Thanks to my team, thanks to my opponent, thank you God, and thank you Tom Toby for these wonderful pics 🙂
It’s been an intense time for me of late. I turned 54 a week ago. Two days later I made my return to professional boxing, scoring a TKO over Glen Aristides in the 3rd round.
The timing of this was significant in a number of ways. For one thing, it meant that I became the oldest Australian ever to box professionally, beating the record set by Dexter ‘Dingo’ Dunworth, who boxed until he was 53. Secondly, it meant that there was no cake and feasting on my birthday, but I made up for that tonight with a lovely dinner out with the family. 🙂
As for the fight, it was a really positive experience for me. My opponent was an absolute gentleman, and despite his lack of experience, he was no push-over! Indeed, he showed greater balance and finesse than I had anticipated. I was counting though on his lack of match-fitness being his Achilles heel, and so I stayed on him tenaciously from the opening bell. By the end of the third round I had indeed worn him out and the referee stopped the contest.
As I say, it was a really positive experience for me. It was an honest and gutsy contest, and we raised some good money that will go a long way towards getting our Boxers for Peace team to Syria a little later this year. I am deeply grateful to my team, to my opponent, and to God. I am also grateful to all you guys who supported this mad venture with your finances and your prayers.
Expect a few more fights from me over the coming months. A number of offers have already come in but, quite honestly, I’m only now looking for fights that will deliver decent pay-packets. I know that sounds horribly materialistic but I believe in the work we are doing, and I believe that broad numbers of people are ultimately going to benefit from this work.
We are in Lent – that 40-day period in the church year which is set aside for sombre reflection and personal spiritual reformation. It’s a 40-day experience that draws its inspiration from Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, as outlined in the Gospel according to St Luke, chapter 4.
The thing that really struck me this year as I read though the story again is that Jesus never suggests explicitly that we should all follow Him into the wilderness. Indeed, it’s not obvious that there is anything in Jesus’ temptation experience that we can model ourselves on. When was the last time I was tempted to turn stones into bread?
But if the temptations story is not given to us as a model for discipleship, what’s the point of Lent and, more importantly, what were the Gospel writers trying to teach us through this narrative?
Father Dave’s selfie competition
OK fighter, I’ve finally got a competition going for you, and it’s one where you can accomplish some good simply by entering!
Over the last few days graffiti images of me have been turning up in various spots around Sydney. I think there are around 20 so far! They each carry a message. You can see examples of them below.
In truth, I’m not sure about the location of many of these. There’s one on the side of our church building, and one of the ‘Hands Off Syria’ versions is on the wall of the Prime Minister’s electoral office (included above). This could get me into trouble!
In truth, I haven’t posted any of these though I certainly am keen to get the message out, so here’s my plan: a competition!
Here’s what you have to do:
Get a selfie of yourself alongside on of my graffiti images. You can adopt whatever pose you like but just don’t obscure the message.
Share the image through your social media network (eg. Twitter)
If you want to get really creative you could hold up your own billboard, either echoing my message or broadcasting a similar one (but not a contrary one please). Hopefully this will help spread the message! 🙂
Depending on the number of entries, these prizes may go to multiple people or they may go to just one person! This competition is obviously limited to people living or staying in Sydney, and most of my readership is NOT in Sydney. This means that if you’re local you’ve got an excellent chance of winning, so get out there and take your selfie and spread the word!
Grieving the death of Sheikh Nimr at Bankstown Mosque
Protesting the execution of Sheikh Nimr at Martin Place
with Syrian Girl in Martin Place
Hanging out with Nader
with Junior Talipeau
Hanging out with Sheikh Mohamad Jawad
It’s Father Dave, back with you and ready to punch-on for another year! 🙂
The holidays are far behind us now and Christmas is but a fading memory. What I hope is fresher in your mind is the list of goals you’ve set for 2016.
As you probably know, I am a great goal-setter! I almost never reach the goals I set (at least not in the precise form that I set them) but more often than not I find we get half-way to achieving something that seemed completely impossible when I first dreamed of it, and often the final result is better than what I’d originally imagined anyway!
For the last two years I’ve recorded my goals quick explicitly in this blog. They include:
Founding monastery at our bush retreat (Binacrombi)
Winning a world boxing title
Staging an Australia v Syria boxing tournament in Damascus
Supporting my children through school
The thought of developing our bush camp as a place of prayer seemed like a crazy dream a few years ago. Last year though we did indeed Christen the new chapel at Binacrombi, and we now have fourteen Fighting Fathers who have taken their vows as members of the Order. We aren’t a functioning monastic order yet by any stretch of the imagination but we have seen Binacrombi evolve into a real place of spiritual solace!
