‘Seek the welfare of the city; for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:7).
“Welfare” is a translation of the Hebrew word ‘shalom’. Shalom means peace and prosperity, or human flourishing. Jeremiah was speaking to the Hebrew people taken into exile by the Babylonians. While they thought they could protect their ways in this strange foreign land, Jeremiah instead says to the people, Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what you grow; settle down, get married, have families. In short, don’t stop living but bloom where you are planted. Make the best of things. Seek to thrive, despite your circumstances. And pray for the community in which you will make a home for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
One of the most tragic aspects of the forced and indefinite detention of people on Manus Island and Nauru is that the people cannot give back to the community and country in which they find themselves. Their existence seems to be so very basic, such that they can barely lift their eyes to the far horizon to imagine life where they could settle down, marry, have families, plant gardens and eat what they grow, as the prophet Jeremiah urged the Hebrew people in exile.
Of course, people being taken into exile, and refugees fleeing danger are different actions – but both actions mean leaving behind all that is familiar and facing the prospect of making a new home in a foreign place.
Dr Munjed Al Muderis is now a pioneering surgeon in Australia giving amputees the ability to walk. He had grown up in Iraq, and trained as a doctor. It was his decision to refuse a decree by Saddam Hussein to amputate the ears of Iraqi draft evaders, that saw him wind up on a rickety boat to Australia.
Now, there are many, many such stories of people who have left the country they have called home through desperate circumstances, and who have decided to ‘seek the welfare of the city; for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:7).
Mahyar Rezaei is another wonderful example. He arrived in Adelaide as a refugee. He says, “When I first got out of detention I was shocked at how little the government would let me do. I couldn’t work or study and felt alone and useless as a result. Thankfully one day while I was volunteering with Welcome to Australia I met a guy from Surf Life Saving who invited me to a BBQ at West Beach. Less than a year later I had my bronze medallion and was patrolling the beach to help keep people safe and out of danger. But the funny thing is that this whole experience has also been a life-saver for me, because instead of sitting at home staring at a computer wondering what I can do, I’m out here training, competing and keeping our beaches safe, which is an honour and a thrill that keeps me fresh, happy and engaged in this beautiful community. But that’s the best thing, that feeling of giving back to the people and country that helped my family in our time of greatest need.”
Such a wonderful example of seeking the welfare (shalom) of the community, and finding one’s own welfare (shalom) along the way. Thank you, Mahyar!