An Anglican church in Sydney is giving local refugees experience of driving on Australia’s roads. The scheme, run by the Chester Hill Church, to the west of Sydney, enables people who had experience of driving in their former homes to get used to the different road conditions in the country.
“We were finding a lot of people we were connecting with – many Syrians but people from other countries as well – who drove plenty back home but just needed to get hours up here, and didn’t really have the money to buy their own vehicle to do that,” the Revd Paul Webb, senior minister of Chester Hill, said. “So we’ve started that and it’s opened up opportunities for further connection.”
The mentoring for drivers runs parallel to a job mentoring scheme at the church, which began around six months ago to give practical assistance to local refugees as they settle into Australian society. Webb got the idea for the driver mentoring after hearing about a similar program being run in Wollongong by a non-Christian organisation.
The church has about 20 trainee drivers on the books. The mentors are church members wh volunteer their time.
“We connected with two Syrian families through the Anglicare Mobile Community Pantry and developed relationships with them,” Webb says. “We offered lessons to one of those families, and they have basically just referred us to people they know. That’s how it expanded it initially.
“Those two families connected with us, and they keep bringing more people to hook into our church. We’ve also developed connections with local community groups and social justice organisations who have also referred some people to us.”
The parish has put measures in place to ensure the ministry is sustainable long term. Trainees are asked to pay AUD $15 (approximately £8.80 GBP) for their lessons to cover petrol and other maintenance costs. They are expected to take on some professional lessons before coming to Chester Hill to ensure a baseline level of understanding.
The church is also exploring ways to financially support the co-ordinator of the ministry, Caroline Seaton, so she can devote more hours to it and ensure its sustainable growth.
“We’re putting a lot of effort into this, but we have a big emphasis on not just doing driver coaching, but also talking about Jesus with people we meet,” Webb said. “That’s led us to start up a Syrian Arabic and Easy English discipleship group out of people in our mentoring programs, which is going well. We’ve also been able to connect people to our community events and to church services.
“It’s all grown quite rapidly, and there’s been great gospel fruit already.”