Christmas in the tiny New South Wales township of Mingoola – right next to the Queensland border – was much rowdier than usual, thanks to the recent resettlement of African refugees. They have brought new life to the ageing rural community, not least by their joyous singing of Swahili hymns during church services in the community hall.
The rural area is ideal for people displaced from central Africa during years of bitter civil war.
This year, the three refugee families from Burundi and Congo, with their 23 children, celebrated Christmas in a joint carol service with local people in the hall, says pastor Isaac Icimpaye.
Among those who took part in the Christmas service were Julia and Philip Harpham, who spearheaded the resettlement plan in partnership with refugee advocate Emmanuel Musoni. He saw the rural area as ideal for people displaced from central Africa during years of bitter civil war.
Mingoola, an area in a valley on the Dumaresq River near the NSW-Queensland border, was crying out for new residents who could be a regular seasonal workforce for Mingoola farmers. Also, the local school was in recession for lack of enrolments.
Now, thanks to the new residents who have moved into cottages that had been empty for a long time, Mingoola Primary School has reopened and the community hall is a thriving social hub again.
The good-news story was featured on ABC TV’s Australian Story in November.
Isaac’s church may be small but he has big ambitions for it.
Speaking through Emmanuel as translator, Isaac explains that he started the Pentecostal church while living with his wife Renata and nine children in Wollongong on the NSW south coast.
“In Burundi I was a catechist, like an assistant teacher of the pastor,” he tells Eternity. “I arrived in Mingoola on 26 April 2016 and started the church service in Mingoola on 2 May.”
The first two families were joined by a third later in the year and now there are nearly 30 regular worshippers on a Sunday, with local families such as the Harphams swelling their numbers occasionally.
Isaac’s church may be small but he has big ambitions for it. He hopes to hold a special celebration in 2017 to which he plans to invite all sorts of people – government authorities, communities from Australia and Africa – to come to Mingoola and “listen to the word of God.”More