As to my World Boxing Title, I think that one’s going to elude me. Even so, I did manage a state title last April and fought for the Australian title in October!
As to Syria, I ended up in Damascus twice last year and had the most amazing times of my life! I believe that the foundations are now all in place to see that particular dream come to fruition this year, and probably in a way that will be bigger and better than anything I had originally hoped for!
As for my kids, I am very thankful for how each of them is going. Veronica successfully completed her first year of University, Imogen managed to get a high enough score in her HSC to get into University, Soren is doing well at Tempe High, and Fran is the most beautiful and delightful 2nd-grader anyone could ask for!
So I’ve set some new goals for 2016 and they are as follows:
To initiate a ‘Boxing for Life’ program that will help integrate Christian and Muslim youth within the Australian community.
To restart our Youth Drop-in Centre in Dulwich Hill.
To publish at least one (and possibly two) books
To raise $30,000 through boxing to support all these initiatives
To continue to find enough time for my family
I’ll be expanding on these goals as they develop over the course of the coming months. The only one that might require some explanation now is the ‘Boxing for Life’ program which we are developing as a CVE initiative (Countering Violent Extremism).
Not many people would think of Sydney as the Jihad capital of the world! Even so, per head of population, Australia has contributed more fighters to DAESH in Syria than just about any other country in the world! We have between 100 and 150 young men fighting over there at the moment. This seems small when compared to around 500 from Indonesia, but Indonesia has a pool of around 220 million Muslim people to appeal to. In Australia that pool is less than half a million!
I’ve offered my own analysis of this crisis in my ‘Stop the War video’ and elsewhere. Suffice it to say here that this is a broad social problem where we really need to deal with the underlying sense of alienation affecting young Muslim men rather than simply counter violence with violence. Our Fighting Fathers’ strategy is to build social integration between young Australians of all faiths and cultural backgrounds, and to use boxing as the means to achieving it! Stay tuned for updates. 🙂
Sermon time – I love to have a beer with Jesus!
One story about Jesus that stands out like a sore thumb in the Gospels is the account of how He apparently turned some large jars of water into copious amounts of wine (John 2:1-11)! It stands out because we generally think of miracles as acts that heal or feed or help people in some obvious way. Who was being helped by this miracle? Given the enormous amount of alcohol involved, we might wonder whether Jesus was creating a problem rather than solving one!
Moreover, the Gospel writer John says that this was Jesus’ first miracle. It was, in other words, Jesus’ way of introducing Himself to the world! If this was how Jesus introduced Himself to us, what does that say about Jesus, and what does it say about us? Are we who follow Jesus all supposed to be big drinkers? This has hardly been the way the church has understood itself in history, but if that’s not the point what is the point?
Join me ringside!
click me for full-size
I mentioned above that one of my goals for the year is to raise $30,000 through boxing. That might seem a little ambitious but I’m hoping to do even better than that and it all begins for me on February 19th at Hurstville Entertainment Centre!
Due to changes in Australian law governing boxing, I’ve managed to get re-licensed as a professional boxer. I suspect I”m now the oldest professional fighter in the country! Either way, I’m scheduled to fight Glen Aristedes on February 19th and I’d be very grateful if you would come and support me.
My potential to raise money through this event is going to be determined by how many tickets I can sell so you’ll be doing me a favour if you get your tickets directly through me. There are two kinds of tickets available:
$80 – regular ticket
$250 – ringside table that includes food and drink
I’ve got two tables set aside with ten seats on each. If you’d like to join my family and key supporters at one of those tables, please let me know. If you’d like a regular $80 ticket, I can get that sent to you too. Either way, email me.
My opponent for this event is 10 years my junior and I’m expecting him to come in slightly heavier. Even so, I’m training very hard and am anticipating a win. If I fail miserably, this may well be my last fight. Either way, your support would be greatly appreciated. All funds raised will go to support ‘Boxing for Life’, ‘Boxers for Peace’, and other Fighting Fathers initiatives.
That’s enough for now as I’ve gotta get back to training. Here’s one more request though – when you email me about the tickets, let me know what your goals are for 2016, or leave them as comments on this blog page. Share the inspiration! 🙂
there's nothing like a bit of pageantry in church!
the Fighting Fathers were represented!
I gave my greeting in Hebrew, Latin and Arabic as well as English 🙂
even politicians are welcome! 😉
the honorary Syrian Consular General was with us
Jo Brooke led the choir beautifully
the children were as wonderful as ever!
this is one of my favourites
the only pic like this I'm ever likely to have!
our church building turns 100!
