In a world of rising nationalism, how do we continue to help those in developing nations while not neglecting our own backyard? Our former CEO Tim Hanna shares how to find the balance in a world going to the extremes.

Why do you think there is a growing sense of Nationalism—an ‘Australia first’ mentality— among Australians and across the world?

In my opinion, this is definitely a part of the new world we live in. At its core, I think it’s about security, safety, and of course, the constant threat of terrorism has played a role.

We see it in our own backyard certainly with slogans such as ‘Australia first’ thrown around. We’ve seen it in global elections around the world, both in well-resourced and under resourced nations.

The idea is ‘Look after yourself, look after your country and let other people look after their own’. And it’s also the belief that if we can ‘shore up’ our boundaries and take care of ourselves, we’ll be more secure.

What could be the dangers for the church in Australia in following this trend?

The dangers are putting up our own walls and getting a ‘fortress’ mentality. By believing we have to look after ourselves first, we can easily discount the mandate of Jesus to go outside the walls of the church and make an impact in the community in which we live.

But the church was always made to be in the world; accessible, not hidden away and secured to protect itself.

What would be your challenge to people who think we should focus on Australia first, rather than helping others overseas?

The bottom line for me is that it’s not either/or. It’s a matter of your own calling or cause. To those who have a call to reach out to those in need in our own community; that’s great. For us at Compassion, our cause and what we do well is holistic child development so that’s what we focus on.

When people want to make it an either/or issue, it gets tricky and out of balance. I have heard people say, ‘It’s only about Australia’, or on the other side of the argument I’ve heard people say, ‘We should only be helping people in developing countries’. I don’t believe that either. We’ve got to do both.

How do we balance helping those in our own backyard who are struggling, and those in other countries who need our help?

There’s no one size fits all approach, it’s up to each individual. I believe that in God’s economy (the way God works things out) if we all follow the passions He’s placed in our own hearts, that will make sure that we’ve covered it across the board. If we all had a passion for the same country it wouldn’t be helpful and that’s why I believe God has given different people passions for different communities and nations. In God’s economy, if we all follow our own passions and causes, we can cover a great amount of work for His kingdom.

What would you say to encourage pastors not to get caught up in the ‘church bubble’ in Australia?

One: we must look very closely theologically, at the ministry of Jesus. He declared in his hometown (and it’s a very interesting point that he did this in his hometown) that he was there ‘to bring good news to the poor, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed’. Those people are all over the world, including our own country! So firstly, I’d say that you’ve got to go back to that text and study it.

The second point is: you must choose to be curious; to develop a curiosity for what is going on in the world. And as you read, listen and connect with others, in that process, God stirs our spirit and something will go ‘I have to follow that through’. As long as we are open and learning about the world, God will spark and ignite a passion in you, showing you what you’re called to do.

People can argue that ‘my cause is better than their cause’ but it’s not about that—it’s about putting arms and legs on your cause. One of the things that can frustrate me is when people get caught up arguing about these things but don’t actually do anything about it or put it into action!

I think it’s a matter of seeing what God is doing. I know that God is at work in the world, not just the church. It doesn’t mean other causes are any less important, it’s just that for me, that’s the cause God has sparked in my heart.

Tim Hanna was the CEO of Compassion Australia between 2010 and 2019. Prior to this, Tim was a senior pastor for more than 30 years and a former lecturer at the Australian College of Ministries.

Interview by Rebekah Wilesmith.