What happens when you put 10 Christians — all from different walks of life — under one roof for a week?
This is the premise of the captivating social experiment, Christians Like Us, an observational documentary depicting what it means to be a Christian in 2019.
Cue tears, triumphs and many conflicting views and beliefs. The two-part series (which has already generated national discussion) demonstrates the diversity and individuality, as well as commonalities, of the modern-day Christian as they navigate communal living with a group of strangers, sharing a house in Sydney's Bella Vista.
Like a new kid at school introducing yourself to the class, participants were asked to bring an item that represented them as a person and as a Christian for a 'show & tell' with their new peers.
"We asked each participant to bring a special possession because it is a great conversation starter, and often leads to discussions about their beliefs," show producer, Paula Bycroft, tells SBS.
"In Chris’ case, it led to his conversation with the group about gay conversion therapy. And Steve S was able to show photos of his family [as context] when he revealed details of his sexual abuse."
Some are simply beautiful items, some represent a broader meaning — but all are held dear to each individual. From music playlists to old photographs, these are objects that express the individuals and their faith, indicating what it means to be a Christian in Australia today.
Coptic (Egyptian) cross and rosary beads
"The Coptic cross is a family heirloom which seems to have just shown up at my time of need. There are many variations of this design, and it is a matter of great pride amongst Copts.
"The cross is a symbol of death, yes, but also a reminder of the powerful hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because of its traditional Coptic design, it brings me out of my often selfish, reactive thinking and restores that sense of an Ancient faith, old and strong and timeless: bigger than me."
"I bought [the beads] during a pilgrimage to Lourdes, where in 1858, a peasant French girl, Bernadette Soubirous, reported a vision of the Virgin Mary, who asked her to 'Pray to God for sinners'.
"The presence of rosary beads is an emotional, as well as spiritual, comfort to me. I’m not just a brain, full of theories and possibilities which may never to come to anything; the feel of them in my hands brings me back to myself and even back to my body: praying the rosary helps cut the incessant feedback loop of my incessantly ‘chattering’ mind."
"I was 16 years of age when I began to learn guitar, primarily to be a part of my brother's band.
"Music is a big part of my life and having a week inside a house with a bunch of people I don't know, who potentially won't like me, was a little bit scary."
"I sat in the lounge on the second day and just began to sing, and Chris (fellow participant) came in and sat with me and we sung together, and all of a sudden we weren’t straight or gay, we were worshippers. For me, the atmosphere changed and the fight to push an agenda dissipated."
A cross necklace and the Holy Bible
"It's a Maltese Cross and is historically symbolic of being a 'Christian Warrior' — not that I am saying I am one, but we do need to stand up for what we believe in and have the courage of our convictions.
"The cross is actually owned by my community so I also saw it as a connection to them in relation to my connection to God and faith beliefs.
"This has been my Bible for over a decade. I use it whenever we do Bible study at Church. It is one you could use for academic study and faith formation.
"This is a well-loved Bible that has been bookmarked, dog eared, underlined and written on. It reminded me of why I was in the house and the nuance of biblical study and translations of ancient texts."
Missionary name badge and fire poise
"First of all, [the name badge] represents my time as a missionary [in the Philippines] and where I learnt to love Filipinos and Filipino culture and more specifically, learnt to love everybody; despite differences, despite weaknesses, despite strengths.
"The second thing is that it has my last name, 'Sister Campbell'. Having my last name, I feel like I represent the family that I grew up in which is very quirky and fun and wild, and I feel like I was able to carry my family name with me throughout my whole mission. So it’s my own identity.
"I'm not just a Christian, I'm also Hannah Campbell."
"Most importantly, it has the name Jesus Christ on it. I represent Jesus Christ in everything I do, every day. And that name tag is just the physical reminder of that. While I was on my mission, all I do and say, I should be trying my hardest to represent Jesus Christ and do what would make Him happy and do what would serve people in the way that He would serve people."
"I learnt how to do fire dancing on my mission. It’s something that is a big part of my personality; I’m very interested in trying new things and interested in whatever’s fun and exciting and experimental and quirky.
"My assigned companion is Filipino so she introduced it to me. It's actually a part of the Filipino culture to dance with fire, with poise. When she left, she left me with her fire poise."
"[The photos of my family and childhood] were relevant to what I was going to talk about [being sexually abused by a priest as a child] in the house.
"Some of the older photos of Mum are taken at the Cathedral in Newcastle. She was a member of the Mothers' Union and they used to have 'Mothers' Union days' and there are photos of her in the 1950s there. There are photos of me as a kid, there’re school photos and me as a three-year-old. Again, it was just to show the people that — well, I’m an old bloke now — but I was a kid. I was just a kid.
"[My family] live in photo albums. They’re not on display. I can look at them when I feel the need to. It’s grounding, I think. Every now and then you have to look at them and remember where you came from. I look at a picture of me at 14 years old and it helps me come to terms with what my life was like when I was 14, which wasn’t very good. And how much better my life is now."
