Story

Social work and software

Date
02 Oct 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 TWO)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Administration
Theme
Partner
Professional Life
Transformation

Administrative things dont sound particularly exciting but they have knock-on effects for the quality of social work generally.

OSCaR is one of those things that’s hard to write about. It’s a social work case management and database software package. It doesn’t tug at your heartstrings like rehabilitating drug users, or rescuing people from trafficking, or reuniting children with their families. It’s certainly not what I had in mind when our family left Australia for Cambodia in 2014.

In my life before Cambodia, I was a case management social worker in a high school, working directly with disengaged young people. I also had some experience supervising social work students through their university placements. Coming here, I knew that I probably wouldn’t be doing the same thing – social work in a second language is really tough – and I assumed I would fit into a support role at an NGO.

Social work is a fledgling discipline in Cambodia.The Royal University of Phnom Penh started offering the Bachelor of Social Work in 2008, and the number of qualified social workers in the country is low. While there are many Cambodians at NGOs with a lot of life experience, the lack of formal education often results in people making things up as they go. It goes without saying that social work like that often doesn’t lead to the best outcomes for vulnerable people. Unfortunately, there is also a history of some missionaries obtaining visas as social workers despite being unqualified, contributing to the perception that social work is not a real discipline. But now work is in progress to address these issues.

I now work at Children in Families (CIF), a local NGO dedicated to providing family-based care for vulnerable children. When I started here in 2015, I was asked to conduct a social work audit. We had some good practice strengths, but weaknesses in client assessment and record-keeping. Those administrative things don’t sound particularly exciting, but they have knock-on effects for the quality of social work generally. How can you make a good plan for someone if you haven’t assessed and understood their situation? How can you keep the details of 20 people fresh in your mind and provide high quality follow-up every single day, if you never adequately write down the things you’re doing with them? And how can you ever hope to report on your work to your donors (and so keep on doing that work in the future!) if you haven’t got records of what you’ve done?

I’m not a computer programmer, but I grew up comfortable with computers. And our office already did most of its work digitally, so it felt natural to look at supporting our work with better software. We applied for (and won!) a grant to develop a case management system in late 2015. The system has continued to be more and more widely adopted, but it’s tempting to ask, so what?

I’ve been really excited to see how OSCaR has contributed to the development of social work practice at CIF. Our assessment structure is now more relevant and lets us track long-term whether the work we do is improving the lives of the kids we support. We keep records in Khmer, with processes in place to let managers supervise their staff. We track all the things we need to in order to report on our work to our donors, and our managers are beginning to understand how they can be involved in monitoring and evaluation processes themselves. As I’ve helped other organisations integrate OSCaR into their practice, I’ve seen how they also wrestle more with their own work and consider how best to serve their beneficiaries.

I believe that God wants to see Christians not only reach out to the vulnerable, but reach out in ways that are helpful, relevant and competent. And while OSCaR by itself does not work with vulnerable people, it is supporting hundreds of social workers, in Cambodia and in other countries, to do so more effectively. This isn’t the work I expected to do, when I left Australia five years ago. But I’ve seen God bring things in line, and I’m grateful to have been put where I am.

Chris and his wife Stacie advocate for family-based care for children. Their family lives in Cambodia.

The gift of a voice

Date
02 Oct 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 TWO)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Medical / Health
Theme
Partner
Professional Life
Transformation

The speech therapy clinic helps to raise awareness and builds advocacy platforms with influential Cambodians whose families have benefited from therapy.

Speech therapy is largely unheard of in Cambodia. Currently there are no speech therapists in the country who were trained at a Cambodian university. For the last 18 months, I have worked as Program Manager in a locally-run organisation working to grow speech therapy in Cambodia. We have a vision for a Cambodian university-qualified speech therapy profession that is able to provide high quality, culturally-relevant services to the estimated 600,000 Cambodians with communication or swallowing difficulties.

Establishing a new profession is a pretty daunting task! Curriculum writing, development strategy, clinical research and advocacy work all require connections and expertise beyond our little team of seven Cambodian staff and three foreign therapists. For a university course to be relevant to this context we need to document research and experience of using speech therapy strategies here. The purpose of this is to evaluate what approaches to speech therapy work in Cambodian culture and in the Khmer language, rather than simply transplanting models of practice from Western countries.

Cambodia has a long history of foreign therapists working in isolation for a few months or years, each investing in their small area but with little connection to government systems and no overall coordination. One of the first tasks for our organisation was to partner with others to establish the Cambodian Speech Therapy Network, with an aim to share resources and learning, and to be an orientation point for future speech therapists coming into the country.

Another early task was to establish a speech therapy clinic as a social enterprise. Two years in, our private clinic is booked out and needs more staff than we can find. This clinic brings opportunities to document therapy in Cambodia. Furthermore, also critical to ongoing success, the clinic helps to raise awareness and builds advocacy platforms with influential Cambodians whose families have benefited from therapy.

Currently, many children with disabilities are not in school even though by law and by government policy children with special needs are allowed to attend. Last year we designed and implemented a pilot project to coach rural primary and preschool teachers in their inclusion of children with communication difficulties within government schools. Beginning with disability-accessible schools from the government’s special education department, our staff worked to train the teachers in skills and knowledge that assists them in using teaching methods that helps all children learn. Presenting our results to the government was a tangible example of how speech therapy could help Cambodians. We ended the year with a formal partnership agreement with the Ministry of Education and had some very pleasing discussions with the University of Health Sciences as they plan a bachelor course in speech therapy to start in 2020.

Building on our national staff’s connections in the national disability and health sector, I’ve been able to bring my experience from 12 years of living and working in Cambodian poor communities along with my grassroots involvement in community-based disability rehabilitation work and establishment of community preschools and homework clubs. As a cross-cultural worker with longer-term experience, I’ve helped our local and foreign team members to understand each other better. In addition to my professional expertise in speech therapy, I’ve also drawn on Interserve’s values of partnership, servant leadership and valuing local expertise as together we grow our organisational culture and strategy.

While it’s not part of the employment criteria, it has been a surprise and encouragement to see how many staff members in the speech therapy project share the Christian faith. For the Christians within our staff it’s been easy to see God’s hand guiding our planning and his provision of resources and partnerships. It is such a joy to together celebrate God’s blessing, lament the injustice we encounter and advocate for systems that allow access to services for the poorest and most marginalised.

Ruth lives with her family in Cambodia. She works with a local NGO working to grow a Cambodian speech therapy profession.

Watching Gods grace work

Date
02 Oct 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 TWO)
Region
South Asia
Profession
Theology / Church
Theme
Partner
Prayer
Transformation

I wondered how this farm girl ended up at a prestigious Bible college and what would happen after she finished.

She turned up in my small group on the first day of my first year. A young woman, slender and frail, skin as dark as the night, dressed in faded clothes, barely speaking English. A few of us wondered how she possibly passed the entrance exam. But her name was Kiruba, which means ‘grace of God’. Maybe it was by God’s grace that she had been accepted into one of the most prestigious Bible colleges in the country. But how was she ever going to get through four years of rigorous tertiary studies in English? Maybe I could help somehow. Would it be worth it? Maybe the college should just send her home now.

In second year, every student has to read the Bible aloud in the chapel. How was Kiruba going to manage it? Her first year had passed in a blur. She barely understood instructions, often managing to show up in the right place at the right time by literally following the other women. Others from her ethnic group must have been helping her get through the classes by translating for her, both ways. She asked me for help and came to my apartment every day to practise reading her Bible passage. This wasn’t a sermon, mind you, just simply reading the passage out in front of the whole community. As she stood behind the lectern, quaking with fear, every student and every faculty member was holding their breath.

It was word perfect. And with a boldness that must have come from the Holy Spirit.

One Christmas while our residential Bible college was on its holiday break, I went to visit Kiruba and a few other students in their homes. After about twenty hours on the rickety train, she met me at the tiny station and we rode in the open, ‘naturally air-conditioned’ bus another four hours to her home.

It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. There was a lot of love here, but not a lot of money. It was a simple mud-brick house with a couple of bedrooms, a common area and a kitchen outside. The beds were made of jute rope tied over wooden frames. We walked in the fields and chased the chickens and chatted about this and that. I wondered how this farm girl ended up at a prestigious Bible college in the big city 2000 kilometres away, and what would happen after she finished.

In final year, all of the students have to preach in the chapel. By then we were no longer anxious about what would happen when Kiruba took the pulpit. We all knew that this was a woman anointed by God with the power of His Spirit. She had an incomparable boldness, a fearlessness that made others stop still and listen. Where had it come from? I believe it was there all the time. I always felt that my time in the classroom wasn’t as significant in the lives of our students as the time I spent with them in the college dining room, by the playing field, in my lounge room. My colleagues and I had just allowed Kiruba the space to blossom and flourish under the care of her Master. She trusted in Him fully, and gave herself fully in his service.

Now Kiruba pastors a church in the south of the country, together with her husband.

Jessica has taught at Bible colleges in Asia and Australia. She currently provides leadership and pastoral care to Interserve workers in South East Asia.

QA with a Doctor

Date
02 Oct 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 TWO)
Region
Other
Profession
Medical / Health
Theme
Partner
Professional Life

I never had a noble intention to do medicine. I did well at school and it was a practical profession.

Celeste is a doctor living and working in Asia.

What led you to pursue a profession in medicine?
I never had a ‘noble’ intention to do medicine. I did well at school, and it was a practical profession. I always wanted to serve people and medicine provides that. A lot of people might have thought about saving the world, but for me, it was just a good profession and I had the ability to get there.

How did you sense God calling you into cross-cultural mission?
I struggled with this. Did I really hear God asking me to mission? Some people have dreams. But I think God also works through how your brain works. So for me it was open opportunities. Having everything line up: time, ability to go, the desire to go. I find that if I respond to one thing, God will lead me to the next thing. You don’t suddenly arrive there. You just need to have the willingness first to see mission as a possibility.

You have a heart for your patients, but also for your professional colleagues.
We can serve our patients well if our hearts and our brains and our values are all connected. There is only so much that we can do for one patient, but if we can have an influence on the healthcare provider, how much more we can serve the patients over and above what we can do by ourselves.

If we hold the value of being God’s created ones, then it is reflected in how we treat patients. To be able to look after your colleagues – it changes how they see themselves and the value a patient has in their eyes.

How can you share Jesus’ love when there are professional boundaries to what you can say?
I don’t think that is any different whether you are in my country or in Australia. It is more a change in your thinking – to be Christ-like in the workplace. People read you and watch you. The dignity and kindness that you give to a person speaks volumes. As much as we have to open our mouths, the Holy Spirit is working in their hearts. I am seeing that more and more.

People will ask “Why are you so different to the other doctors?” As we grow in faith, something has to change about us. There is a time and place for you to speak and a time and place when you show Christ through what you do. He will be the one who provides an opportunity to talk about it.


Names have been changed.

Learning from women

Date
02 Oct 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 TWO)
Region
South Asia
Profession
Education
Theme
Partner
Relationships
Women

Research and writing has now become a core part of my cross-cultural work.

We sat around her table, overlooking the valley down to the city. The table was covered in papers and we frequently reached for our phones to record things that struck us as together we wrestled with the issues.

My friend is a follower of Jesus from another religious background, and she continues to identify both as a member of that community and as a follower of Jesus. I had given a paper at a conference on the role of patronage in discipling women followers of Jesus from Muslim backgrounds. I had learned a lot from her when she explained how her community operates and women’s roles within it. I was aware that my paper had some under-developed areas. Now we were talking through what it would look like to have a book that pulled apart the topic and added to it, and how we could do this together. I am both a learner and a facilitator in this ongoing process.

Research and writing had not really been on my agenda as a young cross-cultural worker. I was by nature an activist but when I did my PhD I found new doors opened for conversations that brought together my activism and my love of research.

I was researching the role of women in social change, and was invited to attend a women’s rally. As we gathered at the start of the rally, I found myself standing by Mukhtar Mai, who had been the subject of international media attention after the local village council ordered her rape as punishment for an alleged crime by her brother. How would I, as a follower of Jesus, have a meaningful conversation with this woman? I knew she would wonder if I were just another foreigner looking for a way to use her for my story. As we talked, I wanted to know about her, not just the story that was already in the media. We stepped back from the noise and in a quiet voice she talked about her family and the girls in her village, whom she passionately wanted to protect.

I walked through the march, talking to women and asking them about their hopes and dreams in participating in such a rally, seeking to understand what change would mean for them. I thought of the stories of Jesus’ interactions with women that could be shared. This has helped me think through the work of the When Women Speak … network in training and equipping women to reach Muslim women.

Research and writing has now become a core part of my cross-cultural work: facilitating and publishing collaborative research and writing by women, including those who follow Jesus from Islam, to help the church understand how women experience faith; training the church in other places with higher education qualifications so it can be an articulate participant in transformation in its community; encouraging reflective practice among women mission practitioners through online courses; and forming a platform for women’s cross-cultural mission research at the Australian College of Theology.

Research and writing enables me to participate in new ways in God’s great work of reaching the nations.



Cathy has served with Interserve for over 30 years, working with women in the Muslim world. She now leads When Women Speak…

God went ahead of us

Date
02 Oct 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 TWO)
Region
Other
Profession
Hospitality
Theme
Life Lessons
Partner
Relationships

We were absolutely delighted with the amazing warm hearted and friendly responses from asylum seekers.

It all started when a friend told me that she had an idea. It was late 2012 in a Melbourne suburb where a church hosted a free food distribution point for those in desperate financial situations. Most of the people coming were asylum seekers from countries such as Sri Lanka, Iran and Afghanistan who had no work rights here. Maybe we could meet more of their needs if we got to know them better? Together we came up with the idea of inviting them inside the doors of the church where we would offer cups of tea, nuts and dried fruit and help them practice their conversational English.

The church was happy to support the idea and good connections with the local ministers’ fellowship led to offers of prayer and practical support from other pastors and members of their congregations. We were absolutely delighted with the amazing, warm hearted and friendly responses from asylum seekers. We sensed that God had gone before us and had something special in mind.

As the program grew we decided to extend the informal English classes and launch more formal, regular classes. At that stage, the asylum seekers were not supported by the government in any way to learn English. Many were bored and really wanted to learn. The response to our proposal by the community was very enthusiastic!

We formed a partnership with the local ministers’ fellowship and cross-cultural workers from a range of organisations including Interserve’s CultureConnect. It was fantastic to see the unity. A missiologist was invited to devise and launch the new program. Volunteer teachers were recruited to teach at four different levels. There was overwhelming interest from asylum seekers and the number of students quickly surged to well over a hundred. The church felt they had reached their capacity but still the students kept coming! A few other churches from the ministers’ fellowship also started English classes from the overflow.

At the same time there were many asylum seekers asking questions about the Christian faith. At a time of personal upheaval and trauma they were open to God in new and exciting ways. By the grace of God, I was able to start Bible studies with several students. One particular Bible study grew to 20 participants, all from Central Asia. After several years, members of this Bible study formed their own church and one of them became their full-time pastor. This church still operates today.

The English classes in the main church continued for over four years. The numbers eventually declined as asylum seekers in the area obtained visas with earning rights, became more settled and the local library and other organisations began to provide services for them. One church still retains the program we began.

What a privilege it was to reach out in practical love to generous, warm-hearted asylum seekers. Lifetime friendships were formed. Most of all we praise God who had gone ahead and led us to take hold of the wonderful opportunity we had to reach out to these people. Each asylum seeker is cherished by God, whose Son Jesus offers eternal life through the cross He bore for them as He did for us.


Robert is a CultureConnect Partner helping churches in Melbourne to reach out cross-culturally.
Names have been changed.

A different way of doing medicine

Date
02 Oct 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 TWO)
Region
Other
Profession
Medical / Health
Theme
Life Lessons
Partner
Professional Life
Transformation

I didnt want to restrict myself to being a doctor I wanted to be a doctor sharing Christ and to teach from the Word of God. This was a good fit for the way God made me.

I was only fourteen when I decided I was going to become a medical missionary. I assumed I would be going to Africa – back then I thought all missionaries went to Africa.

But I was surprised to learn that female medical personnel were most needed in Muslim countries, where women must see a female professional and sometimes died when there were no women doctors to attend them.

So I ended up doing a medical student placement in South Asia. It was in a compound with high fences and armed guards. Women were not allowed outside the compound alone, and we had to cover every part of our body including our head. I remember old rusty beds, surgical gloves hanging out to dry after use, hot sweet tea and lots of kids with thin mums.

I started to think about wholistic health and doing medicine in a different way after I witnessed a nurse stomping a baby’s bottle under her foot. Her strange action made sense after I learned that bottle-feeding contributed to the illness of babies there. Big multinational companies sold their milk formulas cheaply and promoted bottlefeeding as the way of the West. However, many poor village women watered down the formula to make it last longer, depriving their babies of the nutrition necessary for growth. The lack of clean water and difficulty to sterilise bottles frequently led to infection and diarrhoea, then dehydration and death.

My brief time there taught me so much. I learnt the importance of preventative and community medicine. I learnt that even though curative hospital care was exhilarating and necessary, for me prevention is better than cure. I began to understand that people’s health is more than physical, and that it is bound to their poverty, education level, status, economic means, gender and religious beliefs. In short, I had begun to understand about wholism.

Another turning point in my Christian journey came when I had the opportunity to go on an evangelistic ward round. The hospital evangelist shared the gospel with patients’ relatives, who stayed to care for the patient. I thought it was great that the gospel was shared, but I was uncomfortable with the division for me: because of time constraints doctors mostly dealt with the physical and evangelists dealt with the spiritual. I didn’t want to restrict myself to being a doctor; I wanted to be a doctor sharing Christ and to teach from the Word of God. This was a good fit for the way God made me.

So I began full-time theological study while working part-time as a GP and completing my training. I was able to reflect on the interaction of the physical, emotional and spiritual. We are complex beings and being healthy is a complicated business.

When I applied to join Interserve, I was willing to go where I was most needed. That turned out to be Central Asia, where the church had grown exponentially since the fall of the Soviet Union, but leaders were young in years and young in faith. I quickly caught the vision of impacting communities in a wholistic and grassroots way, where they could be empowered to recognise and solve their problems with local resources. Our community development lessons covered many topics, such as physical health, income generation, agriculture, emotional issues and moral values like honesty and forgiveness.

Most of the communities we worked with knew we were followers of Jesus, and in time, through interaction, they developed a more positive understanding of Christianity. We did this work not as a means to evangelise or plant churches, but because it is good in itself and demonstrates the love of Jesus. In many places around the world, however, the natural consequence of such wholistic community development is that, over time, new communities of faith begin.

These early lessons have shaped my work as an Interserve Partner for the last 22 years. When there is harmony between people and God (the spiritual dimension), among people (the social dimension), within the person (the emotional dimension) and between people and their environment (the physical dimension), we have wholistic health. As Christians we work to show that Jesus is Lord of all and has reconciled all things in heaven and earth to Himself (Colossians 1:15-20). That’s wholism.



Lyn is Interserve’s Regional Director for East Asia and South Pacific. She lives in Australia with her family.

Listening with respect

Date
02 Oct 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 TWO)
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Medical / Health
Theme
Partner
Relationships
Transformation
Women

They entered sad and left smiling. To be listened to with respect and cared for was a new experience for them.

I see myself more as a Jack-of-all-trades than a specialist. I spent more of my working life raising children than in my profession of medicine, returning to family practice and then counselling as they grew up.

In my new country, I work in ‘support’. I do not run any projects myself. ‘Support’ for me may mean collating clinical data, making cushions, dolls and straps for disability work, applying for grant funding, updating health training materials, training locals in counselling and offering child development and parenting support. There is no ‘ordinary week’ for me. Some work is fun, some engaging and exciting, some frankly boring but necessary.