I want to extend a quick invitation to you to join us in celebrating Christmas this year, but first I must thank everyone who so graciously helped us celebrate on December 6th.
You will remember that December 6th was the date of three celebrations for us here:
our church building turned 100
i completed my 25th year in Dulwich Hill as parish priest
we officially opened our new Community Centre
Our big day went very well and there are too many people to thank here. The pics above are of the anniversary service, courtesy of photographer John Cluttberbuck.
25 years in Dulwich Hill!
Rather than give you the sermon from the service (which you can find here if you’re keen) I’m going to invite you on a sentimental journey with me, back over my 25 years in Dulwich Hill, thanks to my friend Denning who put together this video retrospective!
And yes, there are a few things I want to invite you to:
Christmas Carols are held on our front lawn at 11 Herbert Street, Dulwich HIll on Christmas Eve (Thursday) Candles and sparklers a supplied. We begin at 7pm
Our Christmas Day Eucharistat Holy Trinity is at the usual time of 9.15am.
We have a special Christmas Luncheonafter the service on Christmas Day.
Anyone who has nowhere else to be is welcome to join our family.
We would love to have you join us for any or all of the above, but can I make a special plea for the Carols on the Lawn. We are short of musicians this year! If you can come, bring your flute or guitar with you. Hey, you can even bring your harp or lagerphone – anything that makes a joyful noise! 🙂
OK, that’s it for today. I’ll be back in a couple of days’ time with our official Christmas greeting and maybe even a present under the virtual tree!
And if you still haven’t worked out what to get me (a man who has everything) the answer, of course, is nothing! Having said that, if you’d like to buy me a drink I’ll be happy to accept it with thanks, as all drink money goes directly to support the work of Fighting Fathers Ministries.
it’s the 100-year anniversary of our church building
It’s my 25th anniversary as priest of the parish
it’s the opening of our new Youth and Community Centre
If you’re in the Dulwich Hill area I’m hoping you’ll join us from 9.15am onwards.
We’ll have plenty of interesting personalities joining us tomorrow, including our own Archbishop, Glen Davies, our former Archbishop, Harry Goodhew, and a host of other dignitaries, politicians and community leaders. We’ll also have with us representatives of many of the groups we’ve worked closely with over the years who will be carrying appropriate banners in the church procession:
I’m also expecting quite a number from the local Muslim community to join us. Indeed, our friends from the Imam Husain Islamic Centre are organising the BBQ luncheon for us that follows and are paying for all the sausages.
So if you’re in the area, you are invited. And if you’re not in the area, you’re still invited (but not expected). Either way, we kick off with church at 9.15am and should be finished by around 2pm (after which you can stick around for Fight Club if you’re really keen)!
As you may know, there had been a four-round professional boxing match planned for tomorrow too between myself and Aswin Cabuy (pictured below). Unfortunately that fight is not now going ahead, much to my disappointment.
Even so, I thought I’d give you a fight rather than a sermon.today It’s my fight from early October against Tommy West. It was my last fight as an amatuer as I’ve subsequently been granted a professional license again and there’s no going back this time!
I was disappointed not to get the decision in this fight. Not only the crowd but even my opponent thought I won this one! I won’t say more but leave it to you to judge.
I’ll try to be in contact again before Christmas.
working the corner for Aswin Cabuy
I will mention one thing to you now though before I let you go – namely, that I’ve finally upgraded two of my main websites!
Father Dave v. Tommy West - Adelaide, October 5, 2015
Father Dave v. Tommy West - Adelaide, October 5, 2015
Father Dave v. Tommy West - Adelaide, October 5, 2015
Sydney Marches for Palestine, Saturday October 17
Sydney Marches for Palestine, Saturday October 17
Soren pitches into the work at Binacrombi with his chainsaw
Bob and John launch their book on Holy Trinity - "A Church for our Times"
'Hands Off Syria' rally - Sydney Town Hall
Imogen finishes school
Imogen finishes school
Imogen does an amazing birthday sketch for Ange
showing off my Father's Day hat
It’s been a month since we last communicated and the world seems to have been turned upside-down since then!
When I last wrote there were still fears that Russia was going to sell out Syria for the sake of gaining time before the inevitable showdown with NATO over the Ukraine. Instead Russia went on the offensive – launching a blistering attack against jihadists in Syria! As a result, as I wrote in my Syria blog, Syria has won the war (almost)!
Putin’s bold move took the US and her allies (including Australia) by complete surprise and created a diplomatic scramble with everyone desperately trying to come up with a rationale as to why Russia shouldn’t be allowed to help the West achieve their stated objectives! While the great powers mumble and fumble Syrians around the world rejoice!
