On Saturday 8 December, 2018, the South Sudanese Nuer Faith Community in Brisbane invited people to join them for a vigil service for the young people. Members of St. David’s Uniting Church Coopers Plain in addition to Presbytery representatives and the Moderator of Qld Synod joined the South Sudanese and African communities in this vigil service.
Why the need for a vigil service
In November, within a period of two weeks, seven young people from the South Sudanese community in Melbourne committed suicide. Reasons ranged from personal financial problems to the way they were treated by the government and police. It has not been easy for these young people to find work in Australia. Even if they have skills and are educated, their lack of local experience and sometimes the language have been barriers for them to get jobs. Some of these young people have left their families in refugee camps in Kenya and support them as much as possible. Without a job, with all the expenses they have in Australia in addition to supporting their families has been a struggle and has lead some of them to desperation.
On the other hand, the media, the government and the police have also played their role. High government officials declaring that the South Sudanese young people are gangs and the police discriminating them has also damaged their self worth. Two young people were pulled out of a library by the police while studying and were told they are not allowed to go into the library. The police has not been able to give any reason why this has happened.
The media has also played a large role in reporting these stories. They have created a fear among the people of the South Sudanese (African) gangs. Because of what is on the media, South Sudanese young people have been discriminated. They apply for jobs and get interviews, but because of the way they look they are told the job is not for them. People are afraid of them because of what they have heard or seen on the media.
Although the suicides all happened in Melbourne, the South Sudanese community in all of Australia has been suffering. The leader and pastor of the South Sudanese Nuer Faith Community at St David’s Coopers Plains, Moses Mayan Leth, visited and supported the families in Melbourne. They believe that because Melbourne has the larges number of South Sudanese problems have started there. Brisbane and Adelaide also have South Sudanese communities, and they are afraid the same problems will start to happen with them since the media has spread all those fears all around Australia.
The Vigil Service
At 5pm on Saturday December 8, people started to gather at St. David’s Uniting Church in Coopers Plains to join the vigil service. The minister of St. David’s, Matt O’Donoghue, welcomed the people and read a letter from the Associate General Secretary of the Assembly, Mr. Rob Floyd, in which he expressed his dismay of what is happening around Australia and assured the community that the Assembly Resourcing Unit will support them and keep praying for them. Sebit, one of the South Sudanese young people then told stories of struggles that they were going through. He said they have been organising national basketball tournaments for several years, twice a year, but since December 2017 they have not been able to book a stadium to hold the tournament. The tournament was not only for the South Sudanese but for all young people to come together and play.
There were other stories and words of encouragement and prayers. The South Moreton Presbytery Minister, pastor David Busch, prayed for the community in their time of struggle. The Moderator of the Synod of Queensland, the Rev. David Baker, reflected on the times and said this is not the only time Australia and Australians go through similar situation. He went back through time and mentioned the Vietnamese, the Italians, the Greeks, and also went back as far as 1788 and mentioned that the first people went through similar oppression. Rev. Baker gave hope to the young people saying that even tough Australia has discriminated many people, we have always accepted them at the end. With the First people we are still trying to and we will get there. He said that this also will pass, but in the meantime, the Uniting Church, Synod and Presbytery are all with them and will support them. The Moderator also read a letter from the President of the Uniting Church, Pastor Deidre Palmer, in which she said:
At this time, I hope that you feel encouraged by the love and support of your wider Church family, including the Assembly, the South Moreton Presbytery and the Queensland Synod leaders.
As the Uniting Church, we are committed to living the way of Jesus, in challenging social and religious prejudice, and breaking down the barriers that threaten to divide us from each other socially, religiously, culturally and politically. We seek to embody the inclusive love of God in contributing to our multicultural Australian society, where all people are treated with dignity and respect, and we can all flourish.
The letter concluded with a prayer where she thanked God for the gift of community through which we can support each other, and asked for God’s blessing and healing.
Other leader of the South Sudanese Community also brought a word and prayer to the service before the Young Disciples sang a song and the Moderator ended the service part with a blessing.
After the service the people moved to the hall where there was traditional South Sudanese food prepared with cheesecake for desert. Over the food people were able to have conversations and guests were able to talk to the South Sudanese young people to learn from them some of their concerns and especially their hopes for their future.
One of the young people said “When you see us walking down the street and you see us smiling, come and say hello. We are nice people and enjoy talking to you.”
If you or someone you know needs help, please call:
Lifeline on 13 11 14
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467