There are highs and lows. Here is one low from the start of my work: I was finally going to do something useful and I was excited! After a year of cultural and language learning, I was going to assist a local NGO with health promotion and a women’s shelter. I had carefully prepared my first training presentation and I arrived twenty minutes early, ready to set up and start on time. The room was in use, so I waited. With five minutes to go, I showed my face at the window. When it was time to start, I knocked on the door. A colleague came out. She said that the person before me was still talking. I waited for forty-five minutes. The team then came out and asked me to give my presentation another day, as now they did not have time for my training!

We now live in a relationship-based culture, not a time and task-based culture. I knew ‘flexibility’ was important for living and working here. I just didn’t know how flexible. Your duty is the person in front of you and other commitments go on hold until they leave. I have learned to call the day before I run training, and to schedule sessions at the start of the day so it starts approximately on time. That is, after the mandatory relationship-building cup of tea and chat.

I have continued to work with the same wonderful ladies for the last five years. They sat patiently while I attempted to teach in a new language. It was a relief to all of us when they offered to allow me to train in English, with one of them translating. They always encourage me and tell me how much they value me, which makes it hard to get good feedback for improvement! I think it took three years before my health training took root. I think it also took about that amount of time before they really trusted me.

Here are some of the highs:

I was asked to work as a counsellor in a medical clinic. It is always challenging seeing people in very difficult circumstances when you are unlikely to see them again. What could I really do? I was very humbled when lady after lady shared their experiences of difficulties with husband or children. They entered sad and left smiling. What had I done? There was really no advice I could give them, no change in their circumstances. It was simply important to them that both I and my Christian translator listened and valued them. I encouraged them. So many of these ladies only get abuse and blame. To be listened to with respect and cared for was a new experience for them.

The ladies running the women’s shelter asked for training to help the children who had escaped abusive situations with their mothers. I explained that although the children will probably later need counselling, the first and most important thing is to provide them with a safe and nurturing environment, provide good food and clothing and to cater for their educational needs. I also gave them training on basic child development and parenting skills. They were very grateful and said they found this training helpful even in their own families. They also realised that their work was just as important as what professionals did.

Nothing happens by chance. God uses all our experiences, and I am grateful for everything he is doing through my retirement!


Marian and her husband are doctors, serving long-term in a remote part of Central Asia.

Names have been changed

The work of walking humbly

Date
02 Oct 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 TWO)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Community Development
Theme
Life Lessons
Partner
Prayer

Not being able to speak has provided me with an opportunity to observe to slow down to listen and to pray.

A friend recently commented that living cross-culturally strips back your identity to its most basic shell. My experience took me on a journey from being a competent, confident adult who was contributing to his community to a place where every aspect of my identity was challenged.

This was partly by my own choosing. Several years ago Marie Clare and I, along with our two children, departed Melbourne (one of the world’s most livable cities) for Bangkok, Thailand. We spent our first year studying Thai. We easily could have moved to Thailand to teach in English or to work in a large international church or school. However, we felt a strong desire to partner with the local church, to be involved in community and to learn to speak Thai.

We have now been in Thailand for three years. A large portion of our time has been dedicated to learning Thai, watching the people and environment around us and attempting to understand a culture that often intrigues us. We are often exhausted, frustrated and at times desire to return to a place where we are understood and are able to clearly articulate our thoughts and feelings.

Thai is a tonal language with 5 distinct tones. The meaning of a word changes based on its tone. Thus far I have yet to master these tones. I have discovered I enjoy getting out and about and speaking to people. In English I love to talk to people about politics and debate the current hot topic. However, in Thai my conversations last 5–10 minutes before I run out of things to say. In meetings I am 5–10 seconds behind the conversation. By the time I have decoded the conversation and translated my thought into Thai, the conversation has well and truly moved on. Thai people are kind and they are always amazed by how much Thai I can speak. But I know how far I have to go before I can think and speak Thai effortlessly. The more I learn, the more I know how much I don’t know.

So is learning Thai worth it? Why can’t I, like many mission workers here in Thailand, just speak English and get someone to translate for me? Then I could get down to doing what I really love: teaching and discipleship.
The answer is yes, it’s worth it! I don’t always feel this way. It is hard living in a place where you can’t express your thoughts clearly and have deep conversations. However, this journey is not about me. I have come to understand that without walking humbly with God, one cannot understand or practice justice, mercy or humility (Micah 6:8). Not being able to speak has provided me with an opportunity to observe, to slow down, to listen and to pray. Language learning has taught me to rely on others and on God.

God often reminds me that I am not walking on this journey alone, nor am I leading the way. I am walking humbly with Him. My identity is not found in my Australian passport, my Persian heritage, my science and teaching degrees. My identity is found in God my father.


Emmanuel is a qualified chemistry and biology teacher. He and his family are in Thailand long-term, partnering with the local church in outreach and discipleship.

A ministry of encouragement

Date
02 Oct 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 TWO)
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Theology / Church
Theme
Partner
Professional Life
Transformation

A preaching club is helping Gulya and her church to grow.

When I first arrived in Central Asia 15 years ago, I vividly remember the Principal of the Theological College telling me, “You’ll be a great encouragement to the women pastors!”

“Most unlikely!” I thought to myself.

I knew no one. I couldn’t speak a word of the language and had very little understanding of the culture. I had years of experience of teaching and pastoral ministry, but in a very different context. In this culture, I was a complete novice.

Now that I have learned the language and gained a greater understanding of the culture, I’ve been privileged to work with and encourage many people; both women and men. The theological college is now locally run and though no expats officially work there, I’m still involved in various ways.

I’ve worked with local teachers with varying success and am always delighted when I hear from students how much they enjoyed and learned from the teaching of friends like Venera, Kostya and Gulya.

A very able young woman, Venera worked with me teaching some Old Testament books. At first, she taught only sections of each lecture and developed into teaching the subjects on her own. She married a young man from a neighbouring country and now only comes back once a year to see her parents and to teach. However, God continues to use her knowledge and skills in preaching and teaching as she serves in a large church in her new home city.

Kostya is a fine young man, who came to know Jesus through a student movement here and worked with this group for ten years. When he had leave to pursue theological studies, I was able to advise him about places to study online and guide him to books and links along the way. He is now engaged in work towards a PhD and I’m happy to be a discussion partner and resource.

Gulya, a pastor in a village nearby, is a friend and colleague with whom I’ve taught. For the past ten years she has been leading the only church in her village. It is known and respected by all. Gulya has been involved with me and others in the Langham Preaching Movement. Her continued involvement in a preaching club is helping her and the church to grow in depth of understanding and love. She says, “I used to pray and pray for inspiration about what to preach. But now I find it so much easier. We go through a book of the Bible and work carefully on the text ... and find inspiration. God really speaks through his Word — to me as well as to others.”

Ordering books to expand our library has been just as important. Can you imagine trying to do theological study without books? “How do you know which books to order?” someone asked me recently. Experience over many years has taught me which of the books that have been translated would be useful for students and teachers here. Translating suitable books into the local language – or rather, working with translators to check the translations – has become part of my work, as has seeing them through to publication. Suggesting books to be translated by a publisher in other parts of the former Soviet Union has also borne fruit.

So, fifteen years on, I’m pleased to see how God has used the skills and experience He has given me to be an encouragement to people in a very different culture. God has also provided local friends and colleagues to love, teach and encourage me as I serve with them here. I’m very grateful for the privilege.

Gwen is a long-term Interserve Partner who has been working alongside the church in Central Asia for 15 years.
All names have been changed.

Serving God without leaving home

Date
02 Oct 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 TWO)
Region
Arab World
Profession
Other
Theme
Life Lessons
Partner
Relationships

I am no hero of the faith but I trust God used me as a stay-at-home mum.

A few weeks before my family went to live overseas for the first time, I got a phone call. The caller was an older friend whom I respected.

“Ruth”, she said to me, “I know we talk a lot about Jim’s role. But I wanted to remind you that the reason your family can go overseas is because you are behind him. If he could not rely on you as his wife and mother of his kids, then there would not be the option to go.”

It was the first time I recognised my unique position to be used as a stay-at-home mum overseas. We were heading there with a baby and toddler in tow. Usually the anticipation focussed on my husband's role, whereas mine… not so much. Let's face it, being a stay-at-home mum is not glamorous.

It didn't get any more glamorous overseas. There were still sleepless nights, tantrums and dirty nappies (to be clear: Jim also dealt with all of these – I couldn’t have done it without him!). Besides that, it is tough for kids in a new culture. They needed me close by, especially at first when the street dogs were scary, their tummies were upset and they were still getting used to having their cheeks squeezed by strangers.

But in the Middle East, there is a lot more respect for mothers than I'd experienced in Australia. To locals, I was doing a legitimate role. It was beyond their imagination that I put my children to bed before 11pm at night, or hadn't toilet trained them by 12 months old. But walking the kids to school, shopping at the market and doing my own cooking did make sense to my local friends. And that helped as we built our relationships.

Being a stay-at-home mum also enabled me to use other gifts in flexible ways. Relationship building was part of our ministry within the Interserve team. We loved having visitors and we would often have people over to share meals together because I had the time for hospitality. In the frequently stressful times of a foreign land, this mutual encouragement strengthened and refreshed us all for our ministries elsewhere.

Interserve’s vision is transformed communities. Did I transform anything through my school drop-offs and nappies and pots of spaghetti bolognaise?

Maybe the question is not what did I transform, but what was God doing though me? Like a tapestry that is not yet finished, I can only see scraps of the pattern God was creating. I do know my role contributed to helping us thrive as a family in the country. I had a part in enabling my husband to do the role God had for him. It also allowed me to pour time into building relationships with other cross-cultural workers, to support them in fulfilling their own God-given purposes. It gave me time to see the opportunities, and as the kids got older, to find my niche outside the home too.

I am no hero of the faith, but I trust God used me as a stay-at-home mum. He placed me there, made me the person I am, and gave me my role for that time.

The rest is His story.

Ruth served with her family in the Middle East for six years.
All names have been changed.

A barista walked into a cafe

Date
02 Oct 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 TWO)
Region
Arab World
Profession
Business
Theme
On Track
Professional Life
Relationships

Just as God had begun watering the seed of love for Muslims He also had planted a love of coffee

“If more people come to know Jesus through our deaths than though our lives, then we are prepared to die, Father.”

I read this prayer in a biography when I was nine. I was struck by how radical and countercultural life in Jesus is to the world around us. Our lives are gifts not to ourselves, but to be given sacrificially for His story and His glory.
God began to water the seed of overseas mission in my heart. Through reading missionary stories, I imagined being a teacher in the depths of the African savannah, choosing education as my university degree.

But throughout my teens, biographies, novels and world events like September 11 increased my curiosity about the Middle East and Islam. Growing up in rural WA, I don’t remember meeting any Muslims or even knowing anyone who had ever stepped foot in the Middle East. Yet God began to grow this curiosity. While I was at university, I read about Brother Andrew’s ministry to Muslims and in that moment decided that I would start working towards going to the Middle East as a teacher.

But it didn’t take long into this journey to realise I did not enjoy teaching. This led to a lot of anxiety as I studied at Bible college. If I didn’t teach in the Middle East, what could I do?
But just as God had begun watering the seed of love for Muslims, He also had planted a love of coffee! I returned to my home city and started working in specialty cafes, learning the coffee business and mastering the barista’s art. I didn’t know how I could use this in the Middle East but I prayed that I would!

God heard these prayers. I found myself boarding a plane as an On Tracker to the Middle East to work for a coffee business for two years! In His strength and grace, the project aims to accomplish many things alongside providing delicious cups of coffee.

As I helped develop the barista program and its curriculum, train staff and build the team I was amazed at how God used simple things like coffee and baristas to bring people together: rich and poor, educated and uneducated, Muslim and Christian to create networks and communities that provided endless opportunities for people to see His power, glory and reconciling love. I saw Him refining and using local Christians as they showed their Muslim colleagues what it means to be a Middle Eastern Christian. I saw Muslims taking note of God working in the lives of His children. I saw them begin to have their misconceptions about Christianity dispelled and be curious about what it truly is all about. All in the everyday workings of a small business!

God has used my education and my coffee experience. If I were to go back in time to decide on a future career, I would tell myself that God doesn’t just use the ‘traditional’ missionary careers like teaching and medicine. He can use any career or trade! He gives to each of us skills, talents and passions to be used for His glory and in His story.

Ella is preparing to return to the Middle East as a long-term Partner.

Village to the city and back again

Date
02 Oct 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 TWO)
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Education
Theme
Partner
Professional Life
Women

One factor for why girls in villages do not go to school is because there arent any female teachers. We hoped to change this.

“You can’t think of teaching as a job. You have to think of it as a vocation.” It was very sage advice that I received in my first year of teaching and it still guides me to this day.

In Australia, my favourite subject to teach was Year 11 Ethics. I loved challenging my students to think for themselves – to reflect on their values and the kinds of people they wanted to be. I loved tapping into their idealism and their belief that we can make a difference in the world.

Four years later, holding tight to the side of the Jeep as it jostled and swayed over the rugged hillsides of Central Asia, I couldn’t help thinking that I was literally half a world away from my bright and cosy classroom. I looked out the window at sun-aged brown hills without another person in sight before we took a turn and suddenly came across shepherds guiding their flocks of black and white sheep and then, a small oasis of green that surrounded mud brick houses. My sense of awe at seeing this part of God’s creation gave way to nerves as we drew closer to the village. In spite of the 43C weather, I put on my socks so as to be culturally appropriate and readjusted my headscarf. My local colleagues and I were about to meet with the Ministry of Education and the Head of School in these parts. We hoped to convince them to allow the high school graduate daughters of the village to join our teacher-training project in the city.

We knew we had our work cut out for us because what we were asking of them is so counter-cultural. For a young unmarried woman to not be under her father’s or brother’s roof overnight can bring a great deal of gossip, if not shame to the family. Yet work was urgently needed to help village girls to go to school and stay at school as long as possible, in order to curb one of the world’s lowest literacy rates for women. One factor for why girls in villages do not go to school is because there aren’t any female teachers. We hoped to change this.

Negotiations with the Ministry and Head of School ended, and we made our way to one of the girls’ mud brick home. Huddled in one of their two rooms and surrounded by family member of all ages, we sipped our tea and listened to the parents’ fears: of gossip; of damage to the family name; of family opposition; of letting their daughters study for a couple of years only to see people from the city with money and power get the jobs and then never turn up in the village to teach; of how the families will put food on the table because at least now their daughters can sell some craft pieces to make ends meet. A family allowing their daughter to move to the city is an act of tremendous courage. The back and forth conversation quietened as a meal was spread before us in the true spirit of hospitality in Central Asia. Overwhelmed by both their struggles and their generosity, I ate quietly, smiling at the girls, acknowledging the hope in their eyes.

Fast forward again, to the beginning of our teacher training program in the city. In my classroom and in their spare time, the young women from the village work so incredibly hard, determined to shape their own futures. We will learn about classroom management, and social and emotional intelligence, and critical thinking, and how to actively engage students in their own learning instead of using the traditional method of rote and repetition. God willing, after two years I will visit them in their classrooms in their home villages and mentor them. But mostly, I pray in hope for these precious young women, that after everything they have overcome to be here, they will return to their villages with their heads held high, they will teach with love and integrity, and they will shine the torch on the capabilities and dignity of women and be a role model for the next generation of girls in their villages.


Jodi is a teacher-trainer, serving the girls and women of Central Asia.

Names have been changed.

How bout them kids

Date
01 Jun 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 ONE)
Region
Other
Profession
Other
Theme
Life Lessons
Relationships

TCKs need to have someone willing to listen to them and to speak for them.

We’d like you to meet Kath, Interserve Australia’s new TCK Advocate. We sat down for a chat to learn about what she’s up to!

What are TCKs?
TCKs are Third Culture Kids. There’s a first culture: that of their parents and their passport country. And there’s a second culture: that of the place they are living in. But these kids grow up in a third culture, a unique mix of the first two. So they are called Third Culture Kids.

They can thrive in a multicultural and international environment, and connect with people across barriers of religion, language, and age. TCKs acquire all sort of skills, from bartering in the marketplace to catching planes, to speaking other languages. And they see global issues like poverty or human trafficking from a very personal perspective.

What are some of their unique needs?
One of the biggest issues for TCKs is loss and grief. They may say goodbye to someone they care about every six months – sometimes unexpectedly. Some kids become reluctant to make friends, because they’re scared that friend will leave. Kids also grieve their stuff. When they first go over to a country, they might have tons of Lego but they can’t bring it with them. They lose culture too – one of my youth girls said “I don’t understand how girls and boys relate in Australia”. They even have to learn a new language – Australian teenage slang.

What’s involved in being a TCK advocate?
TCKs need to have someone willing to listen to them and to speak for them. My heart is to see that kids are socially, emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy.

Part of my role is to help equip parents and families as they prepare to take their kids overseas. I’ll be helping out with Missions Interlink’s ten-day Transition Training twice a year, specifically to help kids transition to new environments. I’m also working on resources for churches.

Another part of the role is personally supporting kids re-entering Australia. The role is being developed as we speak and will continue to evolve. I can see the way God has prepared me. I’m a trained social worker and youth worker, and growing up some of my best friends were missionary kids. My first job was as a child therapist with kids who had experienced abuse and struggled with mental health issues. More recently, Interserve sent me to a school in Cambodia for two years and through that experience I better understand the world that TCKs live in and the challenges and struggles they face.

What’s it like being a voice for these kids?
Sometimes kids are not able to share what’s on their hearts because they’re afraid of what their parents will think. So I ask, “If you can’t say this to your parents, are you willing for me to say it?” In that way I can be their voice, and help facilitate communication within the family.

Or I might be a voice for them in their church. Church families think TCKs have come back home – but home for them is the place where they’ve grown up. There are heaps of ways people can support TCKs – prayer, practical help, a listening ear. Learn more.

What’s your favourite thing about being a TCK Advocate?
Listening to the stories of our young people. I love to hear their experiences of life in other places. I think listening is one of the most important ways to building a relationship so they feel comfortable to say, “This is how really I feel”.

It’s exciting to see where God’s taking this role. It’s God’s journey and God’s dream. I would always be underprepared if it was my dream. But this is God’s idea.

Tribute to John Howard Barclay AM

Date
01 Jun 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 ONE)
Region
Other
Profession
Administration
Theme
Life Lessons
Partner
Prayer
Transformation

Howard Barclay missionary leader encourager pray-er and family man faithfully and graciously served with his wife Betty the people of India and Nepal during a lifetime commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

On Sunday 10 February 2019, an Interserve statesman and a great man of God finished his earthly work and passed into the presence of the God he loved and served. Howard Barclay – missionary, leader, encourager, pray-er and family man – faithfully and graciously served with his wife Betty the people of India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Australia and New Zealand during a lifetime commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Howard grew up with a family heritage of prayer and concern for Nepal. His father co-founded the Palmer Street Mission, which had a focus on prayer for Nepal from the outset and his mother prayed for Nepal for nearly 80 years until she died at the age of 97. He attended Melbourne Bible Institute (now Melbourne School of Theology) and went on to attain a diploma in teaching.

In December 1950, Howard met Betty Cane, who was about to leave for India in February 1951. Following Betty to north India in January 1952, he brought with him an engagement ring, which was presented at the first opportunity – waiting for their tickets at Lucknow Railway Station. According to mission regulations, single missionaries could not get married until they had passed their first year Hindi exam, so Howard married Betty the day after, in Motihari, near the Nepal border. This began a loving and supportive partnership of 64+ years which included four children: John, Ruth and Heather, born in India, and Margie, born in the hills of Nepal.

