SOCIAL worker Jason Hayduk found his calling at the AIS Arena in 1985, and he’s been sharing the love ever since.
“I met God,” he says casually. “It was full on; it was really cool.”
He goes on to describe the moment, at a concert by an American Christian rock band called Wings of Light, who stayed with his family for the Canberra leg of their tour.
“There were thousands of people – it was packed out – and this great band were playing and then this girl was singing this song. I can still remember all the words and I can still see her face. She was crying, and singing about ‘if I could introduce you to my Lord’, and it was like God was talking to me. I realised He was always in my life, but at that moment, it was amazing.”Hayduk was a youth worker in Belconnen before he decided 16 years ago to set up a social work organisation in the city, which he called Missionheart.
“When we started it was like, there’s a whole bunch of people that other people don’t want in their churches or their communities, but they need love too, so we sort of desired to come and sort of ‘touch the untouchable, reach the unreachable’ and just build relationships,” he explains, taking time out from a drop-in session at the group’s base in the Griffin Centre.
One of Missionheart’s core values is listed as “relationships, not programs or empty religion” and its volunteers are encouraged to be “genuine, down-to-earth, relevant and approachable” with the people they help, many of whom are affected by some combination of homelessness, mental illness and addiction.
“We don’t want to make people our projects,” says Hayduk, explaining the people he helps are often socially isolated. Love and friendship are missing from their lives, they “hurt because they’ve been hurt” or find it hard to trust because their trust has been abused.
He recalls being in the park many years ago with his wife, who was holding their infant daughter and speaking to a homeless man. She asked if he’d like to hold the baby and, according to Hayduk’s imitation, this left the man wide-eyed with shock.
“He said: ‘People don’t trust me with a dollar, and you’re letting me hold your baby?’ Some of the healing that happens through community like that, you just can’t get from a therapist. It can be really powerful.”
At the drop-in session, a group chat and a card game after lunch, a blonde-haired little boy plays with toys and shoots cheeky looks at the adults, beside a pile of swags that will soon keep homeless people warm.
It’s a happy place, but most of the work of this “24-hour church” is done out on the streets or in homes.
Among other initiatives, volunteers walk through low-income areas and offer to help mow a lawn, fix a tap or lend a sympathetic ear, and every Sunday “The Gathering” takes place in Glebe Park.
Some people turn up early for prayers and to share Christian faith in a welcoming, safe and non-judgemental setting, while others just come for the food or to have a chat.
“We’re very careful to not be hidden about the faith basis to who we are and what we’re doing because we don’t want people to feel like they’ve been tricked,” Hayduk says. “We want to be really open about everything so we don’t hide any of that, but I’m really, really big on not pushing it down people’s throats either.
“The idea is you love because you love, not because you want someone to jump through some hoop or agree with some system of belief or whatever. But, because you love someone, and you have a strong system of belief that you feel would be of great benefit to them, of course you want them to know about that and you want to share that with them.”