By Stephen Cathcart
It is just after 5pm. Tables are being scraped across the floor. Chairs placed in position. Betty, who has been here from the very first night, brings along the washed and folded tablecloths and carefully places them over the scratched tabletops. Sue, who was invited by Betty, prises open the draws for knives and forks, the cupboards for glasses and serviettes. Then everything is ready. We wait.
Tongarra Tukka is facilitated by Jeannie, a member of Southern Illawarra Church of Christ. Southern Church doesn’t own a ‘Church building’ but does own a ‘Church house’. The house sits on the main street of Albion Park – Tongarra Road. Each Thursday night, the church through Jeannie, offers a free 2 course community meal, called Tongarra Tukka. Jeannie originally started Tongarra Tukka in 2018 to help folk who were sleeping in the showground across the road. Jeannie said that she, “desired to be God’s hands and feet. Reaching out our hands and doing something.” Over time Tongarra Tukka has become a space for people who are alone.
As we wait, Pat enters. She is a neighbour to the church house. She lives alone and delights in the company. Then, Marilyn, an older lady who lives alone and recently lost both her husband and daughter through difficult circumstances. A single mum with kids in tow, find chairs. Eagerly, they enter a place of belonging – a community.
As people place themselves at various points around the tables Jeannie calls for quiet and asks – what are you thankful for this week? A number call out their thanks. This is followed by ‘grace’.
This Thursday night, like each week, Jeannie offers us a choice. For main course there is either – silverside and baked vegetables or lasagne and salad. Dessert is supplied by another two ladies. One lady is part of another church in town who enjoys serving through food. The other lady, Karen, is part of Southern Church who uses her gifts of cooking to bless others. Tonight’s dessert choice is either Oreo cheesecake or banana bread with a cuppa. A homecooked meal, company, conversation. A roar of chatter begins to rise. Folk relish the time to eat with another.
What does Jeannie enjoy about this evening of hard work? She says, ‘I enjoy that people have company. The people that God sent are getting together and seeing each other. I cannot fix anyone’s problem, but I can offer them food’.
The work of Tongarra Tukka is supported by donations. Some of these donations come via the ‘coffee ministry’ on a Sunday morning, and others come through local partnerships such as the Country Women’s Association, who recently cooked for Tongarra Tukka when our chief cook was away! But that is another Southern story.
Other donations come through the Churches of Christ in NSW & ACT network. If you would like to contribute to this ministry, click HERE.
Stephen Cathcart is pastor of Southern Illawarra Church of Christ, also known as Southern Church. He is passionate about SRE teaching and local, practical ministry to the wider community.
Read more stories from churches of Christ in NSW & ACT HERE