In 2010, Revive interviewed Ashley Macmillan as a young teenager, after she and a friend had spent two and a half years raising $5,000 for a community in India, through TEAR. Since then, Ashley has grown as a person, living out her faith day to day, and is wise beyond her years.
As a co-convener for the refugee group of the Perth branch of Amnesty International, Ashley as recently returned from a conference in Sydney, bringing together refugee advocacy groups from across Australia. She is often seen at community events handing out balloons and lollypops, and talking to people about Australia’s abhorrent treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.
Not only does she serve in this voluntary role, she also volunteers with Fusion, as a live in house parent’ for teenage girls who can’t live with their parents; she makes regular visits out to the Yongah Hill Detention Centre in Northam; serves on the Social Justice Board of the Uniting Church WA; and is studying a Masters Degree in social work, after having completed an Undergraduate Degree in politics and philosophy. For paid employment, Ashley works in child care.
The weaving thread in all of Ashley’s work and passions is building relationships and loving people through all their pain.
At just 20 years-of-age, Ashley is in a great position to be a role model for teenage girls going through a hard time. In her role with Fusion, a Christian youth organisation developing resilience, Ashley helps keep her household running smoothly, but also forms friendships and caring environment for the girls she lives with, as they work through emotional trauma and high school studies.
Weekly visits to Yongah Hill Detention Centre provide the same loving outcomes, in a much different setting. Knowing that there’s nothing they can do to change the situation for detainees, Ashley and a group of people from her church, Wembley Downs Uniting Church, visit people at the centre for no other purpose than to chat, share a cuppa, maybe play some cards, and show them that they aren’t forgotten.
“We just go up and talk and have tea and biscuits,” Ashley said. It’s actually been very difficult to get up lately. They’ve rejected my last four or five applications.”
“The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has said ‘we’re now going to support families,’” she explained. “Which looks great on paper except that very few refugees have family in Australia, so it makes it impossible to actually visit them.
“But we’ll still try and visit because as much as you want to be, like ‘fine’ and not visit anymore, that means they win. That’s exactly what they want you to do.”
Building these relationships is not easy, and for that reason requires real commitment to sharing love in a hopeless place.
“You need to be able to commit to an ongoing relationship,” she said. “You also need to be very clear about what you’re doing; so you’re not a lawyer, you’re not a psychologist, you’re not a case worker. They get that, and most of the time they’re just happy to have someone to make tea.”
Having grown-up in the Uniting Church, Ashley draws her strength and inspiration from a number of people who’ve had a profound impact on her attitudes to life. She also values having relationships with a diverse range of people; young and old, people from different cultures and faith groups, and people with different socio-economic backgrounds.
Her faith in knowing that Jesus calls us to serve one another is strengthened by a large community network of supportive people and guidance.
“I do think my church has had a lot to do with it. Wembley Downs is very much about acting out your faith,” she said. “Having that sort of reinforcement every single week, as well as the church being full of people that you admire, has probably been a very big influence.
“Trying to bring about the best possible world is something you have to act out everyday. And in the process of acting it out, that’s where the kingdom of God is.
“There’s always going to be problems, but the kingdom of God is always trying to bring it about. It’s about the process, which is why it’s about the here and now.”
At times, Ashley said her lifestyle does get hard. But she believes that love is the answer.
“Love is really hard work; you have to love them anyway. Love hurts you; it hurts to be loved. The answer is love them anyway. Serve them anyway. Do all these things anyway.”
- For more information on the Perth Branch of Amnesty International visit http://www.amnesty.org.au/wa.
- For more information on Fusion and the work they do, visit http://fusion.org.au.