Is it possible for an Anglican school to go about its business of education and not engage in the well-being of others outside the school; the vulnerable and poor?
This is not the best question. A better one might be: ‘how do we get on with it? How do we be a learning community and commit our people to the well-being of a greater and common good?’ Responding to this question is elemental to the Anglican tradition of education.
Typically the answer is right in front of us. In our schools are staff and families with rich connections into the community. In each neighbourhood are needs and opportunities, including agencies – some of them Anglican – that make for obvious partnerships.
Looking closely at what is in front of us has drawn Radford College into some very rich relationships with two local schools for students with disabilities, Cranleigh and Black Mountain. It has taken us closely towards Park Care and OzHarvest, the L’Arche community and local markets. It has also taken us (and now over 300 students) to Gamilaraay country around Tingha and Moree. It has also taken us to Timor-Leste.
Timor is full of vibrant, positive, hospitable people. Behind the broad smiles and enthusiastic welcome is an inescapable reality. Timor is the third hungriest nation on the planet. Despite this there is no begging and there are no homeless. But why go?
The answer to this question is not as obvious as it might seem. We do not go to grant students of Anglican School privilege an easy opportunity to acquire a rich and valuable experience. If we did, we have already used and dehumanised the friends we visit.
Some of our answers include:
Because they are our neighbour; because, by sending soldiers to the neutral (Portuguese) country in 1941, Australia brought WWII to their shores and cost them a fifth of their population; because we owe them what Aussie diggers call ‘a debt of honour’; because we were absent during Indonesian military occupation and now many of our parents with AFP or ADF have toured there. These are fine answers, but the main answer though is quite simple: we have so much to learn from each other.
We have so much to learn, such as, why are we experts at empowering young in our midst through education, but when we go to ‘the developing world’, we flip so quickly from an educational model of ‘giving power’ to a medical model of ‘giving help’?
Is compassion compassion if it carries with it any form of agenda other than the increase of those served? This was brought home to us when members of the Tingha community treated us with much suspicion: ‘so why are you actually here? When are you going to do the Jesus thing to us?’ (Reported by G Huitker.)
Later this year I will publish a short book called ‘I just want to make a difference’. Its purpose is to help students rise up with enthusiasm for engagement in a greater good whilst avoiding some of the traps inherent in ‘I just want’.
How can the ‘powerful’ give power to the ‘powerless’ without belittling, patronising, colonising?
When young people can respond to this question with humility, insight, passion, hope, we have a good chance they will grow deeper into service across many fruitful years. We also have a good chance that our presence among our neighbours brings no harm!
There is also a good chance that our school communities can work our way through the real cost of friendship. That is, living with complex questions around real people.
The Timorese are the happiest people I have ever met. However, the injustice is hard to ignore. Ida (a friend from Atauro Island) is my equal but will never get the same opportunities. Even today, we hear Australia decry China for taking what international law says does not belong to it in the south China sea, when we are doing the exact same thing against Timor-Leste in the Timor sea. Meg, student returning from Timor 2016
Can we publish Meg’s comments? Is it too political? What does friendship mean if we avoid the messy bits? Isn’t silence the hymn of the dominant culture? Isn’t silence profoundly political?
These are not easy questions to work through. But they bring a context of reality to our school programs. This reality is where the gospel is alive, vibrant, life giving.
So, what did you do in Timor?
Again. This is not the best question. ‘Who were you with? What did you learn? What friendships did you build? How have you changed? What will you do differently now? By whose side do you now stand?’
These are better questions. We have to help our communities find these kind of questions. And these questions are where we live out our identification with Jesus and proclaim the Good News of the gospel through transformative action.