The hands and feet of Jesus

Upon the retirement of Robert Watson late last year, UnitingCare West put the call out for the next suitable candidate to fill this unique role. Rev Daniel Viljoen has answered that call.

The role of mission development officer at UnitingCare West is a specific one, designed to continue and grow the existing relationships between the organisation, its staff and volunteers, as well  as members and groups of the Uniting Church. UnitingCare West, an agency of the Uniting Church WA, is one of the state’s largest providers of community services, offering professional care,  love and support in a range of areas.

Daniel and his family moved to Australia from South Africa around ten years ago. After completing compulsory military service in 1993 with the South African Defence Force, Daniel decided his calling was as a military chaplain with the Dutch Reformed Church. In 1994, Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa, after being elected in the nation’s first democratic election. Working for the military throughout the transition to end Apartheid was an interesting time.

“It basically meant that former enemies became colleagues,” said Daniel.

Daniel first worked with a congregation before taking up a position coordinating chaplaincy at Bethanie, an aged care facility of the Churches of Christ. Daniel talks fondly of his previous  positions, as he recalls how they have all guided him on the journey of growth towards his new role at UnitingCare West.

“It’s amazing when you look back,” he said. “When you’re involved in something you just do it. When you have the privilege to look back on your life it’s amazing to see how God prepares you  through different eras and through different workplaces for the next place you go to.”

Part of Daniel’s job at UnitingCare West is to reinforce the already strong bonds between the agency and Uniting Church congregations. He doesn’t want church members to feel as though they  gave up their services when UnitingCare West formed in 2006, but rather they have a deep connection with the agency.

“What I want to achieve is to continue the close alignment of what we do with the church. That the church people continue to see UnitingCare West as a place of service where they are  welcome,” he said.

“Church members don’t want to give away services and feel that they don’t have anything to do anymore. They still want to be involved. That’s why all these services started, because of  passionate people seeing a need in society and responding to it in a Christlike manner. You don’t just stop being involved or being concerned. And that’s what we would like; to continue to see  church people involved in the services, and most importantly to see it as their services.”

At UnitingCare West, Daniel also gets to share the Christian ethos of the agency with its staff and volunteers; a part of the job which leads to many exciting conversations around faith.

“I love it  when people say, ‘I don’t believe, but…’ Then it becomes interesting,” he said.

It’s also Daniel’s job to explain to newcomers why the church does what it does in the community services sector; and that no matter who they are, they are the hands and feet of Jesus. He often  does this by reciting from the Bible: Matthew 25:35-36.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick  and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

“I emphasise to them that they are doing worship in the work they’re doing. It’s just as important as going to church. It’s not less important, it is a way of serving Jesus,” he said. “I’m just trying  to help them understand the link with their passion; that it is a God given passion for them.

“I often hear comments about the church becoming smaller, whereas at UnitingCare West the services are expanding and the influences we have in people’s lives are expanding. So, if we look at  both UnitingCare West and the church, it is growing, it’s not shrinking.

“We’re part of the church; we do the mission of the church. This is church! “And with a new generation of people, they choose to worship in a different way. They may not be going to church, but they express their spirituality in a very practical way of service.”

For Daniel, his own passion lies in forming links between theology and business.

“People often see it as two different things or that you can’t marry business and theology,” he said. “Any business, as a Christian, should be run on biblical and theological principals. It boils  back to what values you hold within your organisation. Are you willing to bend your values for financial gain as opposed to saying no? The way you deal with staff; are you going to deal with  staff in a compassionate way or not? And I have to say, UnitingCare West does it.”

Heather Dowling

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