Meanwhile in Israel/Palestine things go from bad to worse! The violence is sickening. The one-sided coverage by Australian media is also sickening. I won’t say more here but point you instead to an article I published on my Israel/Palestine blog, entitled “Palestinians Die. Who cares?” Be warned that it includes a gut-wrenching video of a young girl being killed in cold blood.
For me personally the world has also been turning rather rapidly of late. Two Sundays ago I fought for another Australian boxing title (old bastards division, of course). I lost on a controversial split decision. This was disappointing as I was hoping to use this title as leverage to relaunch myself as a professional. Now I’m assessing my options.
It’s not that I feel I have anything left to prove in the sporting field. It’s a simple issue of money. I’ve found that there’s only so much I can raise through grant applications and online appeals and it never seems to be quite enough to keep our work going.
Put in a prayer for me please. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been and I’m sure I still have a few fights left in me. If I could get one or two high-profile fights I could put our work on a more solid financial footing. I’m continuing to train hard and will take whatever opportunities open up to me. The rest is in God’s hands.
The Gospel according to Adolf Hitler
“You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:42-43)
I’ve got a different sort of sermon for you this week. Sunday’s Gospel reading from Mark chapter 10 focused once again on the issue of power. This was such a common point of contention between Jesus and His disciples that I covered the issue in detail in a sermon on Mark 9 only a few weeks ago. So I thought I’d take a different tack this time – comparing the teachings of Jesus to the teachings of Adolf Hitler as spelt out in his autobiography, Mein Kampf.
I’m not suggesting that you read Mein Kampf (though you may be interested to hear my summary). I do recommend to you the teachings of Jesus on issues of power. Hopefully by giving you my take on both you’ll be less likely to confuse the two!
(for the written version of this sermon, click here, and for the audio-only, here)
The world continues to turn and my timetable for the coming months is looking increasingly dense. Hopefully some good will come of it.
Next weekend (October 23-25) is our Warriors’ Weekend – two days of intense fitness training and prayer at Australia’s most beautiful bush camp, Binacrombi.
If you haven’t signed up to come there is still time (providing that you’re reading this before October 23rd). Just let me know ASAP. If you have no idea as to what it’s about, you can check out the Warrior Weekends website or download the flyer here.
Once this weekend is over things will really start to hot up for me. Highlights include:
The completion of our new Youth and Community Centre in mid-November
Our community choir’s Bach and Vivaldi concert on November 22nd
A dinner to mark my 25th anniversary as Parish Priest on December 5th
Holy Trinity’s 100-year Centenary celebration on December 6th
The official opening of our new Centre by the Archbishop on the same day
In addition to all this I’m still hoping to slot that professional fight in there somewhere – perhaps on the same day as the official opening while I’ve got the Archbishop there to help work my corner.
If you’d like to come to my 25-year anniversary dinner, please get in touch with the church office.
If you’d like to join us for the Centenary celebrations and the hall opening, just show up (though if you warn me that you’re coming I’ll have a better idea of numbers for the BBQ luncheon).
And I’m still looking for more help. Applications for the new Youth Worker position have now closed but I’m still hoping I can find people to help me with a variety of tasks, and if I can secure that fight I might even be able to pay people something for their efforts. 🙂
Keep your hands up, fighter. We’ll talk again soon.
Lots of the kids who trained with us were living in UNICEF tents that ringed the stadium
Training with the young people of Tartous!
Singing and dancing is very much a part of the culture!
At the gym in Tartous - boys will be boys!
with one of the young disabled veterans of Tartous
The art school in Damascus is full of kids!
The kids insisted on giving us some of their artworks
Damascus swimming centre where 1000+ kids get lessons each week
Back with the kids of Yarmouk
Working the pads with the kids of Yarmouk
we did lots of media interviews
with Syrian Prime Minister, Wael Nader al-Halqi
back with my beloved Mufti - Dr Hassoun
the Mufti is one of the most beautiful men I have ever met
I apologise for the increasing gaps in communication. In truth, I simply have more to do than I can handle. There will be an appeal for help in the latter half of this missive. If you want to avoid hearing me grovel just quit after the sermon. 😉
This is the first chance I’ve had to share with you some of the photographic highlights of our last trip to Syria in late July. What a beautiful time it was, and what beautiful people! Once again the experience was one of hospitality and grace (mixed in with plenty of boxing). I came back full of hope for for the country and its people, though the subsequent moves being made by the US, NATO and my own country (Australia) to escalate the violence do bring me to tears.
