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A few years ago I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of belonging. It happened when I took a group of troubled youth into the Australian bush with two Aboriginal elders.

These kids had seen and experienced it all and were in many ways, without significant intervention, on a pathway towards incarceration. I wouldn’t say this was their last chance, as hope springs eternal, but the future was not looking good for them.

They were from diverse ethnic backgrounds and had experienced a lot of rejection, physical and mental abuse in their lives. Much of it played out in the van as they shared their stories on the way to our location.

It was then things began to change and change rapidly. The elders and the kids began walking through the bush and the storytelling began. What I noticed was a lot of the storytelling was about belonging. About feeling part of something bigger and all encompassing. Each rock, plant, animal and flower was part of a continuing story.

Awakening a sense of belonging

At first, the kids laughed and joked amongst themselves as they tried to destabilise the storytellers, but as time went on that faded away to silence. Slowly an attitude of real listening and involvement came to them all. They then began asking questions. Their anxieties seemed to disappear and I saw the power of belonging.

Previously these kids hadn’t felt connected to anything. In many ways it had been beaten out of them. There in the bush, with a living presence all around, they began to feel part of something bigger and more meaningful.

The trip home in the van was different. There was a lot of silence interspersed with meaningful conversation. I could see these kids lives had changed forever.

Pride and purpose

This wasn’t my only lesson about belonging. I have spent a lot of time with the Tibetan community in Australia and I really admire their strength. At every event I go to they dress in their national costumes, perform traditional dancing and spend a lot of time teaching their culture to their children.

I see in them a sense of pride and purpose, which has a really strong stabilising effect. At times I wonder how long this will last as the community dissolves into western culture. However, that doesn’t seem to be happening.

The dark side of belonging

I am writing this because last night the power of belonging was brought home to me once more. I met with members of the Kurdish community in Australia. The Kurds hail from a region bordering Iran, Turkey and Iraq. So they do not have a real country. The dominant cultures in those countries seem to do what dominant cultures everywhere do: try to wipe out the minority.

It pains me to hear that Kurdish people cannot speak their own language or use Kurdish names. History tells me none of this works, yet it’s happening over and over again. Humanity continues to make the same mistakes, committing the same cultural genocides. That is the dark side of belonging. It can lead to defining who is in, and who is out.

You might think being part of the dominant culture would make you comfortable enough to allow others their own sense of identity and belonging. Alas, that’s not the case. Absolute conformity tends to be demanded by the dominant culture.

Belonging in spite of differences

This is playing out big-time in the aftermath of the huge earthquake in Turkey and Syria. At last night’s meeting they warned me not about 20,000 casualties, but 100,000 casualties. That’s in the north-east (Kurdish) area of Syria alone.

Sadly though, because the Kurds don’t belong to the dominant Turkish or Syrian cultures help evades them. All the aid pouring into the region is diverted. It is being hijacked and sent to areas favourable to the dominant governments.

My experience with those kids and Aboriginal elders was living proof of how we all need to belong. Today, 30 years later, it seems humanity is still to learn the lesson. There is a grace in belonging, in spite of our differences. Only through this belonging can all of us find peace and the sort of loving kindness Jesus taught.

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  1. Diana E Jefferson 14 February 2023 at 16:07 - Reply

    Always good to read your thpughts

  2. Brusk 14 February 2023 at 16:14 - Reply

    Thanks and we appreciate your support. Kurds has been victim and subjected to all kinds of human cruelty, and suppressed by at least 4 countries such as Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. The government is deliberately not helping, but they would send 1000’s to arrest a human activist while is doing a symboled protests.

    • Mercy 14 February 2023 at 19:39 - Reply

      Very insightful

    • Bill Crews 17 February 2023 at 16:34 - Reply

      God Bless you, Brusk. And God Bless the Kurdish people. I will always do my best. The Kurdish people deserve more than they get.

  3. Scott Henry 14 February 2023 at 16:18 - Reply

    My wife and I would be happy to volunteer our time in assisting in any way such as cooking or prepping in kitchen for any cook ups you may have in mind
    Regards Scott & Tina
    0418 114 682

  4. Gwen Barnes 14 February 2023 at 16:28 - Reply

    We all want to belong.
    Recently I was on a Cruise I had two young men looked after my cabin making the bed, vacuuming etc. asked where they came from and said from an island near Java they said many had died with COVID there. I thought here am I originally from UK ( 50yrs ago) living in Australia, on an American ship talking to people from Java. When leaving I wrote a message for them that “though we al are from different Nations yet we are all one, may God bless you.” One of them Ali took the paper read it and was nodding he placed it in his pocket. I hope he reads it sometimes.
    We all feel we need to belong.
    God bless you in the work you and your team are doing.

    • Bill Crews 17 February 2023 at 16:35 - Reply

      God Bless you, Gwen. Thank you for responding.

  5. Kellie 14 February 2023 at 16:33 - Reply

    Thank you so very much Rev Bill.
    This hits home especially hard at the moment however I’ve you to thank for introducing new hope to my little community and the collective of displaced people that make it.

    I am a community member of Lethbridge Park in Sydney’s west.
    Ive spent my 44 years here trying to avoid the overwhelming sense of not belonging and the urge to lean into a victimhood mentality while also resisting becoming part of the system that seeks to criminalise us for being the products of a broken system.

