Cabramatta in the 1990s “heroin capital of Australia”
Sometimes a church is faced with social problems in the community that seem to be beyond the power of the church to do anything about. Cabramatta Jesus Family was faced with that reality in the 1990s when Cabramatta was run by gangs running heroin distribution rackets.
Cabramatta had a reputation for being the heroin capital of Australia. As a white person coming into Cabramatta by train it was usual for me to be accosted by a dozen or more teenagers asking “Are you right, mate?”. The church regularly held street outreaches in the Plaza but saw little obvious success from these activities. It was unpleasant for shoppers to bring their families into an area where you had to keep a lookout not to tread in vomit or discarded needles. The frequent wail of ambulance sirens called out to attend drug overdoses made the atmosphere like a war zone. The police were largely non-existent as if the problem was a social and health problem that the Vietnamese community could sort out for themselves.
Church called to pray for Cabramatta
A three part series on SBS Television entitled Once upon a time in Cabramatta chronicles the political and social developments at that time. Good as the television series is, it fails to look at the spiritual dimension that came into play at that time. As our church leaders became increasingly concerned about the steady deteriation of the community we decidedit was time to bring prayer into the situation by calling the church to 40 days of prayer and fasting for the community and the drug problem.
The Vietnamese refugees that had settled into Cabramatta in the 1970s and 1980s had brought with them their Buddhist faith. Their children had grown up in Australia and rejected the values of their parents as they sought to make their way in a different society where they saw no value in their parents’ values and found a new family in the drug distribution gangs.
Prayer changes things
Our church entered into an intense time of prayer during which we were greatly encouraged that God could do something. We saw people come into the church unexpectedly, including an Uighur engineer, that we were unlikely to have reached in other ways.
We prayed that the Buddhist temple that had opened up next door to us would shut down. We prayed that the drug dealing would be removed from the streets.
Within three weeks the police and state premier were visiting Cabramatta to see for themselves what was going on and the police started a saturation policing policy to arrest and combat the drug dealers. New laws were passed to allow forced entry into drug dens to arrest the occupiers before they had time to move on.
The temple next door to us closed down. Today we have members and leaders in our church that were former gang members. Cabramatta is much safer and largely free of the street drug dealing. New initiatives in the high schools have been started to give the students a better set of values.
There is still much to be done but truly it can be said that prayer changed the direction of the community.