Sometimes I don’t know which is worse – the way the West imposes its agenda on Syria at the cost of the lives of millions of people, or that it does so under the banner of humanitarian aid! In truth, these are days of shame for all of us who are a part of the ungodly coalition intent on destroying Syria, and it could backfire horribly. Australia has always been the ‘lucky country’ but by God we are pushing our luck at the moment!
I am regularly being asked what is going to happen next with Syria. I am no prophet, of course, but for the sake of those who would like my take on the subject, the future of Syria seems to be being determined by foreign governments, each of whom have their own agenda. It is a complex situation but I offer the following pointers:
Qatar wants a change of government so that it can pipe gas through Syria into Europe. Their agenda is straightforward.
Saudi Arabia and Israel are more interested in weakening Iran which threatens to overtake both countries economically (nb. the threat is economic, not existential). Syria is Iran’s main ally in the region (the only other being Hezbollah in Lebanon) and so destroying Syria will significantly weaken Iran.
Turkey’s militancy is being driven less by Iran than by the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood (though Turkish President Erdogan seems to also have a personal issue with Syrian President Assad).
The US is trying to back its allies in the region (Israel, the Saudis, Turkey, etc.) and are also interested in weakening Iran. Mr Obama is also still dealing with the embarrassment resulting from the fact that he told President Assad to stand down four years ago and he still hasn’t done as he was told!
These are the chief factors that have led to the war of foreign aggression against Syria. Let’s be clear about this: It is not a civil war and I doubt if it ever was. Certainly there aren’t many Syrians left on the rebel side now. We spoke to a young man in Tartous last month who was in a wheelchair. He’d been shot through the spine while fighting at Dier Yasir. We asked him ‘who were you facing there?’ He said ‘Libyans, British and French’. We said ‘no Syrians?’ He laughed.
So, given the foreign interests of this coalition of violence, why hasn’t Syria as we know it been wiped off the map? Here are some of the balancing factors:
Iran doesn’t want to lose its main ally in the region and hence has been giving financial and military support to the Syrian government.
Russia gives support too as it wants to maintain its military presence in the region (though its naval base at Tartous).
The uprising against Saudi hegemony in Yemen is forcing the Saudis to fight a battle on two fronts.
And so the future of Syria seems to depend on the wheelings and dealings of these foreign players, and a number of factors could tip the balance either way.
On the one hand:
Iran could strike a deal with the US such that it would withdraw support from Syria in exchange for the lifting of all sanctions. This now seems unlikely.
Russia might abandon Syria in order to buy time for the looming conflict with NATO in the Ukraine. This looks less likely now than it did a month ago.
Israel might attack Lebanon (as it has been threatening to do) which will lead to the recall of all Hezbollah forces from Syria, thus weakening the Syrian Army.
On the other hand:
Yemen may continue to resist the murderous Saudi onslaught (which is almost not being reported on anywhere) and may prove to be the end of the house of Saud. If this happens ISIS will shrivel up and die very quickly without funding.
If the US does lift economic sanctions on Iran, the Saudis (and even the Israelis) may decide to cut their losses and work for economic cooperation rather than for the subjugation of their Persian neighbours. If this happens, once again, ISIS will shrivel up and die overnight.
As I said, it’s a complex picture, and the above analysis also leaves two vital factors out of the equation:
The extraordinary resilience of the Syrian people
The mysterious workings of Almighty God
Personally I am full of hope, as my faith is in God and in the Syrian people. Having said that, I won’t be surprised if God’s will is accomplished through the human agency of Iran, Russia, Hassan Nasrallah, and the people of Yemen.
Forgive me if I’ve bored you with the above analysis but I find that a lot of people are confused as to what is really going on and I thought it would be good to put it on paper.
If, on the other hand, you’d like to explore these matters with me further (and you’re in Sydney) I’ll be speaking at three different Syria forums over the next week:
If you’re able to attend any of these events, the links above will take you to their respective Facebook Events Pages where you can get more info. And if you can’t make it, just keep track of what’s being published on my Syria blog: www.prayersforsyria.com
From violence to sex – this missive has everything! 😉
Yes, my featured sermon for this missive is on the Song of Songs – certainly the most raunchy piece of literature in the entire Bible and also one of the most controversial.
The book is controversial for two reasons:
It is entirely about sex and romance
It doesn’t mention God at all!
What is this book doing in the Bible? That’s a question that a lot of believers have asked over the last few thousand years. Even so, some of us believe that this little book may have a lot to teach us about love and life and even about God!
(for the written version of this sermon, click here, and for the audio-only, here)
I warned you earlier that this post would include an appeal for help. Here it is:
…. HELP! 🙁
The problem is that I have more work than I am able to handle at the moment, including five speaking engagements in the next seven days, and beyond that I can see a giant tidal wave coming towards me associated with the completion of our new Youth and Community Centre and the 100-year anniversary of our church building!
