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First-hand report on Christian projects

Joan Coates was the National Publicity Officer of Australian Church Women (ACW) in 1969 and '70, and in the December '70 national newsletter she wrote of visiting several overseas projects that were known to ACW members. I found it interesting to see the links with both Australia and ACW, and to read of the work that was undertaken by Australian women in those projects.

Joan's report began with a brief greeting to explain her recent absence before outlining the projects she visited:

This is a Hail and Farewell sort of Newsletter, because it is my first since returning from a round-the-world tour with my husband, and my last as your Publicity Officer, as the Working Committee in Melbourne moves next year to Brisbane.


As my husband and I were returning from a long-service leave and study tour which had taken us to the United States, England, and Europe, we thought it might be valuable to break our journey at a number of places where we would see the Church at work in projects of aid and development, particularly those with which Australia had a link through its Inter-Church Aid programme (now to be known as World Christian Action).


Mr Walter D. Bell, the Field Representative in Greece of the World Council of Churches, arranged for us to visit an Old People's Home In the suburbs of Athens which is under the joint auspices of the W.C.C., the Y.W.C.A. and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Miss Makre who escorted us was delivering a beautiful radio set from a well wisher to a White Russian couple living in the home. (The husband was stricken with paralysis 15 years ago). You should have seen their happy faces — in fact you can if you come to the National Committee meeting. This home is excellently run with shopping and cooking facilities for those guests who can look after themselves, and space on the balconies to grow flowers. Later that day a worker took me to see the I.C.E.M. (Inter-governmental Committee for European Migration) Training School in another part of Athens. Here I met a group of girls from all parts of Greece but mostly from small villages and islands. These girls are learning English and preparing themselves for the great adventure of migrating to Australia. We had a chance to talk to them (in broken Greek and English) about their new life here. Australia Is lucky to be getting such charming girls as migrants. I hope some of you will be able to make them welcome.


We were able to have one day In Jerusalem, and it turned out to be the day of Nasser's funeral and Jewish New Year, so that both Arabs and Jews were observing a close holiday. However we did have the great privilege of staying in St George's Hostel (attached to the Anglican Cathedral) and of being invited by the Dean to take part in the early morning Communion Service. We had hoped to see Archbishop Appleton, who was formerly Archbishop of Perth, now of Jerusalem but he was in Cairo for Nasser's funeral as Cairo is part of his archdiocese.

In the old city of Jerusalem we went to see the Convent of Our Lady of Sion, where Sister Shirley Sedawie, known to us formerly as Sister Mary Callistus and Sister Antoninus of the W.I.C.C. of Victoria had been stationed at different times. Here an old friend of theirs showed us a grooved pavement which has been excavated under their buildings. The sisters believe that this could have been the very pavement on which Christ stood at the time of his trial. There is even a game scratched in the stones such as Roman soldiers might have played.

We were able to see two of the staff of the Near East Christian Council, who sent us with their driver down the Jericho Road to Bethany. It is an indescribable feeling to walk the streets of old Jerusalem and travel on the roads of Palestine, over the ground that Jesus trod, to the Homes of Mercy, founded by an Arab Orthodox woman and serving the needs of old people, cripples and handicapped children. Here we were met by the German matron, who kindly showed us round the heart-breaking wards of the home. We have touching pictures of the helpless children, one little girl blind, deaf and dumb and of some of the happier adult patients.

On the way we saw a mobile Clinic belonging to the Lutheran World Federation which had just returned from delivering medical supplies to Amman where the fighting was, and was refuelling to return.

What a cross section of Christianity, spanning the centuries from the time of Christ himself to the troubled twentieth century.


In New Delhi it was an inspiration to meet the leaders of two of the great agencies which are leading the way in constructive plans of self help for India — Christian Agency for Social Action C.A.S.A. ably led by Mr Stephen Mathai an Indian serving his people with vision and distinction. This is the service agency of the National Christian Council.

Mr Mathai gave us a challenging and exciting description of the work of C.A.S.A. and sent us on to a related organization AFPRO Action for Food Production, where the Director is Lt. General P.O. Dunn, an Indian national and the executive secretary is Miss Elizabeth Reid an Australian member of the Grail, an organization of Catholic Lay Women. AFPRO maintains a vital programme for food production, water development and nutrition education and works in close liaison with the government of India. Miss Pamela Harrison, an Australian girl, young and charming, and her equally delightful social workers took us to a village clinic run by a Mission hospital they conducted. Here one conducted a class in how to improve diet by using available vegetables, including leaves of the drumstick tree which grows by the wayside and the other taught children songs with puppets. We were hospitably entertained in a Mission household in this village. Most of the workers are day labourers, and many families would not get more than R60 a month — about $4.

Here is real partnership in Christian service — Indians and Australians and Catholics and Protestants putting all differences aside in the service of a Muslim-Hindu village.

The day we were there the social workers (Indian) were delighted because they felt they were gaining the interest and cooperation of the village women. They were most insistent that we should send back copies of the pictures we took, and this we have done. I wish you could all have been In Okhla village that day. Here was India in miniature.

But this letter Is running away with me. I cannot go into detail about our visit to Rangoon where the Rev. John Thelgyi is raising poultry on a pilot scheme to help improve the living standard of the Burmese farmers, or Penang where we saw the site of the proposed new Y.M.C.A. centre and hostel supported by I.C.A. in 1970. We can only spare a glance for the magnificent work being done among the flat dwellers of Toa Payoh the mammoth housing development in Singapore where the Rev. Michael Wong has moved in with his wife and two young sons, into the flat above the shophouse Church. If ever I saw real ecumenism and real involvement it Is here.


But I must tell you that in Djakarta I saw Connie Tan, our first Winifred Kiek Scholarship Holder, and shared the evening meal of The Dorkas Children's Home where she is educational advisor. We photographed the thirty children, happy in spite of everything, in their quadrangle with Connie and Miss Wartlna, the Director of the Home.

I asked Connie what could we send from Australia to help her in her work, and she suggested two practical things to help with their Kindergarten works — pigments for making poster colours and finger paint and used Christmas cards which can be cut up and used in making many things. Connie is advlsor to 14 children's homes so she can use any materials you can send. Here again we see the church at work and through our association with Connie we have a small share in what is being done for these children in Indonesia.

I would like to close with something Stephen Mathai said to us when we were in New Delhi.

“In this kind of work you have to keep your spirit free, so that you can be open to the world. If this work is something special, it should show in us. There is a need for sanctification”.

I have come back from this experience of contact with Christian men and women in other countries with a renewed faith in the living witness of the Christian tradition. My prayer is that Australian Church Women may continue to play a vital part in this witness with a growing awareness of the world's needs, so that we may live in the twentieth century as interpreters of Jesus' love for the world.

May Joan’s prayer continue to be answered in our twenty-first century as members and friends of ACW support those helping others through our offerings to the Fellowship of the Least Coin, the Asian Church Women’s Conference and the Winifred Kiek Memorial Scholarship.


An obituary for Stephen Mathai and a summary of the many global development projects that he oversaw is at


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This Herstory Blog of Australian Church Women Inc. tells the stories of the women and activities of this national Christian organisation that was founded in February 1965.

Stories that inspired and encouraged me to begin this blog and share their inspiration with you. Stories that need to be told so that the women of ACW can be honoured and celebrated for their achievements and experiences in local, national and international communities of faith. And, most importantly, stories that demonstrate being disciples of Jesus Christ firmly underpins all that Australian Church Women represents.

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