The move from their base on the Indian border into Nepal in 1960 entailed a five-day trek with the family from Kathmandu to the remote village of Amp Pipal. Howard was the Project Director of a United Mission to Nepal (UMN) effort to open schools to help address Nepal’s literacy rate of about 2%. Howard trained teachers and spent much of his time trekking to schools around the district, providing teaching resources and supporting fledgling teachers. Within five years, he had established nine primary schools including the nationally–renowned Luitel High School and founding the prestigious Gandaki Boarding School.

Howard held many walking records! A two-day, 98km trek from Pokhara to Amp Pipal with Bishop John Reid in the monsoon of 1966 involved crossing flooded rivers, climbing steep ridges and surviving on sardines, biscuits and chai. John Reid said of these arduous journeys, “They were great experiences, because ultimately when you got to the Barclays’ home, that was like this eagle’s nest on the ridge of the mountain, there you saw two people pouring out their lives for the boys and girls, men and women of Nepal and seeking to show them the way of Jesus – it was worth doing.”

In 1972, Howard became Interserve Director for Australia and New Zealand, serving in that role for seven years. He was a convincing preacher and speaker, spending time in churches, universities and professional groups every week. He listened and he encouraged many to deeper commitment to Jesus and to serve Him full-time – where appropriate, cross-culturally.

In 1980, Howard and Betty returned to Nepal, serving as Personnel Counsellors in UMN before Howard was appointed the Executive Director in 1984. At this time, UMN was involved in healthcare, education, rural and industrial development. UMN was a complex organisation with over 400 expatriate mission personnel, and employing more than 2500 Nepalis. He had a wonderful relationship with the Nepali church leaders whom he mentored and encouraged. Howard had a role in seeing the church grow from just a handful of believers to many thousands in his lifetime.

Howard and Betty returned to Melbourne in 1990 and served in post-retirement interim executive roles in Kabul, Kathmandu and Mongolia. He received a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) award from the Australian Government in June 1994 for “service to international relations in the Asian region, particularly through the provision of humanitarian aid to Nepal”. Betty passed away in October 2017.

Howard inspired, mentored and encouraged countless Partners and remained a key member of Interserve’s prayer community right to the end. God has deeply blessed Interserve through his work and we mourn the loss to his family and our fellowship.

With thanks to members of the Barclay family, Berys Nixon (former Interserve Personnel Director) and Dr Graham Toohill (former Interserve Partner) for sharing their memories and photos.

Working for transformation

Date
01 Jun 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 ONE)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Community Development
Theme
Partner
Professional Life
Relationships
Transformation

We have many opportunities to spend time with the people we work with.

“What do you do?” he asked, by and by.
“Well, I work”, answered I.
“What as?” he continued, with aplomb.
“I do my job …”
“Yes”, he said, “I see,
that this work is why you are here”.
“Yes, indeed”, with much in store,
waiting for a chance to tell him more,
Sharing with him about how much he is loved.

So, our identity is in our work. Rarely are we asked, “Why do you work?” and “What is your motivation?” Usually, it stops at “What do you do?” and that is enough to satisfy the curiosity of our host country, host organisation, local friends and complete strangers.

But isn’t our identity more than work? We are loved and completely accepted—isn’t that our identity? Hence, we often experience a tension in how we share our identity with those around us. What we do is less important than who we are. It’s easy to say that we work; indeed, it is expected. If not, then suspicions are raised—how can they really live here if they do not work? Or, if we say we are doing one thing but in fact are doing something else, we actually have a major problem with integrity. I define integrity as having just one story about who I am and I share the details of my story in a way my hearer will understand. But, what I say is what I do, because it usually is, in terms of my work.

Of course, work is not everything. Family, rest, sharing in communities … we all know the expression that no-one gets to their deathbed and says, “I wish I had spent more time at work”. The reverse is invariably the case. God rested, and so should we.

But identity is not the only function of work. One major function of work is relationship building. We have many opportunities to spend time with the people we work with. Indeed, I have found it easier and more natural than, for example, becoming friends with my local traffic policeman (as I did in my early language-learning days) and this is because we have more in common. Work relationships seem to last longer. And relationships are often key if we want to see transformation.

Transformation—yes, that is what we long for. Often the transformation, physically and spiritually, is through our work. When I see a community being empowered to take their own actions to address some of their limitations for health or education, then I can see transformation—and all this through work. When I see a social business being able to contribute significantly to a social cause through a business model, then I witness transformation.

What about when I don’t see transformation, though? Is my work less successful, or is it even wasted? How do I handle ‘bad days’ or even bad seasons? At various points in time I have thought about what makes success. Going back to the question of identity … if our identity is based on our success, we are setting ourselves up for a big problem.

Perhaps the end of the matter is to have a healthy attitude towards work. For most of us, that will be ordinary work. Ordinary people doing ordinary things. But we are enabled for our ordinary work to be achieving something quite out of the ordinary in kingdom terms. And, if anyone asks—yes, I am here to work; here to see transformation.

Robert has worked in community development in South East Asia for over 10 years.
Names have been changed.

Working for transformation

Date
01 Jun 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 ONE)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Community Development
Theme
Partner
Professional Life
Relationships
Transformation

We have many opportunities to spend time with the people we work with.

“What do you do?” he asked, by and by.
“Well, I work”, answered I.
“What as?” he continued, with aplomb.
“I do my job …”
“Yes”, he said, “I see,
that this work is why you are here”.
“Yes, indeed”, with much in store,
waiting for a chance to tell him more,
Sharing with him about how much he is loved.

So, our identity is in our work. Rarely are we asked, “Why do you work?” and “What is your motivation?” Usually, it stops at “What do you do?” and that is enough to satisfy the curiosity of our host country, host organisation, local friends and complete strangers.

But isn’t our identity more than work? We are loved and completely accepted—isn’t that our identity? Hence, we often experience a tension in how we share our identity with those around us. What we do is less important than who we are. It’s easy to say that we work; indeed, it is expected. If not, then suspicions are raised—how can they really live here if they do not work? Or, if we say we are doing one thing but in fact are doing something else, we actually have a major problem with integrity. I define integrity as having just one story about who I am and I share the details of my story in a way my hearer will understand. But, what I say is what I do, because it usually is, in terms of my work.

Of course, work is not everything. Family, rest, sharing in communities … we all know the expression that no-one gets to their deathbed and says, “I wish I had spent more time at work”. The reverse is invariably the case. God rested, and so should we.

But identity is not the only function of work. One major function of work is relationship building. We have many opportunities to spend time with the people we work with. Indeed, I have found it easier and more natural than, for example, becoming friends with my local traffic policeman (as I did in my early language-learning days) and this is because we have more in common. Work relationships seem to last longer. And relationships are often key if we want to see transformation.

Transformation—yes, that is what we long for. Often the transformation, physically and spiritually, is through our work. When I see a community being empowered to take their own actions to address some of their limitations for health or education, then I can see transformation—and all this through work. When I see a social business being able to contribute significantly to a social cause through a business model, then I witness transformation.

What about when I don’t see transformation, though? Is my work less successful, or is it even wasted? How do I handle ‘bad days’ or even bad seasons? At various points in time I have thought about what makes success. Going back to the question of identity … if our identity is based on our success, we are setting ourselves up for a big problem.

Perhaps the end of the matter is to have a healthy attitude towards work. For most of us, that will be ordinary work. Ordinary people doing ordinary things. But we are enabled for our ordinary work to be achieving something quite out of the ordinary in kingdom terms. And, if anyone asks—yes, I am here to work; here to see transformation.

Robert has worked in community development in South East Asia for over 10 years.
Names have been changed.

Working for transformation

Date
01 Jun 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 ONE)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Community Development
Theme
Partner
Professional Life
Relationships
Transformation

We have many opportunities to spend time with the people we work with.

“What do you do?” he asked, by and by.
“Well, I work”, answered I.
“What as?” he continued, with aplomb.
“I do my job …”
“Yes”, he said, “I see,
that this work is why you are here”.
“Yes, indeed”, with much in store,
waiting for a chance to tell him more,
Sharing with him about how much he is loved.

So, our identity is in our work. Rarely are we asked, “Why do you work?” and “What is your motivation?” Usually, it stops at “What do you do?” and that is enough to satisfy the curiosity of our host country, host organisation, local friends and complete strangers.

But isn’t our identity more than work? We are loved and completely accepted—isn’t that our identity? Hence, we often experience a tension in how we share our identity with those around us. What we do is less important than who we are. It’s easy to say that we work; indeed, it is expected. If not, then suspicions are raised—how can they really live here if they do not work? Or, if we say we are doing one thing but in fact are doing something else, we actually have a major problem with integrity. I define integrity as having just one story about who I am and I share the details of my story in a way my hearer will understand. But, what I say is what I do, because it usually is, in terms of my work.

Of course, work is not everything. Family, rest, sharing in communities … we all know the expression that no-one gets to their deathbed and says, “I wish I had spent more time at work”. The reverse is invariably the case. God rested, and so should we.

But identity is not the only function of work. One major function of work is relationship building. We have many opportunities to spend time with the people we work with. Indeed, I have found it easier and more natural than, for example, becoming friends with my local traffic policeman (as I did in my early language-learning days) and this is because we have more in common. Work relationships seem to last longer. And relationships are often key if we want to see transformation.

Transformation—yes, that is what we long for. Often the transformation, physically and spiritually, is through our work. When I see a community being empowered to take their own actions to address some of their limitations for health or education, then I can see transformation—and all this through work. When I see a social business being able to contribute significantly to a social cause through a business model, then I witness transformation.

What about when I don’t see transformation, though? Is my work less successful, or is it even wasted? How do I handle ‘bad days’ or even bad seasons? At various points in time I have thought about what makes success. Going back to the question of identity … if our identity is based on our success, we are setting ourselves up for a big problem.

Perhaps the end of the matter is to have a healthy attitude towards work. For most of us, that will be ordinary work. Ordinary people doing ordinary things. But we are enabled for our ordinary work to be achieving something quite out of the ordinary in kingdom terms. And, if anyone asks—yes, I am here to work; here to see transformation.

Robert has worked in community development in South East Asia for over 10 years.
Names have been changed.

Faith environment and mission

Date
01 Jun 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 ONE)
Region
Other
Profession
Agriculture
Theme
Professional Life
Transformation

Caring for creation draws us closer to the Creator and helps us to practically and biblically love our neighbour.

I’ve always loved the ocean.

I became a Christian when I was about 15.

It’s taken me almost 10 years to be able to understand and articulate how my love for God and my love for the environment go hand in hand.

I always knew they went together. I just couldn’t put words to it. Part of what made it difficult was that I didn’t see many other Christians around me taking the environment seriously. I started to make sense of this attitude when I moved to Tasmania to study Marine Science and Conservation. In order to do this I left a role in youth ministry. A lot of people, myself included, lamented that I would be leaving a ministry that I loved and that God has gifted me in. Why would I leave such an important role, discipling youth and bringing young people to Jesus, in order to go and save some fish?!

I now realise that many of these faithful Christians had the viewpoint (perhaps without even realising it) that creation is a temporary thing and there aren’t really eternal outcomes for it. This is not a criticism of them – I had the same understanding. I’m so grateful for my time in Tasmania. There, I had the opportunity to explore and come to an understanding that I believe is much more whole and much more grounded in God’s Word.

Matter matters. This statement blew me away! Matter matters. Have you ever asked why Jesus was resurrected in a physical form? Why not simply in a spirit form? Well, it’s because the physical is important. God makes a huge statement in the resurrection of Jesus that he cares about the physical. Matter matters. This statement has huge implications for ALL that God has created. Though we as humans are unique because we are made in the image and likeness of God, he has still conferred value on everything he has created.

Fast forward a few years and I started working at a mission agency. Once again I was stuck as to how my love for people, my passion for God’s mission and the environment could go together. I faced questions like: does caring for the environment have any relevance to mission? I‘ve slowly realised God’s mission is much bigger than I first thought. The question isn’t if these things are relevant, but how.

We also need to ask other important questions. How does the way we relate to the environment and use its resources affect the people and communities we long to see transformed by encountering Jesus?

Research shows that many commercial fisheries are currently not managed sustainably[1]. A large portion of the world’s poorest people rely on fishing as a form of employment, food security and nutrition. So suddenly the question about how much we should care about fish and the oceans becomes a question about how much we should care about the people who rely on these fish.

We all live in the context of relationships – with each other, with God, with ourselves and the world we live in. Sin breaks and distorts these relationships. Through Jesus Christ, reconciliation and redemption restores these relationships. Caring for creation should be life giving, drawing us closer to the Creator and helping us to practically and biblically love our neighbour. It’s all about restoration of right relationships. And isn’t that what God’s mission is?

Interservers are helping Central Asian communities build solar-heated, earthquake-resistant houses using local materials. They’re designing low-cost pumps to irrigate farmland in dry conditions. In South East Asia, Interserve business owners invited their staff out of the city to enjoy the rainforests and waterfalls for a day. For some Interservers, issues of environmental sustainability are core to their professional service. Others integrate these practices into their everyday life. Together, we’re all learning how to integrate our care for creation into wholistic mission… so that we can see lives and communities transformed.

Katherine is a mission mobiliser for Interserve. She has an Honours degree in Marine Conservation and Resource Sustainability, a Graduate Diploma in Divinity and loves to chat about mission and the environment! Get in touch at katherine@interserve.org.au

[1] The state of world fisheries and aquaculture. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2018. Accessed via www.fao.org/3/i9540en/i9540en.pdf

Seeing God at work

Date
01 Jun 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 ONE)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Community Development
Theme
Life Lessons
Professional Life
Relationships
Transformation

Its about having an empowering mindset. Can that person bring about their own change

I sometimes get the feeling that some people think we’re ‘super Christians’ to have lived in a slum for the last 12 years with our family… but to us, it’s just life. We don’t think we’re special. We are just using our lives and the gifts God has given us, to be good friends to our neighbours and respond to those whom God is placing in our midst.

Our first years were all about learning. Learning the culture, the language, how to wash the clothes by hand, how to shop at the market, how to live with 17 people in the house… and how to be parents for the first time. Learning was hard, painful, and disempowering for ourselves, but was the ultimate step in allowing us to serve, empower and champion Cambodians, rather than come in on top of them with our education, power, money and white skin. Here’s what we learned:

nterruptions are not interruptions if we see it as God bringing someone into our lives. So often we book up every minute and never have time for the thoughts, things or people that God places in our midst. We need to shift our posture to allow God the control and space to work. Leaving our door open means anyone is able to come into our home with a need, or share life with us.

Life is mission. People don’t drop by at convenient times. It’s usually dinner time! We need to be flexible to respond. People are not ‘work’, because work happens in the 9–5 and people happen in the 24/7… people are life. We do, however, need to take time to rest, or we burn out and are not useful to others.

Living in community has its ups and its downs. We see births, weddings, funerals, parties and sadness… we’re on this life journey together. Khmer culture goes well with Aussie culture, but is also very different. Sometime we get along, sometimes we don’t. It is enriching to our lives to find a way to get along with others, rather than just hanging with those who are similar to us.

Have an empowering mindset. When we worked in an NGO for the first few years, it was a slow process to empower our Cambodian colleagues until they came up with the lightbulb ideas. It can be arduous work for us, but it means Cambodians will own these initiatives. It’s about having an empowering mindset when you see a problem: Can that person bring about their own change? What about their family? Can their community? When those avenues are exhausted, maybe then it’s appropriate for the mission worker to step in. Partnering with the local church is also another way to work with ‘people of peace’ who want to see the gospel spread and change in their community. True help brings about long-term change and empowerment.

Through being present in our community we have been able to see needs and journey with Cambodians who are willing to respond. These include: helping someone navigate the health system, advocating with the village leader to get the drainage fixed, standing in-between a husband who is beating his wife. Homework clubs have started so that kids can pass their exams and speed up their literacy. A local preschool started under someone’s house, so that kids can become ‘school ready’ before they hit grade one. Justees, our fair trade t-shirt printing business, helps young ex-drug users earn a wage to support them through their schooling, and Connect Street Work is responding to direct requests for us to be advocating for users from poor communities in the drug rehab system. The small things make a great difference for the people that society thinks are at the bottom of the heap.

It takes pressure off when we believe that God can do great things! We need to be in a right relationship with him and submit our lives and ideas to him so he can speak, lead and guide. We’re just being us, in this place, looking to see the way he is working… and being part of that.

David and his family have lived in community in Cambodia for 13 years.

Feeling frustrated and fruitless

Date
01 Jun 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 ONE)
Region
Arab World
Profession
Business
Theme
Life Lessons
Prayer
Professional Life

It is a strange relief to find that I am not the only one working cross culturally who feels it is often fruitless and profoundly frustrating. Personal reflections prompted by Every Good Endeavour by Timothy Keller

It is a strange relief to find that I am not the only one working cross culturally who feels it is often fruitless and profoundly frustrating.

Things never work as planned: ‘amazing potential’ always feels within reach but, because of our own intercultural incompetence and local resistance to ‘outside things’, the impact of our work never seems to reach anywhere near its potential. Culturally conditioned as I am to take at least some of my identity and worth from my success at work, it has at times been a crushing journey that has frequently tempted me to pack it in. At my worst, the crushed expectations have driven me further into workaholism, with a subtle but inherently selfish Babel-like agenda to “make a name for myself” (Gen 11:4). That at least would validate why so many people continue to so generously support us!

I have fought discouragement from fruitlessness for over 10 years and perfection-driven workaholism for over 20 years, so I wish I had read Tim Keller’s book Every Good Endeavour earlier and taken his advice that “the key is to accept fruitlessness”! This book helped me discover what hope there is for work and how I can look past the deep problems and realise God’s purpose and plan. As Keller says, it all starts with being clear on one sure fact: nothing will be put perfectly right “until the day of Christ” at the end of history (Phil 1:6; 3:12). Until then, all creation “groans” (Rom 8:22) and is subject to decay and weakness.

et all is not lost. The disappointments of cross-cultural work have given me ample opportunities to get my identity from what God has done for us and in us and to constantly check that I am not making any good thing that work might offer into an idol. There is no shortage of toil, often more than I seek or expect, but my challenge now is to be one who “find(s) satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God” (Ecc 3:13).

Keller’s idea that we view all work as cultivation was new to me: as gardeners we work to rearrange the raw material of God’s creation to help the world in general, and people in particular, thrive and flourish. His question, “How, with my existing abilities and opportunities, can I be of greatest service to other people, knowing what I do of God’s will and of human need?” has helped me focus on where to be working/gardening. I run a business here and the heart of my ‘gardening’ is to sow in peace. I’m praying for a “harvest of righteousness” (Jas 3:18)—creating the space for individuals to get right with each other and, ultimately, with God.

As I seek to work as a peacemaker, I must first use my talents as competently as possible. Even if my job is not, by the world’s (or my) standards, exciting, high paying and desirable, reframing it as fundamentally a way to love my neighbour has been a great way to find job satisfaction. My daily work is ultimately an act of worship to the God who called and equipped me, no matter how fruitless and frustrating it can get! The act of worship that God asks for in our work and everything else is to be a “living sacrifice” (Rom 12:1); as Keller says, “to be continually in the rhythm of dying to your own interest and living for God”. Please ask that all Partners serving cross culturally would “never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord” (Rom 12:11).

Paul is a long-term Partner working in business in the Middle East.
Names have been changed.

Love at work

Date
01 Jun 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 ONE)
Region
Other
Profession
Other
Theme
Life Lessons
Professional Life
Relationships
Transformation

If I want to really love my neighbour as myself Id best get to know them.

As a Christian friend and I chatted about his week at work, he shared that two work friends were doing it tough – one diagnosed with terminal cancer and one with other serious issues. As the conversation continued my friend confided that he was considering leaving his workplace of 30+ years and going into ministry.

My response: “Why not stay at work and go into ministry?”