October 4-6: I fight for the Australian Masters (ie. old bastards) Boxing Title
October 16: Book-launch of A Church for our Times’ celebrating our 100-years!
October 29: ‘Friends of Sabeel, Australia’ Annual General Meeting
Mid-November: work should be completed on our new hall complex
late-November: re-starting Trinity’s Youth Drop-in Centre
November 22: Jubilate Singers (our community choir) fundraiser concert
November 29: Fight-Night fundraiser in the new hall
December 5: Anniversary dinner to mark my 25th year in Dulwich Hill
December 6: special Centenary service followed by the official hall opening
December 25: Christmas
You are invited to all of the above events, including the Friends of Sabeel, Australia AGM (which is a Christian group focused on Palestinian human rights). Moreover, you are invited to help me survive this cavalcade of events, especially the re-starting of the Youth Drop-in Centre and the Fight-night fundraiser.
The good news is that we are offering a paid part-time position for a new youth worker. Just email me if you want the details. The not-so-good news is that I’m going to need voluntary helpers too, at least for the short term. And I don’t just need volunteer youth workers, but also web assistants, events coordinators, and just about anybody who thinks they can help me balance this intimidating schedule!
Email me if you’re interested in the paid position or a voluntary position, or a voluntary position that might turn into a paid position. Either way, I’m keen to hear from you.
Till next time, may the Lord bless you and strengthen you for the work for which you have been called.
I’m currently in New Delhi, slowly making my way back home after completing our latest ‘Boxers for Peace’ mission in Syria. Unfortunately, in order to get the cheapest tickets, I had to opt for a 12 hour wait between flights in Dubai and a seven-hour wait here. Even so, nothing can dampen my spirits after the week I’ve had.
Nothing went as I expected, and yet it was fantastic!
The boxing match I’d been hoping for with Ben Ali did not materialise. Even so, Jacob Najjar (my fellow boxer for peace) and I were certainly kept busy. Indeed, we must have boxed more than a hundred different people over the last week, amongst whom were some great fighters and many champion human beings! Moreover, our support team – Issa (the national boxing coach) and his boys – were simply excellent! It was a very humbling experience to be so well looked after.
We boxed with the Syrian Olympic team in Damascus
We travelled north to Lattakia and had more than 200 kids show up to train with us, many of whom were displaced persons living in UNICEF-provided tents that ringed the stadium.
We headed south to Tartous and helped open a new boxing gym (and did some more boxing while we were there).
We made it back to the refuge on the outskirts of Yarmouk where in April I’d been told that while the children there were clothed and sheltered, they had no pillows. I promised to do something about that when I returned and, thanks to contributions made by friends in Sydney, I kept that promise! We also distributed soccer balls to the kids as well as boxing gloves and mitts, all courtesy of our friends as SMAI.
Apart from all the boxing, we also visited other sports complexes, schools and hospitals, and we met with numerous officials, including the Minister for Health, the Minister of Information and the Prime minister. Most enjoyable for me though was catching up again with my much-loved Mufti – Dr Hassoun More on that another time.
Indeed, I won’t say more here as I really need time to process it all. God was in it! I’m sure of that. And if nothing else it’s given us an excellent framework for pursuing a bigger and better ‘Boxers for Peace’ program in 2016. I do sense that we are starting to make a difference and that much good can yet come of this.
It will take me a while to process all the photos so for now I can only offer you the two promotional videos that I put together on my iPhone.
click either image to watch the video
I’ll get back to you after I’ve had a little rest. Thank you for all your prayers and for the financial support that made it all happen.
Soren, Terry and Shannon survey developments at Binacrombi
Stewart works the Binacrombi bulldozer
there's nothing like a blazing fire to keep out the cold
Kids on quads at Binacrombi
Bob turns 89, and he's still powering on! 🙂
Dimitri - the Dominator - fights for another title
with artist extraordinaire - Miriam Cabello!
Soren and Fran have a great time at Luna Park (well, Fran had a great time)
Fran at Luna Park
Dinner with the Grand Mufti of Australia
with Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammad (Grand Mufti of Australia)
my beautiful girls
commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Ali in Melbourne
commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Ali in Melbourne
Forgive me for being out of touch for so long. As you may know, I took a month’s long-service leave shortly after returning from Syria and I tried to go dark for a while.
That’s a term normally used by spies so perhaps it’s not really appropriate in my case. My point is that I tried to go off the radar so that I could concentrate on developing our ministry at Binacrombi Bush Camp over that month and also focus on other work not directly associated with my responsibilities as a parish priest. I had also hoped to get a bit of rest.
