Country church excited to welcome refugees from Iran

Temora, a country town in the sheep-wheat belt on the road between Sydney and Adelaide, bills itself as “the friendly town.” Now the members of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Temora have a chance to prove how friendly they can be, with the arrival of a refugee family from Iran six weeks ago.

“I think we’re pretty excited,” says Derek Yu, minister at St Andrew’s, who represents Temora Christian leaders on a committee established by the council to assist employers fill long-term vacant skilled job positions in the town of 4000.

“Country towns can be quite Western, monocultural – we have multiculturalism in our town but we’re really glad to embrace people from all cultures and especially those who are in need and those who are moving to a new place.

“Hopefully our congregation can do all we can to welcome them and love them and the fact that we have an opportunity now is very exciting for us.”

“We really want people who move to Temora not to feel isolated and alone, but that they belong and that we care.”

The reality of anyone moving to any small town is that news travels fast and everyone knows everyone. Not surprisingly, the arrival of Iranian family has generated some coverage in the local paper.

“I think this is where making people feel loved, welcomed, and at home, even though they might be far away from their home country, is so important. We really want people who move to Temora not to feel isolated and alone, but that they belong and that we care. My hope is that the Church, especially St Andrew’s Presbyterian, can welcome migrants and refugees in such a way that people won’t be able to help but praise God and consider the great hope of salvation that Christ offers.”

Derek says the husband has already started working as a chef in the village of Ariah Park cooking Mediterranean food for the community. The Iranian woman and her children have started coming to church and various members of the congregation have invited the family over for meals.

Derek jumped at the chance to join the resettlement committee that was formed earlier this year to bring more families to Temora. His role is to help with community integration.

As well as thinking what a great opportunity it was to show Christ’s love to those in need, Derek has another more personal reason to want to “pay forward” in this way as his mother was a refugee from Vietnam.

“She often told me about how hard it was, how much of a struggle it was moving from Vietnam, leaving her family, catching a boat, coming to a place she had no idea about. I’m thankful for all the sacrifices she made for me that helped me be in the position I am in today. The story she told me, really makes me want to give back in a way.”

The main reason the committee was established by the council was to assist employers fill long-term vacant skilled job positions such as GPs, nurses and diesel mechanics. The town currently has eight doctors but is set to lose three due to retirement in the next five years, according to a report on the ABC. Earlier this year, GP-obstetrician Rachel Christmas came up with an idea to boost recruitment. She produced a music video called the Great Quack Quest featuring jazz hands and a toe-tapping tune to help to bring more doctors to the community.

“When there are long term job vacancies in a small country town, the whole town suffers,” Derek explains.

Regardless of what religious affiliation people might be, the churches in Temora can benefit from thinking about how we love the vulnerable and needy.

“And so one way skilled workers/migrants/refugees benefit our town is economically. We also benefit from the cultural diversity that people from other countries bring. Personally, I think that the whole town benefits on a heart level, as we learn to welcome and love people who have tragically had to leave their home countries because of unrest and war.”

Derek believes that the Australian church has a lot to learn from its persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ.

“Some refugees may very well be Christians. My hope is that we can learn from their examples of faith in Christ and perseverance, even in the midst of trials. But regardless of what religious affiliation people might be, the churches in Temora can benefit from thinking about how we love the vulnerable and needy, without judgment and fear, as Christ has called us to.”

The resettlement committee is still in the early stages of promoting Temora to migrants and refugees looking for work.

Earlier this year, some representatives of the committee went up to Sydney to take part in a ‘Pathways to Employment’ expo, where they met the family from Iran.

“We hope to make connections with migrant community leaders who can connect us with people keen to move to the country. We’re not expecting a large influx of people into our community, and so the committee expects that we’d be able to support four or five families resettle into Temora well,” he says.

“We don’t expect many families to move to Temora in the short term. It may well take over a year or two for another family to move to Temora.”

The committee recognises that for a family to settle well into Temora, three areas that need to be addressed – jobs, accommodation and community engagement.

“Any one of those areas falling through will cause major problems in family resettlement. We’ve got people on our committee actively trying to address all three of these areas in preparation for when families do move to town. Communication is very important, and so we have a Facebook page Embrace Temora, that seeks to answer questions and dispel myths about migrant resettlement that people might have. We’re also hosting a community forum for people to ask questions and learn more about the initiative.”

Any migrant, refugee, or jobseeker considering moving to the country is encouraged to email Craig Sinclair, Temora’s economic development officer at [email protected]

“Anna and I have only been in Temora for a little over two years, but we’ve grown to deeply love the people and the place,” says Derek.