Rev Andrea Lukin and our Children and Families Enabler Colette Stevens will live on the same rations as a person in a refugee camp for the week leading up to World Refugee Day, to raise money for Syrians who are displaced by the current war there. We spoke to Colette about her approach to the challenge, and her willingness to share her experience with others. She’s already planning to visit a Kāpiti Coast early childhood centre to teach the kids about people living in refugee camps, and to make flatbreads with the children, and then she’s off to Shannon to talk to the parish youth group – all while keeping a journal of her experience!
Both Andrea and Colette are taking part in the Christian World Service (CWS) Operation Refugee challenge, and they encourage the rest of us to take part as well. “A few years ago, I heard about Bishop Justin [undertaking a week] where he lived below the poverty line, and then I saw stories in the media and on Movement Online about refugees and I wished there was something constructive that I could do,” Colette shares. With the bulk of diocesan support for refugees being centred in the capital, Colette saw this as another perfect opportunity for those of us living further north to get involved.
The challenge involves living for a week off the same food rations given to a refugee in a camp. “A shoebox arrived in the mail, and when I opened it, it was only three-quarters full of food items – and that has to last me an entire week!” It started to hit home for Colette what she has signed up for – “It won’t be easy, but I know I can do this.” “I’ve been blown away by people’s generosity.” The more money she raises, the more items are able to be provided for refugee families in Syria. “I have $500 sponsorship money raised so far, so there’s no backing out now!”
And as someone who lives and breathes “whānau together, on mission,” the theme of our next Team Training Day, Colette is adamant that this is an issue for families to get involved in – not just the household family, but the broader parish and community families we all belong to. “I read that more families had fled violence in Syria than there are people in New Zealand – that really brought it home to me.” In fact, she spoke of a friend whose family set a place at the dinner table for a sponsored child, placed the child’s photo there, and once a week, placed the money they would have spent on dessert in a jar for the sponsored child. She says: “It’s not just about the money, it’s about the awareness that there is so much going on in this world. It offers a chance for us to ask ourselves: ‘what has God touched our heart for?'”
For her, the challenges faced by families in refugee camps are echoed by the challenges faced by families in poverty here in New Zealand. “When I received my rations, I realised that families in New Zealand are faced with the same choices – when they buy their groceries, they must decide ‘how do I stretch this out? How can I make this last?’ In a way, I’m standing alongside those people making that decision every week.”