Spirit of Mission Dinner

Scripture: 2 Cor 5:16-6:2

B.A., LL.D., Litt.D., D.D.,
F.R.G.S., F.A.I.M., F.A.I.C.D., M.A.C.E..


Why should Australia be aligned with our spirit of mission? Simply because our 188 years of history has shown what is required by the people of our nation. We dare say that what we have seen work in the right spirit for all concerned, needs to be multiplied across the nation. What are these marks of our Spirit of Mission?

1. CARE.
A nation must care for its families. For more than one hundred years we have had expert and specialist staff caring for children and their families. Once based solely at Carlingford, that work now spreads right across Sydney. Last year we cared for 1570 families with 2741 children. We even cared for 36 homeless teenagers and their babies! We are now seeing the third generation homeless in the streets.

Older people in frailty need care. We have over 1024 residents in our villages and hostels. Another 1382 were cared for in their homes by our nurses and personal care workers. Our hospitals expressed loving care for a further 9,233 patients. One problem that troubles parents is drugs. To meet that problem Wesley Mission is running seminars in communities for parents entitled, "How to Drug Proof Your Kids". Each program runs for six weeks and by the end parents are able to communicate better with their children, and ensure that the problems leading to drug abuse are overcome before drugs arrive.

A second mark in the Spirit of Mission is seeking justice for all. I meet many poor in Sydney. Increasing urban poverty is a world problem. A billion people today live in the slums of Africa and Asia, the barriadas of Latin America, the favelas of Brazil, and in the Aboriginal communities on the margins of our country towns and inner city ghettos. They live in poverty, in overcrowded shacks, lacking sanitation, clothing for the children, education; knowing hunger, disease, unemployment. The inhumanity and injustice of it breeds resentment at being unable to help themselves, for poverty means powerlessness.

But the meaning of the incarnation of Christ is: God has come to live among us! Our discipleship means following Him in helping the poor today. Nothing epitomises the life and teachings of Jesus so much as His care for the poor. If all the words of Jesus were lost, His words about caring for the poor would remain in the mankind's memory. "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." Matt 25:35-36 So many people are living at subsistence level. Usually they have not only economic disadvantage, but mostly through no fault of their own they also have other disabilities, physical and mental. Rarely do we have a homeless person where the problem is simply nowhere to live.

There is the multiplying effect of disadvantage. For example, among public housing tenants, 96% have no employment and no other income except security benefits. There are 6000 children in NSW, who through no fault of their own live apart from both their natural parents. Aborigines consist of 2% of the population but 21% of children in care are aboriginal. Where there is a convergence of disadvantage, Australia is not a lucky country for them. God notices whether we care. We are saved by our faith in order that we might serve God in expressing His love to others, especially the poor. Believers have an obligation to care for the poor.

The face of poverty changes. Poverty can have the face of a discarded baby, an abused child, a homeless youth, a bashed spouse, a lonely old man, or an AIDS patient. Poverty can be physical, emotional, or spiritual. To be poor means to lack love and the essentials of life: food, clothing, shelter, health, support, identity, and purpose. The economically poor and the spiritually impoverished have the same basic need - to know that God and we care.

The church in the city must have members living among the poor. It is thrilling to have members here living in Redfern, in the high rises of Waterloo, in the tenements of Darlinghurst and in the Trust buildings of The Rocks. Because you live among the poor our message has credibility. Some of you have chosen to live among the homeless and to stay in the environment out of which you have risen mentally and spiritually. You have a powerful ministry to those still there. To reach the poor we must preach the gospel, identify with them, live among them and help them obtain food, clothing, shelter, legal aid, education, jobs and childcare. We must speak against the bureaucratic systems. By being with the poor you empower them. You end the dependency cycle and enable the poor to stand up for themselves.

I know an Aborigine, Rosslyn. She used to be a school teacher but for years now she has lived on the streets with the street kids. She is accepted because she is black and because she is poor. Because she has done everything the kids have done in her earlier times, she is streetwise. So she lives among them, helping, counselling, supporting, guiding. She has helped more than 4,000 street kids. She is proud to be known as the "mother to the street kids". As I looked into her soft brown eyes and listened to her gentle voice, I realised that in that woman, God was living with the street kids. To know and love the poor, we must journey with them. We need live among for the poor.