I wasn’t very successful, particularly in terms of getting rest. I did though enjoy the extra time at Binacrombi very much, and I have great hopes that we will continue to build that place up as a centre for both intense fitness training and prayer. We’ve seen some remarkable things happen down there recently with men who have completed prison terms, using Binacrombi to help them transition back into the community. Please keep this work in your prayers.
The latest news is that Boxers for Peace are about to head back to Syria! It looks like I’m going to have the opportunity to box the former Syrian middleweight champion, Mahmoud Ben Ali. I’ll also be taking with me Jacob Najjar – two times professional World Kickboxing champion. Apparently the Syrians have an opponent for him too!
My hope is that I’ll be boxing Ben Ali for a Middle Eastern Middleweight Title (old bastards division). At this stage the Syrian Sports Ministry hasn’t confirmed the bout, nor do I know exactly what weight I’m supposed to come in at! Even so, I appreciate that the Syrian government has other priorities at the moment so I’m trusting that it will all come together on the night.
Mahmoud Ben Ali
I know little about Ben Ali as an opponent except for what the Syrians tell me – namely, that I won’t last one round with him! We’ll see. The man is five years younger than me and is way more experienced. Even so, I have one great advantage over him. I live in Sydney. He lives in Aleppo.
I received an email from a friend in Aleppo last week. I won’t mention his name but let me share something of what he said:
“We didn’t sleep all the night. The attacks of yesterday 2nd July started around afternoon and continued up till today 8:30 am 3rd July. They said that 3-4 civilians died, but 87 civilians injured. The ambulance voices didn’t stop all night long.
You had to hear the people over here in Aleppo. Aren’t they Syrians? After all these years and after all these attacks on them and after they lost their income sources and family members, they are asking the Syrian army to terminate the terrorist attackers and their nests, which have become like cancer in Syria’s body. They don’t care if that termination happens by chemical weapons, bombs, or whatever. Yet, around the world and in the mainstream media, they dare to demonize the so called “barrel bombs” and talk about the lost in lives of the terrorists …”
Aleppo is a city of both suffering and frustration. I imagine it is also a difficult place to train for a boxing match. I pray that Ben Ali and all the residents of Aleppo will be protected by Almighty God. Even so, I cannot but think that I will come into this boxing match fitter and better prepared as an athlete, and that may even the odds between us and make for a great match! I pray so.
Whatever happens I’ll be giving you all the details just as soon as they come to hand. You’ll get those details most quickly if you’re following me on either Twitter or Facebook but I’ll try to send out another newsletter to you before my bout takes place too.
One place that I ha43ve really enjoyed visiting in Damascus is the home of Ananias in Straight Street. Readers of the New Testament know this place well. It was where St Paul, who had initially come to Damascus to arrest and persecute Christians, was prayed over by a godly man named Ananias. He was never the same again!
The 2000 year-old home of Ananias is still standing and was long ago transformed into a chapel. I have spent time in prayer there twice now and this has enhanced my appreciation of how radically Paul was transformed through his encounter with Jesus.
Until Paul met Jesus he had been convinced that they key to pleasing God was to abide by all the laws of the Torah. He had believed that he had to climb the ladder of moral and religious purity in the hope of meeting God at the top of the ladder. What Jesus taught him was that it works the opposite way round – that you meet God at the bottom of the ladder, after you’ve fallen off!
One dimension of that realisation was that it gave Paul a very radical understanding of what it mean to have authority as a religious teacher.
If you’re having trouble with my accent you can read this sermon here.
I’m avoiding doing any big funding drive for this trip as it’s all been planned very quickly. Even so, my dear friend Ophelia Heragli is organising a Boxers for Peace fundraiser Iftar dinner for this Sunday night – July 12th. It’s all been put together in the last few days but apparently she’s already had 60 people confirm that they are coming! I believe that they are all friends from the Islamic community which is very humbling. Hopefully a few Christians and other supporters will be able to make it too. You’ll find all the details on the Facebook event page that Ophelia set up.
Of course you are welcome to also donate funds via my ‘buy me a drink‘ page or you can contact me for bank account details if you want to make a direct transfer. In truth though I feel that I’ve asked too much of my online community already. Even so, be assured that anything we receive beyond what we need for air tickets will be given to the refuge in Yarmouk that I visited in April – the one that needed pillows for the kids to sleep on. Even if they have the pillows by now I’m sure they can make good use of anything extra I can offer them.
