ANDREW and Deanne Knife’s dining table is a good sign of what’s important in their lives.
And it’s not food, but who sits around the table with them.
All are welcome.
Andrew, who recently took up the role of diocesan director of Caritas Australia in Brisbane, said he and Deanne had “a household of nine at the moment”, including his mother-in-law and one of their nieces who’s 18.
“We’ve got a big table,” he said.
“I remember one time I heard a statement that was kind of talking about outreach and having a heart for people and it was, ‘If there’s not enough room, don’t push the people away. Get a bigger table’.
“And that’s kind of how we’ve lived our lives. There’s always room for more.
“You can always get a bigger table.
“Our current dining table (he laughs), I ended up building it because we couldn’t buy one big enough for what we needed.
“It’s two bench-tops stuck together side by side sitting on A frames.
“You do what you’ve got to do to make it work.”
With that attitude and with he and Deanne having established and run an aid and development project in Ethiopia for six years, the job with Caritas Australia – the Church’s international aid and development agency – would seem a perfect fit.
Andrew’s not Catholic but he knew the Caritas job was the one for him as soon as he read the advertisement.
“My family were Anglican. My dad was an Anglican priest and his dad before him was an archdeacon,” he said.
“Then … I’ve actually been part of a Charismatic church for the past 20 years.
“So I come to the role not as a Catholic but as someone who very strongly supports the Catholic social teachings and I believe I’m at a really good place to be where we can put some of those traditional theological barriers aside and choose to work together for a common good.”
Soon after Andrew and Deanne moved from Sydney to Brisbane in 2006 with their daughter Lydia, who was eight at the time, and Joshua, who was five, they headed for Ethiopia.
“We had been looking at inter-country adoption as a way of growing our family and Ethiopia was the only country in Africa that was open to inter-country adoption programs within Australia,” he said.
“So we started learning about Ethiopia and then we decided to go there for a year to basically just see what life was like there – to work in a place that, from what we could see, there was great need.
“We didn’t really know what we could do specifically to help but we just wanted to do something.
“So we went there for a year and came back seven-and-a-half years later.
“But during that time we adopted four children.
“That was part of the journey but then we also … started an aid and development project called the Grace Centre.
“It actually operates under the auspice of the Ethiopia Catholic Church so it was kind of our first connection to the social justice, social work side of the Catholic Church.”
The Grace Centre project addressed needs such as preventing children from becoming orphaned and capacity-building among the local people.
“Our greatest success in the social and development work that we were doing, the greatest success, I believe, was that we trained people to do the work – local people,” Andrew said.
“We gave them the skills, we gave them the training that they needed.
“They already knew what their people needed, they knew what needed to change, all they needed was the skills and the empowerment to do so.”
That’s what appealed to him when he read the Caritas job advertisement.
“One of the big things in it, when it was talking about the Catholic social teachings, was these concepts like subsidiarity, where what’s being promoted is that people should be the agents of their own change, the agents of their own destiny,” Andrew said.
“That was something that really struck a chord with me – the idea that Caritas is about empowering communities to bring about the change that they need but to do it themselves.”
In Ethiopia, one of the issues the Grace Centre dealt with involved young women ostracised from their families.
Andrew said they were rural women, “girls who’d grown up on farms, in farming communities, who had been sent into the cities to find work”.
“They’d work as a house girl for a family and, along with looking after the kids and cleaning the house and cooking and those kind of things, there was an expectation on a lot of them that they would fulfil the sexual needs of male members of the household or visitors,” he said.
“And these girls would invariably end up pregnant.”
They’d be dismissed, not welcomed back home and left to fend for themselves.
“These girls would not know what to do, and many of them would end up giving up their kids to adoption because they thought they had no means of looking after the child when all they needed was opportunity – possibly some training, possibly some assistance in different areas – but the main thing that they needed was an opportunity to start moving forward,” Andrew said.
“So we would provide day-care as a stop-gap to get these women into a position where they could find work, where they could build community and where they could start gaining independence.
“We’d provide sponsorships for kids to be able to go to school.
“We provided health care services, feeding programs for people who just didn’t have access to food.
“We’d come across people … we’d do house visits to families and one particular lady we did a home-visit to she very proudly showed us the room that someone had let her stay in with the cardboard box that was on the floor – that was her and her two children’s bed.
“And the clothes that they were wearing was all that they owned.
“And that was not an isolated thing to see. That was something that we would see quite regularly.
“We had lots of areas that we were working in but our main area was around this concept of orphan-prevention, of creating stable families, creating stable community around these families so that they could support each other.”
Andrew and Deanne are now settled back into Brisbane with their enlarged family.
“My eldest two are both 24 – they’re not related biologically; they’re both adopted – Sara is the eldest and then Hewan – she’s the second-eldest,” he said.
“And then Lydia, who’s our eldest biological daughter – she’s 21.
“And then Joshua; he’s 18.
“And then our twins are 12. The twins are Mekonnen (a boy) and Berhani (a girl)
“Joshua is overseas (in Haiti) at the moment serving with a mission organisation called YWAM, which is Youth with a Mission – a Protestant young people’s mission organisation.”
His parents’ example of putting their faith into action has clearly rubbed off.