Solidarity with African youth

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Uniting Church President Stuart McMillan has expressed solidarity with Australia’s African community in the wake of recent negative political and media commentary.

“Fear and negativity are such a blight on our public life. I find it deeply regrettable and offensive that some of our political leaders and media have begun the New Year by demonising a group of young African men,” says Stuart.

“This is no doubt hurtful to many Africans who have made Australia their home and do their level best to contribute to the Australian community whilst in many cases also supporting loved ones in their home nations.

The Uniting Church in Australia has a strong South Sudanese community, many of whom were present at the Church’s South Sudanese National Conferences in 2015 and 2017. Those in attendance included South Sudanese leaders from the Uniting Church, as well as many young people.

“Our politicians and media need only lift their eyes to the wonderful African communities of faith to find positive role models and affirmation.

If, as I have, they attended a gathering of the Uniting Church’s South Sudanese National Conference, they would see a young, enthusiastic community, rising up from the difficult circumstances of settlement and growing young leaders,” says Stuart.

“South Sudanese in Australia are taking their future into their own hands.”

Young people from the Nuer-Speaking Faith Community in Brisbane led worship at the most recent South Sudanese National Conference, which was held in Hoppers Crossing in September 2017. Half of the positions on the new executive committee for the South Sudanese National Conference were taken by young people under the age of 30.

“I look forward with great anticipation to the contributions young African women and men will make in a diverse Australia. I refuse to let our miserable public discourse hold back these inspiring young people. Rather than engage with fear and negativity I will celebrate the achievements of my African friends and their children this year and at every opportunity,” says Stuart.

“I pray that you too will support and encourage African people who live in your community and those who may be members of your church.”

Concluding his statement, Stuart referenced the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Church in Philippi. Stuart believes Paul would urge us with the following words today:

“Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

South Sudanese ministers speak out

Leaders from South Sudanese Uniting Church communities in Adelaide and Brisbane have also spoken out against the recent political and media commentary.

“I don’t support crime being committed by our young people, but I want the public and the politicians to open their eyes also and see the other side,” says Rev Amel Manyon from the Northern Suburbs Dinka-Speaking Faith Community (NSDSFC) in Adelaide (pictured).

“They should not focus only on what is wrong. There are lots of good things happening in our South Sudanese community in particular with young people.”

Amel outlines the many achievements and contributions of South Sudanese young people, particularly noting that many in the NSDSFC have recently graduated Year 12 or received degrees. She also highlighted the sporting achievements and cultural contributions of the South Sudanese community in Australia.

“I am not denying that some of young people are struggling with studies; some are brought up by parents who also struggle with settlement issues such as language and lifestyle. But that does not mean that all African Australians are what the Australian politicians and media think. We should not all be painted with the same brush,” she continues.

“These children committing crimes are Australian like any other Australian who commits a crime here. I think there is racism and discrimination in the language being used.”

Pastor Moses Leth, who has led the Nuer-Speaking Faith Community at St David’s Coopers Plains in South Brisbane for the last 15 years, also spoke out about the recent commentary. He says holistic ministry is required to address the challenges faced by young members of his community.

“Jesus responded to people’s physical and material needs, as well as spiritual needs. Christian workers should take care of the whole person as well.

“We are looking to develop strategies that afford African Australian young adults opportunities to explore and develop to their full potential, as well as offer them protection from drugs and violence,” Moses explains.

“We are trying to encourage young people by including them in discussions and decision-making concerning the church, and most importantly, listening to their ideas and views. We are also looking to sponsor young people for theological training.”

Moses hopes to provide more activities and resources to engage young people, particularly music and art equipment and employment support. He also believes that getting them involved in Bible study can help to encourage them to participate in the church community.

“The challenge for those of us working with African Australian young adults today is to explore how we can share our religious values that will allow them to bear fruit in the church of God forever,” he explains.

“If we do that, they will better be able to engage in their communities with respect confidence and purpose.”

This article originally appeared on the Uniting Church in Australia Assembly website. It has been edited for publication here.


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