Soft hearts, sharp minds

How are mandarins helping kids in foster care?

Over the recent long weekend, my wife Sue and I spent some time visiting the city that was our home for 20 years – Adelaide. I preached in the church where I served as a student minister, we ate lots of Haigh’s Chocolates (there’s a factory outlet), visited our son in his new home and enjoyed rich times telling tall stories with lifelong friends. On Monday I played golf with some mates. While the golf was mediocre at best, the sledging was world-class. All in all – good times.

Friday leading into the weekend, Sue and I travelled three hours up to Paringa in South Australia’s Riverland, right in the corner marking the borders between SA, NSW and Victoria. There we visited Cottee Orchard, a 500-acre block of irrigated red dirt that grows mandarin, oranges and almonds – for both domestic and overseas markets. Here’s the thing – Cottee Orchard is owned and operated by Wesley Mission, under the oversight of farm manager, Darryl, his team of seven staff, and the leadership of Warwick Cottee. It’s a great story that stretches back to 1973 and beyond.

Cottee's orchard

Harold W Cottee (yes, a member of the family whose name is associated with Australia’s most famous jams and cordials!) was a board member of Wesley Mission. He died in December 1973 and bequeathed in his will the orchard to Wesley Mission, with the express purpose that it should support the work of Wesley Dalmar. Since then, Harold W’s son (Harold S) and grandson (Warwick) have provided ongoing, unbroken leadership for the orchard operations – maintaining the strong family connection. Every quarter, I meet with other members of the Cottee Orchard Board as we govern the operations of this fascinating and vibrant corner of Wesley Mission. I know a lot more now than I did before about citrus prices, fertilizer costs, water rights, the vital pollination of almond trees, and so on. My ‘job’ could never be described as boring!

Cottee Orchard is the gift that keeps on giving, this past year contributing $500,000 to Wesley Dalmar. For some years, Cottee Orchard surpluses have been the primary funding source supporting the work of our ‘Take Charge of Your Life program, which every year equips and empowers dozens of young people preparing to exit, and after they exit out-of-home (foster) care. ‘Take Charge of Your Life’ makes a huge impact, and frankly would not be possible without the critical funding that comes via Cottee Orchard.

While visiting Cottee Orchard, Sue and I got to walk the rows of almond trees, pluck and eat mandarins from the tree and chat over a subway lunch under brilliant blue skies with our Cottee Orchard team. I was deeply moved when they shared with me how their work was more than a ‘job’; it mattered deeply to them, knowing the surpluses they help generate directly support kids who need it. One of the farm hands, Mick, said to me, ‘I love that soft hearts, hard feet stuff you always go on about’ (for the uninitiated, I have been saying that we who serve with Wesley Mission are called to be people with soft hearts, sharp minds, hard feet and open hands). Mick went on to say, ‘I reckon we’re the ones with hard feet – doing the hard stuff that makes a difference.’ I reckon Mick was 100% right.

Over our 210-year history, Wesley Mission has benefited hugely through the quiet and faithful generosity of amazing benefactors and donors like Harold W Cottee. Our Pitt Street and Lottie Stewart locations are two other sites given to us in the past. We continue to be blessed by the mostly anonympus generosity of so many. And, our story of making a profound impact in the lives of those ‘most in need’ has continued to unfold and grow through the quiet and faithful, often unseen service – the ‘hard feet’ – of Wesley Mission staff like farmhands Mick and Janine. In fact, I reckon at our best, all the thousands of staff, congregation members, volunteers and supporters who serve in and through Wesley Mission have ‘hard feet’ – feet prepared to go wherever, to whomever and do whatever is necessary to serve those most in need. All of us, without exception, play a vital role. For which I say, and I mean it sincerely – thank you.

Every blessing,

Rev Stu Cameron
CEO and Superintendent, Wesley Mission

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