Lessons from the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:1-32)

A Melbourne Anglican community chaplain pleads for understanding about the challenges facing South Sudanese here.

South Sudanese women who have come to Australia, many of whom are single parents, are "very resilient but they have suffered" in the transition between two very different cultures.

By Duku Wolikare

October 17 2018The Revd Duku Wolikare, an Anglican chaplain to Melbourne’s South Sudanese community, pleads for understanding about the challenges facing South Sudanese immigrants.

Unhappy about complaints that He has welcomed sinners, Jesus responds by telling three parables: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin and The Lost Son. All three parables highlight the unique value and worth of every person and illustrate the lavishness of God’s love. The parables’ focus is on those who do not rest until they find their lost sheep, coin or son. They illustrate God’s intense love for us, his energy and yearning that we be found – whether we are selfish, foolish, rich, poor, lost, homeless, young, old or lonely.

In The Lost Son, the youngest son pursues freedom at all cost – regardless of his father’s plans. He is oblivious to his wastefulness. Yet discovering his pursuit is empty, his homelessness and hunger too painful, he comes home to a forgiving and welcoming father. But his older brother is angry at his father’s forgiveness of him. Just as the younger brother’s wanton selfishness was at odds with their father’s generosity, so is the older brother’s anger.

Jesus tells the parable to illustrate God’s unfathomable, bottomless, forgiveness of us.

South Sudanese “Youth Gangs

The South Sudanese and Sudanese began arriving in Australia in 1998. An estimated 20,000 came nationally with 6000 people settling in Victoria. For most of those who have settled here, almost all of their teenage children were born here.

The Problem

What is often described in the media as a “South Sudanese Problem” is inadequate. Disputes are sadly often along old tribal lines and it will take years, with a concerted community effort, for cohesion to form. The problem for young Sudanese Australians is both a domestic and public one.

Firstly, domestically their parents carry deep scars from their war experiences. Before the wars, people’s lives were rural and traditional, uninfluenced by Western development. Yet, life was characterised by endemic poverty and lack of education.

As British rule came to a close in 1956, it wasn’t long before old tribal wounds reopened and civil war emerged. The environment became more hostile, and people formed into “neighbourhoods of hatred”. Hostile behaviour between different ethnicities became entrenched as normal such as young men training in warfare; households having multiple children to secure an advantage in conflict; high dowries and polygamous marriages.

The survivors of civil war made their way to Australia through the United Nations Refugee Agency. Families were often headed up by female single parents. Some were widows or divorcees, while others came from war-forced marriages or polygamous marriages. These mothers are very resilient but they have suffered. In transitioning to a Western life, with English as a second language, they need help with raising their children and navigating their adopted culture.

Secondly, they have lost their African communities and haven’t yet replaced them with new sustainable communities.  It takes time, often years in fact, for this to develop.

Added to this, families haven’t recovered from the trauma of war and their learned aggression has had a subsequent effect on their children. Young people - not yet mature adults - lack a sense of responsibility, expected in an African context. Their parents interpret this as “our children are becoming Australians too fast”. When children as young as ten begin drinking alcohol, taking drugs or engaging in under-age sex, their parents interpret this as an “Australian problem”, not a South Sudanese one.

Then there is racism - by individuals in organisations, businesses, banks, real estate companies, energy and telecommunications companies. Employers discriminate and mask their behaviour as general policy. Different accounts are given to different people. My personal experience is in the housing and rental market but I also know of racial bullying at school, which is the cause of high dropout rates.

In Please Stop, a YouTube video, the South Sudanese community respond to Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton’s racial comments (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rh3yLuWEUE?).

It was chilling to watch the former Australian Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister speak against a small, struggling community. The consequences of their words have been serious for us, with people experiencing a marked increase of abuse and threats and feeling unsafe on the streets and social media.

Many outside the community have asked, “What really is the problem and how can we help?”. As Community Chaplain with the Melbourne Anglican Foundation and the main focus of my ministry being young people in Melbourne’s west, it is my responsibility to speak into this debate but I do so carefully with my eyes on God’s word and his promise of the Kingdom of Heaven, here on earth.

The parable of The Lost Son teaches us not to be swayed by present opinion polls. In it we learn that every person is unique to God. No matter where you come from. But our actions and how we live matters, we each have a responsibility to the community we live in.

Bishop N.T. Wright warns we are facing a growing spiritual and moral crisis. He writes unless “the West reconnects with its ancient Judaeo-Christians roots we face catastrophe” (TMA, Oct 2018, p25). I pray this catastrophe has not already begun for young Australian migrants.

A Way Forward?

I ask, please, that we not allow our communities to accept the debate as it is being portrayed, that we speak out against racial intolerance and hatred. Please join me in praying that God will help us do everything we can to stop this. Please also write to your:

  • Local MP, saying that the South Sudanese community does not match the description given by politicians and media. The office of the Prime Minister should be one of drawing Australians together, not polarising them.
  • Local councillors and community leaders. Ask them to help shape the debate; meet with them and ask them to change the public conversation away from one of racism and fear to one of compassion and support for our vulnerable young people.
  • Church leaders, encouraging them to take practical, sacrificial ones steps, to support and stand beside new migrants and refugees, befriend South Sudanese and all youth wherever they come from, become their mentors, tutors, people they can confide in.

Please also give financially to support the Melbourne Anglican Foundation to enable “front-line” Anglican churches continue this work.

Bless you and thank you for your prayers.

Email Duku at: dwolikare@melbourneanglican.org.au