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Putting faith into action

By Meg Hocking

They say the eyes are a window to the soul and the smile a front door to your heart.

When you speak with Nancy, it’s difficult not to be captured by her warmth, her care for others and her kindness.

However, behind her beaming smile and infectious personality, Nancy is a pillar of resilience, strength and courage.

A year ago, she found herself on the edge of crisis. “One day I saw I’m alone. Really alone,” Nancy reflects. “I didn’t know where to go, what to do. I just thought I can’t continue.”

As a new migrant in Australia, Nancy had travelled all the way from Iran in search of new beginnings.

However, life so far was not as she had dared dream.
“Many things happened to me, one after another. Not good things, so many shocks in my life,” she says.

“First of all, I lost my Mum. I was very close to her. I didn’t come to Australia at a good time.”

While grappling with the grief of losing her mother, Nancy was forced to leave a violent marriage. Alone in a new country she was suddenly without stability, support or safety.

“You make some plans for yourself before leaving your country,” Nancy says. “Everyone makes that plan. But then you realise everything is completely different. Not what you expected.”

Although Nancy has limited memory of that dreadful day, she fortuitously found herself one afternoon at the doors of Uniting’s emergency relief centre in Melbourne’s east.

“I went to Uniting by accident,” Nancy says. “I was in tears, crying. I just remember after that, everything happened very quickly. They helped and they put me [on the path] to a normal life.”

Nancy was supported into crisis accommodation and then offered transitional housing. This accommodation is a partnership of the local congregation and Uniting Vic.Tas; the realisation of a shared vision.

The Uniting program offers women who are at risk of homelessness and have experienced family violence a safe haven while they set about securing a long-term home.

Women also receive help with finances, mental health, food relief, employment coaching and other support services.

The local Uniting Church congregation advocated for and carefully planned the specialist accommodation.

Congregation members generously donated their time to help prepare a joint funding application with the Wesley Mission to the Victorian Government.

Winter two

A drop-in centre offers women like Nancy welcome packs, food relief and a space in which to connect.

For more than two decades, congregational members continued to lobby governments to realise their missional purpose on the Church’s excess land.

“It was a pretty terrible situation that Nancy was in when she came,” Nancy’s case manager, Rebecca, recalls.

“All clients that come to the service have experienced family violence, which often means they need a lot of support.

“When women first come in, they’re very scared, they’re very frightened, they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Nancy was grateful to have safe accommodation and other support, however as she set about rebuilding her life, loneliness began to seep in.

“It was peaceful living there, beyond my imagination. But unfortunately, I was still sad. People say that it’s depression,” Nancy says.

“When you’re depressed, you’re locked with negative thoughts.”

As part of the partnership with Uniting, the local congregation run a drop-in centre which offers the women welcome packs, food relief and a space to connect. Tina, a Minister at the local Uniting Church, also offers pastoral care to the women. Nancy was one of these women.

“Mostly pastoral care is listening and offering support,” Tina says.

“Part of listening is being empathic and understanding. I also offer support for people’s faith and spiritual journey, whatever that may be.”

When asked how Tina supports those of different faiths and spiritualities she answers, “with respect”.

“No matter what our faith is, we all pray,” Tina says.

“So, I listen to people talking about their journey and encourage them to pray more. What they say really guides my response in how I encourage people to get in touch with their faith. Respect and encouragement are key to helping people grow.”

Through receiving ministry from Tina, Nancy was able to deepen her faith and draw strength from it.

“When Nancy talks about her faith, her face glows,” Tina says.

“She’s got such a deep joy and finds deep peace and strength from her faith. When we share from the heart it’s a lovely thing. It helps my joy for my faith. We can learn so much from each other.”

Nancy is now living in her own apartment and completing a degree in data analysis. She keeps in touch with Rebecca and Tina.

Winter three

Nancy’s motto of ‘never give up’ has allowed her to overcome many obstacles.

“Meeting Nancy and watching her grow through the program has been such an honour to witness,” Rebecca says.

“It makes me feel so happy that I’ve been able to contribute just a little bit in her journey. I really believe Nancy’s strength came from within and she had it there all along.”

“Nancy has a deep joy, a love of life despite everything that has happened. She has a lot of courage to come to another country and want to start a new life here,” Tina says.

After meeting Nancy and hearing her speak one would never imagine the hardships she has faced. Her philosophy on life is inspiring.

“Everyone has challenges, down times in their life,” she says. “Don’t give up. Life is like a heartbeat, it goes up, down, up, down.

“Just trust your faith and you will find that positive energy in your life.”

Such words are part of the joyful realisation of this congregation’s vision and their ongoing partnership with Uniting.

If you would like to support people like Nancy this winter, visit www.unitingvictas.org.au/share-appeal/

*Some details such as names have been changed to respect the wishes of the person featured. The congregation’s name and location have also not been identified, so that the program can continue to safely support women.

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