As he returns down under, Chey Mattner reflects on his journey to overseeing the coordination of World Service programs
(LWI) - For those accustomed to seeing Chey Mattner towering head and shoulders above his colleagues in the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) offices in Geneva, it may be hard to imagine him as a small boy on a bike, with his brother and two sisters, “getting up to a lot of mischief” as they played in the remote Australian outback.
But that is where his journey began, the eldest child of an itinerant Lutheran pastor, who took his wife and children to rural South Australia, New South Wales and Alice Springs “where there was nothing but desert for thousands of kilometers.” Though some may pale at the thought of raising a young family in such challenging conditions, Mattner remembers it as “a wonderful childhood, where we played Australian Rules football in the dirt as the sheep ate any patches of grass that grew.”
Back then, he recalls, “there was no technology and at one stage we had no TV either, so we had to make our entertainment on our own.” It was a childhood “that shaped me a lot and looking back, I can see how formative those days were,” he says, noting that there were “as many Aboriginal children as white kids in my kindergarten class.” He remembers how his father would go "walkabout" with Aboriginal elders for a week or two at a time, camping in dry riverbeds - and vividly recalls “the bad smell when he returned unwashed and my mother not allowing him in the house until he changed his clothes!”
Australian Lutheran World Service
Fast forward to the end of his school years and Mattner joined so many other young Australians backpacking around Europe, working in England for a while, before moving to Ecuador and then Japan to teach English as a foreign language. At one point during his travels, he dropped in to visit his great uncle, Brian Neldner, who was working as director of LWF’s World Service. While doing the dishes, 17-year-old Chey casually asked about finding a job for him too: his request was kindly but firmly turned down.
Undeterred, he returned to Australia and in 2008 landed a job as program manager with Australian Lutheran World Service, the overseas aid and development agency of the Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand. It was a fast-learning curve, with a boss “who threw me into monitoring visits to South Sudan and Mozambique, strategy reviews in Nepal and Kenya and evaluations in Cambodia, all within the first year, in order for me to understand quickly.”
In 2013, he moved up from program manager to executive director, where he recalls one of his proudest memories was completing “a two-year rigorous review to retain our partnership with the Australian government.” During the audit, he remembers, “the panel said it was the strongest review that had ever been undertaken in their experience and we acknowledged our valuable connections to LWF as part of that process.”