According to Sara*, her family’s journey to Australia was a “miracle from God”. Travelling from Iran to Indonesia, and then embarking on a boat with her husband and two-year-old son, they thought they would drown in the oceans surrounding Australia.
“We sank in the water for half an hour, and then the Australian Navy rescued us and we got to Christmas Island,” Sara says. They stayed there for 11 months before settling in Sydney. “It was so difficult. We had no English. Everything was new. We were missing family.”
A visit from a Christian connected her family with Lakemba Anglican. Years later, this connection helped Sara as she struggled to find work for the first time in her life. “It was so hard,” she says. “I didn’t know how to look for a job or what to say, or which website I needed to go to. Everything was hard. [In Iran] we just go around to the places and ask them if they need a worker. There is much more paperwork in Australia. I was scared of the paperwork.”
Sara’s struggles finding employment and navigating the job search process are not unique. Many migrant families struggle with the cultural expectations and differences of our job market.
More people seek support after lockdowns
This year has seen an increase in people reaching out for support and guidance. Jo-Ann Elvery, the cross-cultural ministry volunteer at St James’, Berala, says she has noticed an increase in people making contact since the pandemic began – exacerbated by lockdowns and changing rules regarding Government support. At one point, Mrs Elvery’s phone was ringing daily with people seeking help.
“The last few months, we have had steady requests for assistance for people,” she says. “Not all migrants were eligible for Government support. For example, to access support they had to have been working in the four weeks prior to lockdown starting. We had people who had ongoing trouble finding work since 2020 and were still struggling. Others had just received work rights, so they hadn’t been able to work. It was a hard time for those families.”
“The last few months, we have had steady requests for assistance for people,”
“Almost all of the people who contacted us, either they or their partner had lost their job. Or they had been trying to find work for a long time. Or they lost their casual temporary job. Some families felt there was very little chance of getting a job, or it was a hopeless situation. They were used to rejection and disappointment, and so they weren’t expecting to find work.”
Parish partnerships provide work opportunities
This increase in people reaching out to their local churches for assistance has kept the Emerge team busy. Emerge is a gospel-shaped initiative by Evangelism and New Churches in which parishes band together to help migrants find meaningful employment.
“I think the difference we make is bridging – making jobs more at reach for migrant members of our churches and ministries,” says Sue Park, liaison officer at Emerge. “We support our candidates with the cultural aspects of finding work: the formalities of writing a resumé and cover letters [and] knowing how to present in an interview.”
Miss Park believes the clear church initiative is what separates Emerge from other migrant employment services. “It’s something that came as a result of a need churches identified,” she says. “Our networks are within churches and Christian organisations who see the value in providing hiring opportunities for our candidates. We work closely with churches, and we hope that [employment support] runs alongside discipleship and evangelism. It’s a person-centered approach.”
“It’s small-scale, but life changing,”
This has been the case for Sara, who was successful in securing work in aged care with Emerge’s help. She not only feels more confident – and is thrilled to contribute to the lives of others meaningfully – but she has also seen her relationship with God change during her time in Australia. Growing up Muslim, Sara had a fear of God that has transformed. “Now I have a love for God, and I want to do the things he wants me to do because I love him, not because I fear him.”
There is a visible difference that meaningful employment makes for candidates, and having church communities assist throughout the process is a powerful witness. As Australia begins to open its borders, Emerge expects to see growing numbers of migrants in the years to come, and predicts it will continue to play a vital role alongside churches.
“It’s small-scale, but life-changing,” Miss Park says. “My prayer is that we can support a lot more people to experience the beauty of church as a family who cares, and experience God’s love and provision through our program. Our prayer is that we can serve God faithfully with what we’ve been given and that we can support churches in our area to continue discipleship and evangelism.”