Confronted by racism, attacks and threats, Bernie’s welcome to Australia was not what he expected. But then he found a group of people who were totally different—they were welcoming, inclusive and caring. What was the reason behind their actions?
‘Sydney just wasn’t what I expected. I was twelve and had recently migrated from Malaysia with the rest of my family. Filled with excitement, and much cultural learning from watching John Farnham and Kylie Minogue music videos, I felt I was ready to meet some Aussies. The first weeks of high school were a shock. It was the first time I had experienced racism, with its verbal attacks and physical threats. I couldn’t work out why there was such hatred. I quickly learnt that if I wanted to fit in, I needed to be like everyone else. I learnt how to speak like them, joke like them, eat like them, dress like them, play like them and think like them. I had to earn the right to be welcomed by them.
‘God, in his kindness, showed me a very different group of people when I arrived at a church youth group. There I found instant welcome and inclusion. It’s where I got my nickname “Bernie” from, which was their way of saying “you’re one of us”. It was fascinating to observe how Christians would care for each other in a way that seemed so foreign to me at the time. Their care extended beyond the confines of church and into the school yard as well. I remember watching one of my newly-found church friends being pushed around by thugs at school, and seeing him respond with restraint and grace. There was also something very real about their willingness to admit their imperfections to God and their need for forgiveness.
‘It didn’t take very long to discover the reason behind their actions—they had been moved by the love of Jesus. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). Through my very dear small group leaders, God revealed to me that Jesus loved us so much that he gave up his precious life so that ours would be spared. Jesus endured far more insult and suffering than I ever did. His disciples echoed that love. By the end of my first year in Australia, God had led me to trust in Jesus too.
‘There was much I needed to put behind me (and there still is) as I began my first steps as a child of God—my language, my self-centredness, my idols of friends and parents. There was much to start enjoying—serving with my Christian family, praying to my heavenly Father, sharing Jesus with friends, planning ahead with kingdom priorities. I pray that others from overseas would continue to see God’s love in Jesus, flowing through his people, and turn to him too.’