Global Interaction – agility and connection

5th May 2020

When asked about his new role with Global Interaction Australia, Geoff Maddock prefers to offer an analogy rather than a title. He likens the role of State Director to that of connective tissue – connecting the movement of Victorian Baptist churches with international cross-cultural work. By extending the analogy, this is work that requires agility and connection – both of which have been forged in Geoff throughout his life.

‘Mission’ is Geoff’s passion and first love, and yet he is quick to admit that he wrestles with the term. Previous ideas about mission are being forced to adapt to the new world in which we find ourselves. With experts forecasting that most of the world’s populations will be living in cities by 2050, missional ideas limited to socio-economic groupings, or isolated geographies must be stretched and changed to adapt. “Mission is now from everywhere to everywhere. This definition frees us up to participate in mission wherever we are. There is no privileged location … As I step into this role with Global Interaction, I’m energised by the conviction that incarnational mission done well is the same across the street and across the world – two organisations but one missiology”

Having been brought up in Yackandandah, Victoria, Geoff moved to the USA to undertake his Masters in Intercultural Studies. However, his study was not limited to theological insights within classroom walls. In 1999, Geoff and his wife Sherry moved into an under-served African-American neighbourhood in Kentucky, while both still undertaking study. “We learned our missiology by doing it. The feedback of action and reflection in community fuelled a sharp learning curve.” Geoff realised that in his Kentucky neighbourhood, God was already present; already at work. The way neighbours loved one another, cared for their families and appreciated beauty were evidence of the presence of God in the community. “It is clear that God is close to the broken-hearted. There was also a lot of hurt [in the neighbourhood] because of the legacy of slavery. There were a lot of wounds still bleeding out.” For the Maddock family, at the heart of mission is being credible witnesses of shalom in the neighbourhood. “We should inhabit the kind of world that we tell people about – one of forgiveness, love, justice and welcome.”

After 18 years of loving and serving his neighbourhood, Geoff returned to Australia, bringing with him a lived-experience of mission that remains agile. His family moved from a community with an urban farm that fed the neighbours, to vertical living in Melbourne’s CBD, with no soil in sight. Their apartment building, owned by Collins St Baptist Church,  includes a ‘House of Hope’ which provides accommodation for asylum seekers at risk of homelessness. Geoff’s practice of mission across the world has been brought into Melbourne’s CBD, where mission is evidently from everywhere to everywhere.

It was not long before Geoff and his wife Sherry started a social enterprise, ‘Planted Places’, the first indoor garden in Melbourne’s CBD. Planted Places centres on closing the distance between people and plants. They have installed multiple gardens at Baptcare facilities where single men who are asylum seekers are housed. They have also been using The Green Room (Collins Street Baptist’s basement converted into an indoor garden) to connect with neighbours.

Geoff says, “Caring for even a small house plant transports us to our first human vocation – to tend and to keep. It restores us to the Creator’s design.” Those keeping plants in their homes are shown to benefit in many ways including improved mental health, lowered blood pressure and improved air quality.

During this COVID-19 crisis, Geoff and his wife Sherry continue to seek out people of peace in their neighbourhood. Without the clutter of one million people daily descending on the city, their neighbours are less obscured. However, the isolation experienced by many living in the city is a great challenge. Geoff and Sherry are currently in conversation with the City of Melbourne to identify people who are vulnerable in isolation – students, the single, older people and asylum seekers – and work out how to distribute plants to those cooped up.

Recently a collection of 75 easy-to-care-for indoor plants were distributed through Baptcare to the residences of people seeking asylum. Sherry says, “[The plants] did what we couldn’t, that is to become physically close companions in a time of isolation. Plants were received by families and children with joy. We heard reports of delight and ‘lit up faces.’ While also collecting weekly food supplies, men from Baptcare’s Sanctuary program were able to choose a plant and they did so with ‘great care.’ At this time of collective restriction and enforced isolation indoors, interior green space and plants as companions become essential. As essential as the clean air they bring.”

The current COVID-19 climate again calls Geoff and his family to adapt – to be agile and to connect with God and people. And in this mission, God is already present and at work. Geoff sees this presence in the forced Sabbath from busyness, which is creating conditions to hear God in a way that would otherwise be drowned out. “Part of what I see in Australia is that people are acknowledging how grateful they are to be here. Gratefulness is an antidote to anxiety. Gratitude opens the door to a generous God.”

From Yackandandah to Kentucky to Melbourne’s CBD, Geoff, along with his family, has needed to adapt to vastly different circumstances and surroundings. And yet the mission continues to be one that joins in where a loving God is already at work, while being a credible witness of shalom to the neighbourhood.

In announcing this new role, Geoff says, “I’m excited about the fact that God is already at work from Camberwell to Cambodia and from Traralgon to Thailand and we have the joyful opportunity to join in.

To connect with Geoff Maddock, Global Interaction State Director (Vic and Tas), email: victas@globalinteraction.org.au