Christmas Bowl founder Frank Byatt reminded us that we can all be agents of transformation in the lives of people we will never know, inspiring and connecting people and communities across the world. Journey reports.
Such a simple idea. Rev Frank Byatt of Victoria placed an empty bowl on the dinner table on Christmas Day in 1949 and asked his guests to support refugees who had fled the horrors of World War II.
Fast forward nearly seven decades and the Christmas Bowl is now established as the annual Christmas appeal of Act for Peace, the international aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia. This much-loved ecumenical tradition unites thousands of churches to act together in response to Christ’s call to feed the hungry, heal the sick and welcome the stranger.
“Last year, together you raised over $2 million of which the generous gifts of Uniting Church members across the country contributed more than $990 000,” says Act for Peace media and communications coordinator Jess Xavier. “These funds are literally changing lives for people around the world threatened by conflict and disaster. In Zimbabwe alone, you helped to provide seeds, tools and training for 1200 farming families living in areas of drought, ensuring they can now grow enough food to eat, even when the rains fail.”
This year’s theme is “When did I see you hungry? When did I see you sick? When did I see you a stranger?”
The funds raised will help refugee children like Achala, who lives with her grandmother Praveena in a refugee camp in Tamil Nadu, India after fleeing the civil war in Sri Lanka. Achala was diagnosed with leukaemia and was able to access life-saving medical care through the Organisation for Eelam Refugee Rehabilitation (OfERR), Act for Peace’s partner organisation in India.
Rev Dr Elizabeth Nolan, minister at Indooroopilly Uniting Church in Brisbane and long-time supporter of the Christmas Bowl, says that the tradition is a way of connecting with other Christians to bring hope and healing to the world at Christmas.
“The idea of serving others by connecting ecumenically with other denominations and with the rest of the world is something that the Christmas Bowl has helped to educate people on for the last 68 years. It’s important for us as Christians to make that global connection, and not just focus on our own families.
“Christian outreach is important, not just in terms of spreading the gospel, but sharing the goodness that God gave us. Christmas is about God’s greatest gift and it’s our responsibility to share the generosity of God with others.”