At the beginning of December, as many of us started to gear up for Christmas and Parliament began to slide into the craziness that can be the last sitting week for the year, over 200 Christians from across the nation gathered in Canberra at Micah Australia’s Voices for Justice conference. Over four days, we listened to the voices of church leaders from across the Pacific, were inspired and trained to speak out for justice, and then challenged to put our knowledge into practice in over 80 meetings with MPs and Senators.
On the night prior to the first of our meetings in Parliament, we were privileged to gather some of the Baptist tribe at Voices for Justice for a meal generously hosted by our friends at Canberra Baptist Church. Attendees were diverse. There were long-term Catalyst group leaders and first-time advocates who’d originally engaged with the Ethical Fashion Guide and who are now starting to explore new ways to be vocal.
This is the beauty of Voices for Justice. It gathers us all together to listen and learn from each other’s stories and experiences, and to collectively provide a prophetic witness to your parliamentarians. It’s a prophetic witness that seeks to name the injustices of poverty and marginalisation, still faced by too many around the world, and to provide concrete pathways of hope – policy options that contribute to real change.
Rooted in the way of Jesus and growing out of solidarity with people who find themselves at the margins, Voices for Justice a prophetic witness that also calls us and our nation to something more: to generosity, compassion, and neighbourliness.
After being around Micah Australia and this event for over a decade, this year it was a particular privilege for me to attend with three new members of your Baptist World Aid Advocacy Team. They’ve taken some time to write some reflections on their incredibly powerful and memorable experiences… and I share these with you now, below.
“He defended the cause of the poor and needy… is that not what it means to know me?
Declares the Lord.” - Jeremiah 22:16.
This verse from Jeremiah perfectly encapsulates the spirit of your Baptist World Aid Advocacy Team’s recent experience at the Voices for Justice conference.
As a first-timer at the lobbying event, I walked into Parliament House unsure of what to expect over the coming days. Lining up in the forecourt outside one of the most recognisable buildings in the country, the crisp Canberra air cut through an atmosphere of excitement… and slight trepidation.
Inside the marble lobby, the air of grandeur was overwhelming as I realised the gravity of what we were there to do. We were about to meet with our country’s leaders to advocate for the wellbeing of our poorest and most vulnerable Pacific and global neighbours. This was certainly an experience outside of my comfortable day-to-day office life!
After spending two days in training sessions prior, we were well prepared to speak with eloquence and equanimity on complex issues that easily inspired passionate emotion. The meetings themselves personified our MPs. They’re just normal people, like you and me. They’re our elected representatives – and it’s incredibly important that we voice our concerns as members of their constituency.
Over the course of the conference, I was inspired, I was challenged, and I was equipped with knowledge. As we delved further into the impact of climate change and gender inequality on Pacific nations, it became increasingly impossible not to respond emotionally to these social injustices which drive our advocacy.
At the end of an incredible (and exhausting) four days, I left our nation’s capital with a realisation: regular citizens have power. Our voices carry with them a responsibility. And we must use this power of voice to speak loudly for those who are not being heard.
The call to walk humbly is one that I was repeatedly reminded of during my time at Voices for Justice. We were privileged enough to be able to share the four days with a group of incredible Pacific and Aboriginal Christian leaders. I was humbled before these individuals as they shared stories of life in their communities. It is hard to capture the gravity of injustice that Pacific and Aboriginal communities have experienced. For generations, others (myself included) have benefitted from their suffering. This is a reality that might be uncomfortable for me, but it was an important reminder that it’s incredibly painful for those who have lived it. Hearing these stories motivated me to walk into our lobby meetings with no agenda other than to speak for true, meaningful, reconciling justice… and for God’s will to be done here on earth.
Going into our lobby meetings, I was unsure what to expect. Would the politicians be receptive? Would they begrudgingly listen to our asks with no genuine interest? Or would we be told that asking for effective overseas aid was just not a priority in a country where our own are also suffering?
As Australians, Tall Poppy Syndrome often rules our perception of anyone in power. We are often too critical and unkind towards our nation’s leaders. My two days in Parliament House challenged me and reminded me that most of our politicians sought their position because they want to see good done in our country and our world.
Overwhelmingly, the politicians I met with (on both sides of politics) were passionate and kind individuals, whose personal desires for social good were often overshadowed by other political noise and competing priorities. I was reminded that we are all complex humans. And that our true character is not the sum total of our public profile or what political party we align with.
In all, Voices for Justice was a wonderfully challenging reminder that those who we might deem ‘vulnerable’ actually have agency, and that those who we deem ‘powerful’ are often crippled by the weight of their responsibilities. We must show compassion and mercy on all sides.
So often in Australia we advocate from the outside, speaking on behalf of groups we try our best to understand, but never really can. It was refreshing and reassuring that in focussing on ‘Pacific Perspectives’ we had the opportunity to meet with and learn from Pacific leaders. Their stories shook and humbled us; their commitment to improving local issues involving domestic violence, gender inequality, and climate change in their communities was inspiring. And the innovative strategies they are already implementing helped me understand the power of Australian aid to support positive and sustainable change.
We also confronted the reality that the inequality experienced by vulnerable groups in the Pacific Islands are still very much present at home, particularly for Indigenous Australians. We recognised that we cannot claim to have acted on an issue, without also acknowledging Australia’s own sorry history in colonialism and discrimination.
Advocacy often means playing the long game, which is difficult to accept. Before lobbying for increased funding and improved aid strategy, a large portion of our meetings with politicians were spent recognising the government’s current work on aid in the Pacific. However, when you’re discussing issues as important as gender-based violence, child violence, climate change, and disaster… it’s challenging to be patient and diplomatic. Especially when every day without action means another day of harm for another person or community.
Refreshingly, what I found in my meetings was that many politicians shared my concerns. Those I spoke with were open and honest, educated about foreign aid in the Pacific region, and driven to improve Australia’s effectiveness in delivering positive and sustainable programs. The lengthy bureaucratic procedures were as agonising to them as they were for us. It was a valuable and motivating reminder that every time we advocate, people in power get a little closer to taking action.
At every stage of this event, I was blown away by the incredible humility, passion, openness, and commitment displayed by each and every person with whom I spoke. To see Christians of all denominations, spread far and wide around Australia, come together to advocate for justice – it was overwhelming to experience. I’m so grateful to work with passionate and driven people and to see change every day.