"Look — I didn't know what to bring! I said to the producer, 'I could just play the typical Catholic-Christian person and bring a guitar and sing a bit of Koombyah', which she thought was reasonably funny. And then I thought, well maybe my guitar is reasonably significant. I do a bit of work on the side — which doesn't pay me any money — as a musician. I have played the guitar a lot; playing and singing at mass and stuff forever. So I thought, oh well, that'll do and there it was.
"We had mass every Friday morning at my school and I whinged and said, 'why do we always have to have the organ? Why can't we have guitar?', because it was post-Vatican II and it was all very groovy and happy-clappy. And so Sister Frances [my teacher] said, 'Well, Jo Catling, if you could play the guitar, we could have the guitar.' So I went home — I had [a guitar] at home — I just got some music and learnt where to put my fingers on the fingerboard and learnt how to play. And the first song I played was a hymn and it was called Spirit of God in the Clear Running Water."
“In the RICE movement (Steve’s ministry), we have these fairy lights that we pop out at all our gatherings. Our gatherings are always centred around Jesus and worshipping Him. These fairy lights remind us that Jesus has taught each of us to be lights to the world and we believe that being united all together, it makes a beautiful thing. So when these lights join up we see that, and we’re reminded of our mission in the RICE movement, and that’s to see Jesus’ name be proclaimed so that the whole world may know.
“In John Chapter 17, Jesus prays for his disciples that they would be united with each other and they’ll be so united that they’ll be as united as Jesus and the Father are united – which is pretty united, and the reason why He prays for the disciples to feel united is so that the world may know of Him. And so our prayer at the RICE movement is that as we unite – which is a core value for us – is so that the world may know of Him, and that’s one of the key verses that we wear on our shirts: that the world may know."
“I brought letters from my children that they wrote for me going into the house. So I’ve got two boys and two girls.
"Caitlin (7), she wrote a couple of psalms for me about trusting Jesus, and Jacob (9) wrote some strong words about trusting in God no matter what the circumstances. Our youngest Alyssa (5) she just drew some nice pictures, which is very very beautiful, and my eldest son Ruben (11), he put together a little book of prayers to pray when I’m in different situations.
"I really feel like the ministry I’m involved in, it’s not just a ‘me’ thing, it’s a Chong family thing. It’s a thing that helped me remember that I’m not alone in that house when it comes to those who love and support me. My family is praying and thinking of me and giving me reminders of Jesus’ faithfulness and love for me in the [Christians Like Us] house."
Holy Bible and music playlist
"The Bible is my lifeline. I met the real and unadulterated Jesus by encountering Him for myself in the Bible. Through the Bible, my life was transformed by Jesus' call to us to give up our lives to follow Him.
"My friend gave me this Bible around five years ago. It's well loved. It's got sticky tape everywhere from where I've tried to repair it. I've got little scraps of paper all throughout as bookmarks marking my favourite psalms and stories about Jesus. I make little notes as I read and highlight passages which I keep coming back to when I need to be reminded about what God is like and how much He loves and cares for me when I'm going through a hard time."
"Music is the language of my heart. Singing songs of adoration and worship lifts me up from the ordinariness of everyday life and connects me to Jesus in a way nothing else can. The first song I sang as a Christian is My Hope is Built on Nothing Less than Jesus' Blood and Righteousness. Every time I sang it I'd cry with gratitude and happiness. Another song I love is Grace Alone by Dustin Kensrue. Grace refers to a gift we don't deserve. The gift God gave me was that He gave me new life through Jesus."
SOCE Survivor Statement
"The Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) Survivor Statement, which was written by Australian survivors of LGBT+ Conversion therapy is a significant document because it explains what the ‘gay conversion’ movement [which Chris experienced] in Australia looks like, and also includes survivor-led recommendations for action.
"Despite my own testimony and the stories of other survivors, some of the housemates told me that they still don’t believe the problem of gay conversion exists."
"When I was asked to bring an item which was special to me, it was the first thing I thought of. My hope was that it would help the other housemates to recognise the subtle ‘gay conversion’ ideology that is present in so many churches around Australia. Unfortunately, despite my own testimony and the stories of other survivors, some of the housemates told me that they still don’t believe the problem exists."
"The most important things to me are my family. And from the perspective of bringing something important from a Christian sense, it would have been my personal resolve regarding the importance of the work I do, and my identity.
"If I had to say what important thing I brought with me — it was my heart, my love. It's important to me that people feel supported, and my way of showing my support is through making sure everyone is fed and that they have what they need to feel comfortable. Though I have helped hundreds of babies into the world, I was not able to be a mother physically to my own children. So I guess my unused mothering leaks out at times. Feeding people, getting them up and ready for the day, checking in on them etc.
"The kitchen became my way of giving the people in the house my heart (on and off camera; for participants and crew)."
Watch the latest episode of Christians Like Us at SBS On Demand: