An accidental advocate

Reflections

Find out how prayer, scripture and Christian music are helping Biloela Parish Councillor Angela Fredericks sustain her fight for a young Tamil family who has sought safety on our shores, including her online petition that has gained over 255,000 signatures

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Angela Fredericks is a young Biloela resident, mental health social worker and Parish Council member from the Rockhampton Diocese. Since March last year, she has been working alongside other Bilo community members to bring ‘Home to Bilo’ a young Tamil family, father Nades and mother Priya and their two young daughters, who have sought safety on our shores. They are currently detained in the Christmas Island Detention Centre, awaiting the outcome of their two-year-old daughter’s asylum claim.

I currently attend St Gabriel’s Anglican Parish in the Callide Valley, where Biloela is located, and I sit on Parish Council. I was privileged to have been born and raised in a Christian household. I grew up attending Sunday School, attended an Anglo-Catholic high school, St Stephen’s College, and boarded at St John’s College at the University of Queensland.

Like many people, I have been through my own battles with trauma and mental health, and my faith is the rock that has kept, and continues to keep, me going. While I have never questioned God or my faith, I routinely battle with the behaviour and attitudes of some Christians. When I continue to see people who say that they serve God so easily turn their backs on those who need protection or care, it really does shatter my faith in humanity. I have to keep reminding myself that at the end of the day we are all human and that is exactly why Christ had to die for us.

I first met Priya, Nades and Kopika at the Biloela Hospital and as happens in small towns, once you meet someone you then see them everywhere. Most commonly I would bump into Priya and her toddler daughter Kopika, and then later baby Tharunicaa in her pram, on their afternoon strolls around the block. Nades and Priya are such beautiful, generous souls. Since coming to Biloela they always helped those around them and were so grateful for friendship and support. Nades, always with a smile on his face, became part of the community as he volunteered and worked hard. He is always keen to roll up his sleeves and help his friends and neighbours. Priya worked as a dressmaker before coming to Australia, where she settled into her role as a loving mum. She takes such delight in watching her girls grow and learn.

Priya and Nades come from the Hindu faith; however, they formed a close relationship with a Catholic nun in Biloela through Nades’ volunteering work with the St Vincent de Paul Society. They lived across the road from the Catholic Church and Priya would often go across to the church to light a candle and say prayers. Priya would also bring Kopika, and then baby Tharunicaa, along to the Mainly Music sessions at St Gabriel’s Anglican Church.

Since arriving in Biloela Nades and Priya worked hard to integrate and become part of the community. While Priya had more barriers due to her ineligibility for English lessons she still always found a way to communicate with us. That is the wonder of human contact – smiles and hugs are universal. Such amazing friendships were made during the more than three years they lived in Bilo, and so it was devastating when our gentle, peaceful friends were taken away from us in such an unnecessary and traumatic way. Kopika and Tharunicaa were only two years old and nine months old when they were taken from their Biloela home by Border Force in March last year. Now they are aged four and two, and our community has missed watching them grow up and sharing what should be an exciting time in their lives if Kopika was able to start kindy.

All my life I have been Christian and have spent a lifetime learning about Jesus, the son of God who stood up for people who were downtrodden, marginalised or poor. He often challenged leaders and political figures, even though he knew it would impact his reputation and advancement, ultimately costing him his life.

Jesus fought not just to transform individual’s lives but to change the systems that perpetuated inequality, poverty, exclusion and exploitation. The fourth Anglican Mark of Mission is to “transform unjust structures of society”, and for me this is exactly what it means to be a Christian – it is our role to speak out and challenge unjust systems.

So, I was compelled to fight for this family and boy has it opened my eyes into just how unjust, inhumane and impractical Australia’s immigration and refugee system is. On a positive note, though, supporting this family has also opened my eyes to all the incredible people across Australia and the world who do care, and who spend every day fighting injustice for our global neighbours.

I launched an online petition through Change.org which now has over 255,000 signatures. I have twice gone down to see the family in Melbourne, as have several other Biloela friends. I have also organised and attended peaceful vigils across Australia to show support for my friends, as well as met with politicians in Canberra. The biggest journey was to take a 27-hour trip over to see them on Christmas Island recently. Nothing beats being able to hold them all in my arms.

As it says in Mark 12.30-31, Jesus said that “The most important commandment is to Love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

My prayers always involve me asking God for the strength to follow his plan, asking him to use me as his mouthpiece and instrument for positive change, as well as asking his protection for Priya, Nades, Kopika and Tharunicaa. For me, prayer is a constant part of my life me. Whether it is my ritualised nightly prayer before I go to bed each night or the quick ones I do throughout the day.

I have a very deep connection with music, which gives me times of great reflection and connection. Right back at the start of my journey fighting to keep Nades and Priya and their daughters safe here, one of my closest friends sent me the song ‘Fix my Eyes’ by For King and Country, which is a song about making Jesus and his call the priorities in our lives. The chorus is this:

“Love like I’m not scared
Give when it’s not fair
Live life for another
Take time for a brother
Fight for the weak ones
Speak out for freedom
Find faith in the battle
Stand tall but above it all
Fix my eyes on you”

This very quickly became my backing track, and it has helped sustain me since March last year when Priya and Nades and their girls were unexpectedly taken by Border Force officers at dawn one morning. This song is my armour, which I play before attending a campaigning event or making a difficult phone call.

This year another friend sent me two songs that immediately got added to my regular playlist. These are ‘Trust in You’ by Lauren Daigle, which helps centre me and place all my fears and burdens back into God’s hands, as well as ‘Love Anyway’ by Tenth Avenue North. This latter song was a Godsend as it reminds me to keep love front and centre.

It is important to be there for your family and friends, but you cannot forget ‘the strangers’, the people you have never met. Because at the end of the day, we are all neighbours and we are all one family – God’s family. It has been an absolute privilege for me to get to know Nades and Priya and their girls, my neighbours, and to share their story with people across the globe and it is an honour to be able to now call them my family.

Priya, Nades, Kopika and Tharunicaa are all currently being kept in a detention centre on Christmas Island as they await their next court hearing. While Priya, Nades and Kopika have run out of all legal options, Tharunicaa has never had her own claim to asylum assessed. This is what the current court proceedings are about. The very sad and scary situation is that we need the Minister for Immigration to use his ministerial powers to allow our friends to come back home to Biloela, something he can do at any time. We are all very frightened about the dangers this family face if they are forcibly returned to Sri Lanka and the Bilo community will not rest in our endeavour to ensure that they have the peaceful and safe life that all families deserve.

You can keep up to date with our current activities to help this family via Change.org. As Priya says, Biloela is where her life begun and I know that Biloela is where this family will know peace and happiness again.

Thank you to Angela Fredericks, who was invited by anglican focus to share her story on how her faith sustains her in her advocacy for Nades, Priya, Kopika and Tharunicaa.

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