developed, Lily and her husband Kevin came to believe in Jesus, going out of their way to help anyone in need. Lily and Kevin had started a property renovation business and were looking for clients.
Harman and Sudesh, meantime, were searching for an affordable company to renovate their house. Lily and Harman, through their community connection with us, had already developed a close friendship with them, so it made sense when they decided to help each other. Harman and Sudesh had their house renovated at a much lower cost than they would have normally paid, and Lily and Kevin attracted more customers because of their quality of work at the property.
Sometimes we look at the big picture and wonder how all this became possible. People from different countries, and shaped by different cultures, helping each other, as they live together in a foreign land, because they became friends in Jesus.
When Jesus changes a person, it creates a ripple effect that impacts those around them. We saw that ripple effect again when we met Judy, who had arrived from New Zealand many years ago as a migrant. Then she met Lily.
As their friendship developed they became almost like family to each other, and Judy, who lives alone, became part of our wider community. She not only found Lily and her family’s support, she also found Jesus. After meeting Lily, her opinion about asylum seekers changed. She no longer saw them as a burden but rather as an asset to the community.
We saw people from three different countries coming together, making an impact not only in the lives of each other but also in the lives of people around them.
For me, this is community development in the ‘Zacchaeus’ mode. We find the story of Zacchaeus, a corrupt tax collector, in the Bible. In Luke chapter 19 verses 1-10 we see a profound change in his life after he met Jesus. Zacchaeus gave away half of his possessions to the poor and paid back four times to those he had cheated. I believe his behaviour and actions resulted in a better community; a community where tax collectors were no longer seen as being corrupt and abusive but generous in helping with their money and position.
The story of Zacchaeus took place centuries ago, but it can happen today if we change our perception of others. The moment we accept others as one of us and treat them as we would ourselves, friendships that are not selfish or based on religious or political affiliations can develop.
God brought Harman and Sudesh, Lily and Kevin, and Judy together, and they have passed on their love of Jesus to others. God has taught me that the Gospel has no boundaries. It can reach every corner of the world.
Captain Monty Bhardwaj is Intercultural Officer for The Salvation Army in Melbourne.