Ahn Do nearly didn’t make it to Australia. Fleeing communist Vietnam in the 1970’s he and his family crammed onto a small overloaded fishing boat and made the treacherous journey to Malaysia. They were robbed and left for dead on two separate occasions by pirates. Drifting with no motor, food nor water and ready to die, they were miraculously were picked up by a German ship and taken to safety.
From there they made it to Sydney where Ahn’s parent worked long and hard to establish a new life for their children. Ahn has since gone on to finish a law degree and then become a well known comedian while his brother Khoa was named young Australian of the year in 2005.
Around the same time a young Irish family were also fleeing their war torn country and looking for a happier life in Australia. It was common for those kids to lie in bed at night and hear bombs explode nearby, or to see tanks and barbed wire lining the streets. A shopping trip could easily get cut short when the bomb alarms sounded and people would run for their lives just in case the shop was about to explode. So the hope of a new and peaceful land was powerful. In 1974 when religious violence in Belfast was at a peak, their ship left Southampton bound for Fremantle and a fresh start.
Ahn Do’s story is an inspiration because of what he and his family have achieved since their time in Australia and we now own him as ‘one of us’. My own story – yes, I was the Irish kid – really doesn’t sound like a refugee story because we immigrated officially and weren’t forced to spend time in any detention centre, but the privilege we had doesn’t the lessen the truth that I was also a refugee.
Every time I hear people complain about the ‘boat people’ I want to suggest they walk a mile in their shoes. I want to ask ‘why should we be the privileged ones who enjoy safety and prosperity while others watch their families beaten and sometimes killed before their eyes?’
How does that work?…
When Jesus was on earth the thing he spoke about more than anything else was the ‘kingdom of God’ and by that he didn’t mean a physical place, nor did he mean heaven. He was speaking of the world as God intends it to be – where there is love and justice and peace and goodness. Where evil is no more and where people do not have to live in fear of their lives. It’s the world we would all dream of – the world we would love to live in.
Many of us would remember the Lord’s prayer where Jesus prayed ‘your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.’ Jesus’ hope is that even in the midst of the brokenness and selfishness that is so evident in this world there would be people who would walk to a different drum and who would choose to love rather than hate and give rather than take., who would put the needs of others above their own needs.
Maybe then we would see those ‘boat people’ differently?
Maybe then we’d see them as fellow human beings desperately seeking to stay alive and care for their families. Maybe we’d welcome them and seek to help them in their plight rather than lock them away and treat them as if they were criminals. Maybe then we could get rid of those obscene and disgusting stickers we see on the back of cars and replace with them words of welcome to those who need our help.
It all starts with a vision of a different world – the world as God intends – and there is one bloke who can point us in that direction.
Oddly enough he was a refugee too…