We heard stories about the refugee situation in Lebanon and the struggle of the people there.
The moment that really took me back to Lebanon was hearing the powerful singing of the Arabic choir.
The Bankstown Choir, composed of new arrivals from Syria, sang three traditional Arabic Christian songs.
I felt the power of song at that moment – but it was more to me than music and even more than my childhood memories and experiences. It was a realisation of something that I have been saying for almost two years now.
Those who have heard my Acknowledgement of Country have heard me say “I come from the land on which Jesus walked.”
The land is an integral part of Middle Eastern culture. The land reflects who we are and how we reflect the land in our lives. The abundance of water in our land and mountains is reflected through our hospitality. Many of our churches are not built but carved into the mountains making the land a house of God.
To say that Jesus walked on this land it is to say that Jesus shaped our culture. Our faith comes from our land, the land that Jesus walked and we see out faith in our land. For us, culture and faith are intertwined - to be a Middle Easterner is to have faith.
When the Psalmist asks: How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? it resonates with us not because God lives in the land where we came from, but because our songs and faith are from the land itself.
We sing our songs in a foreign land because it takes us back to our land where our faith is nurtured and strengthened.
The 2018 Middle East National Conference may have only been for a day, but it was filled with grace in abundance.
For the few minutes that the Bankstown Choir sang – they took me to the place where my faith was nurtured and I was renewed.
To the Psalmist who asked how we could sing on a strange land I would say, we sing with the hope that God’s grace will renew and transform us through our songs and our heritage.
The Middle East National Conference is the Uniting Church in Australia’s most recent addition to our lineup of national conferences – celebrating our cultural diversity as a uniquely Australian church.
It began three years ago when a group of people from the Middle East came together to share news about troubles in Lebanon.
At our first Conference in 2016, we talked about how we can support refugees coming to Australia. We were a small group but very passionate about our ministry.
Fast forward to MENC 2018 and more than half of those in attendance are new arrivals to Australia.
The theme for MENC 2018 was Stories of Impact. Our immediate Past President Stuart McMillan has talked often about the Theology of Impact of the church in the Middle East, a phrase which he learned on a visit to Lebanon.
In the opening sermon UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer spoke about Ministries of Impact preaching from the Gospel of Matthew 5:1-11, reflecting on Jesus’ ministry that changed the world Our practice of ministry with Jesus changes people around us. It is in the lives of the people we serve and in their stories that we see the grace and love of God at work.
There were reports about MENC from Western Australia, Queensland, other Synods and a young South Sudanese from Brisbane. The Committee also reported on the financial position of the MENC, extending their invitation to the President to visit Middle East, and for youth representatives from Australia as well from Middle East to attend NYALC in Adelaide next January. The next MENC will be on 1-3 November 2019 in Queensland.
The Conference also heard about the work of the Assembly from Rev Charissa Suli and Rev. Dr Apwee Ting. The Advocate for the Being a Multicultural Church Circle Rev Dr Matagi Vilitama shared his hopes for the Church to live out its multicultural commitment.
The following day the community gathered again at Bankstown Uniting Church to mark the 50 years of mission and ministry in Bankstown joined by President Dr Deidre Palmer, Moderator of NSW/ACT Synod Rev. Simon Hansford, other national and synod leaders and diverse members from Bankstown.