10 August 2023
Pastor Hilda Samuel’s house sits near the heart of Dandenong, off a road that’s often clogged with traffic.
Inside, the modest building is calm as a cathedral. The lounge room is a warm space for prayer, a covered outdoor reflection area beckons, there’s even a tidy bedroom for lodgers.
Here, Ms Samuel runs her Inner Healing ministry.
A former Anglican lay minister, she says the Jesuran Healing Centre is an initiative to help people work through deep spiritual, emotional and mental pain.
They may have experienced domestic violence or childhood abuse, or lost loved ones, and be deeply bereft. Many are asylum seekers.
In the lounge room, a Tamil family of four assemble quietly.
Mohana, her teenage sons, and her mother Pusparani, are asylum seekers, and Christians.
Recently baptised, the family loves attending church, and say worshipping God gives them respite from their troubles.
But Mohana nurses a migraine, her sons both fight heavy coughs, and Pusparani’s jaw appears taut with grief.
After 10 years in Australia, they’re still awaiting permanent resolution visas, and spend most waking moments wondering whether they’ll ever get them.
They’re terrified that the bridging permits they do have don’t guarantee that they won’t be deported on some official whim.
At the end of the conversation, Ms Samuel leads them through a prayer. The four lean forward in their seats, heads bowed, eyes shut, hands cradled in their laps.
But the tears Pusparani has been holding back slip out.
The family has a deep faith in God, but their trauma, or what Ms Samuel calls “soul wounds”, is also deep.
Soul wounds come from five or six sources, she said.
They can be passed down through generations, stem from relationship breakdowns, or anything that causes shock, like an accident or war, and can come from people’s words.
“These words or actions or events are like arrows, and they pierce your soul,” Ms Samuel said. ”The pus that drips out suffocates your soul. People might go to church, they might go to Bible studies, but the pain in them remains.”
She believes God has given her ministry team prayers and keys to help remove those wounds.
Always drawn to helping people, Ms Samuel said she faced much personal suffering, including the death of her husband and the loss of close relationships, and financial challenges, before she could answer God’s call.
Some of the treatment process involves meeting with the traumatised person for a few hours over a day or more per week, listening to them, immersing them in prayer, and cooking for them.
Hospitality, and certainly food, is very much a part of the inner healing process, because cooking someone a meal and sharing it with them, can make them feel cared for, she said.
In many ways, however, it is a journey of forgiveness. Without forgiveness the person would remain in bondage to their pain.
But it was no quick fix, Ms Samuel said.
Inner healing might take weeks, months, years. Some wounds might heal, and then come back a few years later, alongside another one.
Psychologists, GPs, psychiatrists and others may have a role in human healing, but only God could heal the soul, she said.
One of Ms Samuel’s most cherished clients was drug addicted, and had been in and out of hospital.
“In desperation his wife brought him here to the centre. We journeyed with him for six months, listened to him, fed him like a child, and made him feel he had something to give God,” she recalled. “He’s been drug-free for three years now and heads an organisation that helps others.”
But Ms Samuel has always had a heart, in particular, for people who are newly arrived.
She set up a wellness centre in Dandenong for Sri Lankan refugees in 2015.
On the heels of that project, she offered services to asylum seeker and refugees of all backgrounds in alliance with AMES Australia.
That included the provision of meals, skills training, English classes, and places for recreation.
Dedicated volunteers have been important to the functioning of the wellness and healing centres, as have donations.
During the pandemic, grants helped Ms Samuel provide fresh food to refugee communities and many other people in deep need.
In April, she helped a Tamil friend launch a cookbook, with the sale proceeds going towards a healing centre she hopes to open in Jaffna, Sri Lanka.
Ms Samuel said it would follow a healing initiative she helped out with almost a decade ago for people traumatised by that nation’s civil conflict.
Back in the Jesuran Healing Centre’s dining room, Mohana, Pusparani and the boys look brighter as they finish a vegetarian lunch Ms Samuel prepared for them.
The family always looks forward to visiting the healing centre, Mohana says.
Even her husband likes it. He is not a Christian and he usually doesn’t like talk of Christianity.
But he likes Ms Samuel. Like the rest of his family, he refers to the pastor as “Amma” and is more than prepared to tag along for a visit when he can, she said.
For more on the healing centre, or to make a donation, see here.