People and Places
24/09/2019
A no-fuss man of compassion and faith

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Someone who has dedicated his life to social justice and global poverty has come to live on the Mornington Peninsula. Well, just shy of it. The new man about town in Frankston has been enjoying his anonymity — lunching with his wife Merridie in the food court, living the bayside life with the rest of us. These past 12 months has seen the Rev Tim Costello AO merge into the streets of a town that prides itself on being the gateway to the Peninsula without much fuss, but after speaking with him on the phone for an all-too-short time due to his other commitments, you can tell that’s how he rolls. He’s just written his memoir A Lot with A Little, published by Hardie Grant Books, and will be guest speaker at the Mornington Peninsula & Frankston Writers & Book Festival on Saturday, October 19 (see page 86). Now that’s the way to open a writers’ festival!

Tim’s voice is devastatingly human and resonant with visions of things that others of us wouldn’t dare look squarely in the eye. His work as chief executive of World Vision has taken him to parts of the world where children’s lives are over before they begin and impoverished just doesn’t begin to describe how some of our fellow human beings exist. He still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder since having left the position in 2016. Tim explains: “I’ve spoken openly about this. I’ll be giving a speech somewhere and then out of nowhere I’ll see an image of someone who is destitute or a woman who has just been raped and I just start crying. People think ‘Oh, what is he crying for? What the heck is he doing?’ But those things stay with you. My faith has got me through, although it has taken me a long time to realise that I can’t do everything and you have to hand over and surrender, to trust that there is something bigger.”

Tim grew up in Blackburn with parents who shaped his future. He remembers forming a social conscience from the earliest days, partly because of his parents but also because he was “made” that way. “I would bring home stray kids and the kids from the orphanage and Mum would just welcome them in. I wholeheartedly believe in the Christian faith’s understanding that Christianity is good news for the poor: the widow, the orphan, the stranger. The modern-day interpretation of stranger is the refugee. This book took a little longer to write than the others — about three to four months. I had to wait until my father passed before it was possible. He had a huge influence on me — so much so that I didn’t realise how much until he was dead. There are always things that you choose not to say. All biographies are an act of deception.”

To say that the Mornington Peninsula is lucky to have a man of such great compassion living within the fold is an understatement. This Baptist minister, who was born in 1955, has visited every human disaster that has occurred over the past 15 years and will not be silenced on serious issues such as gun control and gambling and how they affect our fragile lives. Tim continues: “America’s blind spot is guns. Ours is gambling. We might think that gambling is not as lethal, but we are wrong. The gambling industry has spread this myth that it’s Australian to gamble, and how is it that an adult product such as gambling is allowed to be targeting our kids? It just doesn’t make sense.” 

There is so much more of this 2006 Australian of the Year’s life I would like to explore but the gig is up. This UN speech-maker and international debater on reconciliation, substance abuse and climate change must away. Pick up a copy of A Lot with A Little to find out more about this activist man of faith, or get along to the writers’ festival to understand what it means to have compassion and faith.  

LIZ ROGERS

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