published in ALWS 70th & Bonegilla on October 16, 2020

Cake and celebrations

The article below celebrates 70 years of care from people like you through ALWS, and appeared in Albury newspaper The Border Mail on October 14 2020.

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SMALL CELEBRATION: Australian Lutheran World Service program director/deputy executive director Leah Odongo, volunteer Dalise Scholz, former executive secretary Gary Simpson and executive director Jamie Davies cut the 70th anniversary cake. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

One pastor’s wish to help post-war migrants at Bonegilla has grown into an overseas aid agency that supported nearly 300,000 people last year.

Australian Lutheran World Service, based in Albury, marked its 70th anniversary on Wednesday with a cake cutting ceremony, far smaller than the celebrations originally scheduled for this weekend.

But while the COVID-19 pandemic halted those plans and continues to challenge the service’s work, staff and volunteers remain proud of its history and positive about the future.

In 1947, Albury pastor Rev Bruno Muetzelfeldt began visiting the many Lutheran migrants at Bonegilla Migrant Centre. Three years later, this ministry encouraged the newly formed Lutheran World Federation to create an Australian base to assist refugee resettlement.

When the Bonegilla centre closed in 1971, the agency office moved to Albury and began to focus more on overseas aid and development.

Albury’s Dalise Scholz, an ALWS volunteer, remembers Pastor Muetzelfeldt from her childhood.

“I think he was my mum’s pin-up boy,” she laughed. “He was a gem and the gentlemen who have followed him have been likewise.”

Today ALWS comprises 21 staff members, about half in Albury-Wodonga and others in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide. The longest-serving employee, Jenny Monte, began in 1988.

The group works with partner organisations to provide emergency response, education and community development programs in countries such as Burundi, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Cambodia, Nepal and Indonesia.

Executive director Jamie Davies said they supported displaced people whose plight received little coverage in Australia.

“There’s hundreds of thousands of people fleeing right now,” she said. “For people who live in places that are prone to disaster, part of what we do is help them not only recover from the last but be more ready for the next. “It’s about bringing hope, amplifying voice and creating more abundant life for people who are forgotten.”

ALWS receives some federal government funding but about two-thirds of its income comes from donations, which totalled more than $4.2 million last year.

Program director/deputy executive director Leah Odongo said service representatives would usually visit various projects, although virtual connections had been more common this year.

“We think that’s just in terms of being accountable to the people that have entrusted us to pass on their generosity overseas,” she said.

Gary Simpson, who was executive secretary between 1991 and 2000, said involving students in activities had both broadened their education and developed the service.

“Since the schools have come on board, that’s rejuvenated the whole process, which is great to see because that’s our future coming through,” he said.

Originally a Walk My Way 26 kilometre walkathon from Victory Lutheran College to Bonegilla Migrant Centre had been planned this weekend to raise money for refugee children’s schooling.

Other activities would have included tours of Bonegilla Migrant Centre and thanksgiving services at Border Lutheran churches with visitors from across Australia.

Congregations around Australia and New Zealand will still acknowledge the service’s anniversary on Sunday. Ms Davies said ALWS remained connected to the Albury-Wodonga community, even though 70 years had brought many other changes.

“There’s just a real sense of solidarity,” she said.

“This is our heart and soul.”

By Janet Howie