You’ll have to forgive me if I wind up this newsletter at this point. I do have a lot more that I want to share but the pressures of preparing for this trip are mounting and time is of the essence.
Pray for me please. Pray for the success of this Boxers for Peace mission. Pray for the success of our work at Binacrombi, for our church, our work with young people, for my family and for the people of Syria. These are critical times. Enshallah – God willing – we will see brighter days ahead.
with Kaouthar Bachraoui and Maria Saadeh at the Dama Rose in Damascus
there's no shortage of pretty girls at Damascus University!
at the home of Ananias - Straight Street, Damascus
with Maria Saadeh at the Umayyad Mosque
at the ancient Christian villiage of Maaloula
with the Bishop of Saydnaya in Maaloula
honoring the martyrs of Maaloula
I was glad when they said to me let us go up to the House of the Lord (Psalm 122)
honoring the martyrs of Saydnaya
a performance by Saydnaya's Youth Fellowship
remembering the genocide of 1915 with the Armenian bishop
Armenian Christians fighting with the Syrian Arab Army
Dinner at the Mufti's place 🙂
interviewing the Grand Mufti of Syria
with the Mufti and friends 🙂
I’ve been to Syria, I’ve come back, and at the moment I’m sick in bed. I guess I’ve been pushing myself a bit too hard, but I’m now on long-service leave and will hopefully get a bit of a break.
People have been asking me how I would sum up our Syria experience in a word, and the truth is that there is no one word that can do our time there justice.
What I must say is that my heart is still there, and that I felt awful leaving – as if I was walking out on a friend who might die at any moment!
When I returned to Australia everyone was stressing about Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukamaran – about whether they were about to be executed. I appreciate that it was a horrible situation. Even so, I was walking away from a whole country full of people who were living with the same stress – ‘Are we about to be executed, and if so, when?’
Syria is at a very volatile point and, I hate to say it, but I think the future of all those people is being decided upon now in negotiations between the US and Iran. In truth, Syria is only surviving because of support from Iran. If the USA though makes Syria a bargaining chip to be sacrificed in exchange for the lifting of sanctions then a great many of those good people may be dead by the time I return.
Having said that, the indications at the moment are that Iran is not going to give up on Syria, and neither are her other two allies – Russia and Hezbollah. Nonetheless, things are at boiling point right now, with ISIS embedded in Yarmouk in the south and Palmyra in the north! Anything could happen over the next few weeks and months.
The title of this last article is a quote from my interview with the Grand Mufti of Syria – Dr Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun – which I’ve embedded below. Indeed, it was such a great privilege for me to get half an hour, one-on-one, with the great man!
I won’t say more about that experience here except that he said three words to me in English before we parted. He said “pray for me.” I said, “I do every day”, and indeed I do, for I know the takfiri will have no mercy on him if they get hold of him.
Dr Hassoun considers himself the Mufti not only of the Sunni but of the Shia and the Christians too! That’s the sort of talk that enrages religious fundamentalists!
I am hoping to be back in Syria in the next couple of months – this time with a larger team of boxers. I’m also working on lining up a title fight for myself against one of Syria’s great veteran boxers. My goal is to hold the fight either on the outskirts of Yarmouk or at another key Syrian city – perhaps Palmyra – and use the fight to draw attention to what’s really going on there. It’s an ambitious ploy and I’d appreciate your prayers.
In the meantime there are plenty of other things happening, and a few that I’m keen to pass on to you here:
In case you didn’t hear, the United Nations Human Rights Committee finally replied to our official complaint regarding the Australian government’s treatment of my dear friend Sheikh Mansour Leghaei. Indeed, they upheld our complaint and instructed the Australian government to re-examine his case and to compensate him for damages! If you don’t know the full story, it’s on savethesheikh.com.
Another dear brother who has received even harsher treatment from his government – Mordechai Vanunu – just got married! The picture below was taken at the Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem! I look forward to meeting Morde’s Norwegian wife, Kristine, in person as soon as they are allowed to leave Israel and travel to Australia. I trust they’ll find Mansour here when they get here!
And some more good news concerning a very talented sister – Ruth McCall – who will be having her own musical works performed by ‘Echology’ – The University of Newcastle Chamber Choir! There’s a performances at our church, Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, on Sunday May 31st. Full details can be found on the poster here.
Morde & Kristine!
That’s enough from me, especially as I’m still coughing and spluttering.
As I say, I’m on long-service leave at the moment and will be for the next three weeks. I’ll be spending the weekends down at Binacrombi, developing our youth camping program. You’d be welcome to join me on any of these weekends, especially this weekend when I think I’ll need all the help I can get. 🙁
I’ll be in contact again soon. Until then I remain …