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News from Mackay

23 February, 2023
Fr Alex, Ray and Grace Borg and the Timor Leste nurses.

Timor Leste Nurses in Walkerston

Rotary International has put together a Rotary Foundation Global Grant to fund a Vocational Training Team (VTT) to train Timor-Leste Nurses/Midwives during a five-week course at the CQUniversity in Mackay. The area of focus will be “Maternal and Child Health”
Timor-Leste has one of the highest maternal mortality and perinatal (stillbirth and newborn death) and infant mortality rates in the world. The result of the recent conflict with Indonesia means the older generation of mentors is missing (deceased) and there is a lack of infrastructure and training. The nursing/midwifery training provided in Australia is unavailable to the VTT members in Timor-Leste. A lady giving birth in a Timor-Leste hospital is 14 times more likely to die or have her baby die than if she gave birth in Australia.
Timor-Leste is 686 km Northwest of Darwin. It takes about three-quarters of an hour to get there by plane from Darwin. The capital of Timor-Leste is Dilli. In 1999 Australia sent troops to East Timor as it was known at the time to assist the country to obtain independence.
The team arrived in Mackay on Saturday 7th January and is here for six weeks. Most of the team members are Roman Catholic and speak English. They are staying at the CQUniversity campus at Ooralea and Rotary will be providing a bus and driver to move them around the district. They have been joining the St John’s community for Mass most Saturday nights.
Ray Borg is very involved in the Walkerston Rotary club. Ray and his wife Grace are both busy volunteers for St John’s Walkerston. This couple has been assisting the nurses with their stay here.

Street Chaplains guest speakers at Mens’ Dinner

President Kevin McEvoy welcomed a good crowd for our first dinner for 2023. There were apologies from five regular members. Kevin also welcomed guest speakers Niki Power-Vella and Tony Heath.

Reflection from Rex:-

“Handling disappointments”. Proverbs 24:16 says; ‘The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again.’ What a powerful encouragement from God for overcoming disappointments. Disappointment with yourself can be the most difficult to recover from. Consider Peter who, after pledging his loyalty, denied Jesus three times, became so heartbroken by his failure, yet Jesus was not shocked. He knew Peter’s flaws and extended grace, instead of casting him aside. Jesus reaffirmed His choice of His failed disciple who then lived out his life in victory glorifying God. We too fail and yes, Jesus knows and extends grace, so what should we do? Firstly, humble yourself and repent, confess, and then you will receive God’s grace and forgiveness by faith, (not feelings). Next, don’t let disappointment trap you in despair. Instead, obey the proverb; get up, get the help you need to get back on track, – sooner, not later. Amen.

Des said Grace then Kevin led the Patron’s Prayer before the table by table, dinner was self-served for a delightful meal.

Kevin then gave Tony Vella the honour of introducing the guest speaker; his daughter, Niki Vella-Power , who is the Vice President of Mackay Street Chaplaincy.

Tony Heath, Rex Fraser, Niki Power-Vella, and Tony Vella

She then introduced Tony Heath who is a new chaplain on our city streets. With a power-point presentation backdrop, Niki outlined the history of street chaplaincy in Mackay. Twelve years ago a disturbing early morning plea for help woke a priest who felt compelled to do something. Two years later after a false start and help from Townsville Street Chaplaincy, a Mackay committee was formed and ten years later Mackay still has chaplains assisting patrons in the city precinct. Based on the parable of the Good Samaritan, Mackay Street Chaplaincy’s, (or MSC)’s mission is to help and care for people who may be at risk while on a night out in the city centre late on a Friday or Saturday night.
They are part of the Safe Night Precinct project working with the city council, police, ambulance, venue security, and business owners to provide a safeguard for vulnerable people.

With a safe space, free water, lollipops, thongs, and basic first aid, the chaplains help, care for, listen, and share God’s love with their friendly presence. In a team of four per shift, one pair operates the Rest & Recovery tent while the second pair patrols the precinct giving help where needed and alerting police to dangerous activities or ringing for an ambulance where needed.

Tony then gave his story as a sixty-year-old having a back injury and becoming unemployed, yet still wanting to contribute. He volunteered with Lifeline, chatting to people in crisis on the phone. Also, he helps out with Watch House Walks and reflects on suffering being universal so helping others to work through their crisis is a God thing. Upon joining MSC, Tony found street chaplaincy helps people have a safe night out, gives practical assistance, and includes great chats with some very interesting characters. Both he and Niki consider it “great fun”.

They thanked the group for the opportunity to share the mission and took questions:

  • Yes, the QLD government gives street chaplaincy committees grant money to operate.
  • Yes, MSC welcomes recruits, has about twenty members, and needs at least eight chaplains per weekend.
  • The grant money is linked to data collection focusing on incidents of violence around nightclubs.
  • During the mining boom, Mackay was a dangerous night zone. It is now much safer.
  • Training chaplains is ongoing so they stay up to date with skills and knowledge.
  • Most of the public is very supportive and friendly towards the ‘chaplains in purple’.

Niki shared that God is with them on the streets and the prayers of His people protect both the chaplains and the patrons. Please keep praying, Amen.

Graham thanked Niki and Tony saying Mackay is blessed to have the chaplains. With applause and a gift, the group thanked the speakers.

Our August date will be the 21st, not the 28th. It was decided to change our dinner date when ladies are invited from October to September.

Our next dinner is on Monday 27th February. The guest speaker is Fr Matthias Ogwo, who has recently taken up as Parish Priest, Southern Cluster Mackay. Visitors and new members are always welcome. 6.30pm for 7pm start at the City Bowls club Shakespeare St.

Graham Featherstone