Most Christians spend a huge part of their waking hours at work. But how do Christians work? We love. Love is a big deal for us. In fact, God says it’s the biggest deal (Mark 12:28-31). It makes all the difference. For almost 40 years, I’ve worked in many jobs, in several different cultures. Here are nine things I’ve learned.

Love intentionally.
If I want to really love my neighbor as myself, I’d best get to know them. No matter how busy my workshop gets, I try to make time to listen to and better understand at least one bloke each day. It usually means asking a question when we are working on something together, and listening.

Love prayerfully.
Consistent, focused, informed prayer. Choose one person at your workplace and start praying for them, every day for a month. As you listen and observe, you can pray in a more informed way. To help me be consistent, I also chose a spot on the drive to work each day to start praying for the blokes at work.

Love sacrificially.
Put yourself out for the good of others. It is often the ‘smaller’ sacrifices that impact our non-Christian friends. One work mate’s adult son had an issue that I could help with, but our work schedules made it hard to meet. I simply went to meet him during a break from his work, on a Saturday. It meant heaps to him that I gave up my free time and travelled to help him.

Love by taking responsibility.
Sometimes we come across as self-righteous when we let people know we follow Jesus. A mate of mine introduced himself to his army unit like this: “You should know that I follow Jesus. That means that you can always expect me to treat you with respect and to tell you the truth. If you think I’m not living up to it, feel free to let me know.” He put himself out there as a Christian, but the responsibility was on him. Often the boys in my workshop apologise to me when they swear. I tell them that they can swear if they like – that’s their decision. I say I follow Jesus, so I should live to a different standard, not those who don’t follow him.

Love with words.
Is it enough to let our actions speak for themselves? If I love God and love my neighbor as myself, then I’ll speak about God’s love as well as living it out. One situation that comes up again and again is Monday morning. “What did you do on the weekend?” Saying “I went to church” goes down like a lead balloon in most cases.

Some responses I’ve used instead: “I heard this great joke and a ripper story.” First I told the joke, then the story: There was this bloke who had two adult sons, and the younger one said to his dad, “Give me my half of the inheritance…” Their responses included things like: “Wow, what a great dad.” There was no need to mention ‘church’ or ‘sermon’. The main thing was to help people look at the father’s character, and then let them know Jesus told the story about God, our Father.

Love in hard times.
Work is not always easy. People see us most clearly when we’re under pressure. When someone has caused a problem, what should we do? Forgiveness is a mark of love. We still need to fix the problem, but we can avoid putting people down when they do something wrong. What about when the problem is of my own making, perhaps even from my own sin? Are we willing to take responsibility, to ask forgiveness, to be humble?

Love together.
The Christian life is not a solo effort. If you work with other Christians, pray together that you’d all honour God in your work, and pray for co-workers. Make sure you don’t use work time to pray, and don’t ‘pray on the street corners’.

Love life.
Work is a big part of how God made us to live, but life is more than work. Don’t forget the rest of life – family, church, neighbours – and don’t forget to rest. How does being a workaholic show love for God and people? Resting is a real form of trusting God.

Love actually!
Run with one of these ideas this week. I pray that you will live your life for Christ, at work and everywhere.

Phil and his family lived and served in Central Asia as Interserve Partners for more than 20 years. He currently works in an Australian manufacturing workshop with a multicultural team and is a CultureConnect team member.
Names have been changed.

Working for childrens health

Date
01 Jun 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 ONE)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Medical / Health
Theme
Partner
Professional Life
Transformation

In the few minutes I see each child I try to give them my full attention and make them understand that they are precious and loved by our Father.

The thought of serving our Father by using professional skills came to me early in life. Growing up as a mission kid gave me a perspective of what makes life interesting that was different from that of many of my peers in my passport country.

When I applied for medical school, my main thought was that, as a doctor, I could practise all over the world. I felt that ‘tent making’ was something that suited me and it was what I felt led to do. When I came close to finishing my specialisation as a paediatrician many years later, ‘all over the world’ had narrowed down to South East Asia; it just seemed more efficient to use my skills in an area where I was used to the climate and culture. Then I heard through a friend of a project in a neighbouring country to where I grew up—and I’ve been here ever since.

In short, my part-time job is to participate in a team that works as a mobile clinic to children’s homes. We do health check-ups for each child at the homes we visit: we measure height and weight, check their teeth, give deworming tablets and vitamins, as well as treat whatever conditions that need treatment. We also run courses to train the workers at the children’s homes in basic hygiene, nutrition and healthcare for children. We reach 4500–5000 children each year as we pay yearly visits to about 150 children’s homes, some twice a year.

The reason there are so many children’s homes in this big city is that many children are sent there from more remote areas to get an education. The parents, who are often quite poor, make the hard choice of sending their children far away from their family in the hope that they will have a better future through education. They are mostly from ethnic minorities and do not always have access to schooling. Most of them come to the city at age nine or ten, some are older but some come as young as four years. Around 20% of the children are true orphans. Most of the homes are run by believers who teach the children to follow the advice of our Father’s book. In the few minutes I see each child, I try to give them my full attention and make them understand that they are precious and loved by our Father. Being healthy means they can thrive in so many areas of life.

Having a part-time job means I have a lot of time at home too—time to spend with our son after school and also to be available for neighbours to drop in for a chat. A frequent seasonal activity is to pick guavas from our tree to the delight of some of the children from the local squatter area. By being visible in the neighbourhood, using the local shops, going for walks in the area and supporting the little meeting place for fellow believers, we hope to be light and salt in our area.

My expectation that I would use my professional skills full time to help people in this country has not become a reality yet, but I am using my skills part time and have asked our Father for further guidance. I had been frustrated during this long wait until I learned a lesson for this period of my life: to value ‘being’ instead of only appreciating and emphasising what we are ‘doing’. During this season I have been reminded to rest in Him, be a branch on the vine, and worship Him through all circumstances.

Jasmine has lived and served in South East Asia for 12 years.

Names have been changed.

The ordinary work of life

Date
01 Jun 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 ONE)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Administration
Theme
Life Lessons
Partner
Prayer
Relationships

Its about anchoring yourself in God and living out that relationship.

We see them on Facebook and Instagram in all their colour and energy. The biography shelf at our local bookstore regales us with their tales. You know the stories I mean. The ones that we wish were ours, but are quietly terrified of at the same time. The stories of lives that are full and exciting, and overflowing with blessing and fruitful ministry, drama, joy and … life!

We read these stories and are filled with awe, and sometimes more than a little jealousy. We look at our own ordinary lives and wonder, is this it? Am I missing something? In contrast to these exciting stories, the lives of us ordinary humans, doing the ordinary work of life, can seem incredibly boring.

Then, there are those of us who appear, to others, to have the exciting lives. We have left our passport countries to make our home in new places with interesting cultures, exotic foods and tale-worthy challenges. We may have thought that we were finally getting to live those stories we had once listened to with rapt attention.

But then comes the reality. The new place loses its wonder. The challenges become mundane and ordinary, or a never-ceasing frustration. We fill our lives with language classes or sit at a computer most days. To all appearances we’re not changing the world; we’re just changing nappies. It may look like we’re not spreading the Gospel; we’re just spreading peanut butter sandwiches. We are not seeing hundreds healed and coming to faith every other week; we are just sitting with our friends, trying to navigate relationships. We’re not seeing breakthroughs; sometimes we’re just experiencing breakdowns. Our once-exciting lives once again seem very ordinary.

So, are we just missing something, or are we instead missing the point? Maybe our human need for glory and recognition has blinded us to the fact that God never said “Go out and make a name for yourself”. There is no great commission to Facebook or newsletter glory. Jesus did, however, tell us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Matt 22:37–39). We are also reminded by Paul that “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).

Whatever you do. Yes, this might include miraculous healings or being involved in exciting conversions. But it also means the ordinary, day-to-day work of life too. It means loving those around you well, and meeting the sometimes very ordinary needs you see, with the skills and experience God has gifted you with. The main thing has always been about the heart. It’s about anchoring yourself in God, and living out that relationship.

For me, this anchoring, through prayer and rest, is perhaps the hardest part of the ordinary work of life. But right now I’m discovering its importance. I’m diving deep into discovering the biblical-ness and beauty of the rich wisdom of our spiritual mothers and fathers in the contemplative traditions. I am realising how necessary it is for us to just be with God, being exactly who we are. In that place we can hear who God is saying that we are, and discover joy in all the extraordinarily ordinary work God has prepared us to do.

So, I pray that you let God open your eyes to the beauty of the ordinary work of life, wherever and whatever that looks like for you. Because whatever ‘ordinary’ is for you, when it’s done with God at the centre, it is always extraordinary.

Kylie is a Partner living in South East Asia. She serves a community development organisation.

Doing business doing life

Date
01 Jun 2019
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2019 ONE)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Business
Theme
Partner
Professional Life
Relationships
Transformation

It piqued our interest that our city is known for being a business city.

When we left for South East Asia over five years ago, we had no idea what we would be doing after being on a language study visa for one year. We knew for sure, though, that we wanted to support local believers and fellowships and to share Jesus’ good news with the people of the majority faith.

Through the time of language learning, Paul researched and explored ideas of how we could stay here on a long-term basis. Like most countries, you need a visa to live here if you are not a tourist. And it piqued our interest that our city is known for being a ‘business’ city.

Paul left Australia with his computer programming skills, a knowledge of running a small business and a few contacts. During his time of studying language he talked to various people, listening, building friendships and noting the needs around our city. He concluded that setting up a computer programming business would create opportunities for training local workers using the knowledge we are blessed to have from being educated in Australia.

Now we find ourselves, six years on, in an amazing, unique and financially challenging position. The computer company develops custom web-based programs, mobile apps for clients and its own software products. We have also taken on the management of an English language centre. In all this growth, Leah has found a place supporting both businesses through her love of administration and accounting. Together the businesses employ almost 20 full-time and part-time staff. We’ve also taken on apprentices from the local university.

What we love about this lifestyle is that we are privileged to ‘do life’ with our staff and clients—we rejoice when the HR lady’s baby is born, give comfort when the admin lady’s father passes away suddenly, celebrate when a staff member gets married, give sympathy when a dating relationship breaks up, offer support when a business endeavour is struggling, and give encouragement by reading the Bible with our Christian staff.

We’re also intentional about sharing life outside the office. Do you enjoy the beauty of nature? Leah does! She is always wanting to get out of the city and explore the natural world around her (she is really a country bumpkin at heart). To her surprise she learned that many of the staff at our company felt the same way. The dream became a reality recently when we organised an outing to a waterfall for staff and their families. Two of the girls had never left our city and it was wonderful to watch their faces as they saw their first mountains, water buffaloes and monkeys, went on their first bush-walk and even got muddy for the first time. Everyone enjoyed the outing. Swimming in the cool water of the waterfall was definitely a highlight after hiking in the middle of the day in the heat and the humidity of the tropics.

This trip was also unique as it included people from the many demographics that make up our company: people aged from 2 to 44, English teachers, computer programmers, admin staff, family and friends, seven people groups, and four religions. What a blessing to see everyone enjoying community together! Coming from Australia, you may be wondering why the diversity of this group outing was unique. In this country, people are usually divided by people group and religion; their cultures differ significantly from each other. Belonging to a people group usually means that you follow its dominant religion and its uniquely different culture (food restrictions, festivals, religious holidays, family reunions).

To have an environment where people are willing to be friends, respect each other, and do life together is quite extraordinary, and very exciting!

Leah and Paul live and serve in South East Asia. They have four children.

Names have been changed.

For such a time as this

Date
18 Oct 2018
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2018 TWO)
Region
Other
Profession
Other

Millennials have a global mindset which gives them confidence for crossing cultural barriers.

I still remember an airport encounter many years ago and the woman’s surprised question: “Do missionaries still exist?” She may actually have been questioning what relevance they have in this day and age, especially if she was linking imperialism and colonialism with missionaries.

Yet we know that the truth of the gospel never dates; it is relevant to every age and society. Our God—the same yesterday, today and tomorrow—is the one who calls his people from every age to the same task (Matthew 28:20). Just as he raised up his people to take the gospel to ‘deepest, darkest Africa’ last century, he is raising up people today who will take the gospel to those who have not yet heard. The context and even the outward tools may have changed, but not much else.

We are products of our times. Missionaries no longer set sail for Africa ready to die there, we go by plane; instead of carrying a coffin, we take our medical insurance; instead of letters, we connect online. They battled disease, we battle visas, bureaucracy and cyber security. Some of their practices were a product of their colonial times. Yet like them, we too trust God to provide, motivated by love so that all might have the opportunity to hear and be saved.

Just as each generation has been equipped for the task God gives, so too I expect that God has equipped Millennials “for such as time as this” (Esther 4:14).

Today, we seek to share the good news in the context of:
• increasing globalisation and migration of people(s)
• accelerating leaps in technology, with more immediate global awareness and contact though media, new levels of cyber possibilities and crime, and ethics not keeping pace with these advances
• growing inclination toward localisation and nationalism, even tribalism
• greater awareness of and willingness to advocate for human rights in all areas of society
• growing unease in society, politically, economically and socially, including threats of terrorism, pandemics and wars
• rapidly changing demographics, with aging, lower fertility rates and challenges to the traditional family unit
• pursuit of happiness through spiritualism and personalisation
• deep desire for authenticity, with integrity in relationships.

Are Millennials prepared for this?

Millennials have a global mindset and knowledge which gives them confidence for crossing cultural barriers, even where those boundaries are politically complex. Because Millennials are innately in tune with changing technology, they are able to adapt quickly and are adept at using technology to interact with and effect change. Couple this with a desire to make a difference and Millennials are willing to challenge the status quo, asking “why”, thinking outside the box to achieve old purposes in new ways.

Like many generations before them, they have a thirst for significance and purpose. In general, Millennials are interested in host-culture leadership, which will enable sustainable transformation. They desire to see wholistic change and transformation, concerned for social justice as well the spiritual state.

Millennials desire a balanced work/social family/ministry and authenticity, and need to share challenges without judgment. This accountability is also part of what makes them lifelong learners, eager to engage and be part of the team’s decisions.

Coincidentally, many Millennials already share our Interserve values: Dependence on God, Community, Oneness in Christ, Partnership, Integrity, Wholistic ministry and Servanthood. Perhaps God has prepared this generation of wholistic, global technophiles, who are willing to think differently about challenges, for just such a time as this? Aren’t these the kinds of On Trackers and Partners we want to partner with so that the good news of Jesus can keep being shared?




Carolyn has served cross-culturally for more than 25 years. In her current role, she helps short-term workers to serve well.

Names have been changed.

The Richter effect

Date
18 Oct 2018
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2018 TWO)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Theology / Church

They have lived sacrificially to help the people of this marginalised area. But being from another province they are considered outsiders

Excited children spill into the dark street. Distracted briefly from the ever-present danger of this illegal celebration, more than 100 people are celebrating the saviour’s birth in this unassuming living room. Jammed together, perspiring, excited, these national friends exude the bonds of community and deeply forged friendships carved from the harshness of life in this province. I am included in their community, the one “family member” with no beautiful colour in my skin.

As always, I struggle to process the disparities: the disproportionate (in terms of effort) encouragement our visits bring to these people; the tumbling piles of expensive clothes and toys left behind by departing expats to be shared among my national friends. I struggle with questions such as, “What giveaway message is here for my friends?” “What legacy has been left by those beautiful expat families who have now gone?” This focus suddenly changes as I look at Adin’s face, an island of pain in the midst of this celebration.

Adin and Diwa represent to me all that is noble and good here. They have lived sacrificially for more than a decade here to help the people of this marginalised and repressed area. But, being nationals from another province, they are considered outsiders, mocked and discriminated against in employment and housing. Richly endowed with skills and caring hearts, Adin and Diwa teach organic gardening skills to their neighbours and friends. Luscious strawberries and healthy vegetables grow in these gardens, enough to help feed their own family as they face the daily challenge of finding enough food. Lately there has even been enough produce to sell a little, marginally easing the acuteness of financial stress that plagues such workers’ lives.

We too have lived in this province—harsh in climate and sanctions but so rich in glorious natural beauty. Memories of laughing faces and wet bodies still linger, reminders of our weekly retreat meetings with other expatriates. What also lingers is the knowledge that few similar intentional events had existed for the national workers. During our time in the province, changes were made to bring this encouragement to nationals in their own language and culture, but something more regular was urgently needed to “strengthen the arm” of these people.

The term “member care” is not new for some of us, but for our national friends it was a foreign concept. Sent out from their home areas, they had existed for so long in isolation without regular care that they didn’t understand when we asked, “What would make you feel encouraged?’” or “What can we do to support you?” So much for ethnographic surveys! What a golden opportunity for us to become a living example of the Father heart of God in caring for them.

Our international team members loved being tasked with initiating regular gatherings for national workers. Monthly gatherings began at beaches or in homes. Families met for socialisation, de-briefing and prayer. Adults met for weekly networking. They had never experienced such encouragement before on a regular basis. Workers travelled from other cities; weekly meetings started in other locations. The model of member care lived out in situ was having the Richter effect, cascading out like the earth tremors we frequently felt.

We now have a vision for a next step. Most expat workers have left the province and that lovely island retreat centre is no longer allowed to host such events. The love of Christ compels us to walk alongside our national friends to see the establishment in another location of a facility for gatherings, for rest and refreshment, for counsel and spiritual direction for the national workers who seek to bring light and hope to marginalised population groups.


Alice is a long-term Partner, walking alongside national workers in South East Asia.

Names have been changed.

Still needed and wanted

Date
18 Oct 2018
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2018 TWO)
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Theology / Church

They want mission workers who will work with them under them alongside them.

Imagine a country dominated by communist atheism for 70 years! For people to know God’s love, missionaries were certainly needed after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. One elderly woman told me how, after growing up believing there was no God, it was wonderful to learn that there was a God who loved her. Her life and the lives of many others were transformed in those early days. With the help of the early missionaries to Central Asia, churches were established, local leaders put in place and initiatives begun to reach out to others with the news of God’s love in Jesus.

But more than 20 years later, are mission workers still needed in Central Asia? My local colleagues will answer a resounding “yes!” … if the workers are willing to work in partnership with local believers, supporting and strengthening them as they reach out to others and help people grow in faith and understanding.

I enjoy the great privilege of working with teachers in a theological college as we help students to understand the Bible and the Christian faith more deeply, so they can communicate well to others. Our teachers have only been Christians for 20 years or less. Therefore, they value partnership with others from the wider church with broader experience. They appreciate help with such things as understanding material, planning courses, finding helpful books, teaching and preaching.

A foreigner with wider knowledge often knows where to access financial and other resources. We’ve been able to access funds to computerise our library and, thanks to the assistance of a librarian friend from Australia, for our librarian to learn how to use the system. Outside assistance has allowed us to buy more books in the local languages and to translate some helpful commentaries.

When mentioning retirement in a few years’ time, I am met with responses such as “Where did that idea come from?”, “If you are going to leave us, you need to find someone else to come and help us!”, “We want you to work with more teachers to teach more subjects”, “You need to make sure we can do this or that before you leave!”

Of course, I’ve had a lot to learn over the years and I keep learning, not only the language but much more about life and relationships here. I’ve made mistakes and been helped by my local colleagues to understand how to do things better and differently. We have disagreements and patiently work things out together. I’m sometimes told that “We have a different mentality” and I try to see things from a different cultural point of view. And I’m humbled by the love and appreciation I receive.

Other Partners here are greatly valued as they serve alongside local people, showing the love of Jesus in their lives and work. They teach English or Korean or Mandarin, serve with a local team in a shelter for homeless people, do further training for medical personnel, set up businesses and NGOs which employ local workers, serve and support local church leaders, and teach in a school for international children so their parents can serve here. Such people are still needed and wanted, and opportunities abound.

