The presence of God while in the hands of police

I was one of a number of church leaders who entered the Ellenbrook office of Hon Christian Porter MP on Monday. We went to ask Mr Porter and the Federal Government to bring to Australia all people imprisoned in offshore processing centres. We took this action in solidarity with the more than 400 men on Manus Island who are refusing to leave the ‘closed’ processing centre.

We went there in love, because we believe that Love Makes A Way.

The men imprisoned on Manus are engaging in nonviolent resistance, and demanding the rights and freedoms afforded to them by the Refugee Convention. As part of the Love Makes A Way movement, we hold a strong commitment to nonviolence and are seeking a response of compassion and justice from the government.

We went in love.

People have been illegally imprisoned and abused on Manus and Nauru for four years. Six men have died on Manus, two more on Nauru. For the over 1100 people who remain, Australia is obligated to provide them with safe resettlement.

This is not a loving situation.

We wanted to urge Christian Porter and the government to accept the offer made by New Zealand, to resettle 150 people, and bring all others to Australia. Unfortunately, once Mr Porter realised why we were coming to see him, he swiftly exited his office, on his way to catch a plane to Canberra.

There was one striking moment for me, as I sat on the ground, in a circle with others, praying and reflecting. It was a moment of vulnerability. We were reading, and pondering, the words written by the innocent men on Manus Island; words that searched for justice, in the midst of inequity. We offered prayers: for them, for ourselves, for the office staff, for our federal leaders.

We could hear and appreciate their sense of vulnerability.

The police had been called, tasked with getting us to leave the office. We were intent on staying until we had communication with the government; that is the regular practice of such Love Makes A Way events. We remained, praying quietly, sitting unobtrusively.

The police, men vested with authority, gathered around us and consulted about how they would use their power against us. At that moment, I had a strong sense that God was with us.

I felt the presence of God with us, because I know best about God through the one who opened himself, in complete vulnerability, to the perils around him.

In that moment, I realised that my vulnerability is a small mirror of the the intense vulnerability faced by the men on Manus Island. They are innocent men who are being shamefully mistreated and unjustly dealt with by our Federal Government. I know that God is with them, thirsting with them, hungering with them, aching with them, yearning to break free from the prison in which they are caught.

We entered the office with a commitment to seek a compassionate and just response from the Federal Government. At one point, I was standing with the others in the small waiting room, having my name and details taken down by the police. They treated each of us with respect; they were unfailingly polite. I have no complaints about them, they were doing their job. As people of authority, they were doing what they were required to do, by their commissioning and their responsibilities: they were seeking to arrest us. And they did: firmly, politely, respectfully, diligently.

“You are under arrest.”

Again, I felt the presence of God with us, because I know best about God through the one who spent his life, and indeed gave his life, in that persistent and unending search for compassionate justice. Indeed, I know that my commitment to compassionate justice is closely related to the enduring and resilient search for that same compassionate justice by those innocent men on Manus Island. They are holding fast to their quest: for freedom, for justice, for a fair go, for equitable treatment. I stand in solidarity with their hopes.

My prayer is simple, echoing the age-old words of the prophet: may justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

For information on how you can support the men on Manus please click here.

Rev Dr John Squires

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