The early Church cared for them and grew to strength, and so must we today. Just to march over the Bridge last Sunday was a sign of identification with the poor and a statement and we are seeking justice. My commitment to reconciliation is not a political issue. Reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel. The Bible says, "God has reconciled us to Himself and given to us a ministry of reconciliation. God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ not counting our sins against us. He has committed to us the message of reconciliation: we implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!"

One of the great signs of the spirit of mission is that we enable people to recover from their calamities. This means individual recovery such as in the testimony of Wayne tonight. You can multiply his story hundreds of times over. We have over 500 trained counsellors, volunteers and staff, psychologists and therapists who help individuals recover.

Financial recovery is important for many people and our CreditLine Financial Counselling services last year helped over 20,000 individuals get back on their feet and that would have involved over double that number in family members directly effected. Another 20,000 people were helped recover from despair and depression and uncertainty through our LifeLine counsellors.

7000 young people on the streets were helped by StreetSmart. Another thousand by our Wesley Legal Service. Another ten thousand by our Wesley Gambling Counselling services. The list is unending. But tens of thousands of people were aided in recovery.

Wesley StreetSmart Youth Services have been working with this couple for the past 7 years. They attended Spirit of Mission 3 years ago to thank the Mission for the support they had received. Kelly and Tony had another child - Jessica. They then moved to the South Coast for more affordable rent and job prospects.

In this time Tony since then had some legal matters that he wanted to get sorted out - he attended weekend detention for 12 months. He worked a casual job during the week. Kelly became involved with a local preschool for their eldest child Billy and a play group for Jessica. Soon Kelly and Tony had their third child. Kelly's dad also came to visit and offer them support. Their new child - Mandy was quite ill and had to come to Sydney for treatment.

At this time Kelly and Tony came to StreetSmart for support. We were able to assist them with transport costs to and from the hospital and food. Over the next few months regular trips were taken to Sydney for specialist treatment - she is now fit and well.

As Billy was starting school at the beginning of this year they wanted to get settled before school started. They accessed support from StreetSmart's Accommodation Assistance Program. We were able place them in safe appropriate accommodation whilst we helped them find a rental property, and assist with their bond. We were also able to help them link into local support services to address some of their specific needs.

Billy is now in school and enjoying it greatly. He loves to play cricket!! Jessica goes to preschool and Mandy has just started to walk. Kelly continues to a consistent and disciplined mother. Tony continues to be involved in casual employment and is continuing to seek employment on a more permanent basis.

4. HOPE.
A fourth mark of the spirit of mission lies in bringing people hope. That is one of the great insights of the Gospel. That is the biggest single challenge for the Uniting Church. We must put the word of the Gospel first. All the difficulties the Uniting Church faces are because of attitudes that put personal stories and feelings and personal insights from secular studies be fore what the word of God teaches. Our conflict over non-celibate homosexuals in church leadership is because we listen to people's stories and how they feel rather than what the word of God expressly teaches. The Bible says church leaders must live a moral and righteous life with no sexual activity outside of marriage. Some say that they don't think that is fair to their own feelings and urges. As a result, they do what the Bible expressly forbids. They advocate abortion, euthanasia, mercy killing and heroin shooting rooms. They say, "We should not allow people to go through pain even if it means taking their lives." So society vacuums out foetuses, over-doses old people, turns off life-support systems and gives others needles and clean rooms to shoot as much drugs as they like, simply to avoid the pain of living. The Bible teaches the sanctity of life. In days when we can control pain, why should we opt for killing? We should not terminate life and play God according to how we feel.

But how can people know what they should do if they are not to rely just on feelings and stories? Paul says V16 "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom." We are called to allow God's word grow in our lives, to study the word, teaching and admonishing one another wisely, the significance of the Word of God. This Church has always had a deep commitment to the Word of God. We preach it. We teach it. We spread it. In our 46 services of worship held each week, through our one hundred small groups and through the Alpha courses, on radio, television, through video and film, in the printed word, the spoken word, the debated and discussed word, we allow "the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom."

Our Australian Christmas at Darling Harbour is attended by tens of thousands and seen by hundreds of thousands nationally. We are telling out His word. But for many other Christians, wishful thinking and sentiment have replaced God's Word as the objective authority and touchstone of belief. Wesley Mission is not about preaching just to those who are safe. It is about going to those on death row and offering the possibility of life. This saving faith comes through the hearing of the gospel and the application of the message by the work of the Holy Spirit. But we must do more than just speak the word, even though this is of first importance.

