Berala, fear and prejudice overcome by followers of Jesus

Local minister speaks out against racism

Good news – only 4 cases from NSW, and 2 linked to the Berala case. Great news.

Let me continue to urge everyone in Berala to get tested. The new clinic is open at Berala Public School. It’s free, and you don’t need a Medicare card or any ID documents to get tested. Only a name and number.

NSW Health is doing a cracker job – as are many other community groups and organisations – and I’m thankful for them all. But despite their good work, the situation has prompted me to reflect on the situation in Berala quite deeply.

For some people, the Berala Cluster has confirmed all their worst fears and prejudices about Berala, Auburn and the surrounding areas. Just as –let’s be honest – the Northern Beach outbreak confirmed all our prejudices about the Northern Beaches.

I think this exposes a deep racism in our hearts – or at the very least – a fear of other.

But I want to argue a different narrative – and strongly so.

During the Covid crisis there’s been people afraid of heading to areas like Auburn, Berala, and Bankstown. A fear that somehow these areas – and let’s be specific, the people in these areas – are more likely to be “at risk” (a polite way of saying dirty, uneducated and unhygienic).

I think this exposes a deep racism in our hearts or, at the very least, a fear of other. A fear of people who are different. Who look different. Speak different. Dress different. Eat different.

The question is: Are you more fearful of eating with people in Bankstown, Berala and Auburn than with people in your own neighbourhood? In Croydon, Figtree and Avalon?

If so, you’re exposing the truth of your heart.

The reality is that the people in “my” area are no more likely to be carrying Covid than people in the suburbs I mentioned above – as well as hundreds of other suburbs – all of which have been visited by covid carriers or have transport workers living there.

So why are you afraid of eating with my neighbour, but not yours?

I think the Berala cluster has shown Berala and its surrounding suburbs may even be safer. Why? Let’s compare the Berala Cluster to the Northern Beaches Cluster.

In Berala, patient zero was a transport worker who immediately came forward. So did his flatmates, workmates and family members. From there they were able to track the flow and clamp down hard. As a direct result the cluster is very limited, with daily numbers in the low single digits, and total numbers sitting at around 17. The people of Berala (and the surrounding suburbs) did the right thing, They did it quickly. And it served us all well.

In the Northern Beaches, patient zero has never come forward or been identified. As a result those who have been trying to track it have been severely hampered. It spread through people partying at a club – hardly Covid safe! During the Northern Beaches lock down some from the Northern Beaches were found escaping to holiday houses, down the coast, or even (and yes – this is true) shopping in Bankstown! Soon daily numbers were over 30, with over 150 individuals contracting Covid. These people ended up touching almost every part of NSW and as far away as Victoria and Queensland. None of them came to Berala.

Now, some people might rightly say, “Nut Mike, isn’t this just a natural anxious and fearful reaction?”. The answer is that of course it is! All racism is driven by an anxiety and a fear of the other. But that doesn’t make it right. And this racism goes way beyond just covid and the last year.

Our Local Government Area (LGA) is considered the second most disadvantaged area in Sydney and the wider region. How can that be? Berala kisses Sydney Olympic Park, we brush up against the Parramatta River, and we’re a stones throw from the inner west. How could such a part of our city be managed in a way that has put us in such bad shape?

One example is found in the tale of this is our long gone (but not forgotten) Deputy Mayor, Salim Mehajer.

Mehajer was, to be blunt, the dodgy crook who, along with his property development pals, ran the Auburn council for many years. Locals tell me that his corruption, election-rigging and running of the council as his own personal fiefdom was blatant, obvious and clear for all who cared to see. Locals also tell me they reported him and his cronies many times to the various authorities, only to be ignored.

It was only after an outrageous wedding and a Sydney Morning Herald article that Mehajer came to the attention of our chardonnay-sipping friends and the relevant authorities took an interest in him. In a short time, the council was dismissed and he was put in jail where he belongs.

With 80 per cent of our households speaking a language other than English, and with socially disadvantaged people whose voices are often unheard, we are an easy suburb to ignore.

But what is the solution?

I think Christmas offers the start.

Christmas celebrates the ultimate boundary crossing – the almighty God giving up his riches, his throne, and his position to become a mere man. He chose to live in poverty, suffer, and even die on a cross (and rise again).

In the accounts of the life of Jesus, we see him spending time with people who were sick and broken – those who were poor, sick, and in need of help. In fact, Jesus sought them out.

Instead of running away from us, God came towards us. Instead of putting up barriers, God broke them down.

So it comes as no surprise to me that it is the followers of Jesus I have found who tend to be best at crossing these barriers. It was followers of Jesus who, when our safety networks failed those in our area, stepped up and helped.

It was followers of Jesus who, when people were being evicted from their houses (despite government promises of protection), stepped up and paid rents.

I’m proud that followers of Jesus from my church stepped up and raised over $50,000 to help pay rent, bills, and put food on the table.

I’m proud that fellow followers of Jesus from across Sydney contacted me and offered money and other help to people in our area – and their offers of help continue.

I’m proud that, even before this outbreak, it was followers of Jesus who moved from “nice” areas of Sydney to live in Berala, Auburn, Bankstown, Greenacre, Lakemba and many other suburbs in our area.

Why would they do this? They moved in order to live with “others,” to offer English classes, help to refugees and – importantly – introduce people to Jesus.

Instead of sending their kids to private schools, they deliberately sent them to the local public schools, knowing that the only real way to help people is to live and be with them.

It’s hard to help people if you won’t live and eat with them.

Social research shows that the places where people are more likely to cross cultural, economic and political barriers each week are in Christian churches.

It’s not in all churches and it’s not all the time. And, yes, we still have major issues we need to address. But it’s the church where an IT worker is most likely to sit with a truckie. Or a refugee will sit with a person of Anglo-Celtic background. Or a stock broker with an unemployed ice addict. Or a Greens voter with someone who votes One Nation.

This behaviour is entirely consistent for those who follow Jesus, the one who crossed the ultimate barrier who and offers life to those who follow him.

Here in Berala, we’re stilling working out what to do with Church this week, but you’re welcome to join us either online or in person (if it happens) to learn more about the God who invites us to eat with him.

St James Anglican Berala
Lighthouse Berala



Some prayer points to help

Please take time to pray for the people in isolation across Berala – yes and other places too.

Pray for the health workers and others on the front line.

Pray for Mike Doyle and other ministers serving in coronavirus hotspots.