    I’ve had the pleasure of being a non official volunteer at your Lethbridge Park food outreach and it’s a mix of emotions, people are desperate and living in intrenched isolation and discrimination with little to no hope of making their way out of the path which seeks to oppress and consume them.

    We seems to have lost agency and equity as individuals and a collective, it has devastating ramifications.

    I listened to 2gb for a long time before switching off and have had some opportunities to talk to you via that platform however I’m so very thankful to be able to walk this path with you in my local community and pump it full of the kind of hope that floats, the kind of hope that doesn’t fail us, the kind of hope who knew us in our mother’s wombs, knows our heart, has our name written down a place prepared and a family waiting united by a loving father, a holy Trinity, a Christ King and holy spirit with the power to move men like you to impact the lives of countless people well beyond the food you provide! God bless you and what a way for you to bless God!

    Unity is desperately needed from a micro to a macro level! Thank you for forging ahead with such love grace and dignity, thank you on behalf of my community and as for me personally, thank you for giving me a space to live as Christ did, listen as Christ did, love best I can as Christ did and be of service in a way that serves me so beautifully

    Thank you endlessly for making room for God in a community long high jacked by temptation and sorrow

    • Bill Crews 17 February 2023 at 16:36 - Reply

      God Bless you, Kellie. I hope we meet one day.

  6. Jo van Kool 14 February 2023 at 16:46 - Reply

    The world, generally, is seemingly in such a sad mess at the moment I find it hard to watch the TV news. The address thing for me is the loss of a sense of belonging for so many people: mostly minority groups. It is important, I believe, to reach out to people with whom we have little in common with & know even less about. It is often surprising to find how much we do share.

  7. Gordon Campbell 14 February 2023 at 16:46 - Reply

    Thankyou for this blog Bill.

    I have forwarded it to the Director of ADRA to ask if they are doing anything for the Kurds.
    May God continue to bless your work.

    • Bill Crews 17 February 2023 at 16:37 - Reply

      Hi Gordon. Did you hear anything back from ADRA? God Bless, Bill

  8. Maria Spink 14 February 2023 at 16:51 - Reply

    Thank you Bill for telling the story and letting us know about the Kurdish people. It’s terrible to think they go without we are suppose to be kind to others but not these days Bill it’s criminal. You just never realise how lucky you have got it here in Australia.

  9. Lee Jahn 14 February 2023 at 17:19 - Reply

    It truly is so upsetting to see how humans can treat other humans, I lay a lot of the blame at our political leaders feet, we need connection and real empathy, will it ever happen, how do we change our political system for the betterment of mankind, so many questions , how do we pull mankind together when our leaders seem hellbent on dividing us . Thank you for your good work Bill, your s truly empathic human being

  10. Sue 14 February 2023 at 17:51 - Reply

    Gosh, Bill, you so eloquently express our basic human (& many animals) need: feeling of belonging! That’s made it even more sad what is happening! Johann Hari wrote a book a while back ‘Lost Connections’ . He researched experts around the world wanting to understand the cause/s of depression/anxiety …… and that was it ‘lost connection’ l’m at a loss what else to say other than we need many humanitarian governments coming together & helping them directly ………

  11. Annemarie Ward 14 February 2023 at 20:00 - Reply

    Thank you Bill, belonging is so important. It took me a long time to belong & now that I do I am truly blessed. I hope those young people were able to keep & carry that connection they found. My heart breaks for our world, the spin, the politics, the greed, & injustice we are surrounded by, but I know in my heart God the father has it all in sight. Forgive them/us father for we know not what we do. I pray for us all.

    • Bill Crews 17 February 2023 at 16:37 - Reply

      God Bless you, Annemarie. I look forward to seeing you soon. Have you worked out the place for the Recovery March yet?

  12. Philip Feinstein 14 February 2023 at 22:12 - Reply

    Hi Bill
    I have always had feelings for the Kurdish people. They have been persecuted by many nations for a long time.
    As you know I collect music instruments for refugees and other stressful minorities. Please ask your contacts to call me if they want free instruments.
    Meanwhile I look forward to our meeting on Tuesday 21 February with my Burundian friend. I can bring instruments with me if suitable with you.
    Best regards
    M: 0415-221-000

  13. Mario rotunno 15 February 2023 at 08:24 - Reply

    Thankyou again Rev Bill
    You are an inspiration to the community we need more loving people like yourself.
    Iam a volunteer and I’m proud that I can help in anyway.
    God bless you.

  14. Jaime Fiorucci 8 March 2023 at 02:54 - Reply

    I really enjoyed this timely article; recently working on a paper on the concept of ‘othering’ – everyday words/actions, intentional or not, can create a psychological impact on a person or group of people that directly impacts their ability to thrive. Belonging, love and care squash that – God bless your great work and thoughts

  15. Megan 30 November 2023 at 08:26 - Reply

    Something I’ve noticed about aborigines is that they don’t really like to ‘fight for their rights’-or even ‘voice their opinions’. Kin obligations seem more important than individual rights- they are lovers not fighters-they prefer to just tell stories, teach and help people to listen and learn- and understand.

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