A new outreach program is helping to bring together the lonely, broken and isolated in a diverse western Sydney community.
When you enter Blacktown, in western Sydney, and walk on its streets, you are exposed to a beautiful tapestry. The yarn, threads and colours that make up the tapestry produce a beautiful picture that portrays an image of unity and harmony. Yet if you look at it a little more closely you notice that some of the threads are isolated, some of the vibrant colours have faded, and some of the threads are broken and no longer soft or flexible. To me, this describes Blacktown. When you look at the tapestry as a whole it is beautiful and colourful, but when you take a closer look at individual elements of it, you can see the imperfections and the broken threads.
The city of Blacktown has a population of almost 340,000. More than 136,000 of these people are born overseas. Around 17 per cent arrived in Australia between 2011 and 2016. They come from countries including India, Philippines, China, Fiji, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. All these countries represented together make a stunning tapestry, a beautiful picture of harmony and unity. Yet, when you take a closer look you see brokenness and isolation, ugly and inflexible racist attitudes, loneliness and heartache.
My husband and I, both Salvation Army ministers, deeply desire to see the tapestry of Blacktown look just as beautiful up close as it does far away. We believe that the heart of God is that all families and individuals within our communities would know that they belong, that they are valued, and the communities in which they live need them and everything they have to offer. With that in mind, we have rented an apartment in the middle of a community which is rich in different cultures and faiths. Where new immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees and locals live. Doesn’t it sound beautiful?
Life in a new country and a new city can be isolating and confusing, especially for people who are recent arrivals. To address this issue in Blacktown, we are working hard to provide programs and activities that help us engage with our neighbours, live life with people, and point them to Jesus.
For centuries, the simple act of sharing food and swapping stories has been a widely accepted practice that has caused strangers to become friends. That is why the table is central to what we do. Our greatest desire is that the apartment and our table become a place of community and connection for those who are longing to be welcomed and included.
We are putting the table to use in two specific ways. On Mondays, our family eats dinner and plays games at a picnic table located in the middle of our apartment block. By doing this we hope we will get to know people as they enter and leave their apartments, and that people will begin to join us as we become more familiar to them. On Friday evenings we host ‘Neighbours Night’. We have done this for the last year in the neighbourhood where we live and want it to become a regular gathering at the apartment. We started by going door-to-door and inviting families to dinner. As we get to know people, we will have an open invitation for anyone who wants to join us.
We are certainly not doing anything new, and we do not even have the best model for this kind of ministry, but what we hope is that the broken, faded and isolated threads of the tapestry of Blacktown can be tended to, and shown a little bit of love and care so that, in the end, it truly represents the beauty that is found when all colours and cultures and people not only come together, but are celebrated and valued.
Sandra Pawar is a Salvation Army minister in western Sydney, NSW.