Australian Christian leader Jarrod McKenna says he was overwhelmed and humbled by the Christ-like kindness he was shown by detainees in the Manus Island detention centre during a visit this week.
McKenna and Anglican Parish Priest Father Dave Smith were smuggled into the detention camp by supportive local Christians and spent seven hours talking with many of the 340 men detained there.
“Here is this man who Australia has rejected and they’re washing the blood and the mud off my feet.” — Jarrod McKenna
The pair heard why the men in the camp fear to leave it and filmed interviews with many refugees and asylum seekers.
When the religious leaders attempted to leave, the PNG Navy gave chase. Father Dave, priest of Holy Trinity in Dulwich Hill, managed to escape on to the boat, but McKenna and his camerawoman Olivia Rousset, were hit by a navy stoplight as they ran through the tropical swamp between the ocean and the centre. As McKenna fell and sliced open his ankle on a piece of metal, he heard a voice say: “Brother, take my hand.”
His saviour was Adam, a tall young man from Darfur, who McKenna had prayed with earlier after hearing his story of having family members killed in the genocide.
“We had to stay the next 24 hours in the centre waiting for when it was safe for us to go again. The men called us Australia’s first detainees. And the most moving thing was, they used their limited water source to wash our feet. That was the moment that really got to me when I couldn’t hold the tears back,” he tells Eternity.
“As a pastor, we do foot washing as the first act after baptism of new Christians. For me, it’s incredibly powerful and here is this man who Australia has rejected and they’re washing the blood and the mud off my feet with their limited water which they’ve collected.”
“It was the most humiliating expression of compassion in my life.” — Jarrod McKenna
McKenna was moved by the fact that Adam was the same age as his son, Tyson, who is at university and saving up to go travelling with his friends. “Adam has spent the past nearly five years in that centre and he didn’t find a safe place in Australia but, as an Australian, he gave me safety, so it was incredibly moving.”
McKenna says it was like being born “again, again” to experience the care the detainees extended to them.
“And with their limited Betadine and bandages they took care of us, they shared their food and for a whole day they took care of us. And it was the most humiliating expression of compassion in my life.”
McKenna, who lives with newly arrived refugees at the First Home project in Perth, said many Australians do not realise how many persecuted Christians are at the Manus centre.
“A guy said to me ‘I was feeling like God no longer heard my prayers here’ – it was just so heart-breaking – ‘but since seeing you and Father Dave I feel God hasn’t forgotten, that the church hasn’t forgotten us, that our brothers and sisters in Australia, they love us. It was very overwhelming.”
After returning to Australia on Tuesday, McKenna was horrified to see some of the friends he made on Manus being beaten as they were moved out of the centre by police later this week.
“The news yesterday that police have forcibly removed people from the camp, and arrested journalist Behrouz Boochani, who we spent hours with in the camp, horrifies me.”
“The police have now destroyed all of the men’s possessions, food and water. It is even more obvious and urgent that the Australian government must evacuate these men immediately to safety in Australia,” McKenna said.
Father Dave said he had enormous respect for the brave men he met in the camp.
“They find their strength in community, in supporting each other, and I would be proud to have them as neighbours. But the Australian government is attempting to break up their community, destroy their support structures, in order to force them to endure years more of indefinite detention. It is absolutely inexcusable.”
ABC has reported this today that all refugees have been moved from the decommissioned Manus Island detention centre to a new camps. Tim Costello from World Vision is on Manus Island this week on a fact finding mission with World Vision and Oxfam. He told ABC Radio National that he had seen the new camps and they were not up to standard. On Twitter, Costello said,
“Today we’ve watched already another six buses from the naval base, being transported out. They looked angry, they looked dismayed. They were putting up the finger to Australia. But what we know is even if all are moved out today, if Mr Turnbull and Mr Dutton think the problem is solved, you’re wrong. The problem has just shifted a few kilometres. Without hope, without a solution, this problem goes on. And it remains Australia’s responsibility.”
Jarrod McKenna and Dave Smith’s trip to Manus Island was supported by GetUp members, who donated funds to cover travel, insurance, and associated costs for the delegation.