I’ve never heard anyone here say, “We don’t need missionaries!” I have heard people speak negatively about missionaries who want to control, who try to “buy” them, who “just live here” and don’t do much, who “feed their dogs with meat we can’t afford to eat”, who try to impose another culture onto them. They want mission workers who will work with them, under them, alongside them, as they seek to bring the love of God to their own people.

Gwen is a Partner who has been working alongside the church in Central Asia for the past 14 years.
Names have been changed.

On Track Together

Date
18 Oct 2018
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2018 TWO)
Region
Other
Profession
Other

So how do we engage with Jesus call for every generation: to love our neighbours to make disciples and to be kingdom minded Our world looks different and yet Jesus call remains the same.

It‘s Tuesday afternoon and I am sitting in the career counselor's office. “Have you had any thoughts about what you’ll do at university?” my teacher asks.

I’m coming up blank. Sure, I’ve got interests. I like helping people, I have a yearning to travel and see new places, I’m saddened by injustice in the world … oh, and I love Jesus. At age 16 that’s what I’ve worked out. But it doesn’t seem like enough to pick subjects for Year 12, let alone choose a university course or a lifetime career.

At age 19, after a gap year overseas, I have no greater clarity despite exploring a number of options including a couple of short-term mission trips.

My story is not uncommon. It happens to many people, usually in their twenties. Finding a life purpose, a focus for our passions, isn’t always straightforward. McCrindle research suggests Australians of my generation, the Millennials, will have 17 employers and five careers in their lifetime.

The Millennials and the younger Gen Z are facing a different world than those who came of age in the twentieth century. Our world is more globally connected but feels more unstable. Our neighbours are more diverse, work and career is less linear, and as Christians our faith is challenged by questions from our secular counterparts.

So how do we engage with Jesus’ call for every generation: to love our neighbours, to make disciples and to be kingdom minded? Our world looks different and yet Jesus’ call remains the same.

Maybe we need to start by letting go of the expectation that a meaningful life will always progress through traditional milestones. Blessings come through a career, marriage and children, but blessings also come through courageously making space for the unknown—the openness to do unlikely things and make seemingly illogical choices as we follow our God who specialises in the unexpected. Are we willing to trust in God’s goodness? Are we willing to walk an unknown path of sacrifice for His Kingdom?

We also need to get better at knowing our neighbour, so we can love them well. More than pulling in their wheelie bin after collection day, can we love from the point of understanding their worldview, their culture, their beliefs? The good news of Jesus answers the heart’s cry of all people, but do we understand it from their perspective? This is no longer a challenge set aside for the expat, the missional-minded worker in a distant land. In our globally connected world we all need intercultural understanding to love like Jesus loves, to share His good news and to disciple those who believe.

And yet, if the mission movements of the twentieth century teach us anything, it’s that we need community. We can’t possibly hope to do these things on our own, nor does God intend us to. Alone we become distracted, pressured by life’s challenges. Alone we become disillusioned or discouraged when our efforts bear no fruit. But together we live out the encouragement from Hebrews 10:23–25. Together we remember that the hope we have in Jesus is sure and his love spurs us on to share His hope with those around us.

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Jane Fairweather leads On Track Together, a new initiative helping to equip, envision and engage those in their 20s and 30s in lifelong missional living.


On Track Together
A 22-month missional pathway integrating cross-cultural study and service in Australia and overseas.
www.interserve.org.au/together

Imitating Gods kindness

Date
18 Oct 2018
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2018 TWO)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Theology / Church

Khruu sought to imitate Gods abounding grace and kindness to Nong by purchasing a new uniform for him to wear to school.

Each week our family has the privilege of supporting Khruu, a local Christian community leader, to reach out to children who live in the city’s largest slum by teaching them who Jesus is and what He has done. This ministry originated out of our own local Thai church. This slum community has numerous social problems ranging from substance abuse to domestic violence and neglect … and is spiritually oppressed. The reality for each child is that these problems are a natural and deep-rooted part of their surroundings. However, in spite of these challenges, God has enabled us to get to know these children well and to witness their growing desire to know Jesus.

Nong is a 10-year-old boy. His father has long since left and his mother is heavily in debt and hounded by debt collectors. He has recently had to flee home with his mother in order to avoid these debt collectors. The Christian community leader Khruu herself lives in the slums and does not have much money. But Khruu sought to imitate God’s abounding grace and kindness to this boy by purchasing a new uniform for him to wear to school. It was the first set of new clothes Nong had ever worn to school. Before this, it had always been fourth or fifth hand-me-downs, worn out and covered in blotches. Nong was so grateful and now walks to school with pride. His grandmother, who also lives in the slums, has encouraged his mother to return to the community on the weekends so Nong can still participate in our Sunday school outreach program and get ready for school for the coming week.

Asking the question “Is mission relevant?” presupposes the answer to a related question, “Whose mission is it?” The question of mission’s relevancy cannot be disassociated from the One whose mission it is.

What seems indisputable from Genesis to Revelation is that our God is the unstoppable God who is bringing about His unstoppable mission. In spite of humanity’s every effort to thwart God’s plans, the creator and redeemer God relentlessly demonstrates His abounding love, righteous justice and profound wisdom to all humanity.

And in the course of God’s salvation history, the death and resurrection of God the Son is the epitome of this divine love, justice and wisdom. By natural consequence, all must respond to His offer of amazing grace. When God’s redeemed seek to imitate the very nature of God himself—his abounding grace and kindness—the world cannot but at least acknowledge that this transformation must come from the divine, particularly when juxtaposed against fallen humanity.

Nong’s circumstances reflect the hope of the salvation we have received, which shapes our lives now in anticipation of that certainty when Jesus will create all things anew. At that time the foolish decisions of others will no longer have a devastating impact on children. All that will remain will be praise and glory to the One who has redeemed us out of our own poverty of sin and who will give us pure and blameless clothes to wear for eternity.


Dan works with the national church to safeguard and promote the wellbeing of children.
Names have been changed.

Realising you are the problem

Date
18 Oct 2018
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2018 TWO)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Community Development

Culturally it was incredibly challenging for Sokly to ask me to release her into her role.

Realising you are the problem:
A necessary, rewarding (somewhat embarrassing) process.


I work for a local Christian NGO that provides ongoing extended-family and foster care for Cambodian kids. One of our most helpful tools is the case management and record-keeping software package we’ve developed and nicknamed OSCaR. The initial concept for OSCaR was simple but ambitious: create a system that would facilitate strong case management and case-noting, reinforce those processes for our staff, and store client information naturally in an easy-to-use database for program revision and reporting. All this was to be done in English and Khmer.

Having worked on the original design of OSCaR, I had grown increasingly protective of it—not out of some misplaced sense of ego (at least, not entirely!), but out of a desire to make it as successful as possible. I wasn't really aware, though, that I was holding too tightly onto the project and preventing others from contributing as much as they could. This was especially a problem for the newest member of our team.

Sokly came on board the OSCaR team at Children in Families (CIF) about a year ago as our Technical Liaison, that is, the person who was to help with our communications with our software development company.

Like all new employees, it took Sokly a little while to figure out her place with CIF—where she could fit, how she could contribute to the team. Once she did, however, she began making suggestions and recommendations. Like many people in Cambodia, though, she was held back by something that she had very little control over: the influential foreigner she had to share office space with. Yes, that would be me. She hadn't really had a chance to prove herself, but with me hanging on to things so tightly, how could she?

Just recently, Sokly asked me directly to help her integrate more with our development team by advocating for her to spend more time with the developer. Culturally, as a woman speaking to a man, as a Khmer person speaking to a foreigner, as an employee speaking to a supervisor, that was incredibly challenging for her. Fortunately, I did what she asked, and she has started communicating with the software developers directly every week. She coordinates our team to work out our priorities for development, then gives that information to the developers.

That took a job away from me, which was a blessing since I was feeling pretty over-stretched with everything on my plate. I didn't anticipate, however, how much our work process would improve as well. Our developer is now more efficient and new features are being completed more quickly and accurately. Even our software project manager is much clearer about their work priorities now that they have such a definite model to follow.

Everyone has been really nice about it, of course; no-one has said, “Wow Chris, things are going much better now that you’re not constantly managing every little element of this project”. My team are gracious people, not just competent ones!

Still, it was initially painful to realise that many of my stresses over the past six months were due not just to being busy but also to my unwillingness to trust people, and my insistence on doing tasks that I'm just not that good at. But I'm glad to now be working with someone who stepped outside her cultural norms to push me to do what needed to be done. Our team is stronger as a result. Our project is going stronger as a result. And I'm a whole lot less stressed!

It’s been a privilege to contribute here, but even better to see Sokly step up and make her own important contribution.




Chris and Stacie, long-term Interserve workers, advocate for family-based care for children. Their family lives in Cambodia.

God has a mission for people with a disability

Date
18 Oct 2018
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2018 TWO)
Region
South Asia
Profession
Community Development

Disability removes an unhealthy power dynamic in the field.

“Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” 1 Cor 1:26–29

God uses the foolish things of this world to achieve and succeed where the powerful, wise and strong are ineffective. The ‘foolish’, ‘weak’, lowly and despised have an important role in mission in breaking the strongholds of pride and conceit, which are such a barrier to the gospel impacting people and nations. God loves to reveal his glory through those with disability (John 9). What an imagination God has, bringing in such an upside-down Kingdom!

Disability has a profound impact in mission because it demonstrates how our awesome, powerful God achieves His purpose through vulnerable and struggling bodies. Yet the mission movement has not always realised this—and the impact of missions is blunted and the Body of Christ incomplete when people with disability are excluded.

Thankfully some people with disability do slip through the onerous selection processes and serve in mission. Or, as is more often the case, an existing cross-cultural worker acquires a disability. Serving against significant odds, perhaps even from their home office, they come to realise that God doesn’t work despite their disabilities but, rather, chooses to work through them.

Disability removes an unhealthy power dynamic in the field. Whereas the big, powerful, educated and rich missionary is viewed as living in some sort of castle in the clouds, disability can tear those walls down and put us at the level of our neighbour who is struggling—the woman with debilitating pain, the man with a walking problem, the parents of a child with a learning disability. A friend working in Bangladesh explained that when people see his deformity they suddenly they see him as a real, down-to-earth person and they open up and share about their own circumstances. One woman saw that he had a similar disability to her son and removed her burqa headdress to have a closer look and engage with him and his family!

Disability also prompts people to ask questions about our worldview. I have been asked about my personal experience of disability: How did God let this happen to you? Have you tried [x,y,z] miracle cure? How can you leave your own country, where the services for disability are so great, and serve here? I take the opportunity to share about Jesus and His plan for humanity:
• We are created in the image of God.
• Our weakness reminds us of our dependence on God.
• Jesus loves us in spite of our failings.
• Jesus died for all sinners, disabled or not.
• God created us with a disability for His unique and sovereign purpose.

I would argue that a Christian worldview is totally revolutionary for disability in the countries in which we work. In my experience in South Asia, responding to disability and overcoming unhealthy karmic beliefs is near impossible without the transformation and alternative worldview that the Christian Gospel brings.

The challenge for the mission movement is to work to help those with disability to serve and remain serving in missions. Alternative models of mission may provide conducive environments for people with disability: working in a country that offers excellent health care, regularly traveling home for ongoing care, or serving remotely via communication technology. Disability is no barrier in God’s Kingdom.

Dr Nathan is a public health expert, working alongside development organisations and the South Asian church to empower those with disability.

Patience and professionalism

Date
18 Oct 2018
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2018 TWO)
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Medical / Health

How did we get to this point By growing relationships building credibility being consistent in our work and generous with our time.

We came to this country later in our careers. Over the last five years our focus has been on childhood disability, and now our clinical work, teaching and research and our learning from these areas help provide input into national health policy.

We’re still asking the same questions we were at the outset. Is our work relevant and appropriate to the people we’re serving? Is it building up the existing local services? How do we judge the outcomes and what work is most effective?

As an indication of the value placed on our work, the government has given us several awards this past year. We are now being invited to assist with training at government hospitals and rehab establishments with the blessing of the health minister and other key paediatric health professionals.

How did we get to this point? By growing relationships, building credibility, being consistent in our work and generous with our time. Part of the journey has been accepting payment, which is culturally important as work that is paid is valued.

Our data collection has found that severe neonatal jaundice has a significant impact. By improving this area alone, a particular type of disability in children could be reduced by as much as a third (more than 500 children each year!). I realised that although local people could have collected this data, they do not yet have the training to interpret it. Wisdom is needed to avoid shaming anyone as we present these findings at national forums and to local health professionals. Instead we highlight ways local professionals can reduce disability and improve longer term outcomes for those with a disability. One leading doctor said I presented difficult information, but in a nice way. Another doctor was shocked to learn this information, but it motivated him and others to work within their systems to bring about change.

I was invited to write national guidelines on disability management for people with this condition. Patience has been important. The passage of the document through all stages to approval took more than a year and involved addressing sensitivities about some local treatments. This process has resulted in deeper understandings of the importance of evidence-based medicine and the guidelines are now a Health Ministry document. The head paediatric neurologist endorses all the work I am willing to do and has asked me to assist in training his junior medical staff.

There have been some key issues in bringing about change that will have long-term impact on this country. Fostering key relationships has been crucial. Linking with existing government agencies and other NGOs has allowed many local professionals and key people to be rewarded for our work with them. Patience and respect has helped them to accept change because we have had to challenge their local thinking on therapies that are not evidence based.

We recently spent two weeks at a camp for children with disabilities. The journey took several stages: first, six hours by road to the capital, then an extended 13–hour trip in a loaded minibus over three mountain passes to our final destination. We did clinical consultations with over 100 children, their families and local medical professionals. I was able to reassure an anxious mother that her son’s condition would not deteriorate. She could give up her vigilance and let the boy be as active as she liked.

Bringing real change to this nation is what our Father is about, and we are part of that process. Matthew 5:48 (NEB) says, “There must be no limit to your goodness as your heavenly Father’s goodness knows no bounds”. Openly sharing faith is banned but bringing goodness is not and many conversations are occurring about who we are and why we are here. We like it: it is challenging but it is good.



Greg and Marian are doctors serving in a remote part of Asia.

Names have been changed.

Contextualisation or syncretism

Date
18 Oct 2018
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2018 TWO)
Region
East Asia
Profession
Theology / Church

It was their church that was at the brink of being birthed and they must come up with their own contextualised way of conducting baptisms.

In the hallowed halls of a Bible College, Janna had diligently prepared for a life of service amongst unreached people groups. Now she remembered wistfully the satisfaction of winning a prize for that essay about ‘contextualisation and syncretism’. It had all seemed so straightforward back then.

‘Contextualisation’ is the way elements of local culture are used to convey truths about God’s kingdom … and it is good. ‘Syncretism’ is the way elements of different religions or worldviews become amalgamated … and it is bad. But where does one draw the line between ‘contextualisation’ and ‘syncretism’?

Janna had put in years of language study, and had built up a business that provided her with a role in the community and a visa. She had shared her life and faith as naturally and clearly as she was able with those around her, but it had been a long, hard slog and acutely discouraging for many years. But times were changing.

Recently, God had showed himself quite clearly to those who had looked for him. Dreams and visions, healings and deliverances, miraculous provision of food and funds—it was incredible. And now two young people, Yeshe and Diki, were ready to publicly declare their faith through baptism.

Janna had prepared them well as they studied what the Bible teaches about baptism. Now all that remained was to work out the practical details: who would conduct the baptism, where would it take place and who would attend.

The young people wanted Janna, as their teacher, to baptise them. But she refused. She didn’t want baptism to be seen as turning to a foreign religion. Should she try to invite a believer from another area? He would speak a different dialect though. What about a big city church leader? But the emerging local church was intended to be indigenous to this people group. So she put that problem aside for the moment. Where would the baptism occur? That would be simpler.

Although it was summer, Yeshe and Diki were adamant that the river would be too cold. After all, the river was fed by glaciers. Briefly, Janna considered ‘dunking them’ in a bath … but there were no baths in this town. As every possibility was rejected, Janna realised that these new believers were terrified of going under water. She put that problem aside for the moment too. Who would the young believers like to invite to their baptism? Surely that would be simpler.

Quickly Yeshe and Diki listed a few of their friends from Bible study. “Good”, Janna replied, “but what about your families?” Janna had stayed with Yeshe’s family twice when they had invited her to celebrate New Year in their winter home up the valley. She had met Diki’s mother when she had come to town for medical appointments. Again, her ‘helpful’ suggestions were met with one block after another. “It was too far. It was summer and the family would be on the plateau with the yak. There was no point waiting until autumn because the family would be getting their winter homes sorted.” There were obviously deeper reasons for their reluctance to invite their families.

Frustrated, Janna decided that it was best to leave the practical issues of their baptism with Yeshe and Diki. She was confident the important points—the theological truths embodied in baptism—were clearly understood. It was their church that was at the brink of being birthed, and they must come up with their own contextualised way of conducting baptisms.

Two weeks later, the young people bounced into Janna’s apartment. They had a plan! Janna grinned. This is what it was all about—local people establishing Christian rites without foreign interference.

She sat down, leaned forward and listened.

First, they explained, they needed a Christian holy man. A pastor from the big city would do, but they worried that he’d insist on baptising them ‘big-city style’. A foreign holy man would be okay too. Best of all would be a holy man from their own people group. However, holy men were all Buddhists in this area. Perhaps Janna could connect them with a holy man. They were willing to travel far from home for the rite. They would actually prefer that because their families would be worried if they heard of them undergoing a non-Buddhist religious rite.

Next, they described how they would like to be baptised. If it was up to them, yak milk would be used for the ‘waters of baptism’, and it would be sprinkled. They had learned, as they researched the matter, that some churches would sprinkle new believers, especially if they were elderly or unwell. Sprinkling would suit them so much better. Yak milk would symbolise nurture and purity. Just as good Buddhists flick their drinks three times before consuming them, thus honouring the powers around them, so they hoped that a Christian holy man would flick yak milk over them three times in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Then the holy man would place a blessed white silk scarf around each of their necks and declare them Christians.

The young people beamed. Janna frowned. Distant memories of that prize-winning essay flitted through her mind. The concept of power being contained in certain people and things reflected their Buddhist mindset. Requiring a ‘holy man’ … adapting Buddhist practices of flicking drinks three times … giving blessed scarves. What was contextualisation and what was syncretism?

What should Janna do?

Janna’s story is true, although identifying details have been changed. Many workers have responded to this dilemma in different ways. Some encourage local believers to make the decisions themselves, encouraging them to find locally appropriate ways of expressing their faith. Others insist on what is seen as ‘foreign ways’, leaving no room for syncretism.

The point of this story isn’t to provide the ‘right answer’, but to ask you to pray for great wisdom for cross-cultural workers and new believers as they establish brand new churches in local contexts. What is the ‘right answer’? God alone knows.


The author is a researcher and language learner, serving people of Asia long term.
Names have been changed.

Two sons and a girl

Date
18 Oct 2018
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2018 TWO)
Region
South Asia
Profession
Medical / Health

Language is powerful and the use of a small word captures the situation of so many girls in rural South Asia.

“This lady lived with her husband who was sick, her two sons, a daughter-in-law … and a girl.”

Alarm bells started ringing as I read this sentence in the case study, and I felt my emotions begin to rise. Who was this ‘girl’? Why were the sons and the daughter-in-law described with relational words and the ‘the girl’ simply tacked on the end with only her gender noted? Was she a daughter? Was she a ‘slave’, a bonded house help?

I was checking the English of case studies which the Community Health team were sending to their funders, as I am sometimes asked to do, in order to help improve the staff members’ English. This case study involved microfinance to provide the older lady in the house with an income to prevent the family going into debt. However, in this instance I wasn’t concerned about the lady—I was concerned for ‘the girl’. When I checked out the case study, I found it had first been written in Hindi by one of the Community Health staff and then translated into English by another member of staff who had some English.

