When you stand on the foreshore of Lake Illawarra, the sun’s rays glinting off the large body of water, it’s easy to see why the early settlers likened the area to the sea of Gallilee, where Jesus spent most of his earthly time in ministry.
It’s a serene view looking south. A large catchment expanse, bordered by houses of varying proportions, in the distance the hills of the escarpment and the rolling greenery of the region’s bucolic beginnings invoking serenity and peace.
Turn your feet 180 degrees however, and it’s an entirely different view.
Historically a farming community situated between the hills and Lake Illawarra, Berkeley became one of the Illawarra’s solutions to a public housing shortage in the early years. Subsequently, several public housing developments were established and most of these are still in existence today in certain parts of the suburb. 74% of the area consists of public housing. Statistics show 54% unemployment, with second and third generation unemployment rife. Addictions to drugs and alcohol, and resultant mental illness issues, with large numbers diagnosed with depression. Domestic violence is double that of the national average, drug use six times. And there is one slot machine for every 35 people in Berkeley. (that’s 3 times the national average).
Berkeley has been touted as the place where nothing good comes from.
But I have a sneaking suspicion that Jesus would have made Berkeley His home. He would have been right in amongst the hopeless, the broken and the desperate. He would have walked the streets of Berkeley… and He invites us to do the same.
BLC is on the ground here, every day, through the community hub called Second Chance. The op shop serves as a resource of donated goods for resale at nominal amounts, vastly cheaper than any other second hand or charity store in the region. It is a vital store not only for the locals to find clothing, homewares and accessories, but also a meeting place, where they will be welcomed without discrimination, cared for and listened to, through volunteers who understand what it means to walk the talk.
The volunteers spend hours every day serving, unpacking and folding clothes, cleaning and sorting items for the store, as well as making coffees for those who drop in to see a friendly face and need a hug, someone who will validate their existence and show them how much they matter.
They show compassion in a million little ways, often at great expense to their own time, energy and finances.
Platitudes and well-meaning sermons won’t cut it here. This is the place where compassion is costly. Where throwing a few dollars in won’t make much of a dent to the generational cycles of helplessness and addiction. It’s a long-term strategy of extending grace, leaning in and listening, and walking beside people that may have had more than a few curveballs thrown their way, but are still living, breathing examples of the breadth of humanity that Jesus laid down his life for.
His Word commands us to do the same….
Everyone deserves a second chance.
Categories: tales from second chance...