Teaching refugees to surf

Teaching refugees to surf

Fleeing a war zone seems a world away from riding high on Australia’s waves. Groups of refugees have been able to experience fun in the surf, though, thanks to a community event aimed at extending Christian hospitality.

 

A joint initiative of Gerringong Uniting Church and Christian Surfers Australia, “Surf Together” kicked off in January and was held several times throughout the summer. Locals in the Illawarra region taught refugees of all ages how to surf. Friendships were forged and food was shared during times of relationship building, service and fellowship.

Rev. Peter Chapman is Minister at Gerringong Uniting Church. He said the idea for Surf Together came about through Congregation members already being connected with members of their local refugee community. “It was an organic, natural extension of the relationship we had,” Rev. Chapman recalled.

“Our Congregation operates Chittick Lodge, a local boutique campsite, and we had offered it previously to members of the refugee community over Easter. We were blessed to have members of the Congolese refugee community worship with us over Easter and build a relationship from there,” explained Rev. Chapman.

Only a handful of locals and refugees were expected to show up for the inaugural Surf Together event, but organisers were amazed to see more than 100 people on the day, including around 40 refugees.

 

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“My best day in 20 years”

An Arabic-speaking man with severe visual impairment told organisers that his Surf Together experience was the best day he had had in 20 years. Another two young men have become involved with their local chapter of Christian Surfers, since learning to surf at Surf Together. One of the men is being supported in training to be a lifesaver.

Marty Richardson is one of the organisers of Surf Together. In an entry on The Purpose Collective blog (mattdarvas.com/2015/02/09/surfing-refugees), he described the first event as showcasing Australia’s accepting community at its best.

“As we ate our mix of halal and non-halal food, a few of our new Aussie mates shared their horrific stories of fleeing for their lives,” Mr Richardson wrote in the blog entry.

“As kids played in the shore break, locals pushed people into waves and women laughed as their husbands fell off face-first into the sand.

“This new community of friends experienced a glimpse of the way it can be in Australia. No fear, no division, no defensiveness and a whole lot of joy.

“Seeing the kids push each other into waves, even though they can’t yet speak the same language, was inspiring. And watching our young girls swim happily with others who were still wearing their Islamic dress was terrific. Everyone grew from the experience.”

 

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A practical ministry

Teaching recent arrivals about one of their new country’s national pastimes is a practical way to make a difference in people’s lives.

“Rather than making a political statement or social media gesture, we hope that this ministry will be a very real and tangible, practical … way of doing something for people who are in the midst of a huge life change,” Rev. Chapman said of Surf Together.

“We hope simply to extend Christian hospitality to newcomers to our shores.

“We wish to say you are welcome and we love you. We hope this ministry is a fun way of building connections and relationships and letting the refugee community know of the Christian church’s love and care for them.”

Surf Together has already fostered long-term relationships between the Church and refugee community members. This unusual ministry also offers an opportunity for anyone to participate — not just those who are keen surfers. “Not everyone who lives in Gerringong can actually surf, but everyone can use the gifts God has given them to help grow relationships and offer Christian hospitality,” Rev Chapman encouraged.

 

Jonathan Foye

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