This day I wanted to do more than just improve their English; I wanted to point out how this choice of language was signifying the lack of value of a girl. I spoke to the original Hindi writer and, sure enough, the Hindi words had been exactly translated into English. It was so ingrained in culture that neither the author nor the translator of the story had picked up its significance. This really disturbed me because, while the team were trying to improve the situation of one female, they had completely missed the issue of the other.
Then I called for the person who had written the Hindi version, to ascertain who this girl was. She was indeed the daughter of the family. Something almost boiled inside me. Why was the ‘daughter-in-law’ described relationally but the family’s own daughter was simply ‘a girl’.

Language is powerful, and here the use of a small word captures the situation of so many ‘girls’ in rural South Asia. They are not counted as part of the family because, as soon as possible, the family will give her in marriage to another family. In a sense she is a bonded house-help, who will cause her family more debt as they send her to another family.
The lady who had attempted the translation caught my train of thought and we had a very interesting discussion on the value of girls. My prayer is that she will continue to stand up for many more ‘girls’ who need to know they can be daughters of the Great Father and the King of Kings.

Most of us slip into the mould of our own culture so easily. People who come from outside our culture help us recognise things about our culture we haven’t seen before. Paul and Peter both speak about the need to shape our lives by the Kingdom of God (Rom 12: 2–3; 1 Pet 1:13–17). We need to take the principles of God’s Kingdom and hold them up as the measuring stick to the way we currently live.

It may be tempting to think our culture is better than someone else’s but, in the end, all cultures are held accountable to God’s Kingdom principles. When we step outside our comfort zone and interact with another culture, we often have the opportunity to see things in that culture that need to be redeemed. But beware: you may also be challenged to critically examine your own!

Amelia has served in South Asia for more than 15 years. She currently works in building research capacity for a variety of healthcare workers.
Names have been changed.

Finding love without strings

Date
01 May 2018
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2018 ONE)
Region
West Asia
Profession
Hospitality

Nour is one of the new faces at our art group today. I love drawing she says but I never get time to do it at home. And she begins to share about the life she left behind.

Nour is one of the new faces at our art group today. “I love drawing”, she says, “but I never get time to do it at home”. Her tangled black curls bob with each stroke of the pencil, with each sip from her tiny glass of tea. And she begins to share about the life she left behind.

Once, she was a law student in Syria. She was prevented from finishing her degree, first by her abusive husband, then by the war. She recalls the bombs falling as she fled with her two young children. In this new city, which is both haven and hostile, she must now raise these children as a single mother. Nour has no job. She speaks little of the local language here. Until recently, she felt scared to leave her home. “It’s hard”, she says, in what must be the biggest understatement of this refugee crisis.

With her children now in local school, Nour is finally finding time for herself. She heard about the art club through the refugee centre where she gets occasional help with food and clothing. Here, she has found that time to sit with her pencils and a cup of tea. She’s found other women who know what it is to run and hide and raise children alone.

But she tells us she’s found something else. One day, some of those women bring Nour a cake for her birthday. She smiles awkwardly through the singing and then proceeds to cut generous slices for us. As we’re eating, she says to us, “It’s different here. There is joy that comes out of you that is so different”.

We marvel at this because so often we feel ordinary and small in the face of the extraordinary needs of refugees. But maybe what Nour has glimpsed in the art room is the extraordinary love of God who cares for her. A love without strings attached, which grows in community, and which is stronger than bombs or language barriers or fear.

Erin is serving long term in West Asia. She is passionate about melding art and loving community for therapeutic and kingdom-building purposes.

All names have been changed.

A refugee comes to stay

Date
01 May 2018
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2018 ONE)
Region
West Asia
Profession
Hospitality

What followed changed my life I had a vivid vision of Jesus carrying the cross.

What would you do if your dad put a gun to your head and said, “If you don’t want to follow the faith of our family, I will kill you”?

This is the story of a homeless 23-year-old Iraqi refugee who came to stay with us one night. He had been sleeping on a bench at the local bus station for the past two weeks, but that night he came home with us so that, for at least for one night, he could have a home-cooked meal, a shower and a warm bed. Now he wants to help others by serving at the refugee centre where we volunteer. This is his amazing story of encountering Jesus …

“I first started seeking God by attending a local school in Iraq. However, I was turned off by the violence that was promoted, so I returned home dejected and eventually decided to become an atheist. Then, I became aware of a Christian in my city who encouraged me to honestly pray, ‘God, if you are real, then show me’.

“What followed changed my life … I had a vivid vision of Jesus carrying the cross. In such pain He was struggling, and I ran over to help Him. But He wouldn’t let me carry His cross. He just smiled at me with an unforgettable smile which I can still see today and said, ‘I’m carrying this for you’.

“A little later, I was hanging out with my friends who were talking about horrible things when someone leaned into my right ear and said, ‘Your name is now John and you need to leave these people’. I turned around but no-one was there. I knew at that time God had spoken to me and I needed to turn away from my sin and the bad influences in my life. But I knew this wouldn’t be an easy road, as my dad leads a pretty ‘dark’ group. So when my dad found out about my new faith, he pulled out his gun from his pocket and held it to my head.”

John did the only thing he could think of to save his life. He bought a plane ticket and fled from his family. He went from being part of a wealthy family to being homeless and jobless in a city of five million people, with no support. Although we could not provide John with everything he needed, we could encourage and pray with him.

Adam (IT/project management) and Penny (special education) serve the church in West Asia long term. They have two children.

All names have been changed.

As for me and my house

Date
01 May 2018
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2018 ONE)
Region
Other
Profession
Other

Why would you be surprised that your children are willing to serve in hard places

The entry to our home displays a wall plaque with Joshua’s statement of commitment: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”. We adopted this proclamation as our own when we married and became a family, and so dedicated our two daughters to the Lord from the start of their lives.

Yet at times I have cried out for sympathy when I came face to face with the implications of living out God’s calling on our lives.

“Does that really have to mean separation from all our dear ones?” I asked. But God’s spirit through His word reminded me, “No one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come, eternal life”. Luke 18:29–30

The request to reflect on the topic “Fear or fruitfulness” came at a time of heightened pre-Christmas nostalgia. You see we are separated from one daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren who have been serving in Cambodia for 11 years, and our other daughter, son-in-law and grandchild are understandably preoccupied with their pre-departure stage of cross-cultural ministry in South East Asia.

“Why would you be surprised that your children are willing to serve in hard places?” our friends and family have reminded us. Throughout our 30 years serving in rural pastoral ministry with the Anglican church, we shepherded struggling parishes and communities. We experienced God’s provision, healing and growth whenever we stepped out in faith.

Our own lives have been enriched through cross-cultural ministry locally and through visits to teams working in Cambodia and South East Asia. Since retirement from parish ministry we have been freed to offer chaplaincy to Interserve staff, CultureConnect team members and the in-country member care team.

It is not that we do these things for reward. The fruit of obedience is far reaching. By surrendering our cultural values to Kingdom values we experience a closeness to God in all things … we suffer with Him, we care deeply about injustice, his creation, and his people of all backgrounds and cultures.

We can overcome fears of this world—about security, education for children, loneliness for us—through prayer and reading God’s word.

However, some well-meaning friends and family members question the validity of our work and sacrifice. It would be so easy to accept their sympathy and kindly meant advice; however, they may be more like Job’s advisers who introduced fearfulness to his circumstances. Instead, we may recognise in this situation an opportunity to share our experience of God’s goodness and purpose in our lives and so build others’ understanding of what God requires of us.

I urge the Interserve community to come alongside those families, especially parents, who are left behind, to lovingly support them and remind them of God’s faithfulness.

Our inclusion as part of the Interserve community in Australia has helped us to more fully understand and support the whole scope of ministries which God’s people are called to, both locally and in Asia and the Middle East.

As we experience ordinary people doing extraordinary things we recognise that the power of God overcomes fear and timidity: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

Thus we are equipped with fruitfulness both in our character and service in order to share the best news of all wherever we are planted.

Let’s support Partners and their loved ones, and encourage and spur each other on through prayer, communication, financial support, visitation and opportunities for fellowship.

Ian and Nancy are parents and grandparents to Interserve families serving overseas. They also serve on our Member Care team looking after Partners and CultureConnect team members.

Fearless generous hospitality

Date
01 May 2018
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2018 ONE)
Region
Other
Profession
Hospitality

Hope in the powerful name of Jesus is light in darknessit breaks the bonds of fear.

I’m an Anglo Aussie who grew up on the northern beaches of Sydney. Suburban life can appear deceptively safe because we rely on material comforts to keep bad stuff under control. In my early married life with my generous Malaysian husband, I grew in my understanding of God’s faithfulness and I learned not to withhold good to my neighbour (Proverbs 3:28).

Fear comes at times of change and challenge.

My husband’s medical practice was located in our own home and he was on call all hours, so we were accountable to our community. Crime was sometimes close by and maintaining grace was at times difficult. As we read 2 Corinthians 4, we were convicted that God wanted us to stay in our current home and to live in a way that clearly revealed the death of Jesus in our lives so that his life would be visible through us.

One year later my husband died suddenly in his sleep while we were on holiday as a family in Hong Kong. During the early years of widowhood my life was a matter of surviving one day at a time. I often thought that the most fruitful I could be was to live to old age and be like Anna in the temple, praising God.

But God has now given me sisters in Christ to walk alongside. Their example reminds me that all that I have belongs to the Lord. God has given me the privilege of giving in ways that have connected my heart to his kingdom and invited me to invest more of myself.

One of my new friends wavers between anxiety about the future and striving to live well. She has been drawn to Jesus, however, through her experience of having another Christian friend who acted with integrity and care toward her while she was vulnerable.

Hope in the powerful name of Jesus is light in darkness—it breaks the bonds of fear.

While walking through Punchbowl in Sydney dropping in flyers for our church’s neighbourhood holiday kids club, we met a Muslim Arabic family having a picnic on their front lawn. They invited us in to spend all afternoon eating and enjoying a relaxed time together. Our relationship has become friendship and we genuinely enjoy the warmth and laughter of their home.

I often wonder how fruitful for the kingdom it would be if every home that called Jesus ‘Lord’ could be as fearless and generous in their welcome of the stranger as this family has been to us.

Lydia is a physiotherapist and a CultureConnect team member living in Sydney.

Names have been changed.

An ongoing creation

Date
01 May 2018
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2018 ONE)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Other

I yearn for a fruitful life where I know my purpose and can see God working through me in tangible ways. The problem is that my life doesnt exactly look like that at the moment. Right now I dont do very much at all.

One of the best things about living in a tropical climate is its fruit.

When visiting a local school recently, I heard the thud of a mango falling from a tree. Within seconds, a stampede of students came racing around the corner, intent on being first to collect this treasure.

Whether it’s watching children joyfully hunt out mangoes, tasting strange new, odd-looking (and often odd-smelling) local fruit, or gazing longingly at the outrageously priced, imported berries in the supermarket, I am sure that God must have had such fun creating fruits.

It’s no wonder, then, that the word ‘fruit’ in the Bible stirs up images of sweet, wonderful things being produced. I yearn for a fruitful life, where I know my purpose and can see God working through me in tangible ways. The problem is that my life doesn’t exactly look like that at the moment. Right now I don’t ‘do’ very much at all.

I departed Australia nearly a year ago, leaving behind all the ministries and friendships that one might see as ‘fruitful’. Now, while I learn how to live in a different country and culture and to speak a different language, I am not involved in formal ministry. It has been very difficult for me to have everything that gives my life productivity disappear.

Have you experienced something like this too? Maybe you felt God guiding you into something new, but still have no idea what that is. Maybe you feel unfulfilled or disappointed. Where is our fruitfulness when our productivity is low, or even nonexistent? The common response is that fruitfulness comes in seasons. This is very true, but perhaps there is another way of looking at it.

As I pored over theological commentaries to explore what biblical authors said about fruit, one thing in particular stood out. Rather than productivity, it was about personal spiritual development—fruitfulness as the development of the kind of person God is designing me to be. Ministry will then flow out of that.

I love images and metaphors. When I stumbled across a story about a tree that produces 40 different kinds of fruit, this overachieving tree made me feel even more disheartened. As I read more, though, the tree became a wonderful metaphor for what God was trying to show me.

Sam Van Aken, who grafts these trees, knows a lot about fruit trees but his career is actually in art. These trees are fruitful in the literal sense of the word. But they are really artworks, Van Aken’s ongoing creation.

In the same way, we are first and foremost God’s artwork. God is the artist and gardener who is designing, pruning, shaping and nourishing us to be filled with variety, beauty and fruitfulness. And we should be encouraged knowing that, as we grow in our own personal fruitfulness, others will enjoy and be nourished by our good fruits.

As this new understanding of fruitfulness seeps into my being, my fear at not knowing what it is I am doing here starts to fade. It’s scary to think you are a dead tree. But I am not a dead tree! I am God’s Tree of 40 Fruit—his art project.

So, continue to grow, whether you are sure of your ministries or not. Whether you are in transition, or dormancy, or blossoming, know that you are being nurtured by the greatest gardener and being transformed into a thing of great beauty.

Join me in holding onto that.

Kylie is learning language in South East Asia. She is passionate about using education to empower young people.

The spirit in the room

Date
01 May 2018
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2018 ONE)
Region
Arab World
Profession
Business

We learned about Anji believed to be the resident evil spirit. This led to a most unusual management/ministry issue that I was not prepared for...

Courage is highly esteemed in the Middle East, but underlying that, and rarely talked about, is extreme fear about the spirit world, particularly within folk Islam. Muslims and Christians alike recognise that unseen spiritual forces of the heavenly realms are constantly at work. Every now and then, however, we see the beautiful fruit of new believers who are freed from fear.

The staff of our community centre organised an art competition for young people. They did not advertise it widely for fear that some extreme groups, who deem any form of creative expression ‘haram’ (forbidden), would take offence. As a family, we attended the official opening, which was held in an unused part of the community centre. In an impressive outpouring of creativity, 50 young people displayed their artistic flair.

It was only when we showed our staff a blurry family photo taken at the exhibition that we learned about ‘Anji’, believed to be the resident evil spirit. One of my employees, Indigo, was particularly attuned to the ‘unseen’ and very fearful of the spirits she believed followed her every move. This led to a most unusual management/ministry issue that I was not prepared for. Soon almost all our local staff believed there was an evil spirit in that area.

Both Indigo and her colleague Harriet claimed to have heard the spirit’s name and seen her face in dreams. Indigo flatly refused to enter the room and when Harriet did she placed her holy book on the table next to her for protection. This fear of Anji became a growing problem but it led to opportunities for us to share openly with staff about the One who has power over evil spirits.

At one of our weekly staff lunches, the topic of Anji was discussed for more than an hour. I didn’t want to trivialise the importance of the issue but reminded staff that our centre provided great ‘light’, hope and transformation in people’s lives so it was to be expected that the devil would oppose it.

I decided to be bolder and offered to pray with and for any staff members in Jesus’ name in these rooms. This created an awkward conundrum: if they asked for prayer they were publically admitting that Jesus does have power, but not asking left them crippled with fear. It was awkward for me too, considering this battle was out of my comfort zone and experience; however, Ephesians 6:10–12 gave me more than enough guidance:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers … against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Sadly, our staff never did ask us to pray to expel the evil spirits. Many did, however, recognise the power of our own prayers. Harriet became increasingly open and committed to read the Bible alongside her holy book every day. She would often come to us with concerns and ask us to pray. We still long for them to know the power of Jesus and to experience freedom from fear.

We had seen the fruit of faith remove fear in a very tangible way with another new local believer, Ruth. She had been under much pressure from the unseen, so crippled by a fear of jinn (spirits), in fact, that her sister needed to accompany her even to the bathroom. Amazingly, immediately after she trusted Jesus her fear disappeared.

Please join us in praying that Ruth will continue to stand firm, and that many others will be freed from their fears and superstitions.

Stephen is a long-term Partner working in the Middle East.

Names have been changed.

Speak up for us

Date
01 May 2018
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2018 ONE)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Hospitality

Each week I visit refugees who are being detained in the Immigration Detention Centre. Having left their country in fear of their lives they now live in a country which does not recognise them or give them any legal rights. My fears pale in comparison.

Each week I visit refugees who are being detained in the Immigration Detention Centre. Having left their country in fear of their lives, they now live in a country which does not recognise them or give them any legal rights. My fears pale in comparison.

When I visit my friends, I must first register my name and passport details. If we make a mistake on the form, don’t have the correct information about the person we are visiting or wear the wrong clothes, we are not allowed inside. People are banned from visiting, or being visited, for often unexplained reasons. It’s the kind of place where the lower your profile, the better. But visitors are able to bring fresh food, toiletries, clothes and books; and having a visitor means you are allowed to leave your overcrowded cell for an hour, talk to someone from the outside, and perhaps even hear news from your family. A visitor can pray for you. It is a reminder that you have not been forgotten.

One day, I went to visit my friend’s husband who had been detained for more than a year. I had my passport, correctly completed forms and correct clothes, but I was not allowed to visit. He and some others were in the punishment room where (I later found out) he was shackled and beaten. For over a month my visits were denied. Eventually I saw one of his friends who had also been punished. Both he and my friend were now back in their normal cell but, though he was allowed visitors again, my friend was still on the visiting black list.

This continued for a number of months. I had tried, through other avenues, to find out what was going on but the more I learned, the clearer it became that it would be best not to interfere. It sounded like he had been set up, that officials were involved and that interference would only make matters worse.

Then one day, while I was visiting someone else, my friend came to the visiting area! Somehow he had been allowed out. Communicating during a visit is very difficult—it’s a shouting match across two fences, trying to be heard above everyone else’s conversations and pleas for help. But it was very clear that my friend wanted me to ask the chief police commander why he was still on the black list.

I like to say my language is good enough to get me into trouble but not good enough to get me out of trouble. I really did not want to make it worse for my friend. Then I remembered the words of another detainee: “Your visits and food are appreciated, but what we really need is someone to speak up for us, to be our advocate”. Isn’t there a Bible verse or two about speaking up for the rights of the weak and vulnerable? (“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” Proverbs 31:8)

I prayed for courage, that the commander would listen and understand and be kind. God gave me courage but as I approached the commander, I did not really believe my efforts would succeed.

But that day I learnt that God is bigger than my fears and weak language skills, and certainly bigger than my lack of faith. The commander was surprised when he learnt of my friend’s situation. He went straight to the registration desk and removed his name from the black list!

I wonder what other, greater things God could do through us if we had the courage to trust in him more.

Cat is involved with a number of discipleship and outreach ministries. She’s serving with her family long-term in South East Asia.

All names have been changed.

Excerpts of a journey

Date
01 May 2018
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2018 ONE)
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Education

Teacher: You encouraged me. No-one has ever encouraged me before.

WELL-MEANING FAMILY FRIEND
“Your parents have sacrificed everything to bring you to Australia and given you every opportunity for peace, freedom and success. Why are you throwing that all away? Don’t you care about what they have done for you? There are people in this country who need help too, including your parents. They’re not getting any younger! God can use your gifts in this country too.”

A COUNTRY IN CENTRAL ASIA
UNICEF data: Only one-third of the population is literate. Fewer than half of the men can read. Fewer than one in five women can read.

EXCERPT FROM MY LETTER OF RESIGNATION
Firstly, I’d like to thank you for the many opportunities you have afforded me over the past 7 ½ years that I have worked here. I have loved being a Secondary School Teacher and later a Head of Faculty. There is a sense of camaraderie and community at this school that I will both treasure and miss. My passion for education, however, and a recognition of the desperate need in other parts of the world for change through education compels me to tender my resignation.

