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Christmas Island

 Rev Christine Senini and Rev Malcolm Bottrill at Phosphate Hill Camp on Christmas Island in June 2012. Photo by Luke Senini

CHAPLAINCY is never an easy gig.

It is a unique and challenging frontline ministry that throws up

constant surprises to those brave enough to listen to the call.

Nowhere is this more true than at the Christmas Island Detention Centre, where Rev Malcolm Bottrill, a retired minister from the Presbytery of North Queensland, is taking over from Rev Christine Senini for the next six months.

Malcolm's wife Judy hopes to use her skills as a qualified teacher to offer additional support to those in the detention centre.

Malcolm began his ministry just a few days before the first of the recent tragedies.

Ms Senini provided pastoral care and support for the detainees and staff for six months from December 2011.

She was the first Uniting Church minister to serve on Christmas Island in the joint Anglican– Uniting chaplaincy, although the church has had a presence at immigration detention centres for over 20 years.

Ms Senini's arrival on Christmas Island coincided with the one year anniversary of the SIEV 221 disaster.

As most Australians were busy organising Christmas celebrations, Ms Senini and the other chaplains on the small island were preparing to support a community still coming to terms with the horrific tragedy that took place on their pristine Rocky Point shoreline.

At least 50 lives were lost that day, including children.

The recent tragedies reminded all on the island of the fragility of human life and the great risk that asylum seekers are prepared to undertake on their journey to Australia.

While the recent tragedies made headlines across Australia and sparked a fresh round of vitriolic and devastating political discourse, Ms Senini's focus was well and truly on the detainees and the island's staff and residents.

"My chaplaincy," she explained, "is based on a love for all people without judgment;

I am here for those of all faiths or of no faith at all.

I am here to walk alongside and share with those experiencing hardship, grief, anger, anxiety, frustration, and to celebrate joy and significant occasions that we all have in our lives."

National Director of UnitingJustice Australia Rev Elenie Poulos accompanied Uniting Church President Rev Alistair Macrae and Rev Lorna Green from the Anglican Diocese of Perth to Christmas Island just a few weeks before Christine concluded her ministry.

Her observations echoed the reflections of Ms Senini.

"Asylum seekers who are detained are at risk of losing hope and having the effects of their trauma exacerbated by the detention experience.

The asylum seekers we spoke to told us of theimportance of having someone to talk to who understands the significance of their faith, whatever it is, as well as someone who is independent from the Detention Centre system," said Ms Poulos.

"The compassion that chaplains bring to Christmas Island crosses faith boundaries and helps people through this part of their journey as they seek a life free from persecution and violence."

Both Ms Senini and Mr Bottrill are living witnesses to the example of Christ in Matthew 25:34–35, as he calls us to behave towards strangers as though each of them was Christ himself.

This vital role, however, can only continue through the generosity of people who seek to support this important ministry.

This placement is funded through the President's 'Care for Christmas Island' Appeal. Donations may be made at http://goo.gl/PbXXi

Photo : Rev Christine Senini and Rev Malcolm Bottrill at Phosphate Hill Camp on Christmas Island in June 2012. Photo by Luke Senini