Dear Inner Circle,

Not long after migrating to this country my father set up a small business and worked extremely long hours to earn enough to put a roof over our heads, food on the table and get us all through school. Over these years I cannot recall him ever enjoying a single indulgence as he was always sacrificing everything for our future. Dad was away a lot, and as a result, I grew up and was raised by 5 amazing women, my Patti (Nana), mum and three sisters. It is only now I realise just how fortunate I was to witness displays of strength and conflict (and it’s resolution), resilience, compassion, street smarts and humour from these women. This week it was International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. One of the strongest ways we can prevent violence against women is to lead cultural and systemic change to shift individual and community attitudes on gender and violence. Our leaders have a role, and so do we. Violence against women and children is still the most common reason that they leave home and are at risk of ending up on the streets. Collectively our community must resolve to do better because all the recent reports statistically tell us that we are getting worse.

This week I sat with a woman outside the front of Wayside, in an area affectionately known as the horseshoe, who is adjusting to being newly housed after 7 years of sleeping on the streets of Melbourne and Sydney. There is now a light shining through her eyes, that she had feared had been previously extinguished by a life of untold misery. Violence was the only constant she had known; it eventually took everything away from her. There’s a deep amount of shame that makes someone want to be invisible, but such was her heartache that she went to the streets to disappear. She lived an invisible existence but then one day she found, through Wayside, love, care and acceptance she’d never known. She now tells me about her new friendships and loves that “people here really see me and I want to be seen again”. I was swept away in that moment and I wish you could have seen her face light up.

As we move into the silly season, I’m reminded how not all families are created equal. Once when I was a youth worker helping at a children’s playgroup we ran the old favourite “show and tell” time. One young lad thrust his hand up and shared excitedly “Oh oh oh, last night my dad bought home a new red car, and guess what? When I woke up he had painted it black!”. I reckon that the spelling words of the day to be written on the blackboard should have been “chop” and “shop”. Another two girls I met, told me that their first memories were of making bongs and being taught how to respond if they were ever caught shoplifting. These girls spoke of how both their parents had died in tragic circumstances after years of drug abuse. They now both hold successful jobs, are pursuing careers and are leading beautiful lives, because they were eventually taken on and raised in a loving foster home where they were seen for their potential –  and not for their use. With the kindness, love and support of others, they grew into the strong and independent women they deserved to be. A conspiracy of love had forged a new way.

Thanks for being part of the Inner Circle,

Jon

PS. Tomorrow myself and close to 500 others will be walking from Parramatta to Kings Cross to raise money for Wayside Chapel and people experiencing homelessness. If you believe in what we do you can support me, or one of our walkers here.

Jon Owen
Pastor & CEO
Wayside Chapel

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