SECURITY TRAINING
For the second year in a row, this country in Central Asia was in the top five countries for the highest number of attacks on aid workers …

INTERNATIONAL NEWS
Armed terrorists broke into an NGO office which also served as the home of an expatriate family. Everyone inside was killed before the building was burnt to the ground.

PRAYER THAT NIGHT
“Dear God, is that really the place you are calling me to?”

MORNING SCRIPTURE READING THE NEXT DAY
“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 2 Timothy 1:6–10

DIARY ENTRY
After two years of working and sharing and preparation and raising support, I’m finally on the plane heading to my destination. I’ve said my goodbyes.

The plane is quiet. Most people are sleeping. All I can see out of the plane window is darkness.

FIRST DAY OF SIX-WEEK TEACHER TRAINING COURSE
Teacher: I have to admit that I did not want to come on this training during our school holidays. None of the teachers did. But now, we are so excited to come back.

CLASS DISCUSSION ON TEACHING EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
Teacher 1: But this is not our culture – to talk about emotions. It is our custom to keep these things inside. Why should we teach our children something that is against our custom?

Teacher 2: But isn’t that the problem with our society? How many women do you know who have kept all their pain inside and never shared it with anyone or had a chance to relieve themselves of the pain? They are wasting away. This way, we can help them to find some comfort.

Teacher 3: Yes, and if we can teach the children how to do this from when they are young, imagine how much better our society will become – if people can express their emotions and themselves in a healthy way rather than resorting to violence.

Teacher 4: Yes, there is so much trauma in our country. We need to be able to teach our children and ourselves how to better cope with it.

EXCERPT FROM CLASSROOM OBSERVATION REPORT
During the six-week teacher training program, the teachers were notably stunned at the prospect that mathematics could be taught in such a way that students understand mathematical concepts and reasoning rather than just learning by rote and repetition. It was encouraging today to see the teachers using coloured sticks, blocks and even kidney beans in their classrooms to help students understand more deeply and to think for themselves. It was encouraging, too, to see the children engaged in the classroom and working co-operatively – another practice that is new in a system that promotes competition above all else.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS
A peaceful demonstration was attacked today. The high number of injuries and deaths overwhelmed the emergency system.

DIARY ENTRY
It was International Teachers’ Day last week. You’d think that that would have been a clue but I remained oblivious until I walked into the room. The teachers were all sitting around the table which was laden with all kinds of delightful food. They started to clap. I was still a little oblivious … “Teacher this is for you. We have all cooked this morning before work and have prepared a lunch for you to thank you for being our teacher”.

TEXT FROM SECURITY ADVISOR
We have received credible intelligence that a criminal network is operating in the area. They are seeking to kidnap foreign workers. Foreign nationals are urged to practise extreme caution.

EXCERPT FROM TRANSCRIPT OF TEACHER MENTORING SESSION
Me: It has been so wonderful to see your progress over these past months. At the beginning you didn’t seem so interested in bringing about change, but now you are such an inspirational practitioner of active-participatory teaching. What brought about the change?

Teacher: You encouraged me. No-one has ever encouraged me before.

INTERVIEW WITH SCHOOL PRINCIPAL
I didn’t really believe in this program before but now I see children actually reading. I hadn’t even realised that before they were just repeating what they had learnt by rote but now they are actually learning to read and even the parents have commented to us that they are really happy.

COMMENT FROM STUDENT FEEDBACK FORM
We have noticed that the teachers are much more kind to us and that we do lots of different activities, including group work.

TEXT FROM ONLINE PARENT FORUM
Dear teachers, I wanted to thank you for all your hard work. We can all see how hard you work and how much you care for our children. We have never seen any other school like this. Our children are happy and are learning. We thought we had to leave the country so that we could provide good education for our children. We are so happy that this is in our country.

MATTHEW 28:20
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Jodi is a teacher-trainer. She is serving long-term in Central Asia.

On the far side of the sea

Date
01 May 2018
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2018 ONE)
Region
Arab World
Profession
Administration

Heading to the Middle East with four kids under seven including a baby on my hip and a toddler at my knee there was not a lot of fighting I could do. I did however need to do a lot of trusting.

As we stopped over in Singapore on our way to live in a land we’d never seen before, I wrote in my journal a verse God had given me: “You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you … Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” 2 Chronicles 20:17.

Heading to the Middle East with four kids under seven, including a baby on my hip and a toddler at my knee, there was not a lot of fighting I could do. I did, however, need to do a lot of trusting.

I remember when our six-month-old baby had a temperature of 39 degrees. We had only been there a few weeks and I had no idea who to call if the Panadol didn’t start working soon. I could barely say ‘hospital’ in Arabic. The next morning he was okay.

Three years later, however, when he needed emergency surgery to remove the coin lodged in his oesophagus, he was less than okay (and I wasn’t too crash hot either!). Thankfully, by then I knew exactly who to call. I had also become quite good at pronouncing ‘hospital’.

Another afternoon our children were playing in our friends’ yard when a protest passed the front gate. We ignored the usual shouting and drumming … until the shooting began. I bolted down the stairs roaring at our kids, “GET INSIDE NOW!” They ran inside, probably more frightened of me yelling than any gun.

Like any mother, my biggest fears always circle around my children. And I am certainly no spiritual champion when it comes to worrying! But God taught me lesson upon lesson about trusting him on that far side of the sea.

When the Arab Spring turned the Middle East upside down, God sent our family through a learning-to-trust-him intensive. Day by day we prayed and waited on Him. During that time of protests, curfews and army tanks, the peace He gave us truly did pass understanding.

There was the day a bomb went off in front of the building next door to my children’s school. But God, in his perfect timing, had kept all of our kids far away from that building on a planned pupil-free holiday. This non-coincidence was a clear reminder to me of how very in control God was.

There were many more non-coincidences like these. The first time the funding for our ministry drew very close to zero, we were anxious. We relied on donations alone; how would we get thousands of dollars to keep the refugee school going by next week? Then, suddenly, a $10,000 cheque came in. A year later when the bank balance was again near zero, we prayed and received another miracle of even greater proportions. The third time, we prayed in expectant faith. And, like God promised, we saw his deliverance; the funding came in, ensuring hundreds of underprivileged children could still go to school.

This did not mean bad things never happened in our six years in the Middle East: there were health problems, accidents, broken nights, our kids’ grief at every goodbye, and everyday stresses of life in a foreign land. But through each of these we could face the future knowing the Lord was with us, standing in his strength.

Fear not and see the deliverance of the Lord?

That day in Singapore when God gave me this verse, I didn’t know what to expect. I did not dream of a future with revolutions or bombs or emergency surgery. But looking back over the challenges and the blessings of our time in the Middle East, I know that my Lord has kept his promises in more ways than I could ever imagine.

Chelsea served with her family in the Middle East for six years.

Names have been changed.

Heart in colours

Date
25 Sep 2017
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2017 TWO)
Region
West Asia
Profession
Community Development

We spread out paper and simple art supplies. Nothing is complicated or technical but to these women whose daily lives are shaped by displacement and feelings of helplessness gentle guidance is necessary as we begin to transform blank pages with colour and form.

We are a small group. Women whose hearts dream in different languages, trying our best to communicate with gestures and borrowed words. Some wear colourful headscarves. Some have immaculate makeup and stylish haircuts. Some bring children. One brings homemade snacks. There is a warmth here which seems, for a time, to soothe their loneliness and grief. We greet each other with kisses, pour tea, sit down and get out the art supplies.

Our table is in a creaking upper room of the refugee centre. We can see the sky and sunlight through the wood-framed windows—the light and openness seem to mirror our purpose for being here. We create art together and, in doing so, I hope these refugee women will feel a lightness in their weighed-down spirits and have a safe space to bring their pain-filled stories into the light. I long for them to experience the love of the one who called himself “Light of the World”.

We spread out paper and simple art supplies. Nothing is complicated or technical, but to these women whose daily lives are shaped by displacement and feelings of helplessness, gentle guidance is necessary as we begin to transform blank pages with colour and form. We talk briefly about an idea around which we build our art-making activity: identity, happiness, home, hope, fear. We gently shape a space where sharing is allowed and start with a reminder that whatever we create or say will be met with kindness, not criticism.

This is not a class, I find myself repeating. The beauty and benefit of our shared art making is in the process of creating together, not in the product. This is a new idea for many of them. One young woman softly confides that she loved to draw as a young girl but her stern father discouraged such childish activities and forced her to marry at fifteen. Now, as she holds her breastfeeding daughter in one arm and watches over her three-year-old son, she sketches and tells me there is no time in everyday life for drawing. I can tell, though, by the way she carefully moves her pencil over the page, and the tired, wistful look on her face, that she would sit here with these pencils all day if she could. I know that tugging feeling in my own creative spirit as a mother of small children and my heart goes out to her.

I pour more tea (our intercultural love language) and watch as the women depict their hearts in images and colours. I see a lot of black and red—symbols of death and destruction, of lost homes and difficult journeys. There are also usually green or yellowish glimmers of tenacious hope, simple joys or love. Some talk about finding joy in the sunshine or trees, things that not even war or murder or displacement could take from them. Some speak of hope in heavenly paradise for a lost child, hope for a home in a new country where they can tend a garden or continue their education without fear. And I share simply why I drew my symbol of hope as an empty tomb in the middle of a rising sun.

So our time comes to an end. Kisses, hugs, “Inshallah* we shall meet again next week”. I marvel at the gift of God in art making as a way of bringing healing and building community. Beauty from pain, creation from destruction, community from isolation. Isn’t this the stunningly paradoxical way our redeemer God works?

The author is serving long-term in West Asia. She is passionate about melding art and loving community for therapeutic and kingdom-building purposes.

*If God wills.

From one woman to another

Date
01 Sep 2017
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2017 TWO)
Region
Other
Profession
Other

She also told me how a womans purity affects her prayer and fasting. My friend is not able to pray or fast during her menstrual cycle. This is so different to me.

With Ramadan approaching, I was searching for ways to be real with my Muslim friends about our relationships with God. As I chatted with a friend one morning, in between bringing in the washing and kicking a ball with her toddler, she shared what Ramadan means to her. It is a time of year when she seeks favour and merit from Allah, when her good works are mercifully multiplied by Allah—a time for her to pray, fast, give and read the Quran for merit.

She also told me how a woman’s purity affects her prayer and fasting. My friend is not able to pray or fast during her menstrual cycle. This is so different to me. As a biologist, I celebrate daily how God made the world (she does that too), how a Holy God made me a woman who is able to reproduce and give life, and that a natural part of this life-giving creation is a monthly cycle. So I shared in a vulnerable way how I did not understand how our monthly cycle makes us impure or unclean; how I can understand how someone might consider a dead animal unclean with the decay, smell and germs, but that God created the natural cycle of our bodies.

My dear friend gently looked at me, confused that I could not understand that our bodies each month were unclean and impure to God. She then graciously said, “Well, that’s just it, each month it is the result of something dead, where life has not been created, and it is being cleansed and cleared out. That is why we are unclean, it is something dead”.

Well, ‘the biologist’ in me, ‘the woman’ in me stopped: something had clicked. I had been vulnerable with my friend and learned something from her. I thanked her. “That makes more sense now”.

Then ‘the Christian’ in me remembered that the Bible has recorded, for me and for all other women, Jesus’ response to a woman’s bleeding. Her bleeding was not just five days each month; she had been bleeding for 12 years… non-stop, unclean, smelly and shamed. “She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all the money she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.”

I couldn’t help but share this story with my friend. Well, to tell you the truth, I stumbled my way through telling it. I had not read it recently and was telling it in another language. “When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, ‘If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.’ Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realised that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?’”(Mark 5:25–30, NIV)

Our conversation continued about how this story shows us that uncleanliness could not be transmitted to Jesus but that out of Him flowed cleansing wholeness. This is why, for women who have come to Jesus, we see that we are no longer unclean before God because he has made us clean.

The author served long-term with Interserve in the Arab world, and now works with CultureConnect in Australia.

Story of a young girl

Date
01 Sep 2017
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2017 TWO)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Other

Being underage the pay Srey Mom would get in the sex industry is far higher than other employment.

When I first arrived in South East Asia, this is what I thought underage sex work looked like: a ‘pimp’ visits a poor family struggling to make ends meet. He kindly offers to give the teenage daughter a good job in a city restaurant. When the girl arrives in the big city she is instead taken to a dark, dingy brothel where she is thrown in with other young girls, the door is locked and she is forced to sell herself on a daily basis. There is no freedom and the treatment of the girls is terrible.

This scenario does indeed happen, but in my city it is not so common. I want to share with you another form of sex trafficking, just as prevalent but less known.

Srey Mom* lives in a very poor rural family. Their sole income is a small rice field. Srey Mom has limited education because she had to stay at home to look after her siblings while her parents worked in the field. Her parents have three loans from local money lenders, with extortionate interest rates. Recent droughts have prevented the family from being able to repay these loans.

Suddenly Srey Mom’s mum falls seriously ill and is taken to hospital. The hospital fees are exorbitant and there is no way the family can pay. Desperate, her parents tell her she must go and work in the local KTV bar to pay the bills. Many girls and women working in KTV bars and beer gardens provide sexual services to men. Most of these men are Asian (locals and tourists), but there are Westerners also. Being underage, the pay Srey Mom would get in the sex industry is far higher than other employment. As filial piety is so strong she has no choice but to obey her parents. She also desperately wants to help her mum get better.

So, Srey Mom goes to the big city. She lives in a rented room with a few other girls and earns a monthly salary as a ‘hostess’. Sex work earns her more money, much of which she is allowed to keep and send home. Srey Mom feels glad that she can contribute to her family, and slowly becomes addicted to the party life.

And that’s when we meet her. We offer her a safe and loving place to live and counselling to help with the suppressed trauma. Srey Mom can now study, gain confidence and self-esteem, and learn a useful skill that will enable her to support herself and her family. She is also gently introduced to the love of Christ and the chance for a new life in Him.

It’s very hard to comprehend the scale of the problem. In our western mindset there is no justification for parents asking their daughters to work in the sex industry. However, it is so easy to judge until you start to understand what abject poverty really means. Focussing on helping the poorest families earn a basic living is a necessary part of the solution. During my time here, I have learned that, ultimately, the only infallible answer for these girls is a transformative encounter with Christ. Please pray that we would be rooted in Christ and demonstrate his love for girls like Srey Mom.

The author is spending two years On Track, working against sexual exploitation of children.

*Srey Mom is a fictional character, but her story is based on many of the girls in our care.

Do unto others

Date
01 Sep 2017
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2017 TWO)
Region
Arab World
Profession
Medical / Health

What can one say to someone in a who is in a situation like this violated pregnant and refugee

At the organisation where I volunteer a few days a week doing prenatal care, I meet women who have fled from the horrors of war. Most women at the clinic are victims of the most heinous acts. These women, almost all of them, are pregnant through rape. What can one say to someone who is in a situation like this, violated, pregnant and refugee?

A pregnancy, which for most people is something positive, is for these women a big shame. Some of them cannot even manage to tell us what has happened to them. Some have their story written down on a piece of paper for us to read. When I examine a woman, measuring the size of the uterus and listening to the fetal heartbeat, I wonder—how is she coping? What does she think when she feels the baby kick or when she hears the heartbeat through the doptone (electric fetoscope) when I examine her? I do not know at all what this particular woman has experienced. But the empty mournful gaze I often face on these women tells me that I probably don’t want to know too many details about it either.

Gender-based sexual violence is one of the hardest things I’ve met in this work. It is not only in this country that it happens but everywhere where conflict is ongoing. It is commonly used in war situations. I think of the Yezidi women I met who were captured, used as sex slaves and sent home when they showed signs of pregnancy.

Ever since childhood I have stood up for the unprivileged in society. I had a sense of fairness that sometimes got me into trouble when “solving” problems using my fists! Early in my life I wanted to follow Jesus and work abroad where people did not know about Him. My plan was to work in an orphanage taking care of and loving babies and small children. I wanted to become a nurse and midwife, because surely they would deal with babies! Little did I know back then that a midwife just sees to it that the baby is born safely. But even now I still have the same longing to serve the most vulnerable. So whenever I meet people from other cultures— men and women—I feel this longing to help.

I have been able to use my profession in roles I never could have imagined. I have served in four different Muslim countries since 1991, working with women through antenatal care and family planning clinics. My driving force has been and still is to show the love of Christ to the women I meet.

“How is it possible to survive and even thrive in a Muslim context where women have little or no rights?” is a question I sometimes get. First and foremost I need to say that I have felt respected and valued by the authorities and almost all my colleagues. God put the love for these women in my heart. My motivation was and still is:

‘So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you’. Matthew 7:12a (NIV)

This verse gives me compassion and empathy for those I meet. Yes, I get tired and impatient but as I listen to people’s stories I can’t help but keep going. What I am doing is not so strange; I try to put myself in their place. I know I can’t feel the same but I can show that I care.

This is how we as Christians can have an impact on anyone we meet. It could be as we are serving overseas or even now when we see people from other countries and faiths in our own countries, in a shop, on the bus and as colleagues at work. We need to pray for courage to take the first step.

The author is an Interserve Partner and has served in the Arab world for over 25 years.

The housewife and the shopkeeper

Date
01 Sep 2017
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2017 TWO)
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Other

Saule worked seven days a week twelve hours a day. She worked hard to support her family back home. Whats your dream Saule If you werent working in this job what would you rather be doing

When I first met Saule she worked as a vegetable and fruit seller. Her kiosk was a tiny wooden shack with a rough-cut tin roof. Saule was young, yet carried a notable dignity. She wore a head scarf and conservative clothes. Most Central Asian women and young girls, at least in this region with its former Soviet Union history, do not wear head scarves unless they are from strictly practising families. What really caught my eye was the copy of the holy Qur’an on the shelf beside her chair.

“Thank you, Saule. That’s all I need today.” As I took my purchases I asked, “Is that your holy book?”

“Yes, it is.”

“How nice that you try to read the holy book even while at work! I also read my holy book – the Torah and Injil*.”

After this, whenever she wasn’t too busy we had some meaningful conversations on different stories from our books, such as Abraham, Moses and Job. Our friendship grew and sometimes I brought homemade snacks and sweets and we enjoyed chatting together.

Saule worked seven days a week, twelve hours a day. She worked hard to support her family back home. “What’s your dream, Saule? If you weren’t working in this job, what would you rather be doing?”

“I would love to become a medical doctor”, answered Saule with a bright smile on her face. “Well, what’s stopping you? You are only 19 years old. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life in this little box do you?”

I knew she could have a brighter future than merely being exploited by others; in fact, I had noticed she didn’t often use a calculator to add up the prices. That day I offered to bless her and pray for the guidance of the Almighty. And we opened up our hands towards heaven and prayed in the name of Isa*. “Lead Saule into her destiny, according to your good and perfect will. Show us the way we should go. Give us courage to follow the dream you give into our lives.”

Saule showed great courage to quit the job. On her last day before returning to her home in the south, we went out for the day to see the city and had so much fun together. It was her first day outside the kiosk and her humble accommodation!

Unfortunately, I lost contact with Saule for two years. We had also moved to another part of the city but, to my great surprise, she managed to find me. When Saule had returned home, she had studied really hard for a year and successfully entered the National University as a medical student; she had been granted a full scholarship for her entire course! Saule thanked me for challenging and encouraging her to follow her dream and asking God to help her to be courageous. It was an overwhelmingly joyful reunion.

Saule has now successfully finished her five years of studying medicine and hopes to specialise in cardiology. We have enjoyed deepening our friendship over the years. As a family we sit around the table to share the meal we have cooked together, and then open the Holy Book and freely discuss and pray to the Most High. God brought Saule into my path and I am truly thankful for the friendships God grants.

