February 2013.

I got the call. The one I never expected to get. The call to return to Nauru.

It took a bit of organising, a bit of explaining and coaxing. But I returned. Not to the classroom but into admin – and the loss of innocence began.

I walked into inter-office and intra-office politics. Expectations were rife. And everyone was making it up as they went along. Government, Salvation Army, other service providers. Some groups had more experience than others but largely this was a new field and there was no manual for how to proceed. You just tried not to make the same mistake twice.

I was conflicted. I felt I had let the men down because I wasn’t returning to the classroom – they asked me over and over again, why I wasn’t teaching them? But how wonderful it was to see them again! Four days spent in isolation with “mushy butt”, the local gastro bug, meant that 1/5 of my deployment this time was away from work – I felt I’d let the staff down too.

During this 3 weeks I first encountered the very strange sense of being an alien in my own organisation. The Salvation Army employed people from many different backgrounds, and although employees did not have to be Salvationists they did have to abide by our ethos. But many resisted that on a practical level. There was resistance to the distinctively Christian outlook that the Salvos team had in terms of daily prayers before shifts. It was unsettling, to say the least, to have to “fight” to have the Salvo way of doing things respected and enforced.

I also had the privilege of meeting with local pastors and hearing their concerns about the possibility of the men being released into the community. It was clear that although the Nauruan government had agreed to the Processing Centre being there, that many on the island were fearful. Representative government isn’t always representative!

It was also during these 3 weeks that I felt the undeniable call to return to Nauru full-time. A new staff structure was being implemented and as I watched the presentation by the island contract manager I realised that there was no place for me; that as an officer I sat outside the employee structure. This was both confronting and reassuring. I knew that being outside the structure meant that I could largely be my own boss but it also meant an isolation, as there would be few who would “get” where I was coming from in terms of ministry. And yet, I knew this is what I needed to do. And so I sent an email to Salvo headquarters and within a month of sending that email I had a change of appointment, although it would not be for 2 more months before I would land in Nauru full-time.

A smaller yet quite significant thing was that during this deployment I had to organise the euthanizing of my dearly loved cat, Boris. He had been off-colour before I left and emails from the vet he was boarded with allowed me to see that he was not going to get better. A bizarre and surreal thing to do at the best of times, more so thousands of kilometres away on a little island in the Pacific. However, Boris’ passing meant that there was nothing to stop me from taking on the fly-in/fly-out work.

June 2013 saw me take up the role of Religious Liaison Officer at the Regional Processing Centre on Nauru.