Many activists have to learn to declare first the word of God as seen in Jesus Christ. But also many Christians who declare the word of God must also learn to be practical in their faith. Like Jesus we must both speak the word and go about doing good. We must do the deed.

That means reaching people who are utterly disturbed. This year has seen substantial growth in Wesley Mental Health Services. In September 1998, Wesley Mission purchased Wandene Private Hospital at Kogarah, to complement Wesley Private Hospital in Ashfield. This ultra-modern, purpose built, 30 bed private hospital has enabled us to expand our ministry of care for the mentally ill. In conjunction with the purchase of Wandene, we opened the Coral Pentecost Centre in February 1999, which provides medical consulting rooms and day therapy rooms.

In October, our Encompass program was a finalist in the service award category at the Australian private hospitals awards. This is a just reflection of the high standard of excellence that this program has achieved. On 28 June, 1999 we opened the Carlingford Day Therapy Centre in the Norman Cull building on the Dalmar campus. This centre will offer day therapy services Monday to Friday. Wesley Mental Health Services has again seen its number of accredited psychiatrists grow by eight over the last year. We have also added a number of highly skilled allied health professionals to our staff.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that 2,723 people died by suicide in 1997, an increase of 14 percent over the previous year. To meet this challenge, LifeForce has developed a proactive strategy which has seen workshops and presentations held in 30 communities across New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania. Our staff have just finished seminars in 56 country towns in Victoria. LifeForce opened a branch office in Geelong, Victoria. This is a major step in developing a national strategy.

In 1999, LifeForce approached two professional groups identified as the first point of call for many suicidal persons - the clergy and teachers. We believe that by educating these groups to identify suicidal persons and offer them appropriate support, significant progress will be made in reducing Australia's high suicide rate. In the same way as the road toll has been reduced by community education we believe the suicide rate can be reduced by the same methods.

This is the final mark of the spirit of Mission. No other church in the world has such a powerful collection of activities undertaken by Christians to help people in the name of Jesus, as Wesley Mission. I have not enough time to acknowledge each of our 400 plus centres and services undertaken by our 2,500 paid staff and over 3,500 unpaid volunteers. Since this time last year, we have opened over 50 new centres of care and employed an additional 300 fulltime staff. We have doubled our size in three years. Our growth rate for last year exceeded 30% and for the next year we anticipate nearly a 40% growth rate.

The Olympic 'Reachout 2000' Command Centre at Wesley Mission was recently opened. Wesley Mission has donated over 300 sq metres of floor space for use by Dr Ming's 'Lay Witnesses for Christ' program which was established in the United States in 1981. For the past 20 years, Dr Ming's has conducted Christian outreaches at all Olympic Games and major world sporting events. At each event, 'Lay Witnesses' links up with local churches in a program of evangelism using high profile athletes such as Carl Lewis and Joe DeLoach.

Such an opportunity comes only once in a lifetime and we are delighted to be able to offer floor and office space to the Reachout 2000 team.

I have been involved as a chaplain to the Australian Winter Olympic Team and I know how important it is to have a Christian witness at the Games. Wesley Centre will become one of the major focal points for information about the Games themselves and we will also be home for nearly one-hundred staff whom we will work with during the Games.

So far this year we have located and established 60 new properties in which we opened new centres of service. We have purchased and additional 50 more cars to add to our fleet. We have added another one hundred and fifty computers. Recently our Board approved a $27 million building expansion in our Aged Care services over the next five years. In two weeks I will ask our Board to approved our budget this year with an increase of more than $40 million to $120 million income. We have just signed an agreement creating a new hospital alliance. We are developing new medical centres. We have released a new triple pack of videos on the young Church. We have set up three new centres for profoundly disabled children. We have new gambling counselling services about to start, and an expanded legal service. We are expanding our home care services for the frail, and providing more housing for the homeless. Our business enterprises train people to manage businesses. We have started training farmers in business skills to enable more to stay on their properties. Our placing of unemployed people into jobs will increase fivefold this year. We are drug proofing families, and helping the addicted, the alcoholic, and the prisoner. Our strategic commitment to growth, diversification and improved efficiency has been facilitated by the development of our resources. Quality management systems, expanded information technology, increased staff training and the development of our financial resources have made all of this possible.

We spend much time in praise, in song and in word ministries. But our ministries in deeds match this. Paul said: "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."