By Josh Gibbon
For Brooke Prentis, CEO of Common Grace and a proud Wakka Wakka woman, the longing to see justice and equity reign in the world began in her earliest years.
“I think for any Aboriginal person that quest for justice is instilled in you at such a young age because we experience injustice, and often for many of us, our first memory is of that racism experienced in the schoolyard,” she shared.
The schoolyard didn’t hold her back, though. Brooke became the first Aboriginal person to graduate from the University of Queensland with a Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Arts. During this formative time for her at age 21, she met Jesus.
In Him, she found the answer to her quest for justice.
“When I became a Christian, I realised that there was this guy, Jesus, who was about justice. Although we don’t see that every day in the Christian Church, I think that’s what we need to be paying attention to Jesus in life, death and resurrection.”
During this time of her life, Brooke began engaging in youth parliament, urging young people to use their voice to make a difference in politics for the disadvantaged in our country.
“It’s not that people are voiceless,” she pointed out. “I still hear those words used in the Australian Church today – about ‘giving a voice to the voiceless’.
“We all have a voice. It’s about the systems that create the injustice that voices aren’t heard or they are not listened to.”
Brooke pointed out that state lockdowns during the pandemic have been a taste for all Australians of how governing systems can affect daily freedoms.
“I think it’s been a wake-up moment for non-indigenous peoples as government decisions now affect their lives. Government decisions have always affected Aboriginal people’s lives.
“We (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples) weren’t just prevented from crossing between state borders. We weren’t allowed to leave our community, and you had to get permission from the chief protector of Aborigines, which was often denied to just leave your mission, your reserve, your community. The closing of the borders is not the first time that that’s happened in these lands, now called Australia.”
In leading Common Grace today, Brooke sees her primary role to amplify the voices of Aboriginal Christian leaders and encourage non-indigenous Australian Church leaders to step beyond their own communities and build cross-cultural relationships.
“How do you look at what Jesus says about justice? Jesus challenged the rich and the powerful. Jesus’ challenge to us each and every day is to care for the last and the least – the prisoner, those that are in poverty. Jesus is there. Where are we as Christians?”
Engaging the Issues of 2022
In Brooke’s eyes, the key issues for the Australian Church to engage with have not changed this year, despite a tumultuous pandemic.
“It’s really the four key justice areas of Common Grace – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander justice, justice for refugees and people seeking asylum, creation and climate justice, and domestic and family violence justice. All of these are still very relevant.”
However, what she does believe needs to change this year is the way the church is engaging with these issues. She proposed three actions we can take in our communities.
“The first one is really to have the conversations in your communities,” she said. “I tell people that, and they’re still not having the conversation, or they’ll raise it once. So, it might be Aboriginal justice at National Reconciliation Week, but we need to continue these conversations.”
“When was the last conversation you had about domestic and family violence? When was the last conversation you had about asylum seekers and refugees?
“When was the last conversation that you had about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples? When was the last conversation you had about our warming world?”
“We might talk about loving our neighbour, but where are we actually talking in community about what that means?”
Brooke stressed the importance of stepping out of your community ‘bubble’ to have these conversations in a way that invites a change of thought and heart.
“So many churches are focused on their community, but they actually mean their church community. You’re a church within a community.
“Does your church reflect that (wider) community or just a group of people with similar passions who look the same and have the same levels of education and our wealth?
“It’s about accepting invitations. Don’t just look at your own family – what are you being invited into?”
This year, NAIDOC week’s theme is ‘Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up!’ Brook felt this was an important reminder to the Australian Church.
“Don’t just like it on Facebook or say you’re going to something online – actually turn up. We want people to show up this year.
“We need to get out of our own communities to mix with others to then help to strengthen and broaden our own community.”
If your church is looking for where to start in having these conversations, to step off your immediate community, and to show up to the events that matter, Common Grace hosts regular events and provides online resources to assist churches. Why not reach out and see how they could help?
Return to Engaging the Issues, 2022 HERE
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