My official title in the country is “house wife”. I mingle with our neighbours in the communal courtyard and enjoy building relationships with our local shopkeepers, cracking jokes and bargaining with them. My hope and prayer is to carry the Light of Isa even in my mundane routines of daily life.

Davina is an Interserve Partner coming alongside the Central Asian church in discipleship and mission.

All names have been changed.

* The Torah and Injil are Muslim terms for books of the Old Testament and the Gospels. Isa is a Muslim name for Jesus.

Serving as a single

Date
01 Sep 2017
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2017 TWO)
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Education

It is quite a different challenge to move continents and serve across cultures as a single than as a family but it also presents different opportunities.

I have been blessed with fruitful and rewarding work in theological education, which is very much needed in a church only founded after the fall of the Soviet Union. I often thank God for sending me to Central Asia. I came here as a single woman. It is quite a different challenge to move continents and serve across cultures as a single than as a family, but it also presents different opportunities. I’d like to share some of these.

The opportunities

Being single allows me to fit in easily in relationships with local families. It is often easier to host and relate to one person than a whole family.

A single woman can be a great encouragement to local believers. When I first arrived someone said, “You will be a great encouragement to the women pastors”. I had my doubts as I could not even speak the language. But now, praise God, it seems to be true, and local friends and colleagues, male and female, single and married, younger and older, are an encouragement to me as well.

A single woman can provide an example of a contented and worthwhile life in a culture where single women are often denigrated. They face pressure to be married, yet have difficulty finding a suitable Christian husband. Many women are divorced after unsuitable marriages (sometimes being “bride kidnapped”)¹. People think it is better to have been married and to have a child than to be single. Many young women have found a man to give them a child with no thought of marriage. Christian women have had to learn that this practice is not for them.

I have been blessed here with rich relationships with friends, younger and older, from many nationalities in our international fellowship. Children here, away from close family members, also benefit from a surrogate aunt or grandmother.

When you are single you have opportunity to rely on the Lord, perhaps in a different way to those who have the support of a spouse. Finding space for time with the Lord each morning is not always easy for women with children.

The challenges

You are not superwoman! Sometimes it is assumed that a single person has more time for ministry than married partners. So, we need to set boundaries. There is only one person (not two) to do what needs to be done, and many things take longer and are more complicated here. The danger that work can become all-consuming is not confined to single people. Rest and relaxation are important.

Living arrangements can be a problem. Many single people share happily together. I’m busy during the week and, being an introvert, I need time to recharge so I prefer to live alone. But I have a spare room for guests and I have a study where I often work with local colleagues. It was once suggested that single people only needed a one-bedroom apartment. Thankfully Interserve Australia supported me in my living arrangements, which are important for what I am doing here.

Loneliness can be more acute on arrival and Interserve has a great “buddy” system. I am glad to offer hospitality to new arrivals as I know how much help I needed. Although it takes time and energy, it can be mutually enriching.

Close friends leaving is always a loss and nourishing new friendships need to be developed. Sometimes people are tempted not to become involved with newcomers because you put time and energy into friendships and then people leave. Friendships are important to all of us, whether we are single or married.

Serving as a single woman presents many challenges and opportunities and I thank God for the privilege He has given me here.

Gwen has been working alongside the church in Central Asia for the past 13 years.

Names have been changed.

¹“Bride kidnapping” refers to a practice in which a man abducts the woman he wishes to marry. Though it is illegal, law enforcement remains lax in parts of Central Asia.

A lifetimes service

Date
01 Sep 2017
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2017 TWO)
Region
South Asia
Profession
Education

Hundreds of babies grew into womanhood watched over proudly by a woman who would never be a mother herself.

It was 1940, wartime, and no one in their right mind was looking to take a ship across the Indian Ocean, but a young dressmaker was walking the streets of Melbourne looking for a merchant ship to take her to India.

Dora Barkla had been praying regularly for Sholapur, a girls’ home in Maharashtra. One night while praying and reading the passage “Take up your cross and follow me”, she heard a voice which clearly said, “India”. Timid, and with a low view of her own capacities, Dora wrestled with the implications. Her family was against the idea, but one by one her misgivings were overcome by the words of scripture and in January 1940 she was on her way.

Forty-two years later I met Dora capably managing a guesthouse in Mussoorie, North India. I should not have been surprised. This quiet, even genteel, woman had been running a girls’ home for decades. When we left India in 1995, I started to visit Dora in her retirement and gradually pieced together her remarkable story.

When Dora joined the Zenana Mission (now Interserve) in 1939, it had a long history of work in India with women in the separated sections (zenanas) of Hindu and Muslim households. It was an all-women mission, responding to the medical and educational needs of these women. Mission centred on “compounds”. After a famine in the early 1900s, female babies had been left outside the mission compound at Sholapur and the mission started to care for them.

Dora believed that she would be in India all of her life, so her first task was to learn Urdu, the local language, well enough to speak to the hearts of people. Her call was to evangelise local women. After a year of study and with the first of her three spoken Indian languages under her belt, she began her ministry of visiting local Muslim women. Some time later, she began work in the girls’ home. At a time in Australia when women rarely worked outside the home, Dora and her colleagues fixed roofs, removed snakes, kept accounts and liaised with local officials. The homesickness was ferocious in the early days and it was five years before she saw Australia again.

How do we measure the work of decades of care of girls in a home like Sholapur, with the yearly round of care and education; periodic epidemics of whooping cough, typhoid, mumps and measles; months of torrid heat and torrential monsoons; picnics, Christmas pageants and the weddings of the girls who were walked down the aisle by mission staff? Literally hundreds of babies grew into womanhood watched over proudly by a woman who would never be a mother herself but who gave her working life so that others may reach adulthood safely with a living faith to sustain them through life.

Dora’s time in India saw many changes. India became independent of Britain in 1947 and with independence came greater Indian control over mission activities. Gradually, foreign control gave way to Indian leadership, and in 1979 Dora handed over the home to her friend and colleague, Nancy Basaviah.

During her career Dora saw many other necessary changes in mission: children’s homes and zenana work were a response to a particular time and place and not a model that would be replicated today.

Dora’s was a life of great nobility, showing what the Lord can do through women with faith to follow Jesus into forgotten places. Till her last days, Dora prayed daily for the girls who passed through the home. There are to this day many women who owe their lives and their faith to Dora Barkla.

Dora’s story is shared by Barbara Deutschmann, a returned Interserve Partner who also served in India.

Conversations

Date
01 Sep 2017
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2017 TWO)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Other

We find connection as women. Over cups of tea or a meal we can converse for hours. Sharing about our lives our joys and our disappointments.

Beta’s eyes glistened with tears as her face crumpled with disappointment. “He got married”, she told me. Her son had married a girl she disapproved of and Beta had only just heard the news. She didn’t even know where her son was living. We sat together, cradling cups of tea, as she expressed despair over their broken relationship, having lost hope that it could ever be mended. I asked her if I could pray for her and her family and she nodded. I thanked God for this woman whom I admire, asking for reconciliation in her family and that she would know His peace.

Beta said she likes to talk with me because I am a safe space away from her gossiping neighbours. “I often see you praying and reading your holy book”, she said. “I wish my daughter had your spirit.”

--

I met my new friend Iska for lunch at a local noodle restaurant. We were just getting to know each other, so we shared stories about our families and past experiences. We laughed over her funny anecdotes from teaching foreigners the local language. She nodded her head as I explained why I pray to God: to know Him better and become more like Him. Then, with a too bright smile, Iska revealed her heartache of losing a baby at 20 weeks and her nine-year struggle to bear a child. She described the stigma she experiences in her home village as the barren woman. I could feel her grief as she conveyed her longing for a child.

As we made plans to meet again, Iska told me she enjoys chatting with a person like me as it is refreshing to hear my different stories of life and faith.

--

Over coffee and fried cassava chips, Dewi had many a tale to tell about her interesting but unconventional life. She recalled her father’s unfaithfulness and how she was able to whisper, “I forgive you” into his ear before he died. She described with dramatic and heartbreaking detail her broken engagement. She questioned me about cultural norms in the West. Thankfully, I was able to dispel many of her false assumptions about Western norms with the truth that, no, not everyone lives like that.

On the way home, Dewi confided that she appreciates I don’t judge her, unlike her local friends. She struggles to find her place in the world and is searching for meaning in her life. I silently asked God for the words to express the Gospel to her in a way she could understand.

--

Each of my friends has a story to tell. A rich tapestry of experiences, relationships, culture and faith woven together with tales of love and loss. Tales that allow me a glimpse into the longings of their hearts and the brokenness that can lie underneath.

In many ways, I am different to these women. Our cultures, beliefs, identity and opportunities in life do not always easily intersect. But we find connection as women. Over cups of tea or a meal, we can converse for hours. Sharing about our lives, our joys and our disappointments. We laugh and mourn together, both of which can reduce us to tears. But that’s okay. There is understanding in such emotional outpourings.

In our conversations, I learn that there is an art to active listening. There is grace in reserving judgment. There is love in showing concern, acceptance and care. And in each of these friendships there is room for me to reciprocally share about my life. My struggles. My hope. My faith.

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:6

Kathryn has spent two years On Track in South East Asia.

All names have been changed.

Seeing the invisible

Date
01 Sep 2017
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2017 TWO)
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Medical / Health

First impressions can be deceiving. As I started to get to know the women here I began to understand that they are only invisible if we do not take the time to see them.

When I first arrived in the city that I live in, one of the things that struck me was that I did not see many women. As I walked along the main road outside my house, I saw children going to school, some of them carrying their own little plastic chairs for school over their heads; I saw men greeting each other with warm handshakes and long embraces; I saw shopkeepers (men) sitting in their shops waiting for customers; I saw bakers (also men) baking bread in ovens that were set in walls—but hardly any women.

In preparing to come to Central Asia, I had read many books about the country and its culture. Again and again, I read that its women were oppressed, victims of domestic violence and systemic abuse. My first impressions of this country seemed to prove these notions right. Women are hidden behind the walls that surround their homes, and when in public many are “invisible” as they are covered by veils their husbands or fathers force them to wear.

Or are they?

First impressions can be deceiving. As I started to get to know the women here, I began to understand that they are only “invisible” if we do not take the time to see them. I have met women who are juggling full-time jobs and raising a family; women who are furthering their education by studying at university after a full day’s work; still others who are working hard at home raising their children, caring for their families, and making life decisions for their family members such as who their sons can or cannot marry. These women are by no means invisible to their families or communities. It was not until I lived life alongside these women that I was able to see them … their hopes, dreams, joys and sorrows.

Interserve’s approach to ministry through wholistic mission resonates strongly with me. As I learn more about wholistic mission, I am beginning to understand that it’s not just about how we can use our professional skills in ministry, but rather how we can use our whole life for ministry. If that’s the case then, as I grapple with what wholistic mission looks like in my life here, I should not just be asking myself how I can use my professional skills for Kingdom work, but also how I can use my roles as wife, mother and woman to connect with other women.

So I do what only a woman can do in this culture. I spend time in the kitchen with friends who want to learn how to bake cakes and share stories as we eat together. I attend women-only parties to celebrate an engagement or a birth and eat, laugh and dance with them. I sit with a lady who has lost her child and cry with her and pray for God’s comfort to be upon her. I listen to a woman whose husband is sick and has lost his job and pray with her as she worries about her family’s future. I sit around with the girls in my neighbour’s house and in my conversation with them I tell them a gospel story.

In short, I share life with the women around me and, as I do, the veil of invisibility quickly falls away as we connect as people. The women of Central Asia are not invisible but, in a gender-segregated society, it takes a woman to truly see them and then to point them to One who sees them fully.

The author is a psychologist serving long-term in Central Asia.

Incarnational mission

Date
01 Sep 2017
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2017 TWO)
Region
Other
Profession
Other

Recognising the otherwomen who are hidden unrecognised and marginalised in their communitiesis at the heart of women in mission.

In 1881 Elizabeth Bielby, a nurse, Interserve Partner and founder of a small hospital for women in India, was granted an audience with Queen Victoria. She pleaded on behalf of the Maharani of Punna for more medically trained women. The Queen responded by allowing women to begin training as doctors in the UK and more hospitals for women to be opened in India. The liberation, restoration and empowering of women marginalised “overseas”, but also “at home”, had begun a new chapter. Interserve’s early history is representative of the pioneering work of women in mission.

A friend said to me recently that she could see how beginning as an all-women’s mission had shaped Interserve.¹ When the first women went to the Indian subcontinent, they had to work in partnership with, and under, other organisations because of acceptable cultural norms at that time. They pioneered the work of local women as partners in ministry. Local Bible women were an integral part of teaching and reaching out to the community. Community was a way of life because, as single women, they had to find ways of being accepted as part of society. Relationships with the local church were foundational.

Women have always done, and still do, mission as women. Friendship and hospitality that encourage trust, intimacy and community are at the heart of women at work in mission: nurturing relationships, being present, sharing stories of life and family together. This is about mutuality that helps both the missionary and those they are among to grow.

Emptiness, hiddenness and weeping characterise women’s participation. Women in many places are valued differently, and so those working among them live out self-emptying redemptively. Going to places where people feel broken, empty, hurting, unseen and unrecognised, women incarnate Christ who seeks, finds, heals, redeems and celebrates.

In ministry that is comforting and healing, women draw on the Holy Spirit. Mission is about healing the wounds, so many of which are borne by women. Women offer the good news of love, mercy and forgiveness by coming alongside to comfort those in distress. Recognising the other—women who are hidden, unrecognised and marginalised in their communities—is at the heart of women in mission. Seeing and listening are acts of love that include and empower so that the marginalised are given voice and lifted up.

With mind-sets of pragmatic strategy, it can be hard to embrace friendship and hospitality, emptiness, hiddenness and weeping, comfort and healing, and seeing and listening. The story of women’s contribution in mission is perhaps better read through these understandings. We know too little of women’s contribution to the transformation of communities and societies.

Here’s one example. We know few names of the many women who served faithfully in Pakistan at Kinnaird School and Kinnaird College (founded by Interserve), and at the Catholic schools. The Pakistani women activists who fought the injustices and abuses perpetrated under the Hudood Ordinances² had all been educated at Christian institutions. These activists were profoundly influenced by the unnamed women who walked with them through education, and they became advocates for justice in their society.

“As we engage in mission, whether that is through weeping with the broken-hearted, consoling the bereaved, bringing healing and comfort to those who are hurting or whether it is through surprising and unexpected friendships, or through parties and celebrations and feasts, or through hearing silent ones into speech, may we too rediscover the joy of the Gospel as we deepen our love for and friendship with Jesus.”³

Cathy Hine has served as an Interserve Partner for 30 years, working with women in the Muslim world. She now leads When Women Speak…

Learn more at www.whenwomenspeak.net

¹ I am indebted to Cathy Ross, Young Lee Hertig, Moyra Dale and many others in shaping my thinking and understanding.

² Enacted in 1977 to bring Pakistani law in alignment with Islamic sharia law, with profound consequences for the status of women.

³ Ross, Cathy. I have called you friends: Women in Mission (2017).

Trusting God when it matters most

Date
01 May 2017
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2017 ONE)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Other

Following God where he leads is not primarily about courage. Its about a recognition that ultimately it is better richer greater to walk with him than to walk away from him.

When we had been in Cambodia about a year and half, our elder daughter, who was six at the time, got into rollerblades in a big way. She didn’t have her own set but would borrow the pair belonging to the neighbour at every opportunity. We watched without real concern – she and her sister had been riding bicycles up and down our little street since we moved in six months earlier. The neighbour had no safety gear, but we insisted she wear her bike helmet and thought, well, that’s probably fine.

One night at bedtime she complained that her hand was bothering her and showed me a little mark on her palm.

“Is it a mosquito bite?” She only shrugged, so I put some bite cream on it and thought nothing more of it.

It was another three days before she finally came back, after a morning of unexplainable tears and tantrums, and said that her hand was sore and itchy.

“Your mosquito bite?” I asked. She held out her hand. The area around what I had thought was a bite was badly inflamed, and she had a track of infection running along the vein from her wrist and half way up her forearm. It turned out the original wound was from falling backwards off the rollerblades and she had hidden it as it grew more and more septic, thinking we would tell her she was not allowed to skate anymore. I generally try to remain calm in the face of medical issues around my children, but I think that day she saw fear in my eyes.

By the time we got her to the hospital she had a fever of 40C, and the process of cleaning the wound and sorting out antibiotics was unpleasant for everyone. However, within 24 hours the infection had retreated to a localised area around the wound, and in a week it was as though it had never happened.

Well, sort of.

Cambodia can be a place of mystery fevers, stomach bugs and unidentifiable illnesses. It’s also home to dengue fever, malaria, chikungunya, and a lot of other serious nasties. And although illness is unpleasant for us as adults (we’ve each spent a couple of weeks in bed since being here with mosquito-borne viruses), it’s much more worrying when it’s our children who are sick. For me, this rollerblading event triggered a lot of questions:

Was God protecting our family?
What might happen to our children, living in this place?
Could the worst occur, and what would that mean?

It was a friend of mine who helped me identify the questions I was really asking in the night-time hours, when I lay awake thinking through the what-ifs and worst-case scenarios:
Is God really trustworthy?
Is God really good?
And what does that mean anyway?

In one sense, they’re not complicated questions. The Bible says that God is love, that he is good, that he will be with us always. On the other hand, it says some less encouraging things as well. In the book of John, Jesus promised his disciples that in this world they would have trouble. He also said he has overcome the world, but what does that mean? Paul said in Romans that we “glory in our sufferings”. The theology of that is interesting, but the implication that we will have sufferings is clear.

And we need only look around.

Ten Christian workers serving in Afghanistan were murdered by the Taliban in 2010 as they travelled between towns providing medical care. Even in our own Cambodian team, in 2013 a family of six, having finished their formal language training, set out from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap to begin their ministry. Part way there, a bus crossed the centre-line and hit their car. The parents and two of the children were killed. One of the children who survived lost her arm. She and her sister had to return to their home country to be cared for by their grandparents. It shocked everyone. It frightened everyone.

Suffering comes, death comes, and being in the place where God has called you does not make you immune. Are there no guarantees? What do we rest on? We don’t have simple answers, though we have spent a lot of time thinking about the questions. But there is this: our children do not, in the final calculation, belong to us. We care for them and love them deeply, but they belong to God. And while it seems it would rip us apart were anything to happen to them, we know that God loves them even more than we do and, no matter what happens, he is holding onto them. I should note that’s not an idea we always enjoy, but it’s one we recognise.

So what does it mean, to say that we trust God with our kids, but we also know that bad things can happen? Right now, it means we trust that, whatever happens – prosperity or suffering – God will be with us, and we cannot be crushed by it. Don’t get me wrong, I still pray for them to be safe, sometimes with something like desperation. But trusting my children to God means trusting my heart to him also, and trusting in the knowledge that, in the end, he has overcome the world – eternity is bigger than Cambodia, bigger than an infected wound, bigger than malaria. Bigger than death.

When we were planning to come to Cambodia, people said to us, “Oh, you’re so brave”. We always rejected that, because we felt called by God to be here. Following God where he leads is not primarily about courage. It’s about a recognition that, ultimately, it is better, richer, greater to walk with him, than to walk away from him. You don’t have to go to Cambodia to risk your heart following God. You don’t have to be in Cambodia to trust him with it.

For her seventh birthday, injury or no injury, our daughter asked for rollerblades. And we bought them for her, because we want her to live a full life, and fear is a lousy reason for saying no. But we pray.

And we make her wear wrist guards now.

Words and photography by Chris Ellinger.

Chris and Stacie Ellinger live and work in Phnom Penh Cambodia in partnership with Connexions Uniting Church and Interserve Australia. They are using their social work and community development skills to work in local Christian NGOs providing technical assistance and discipleship to their co-workers. To find out more about their work, visit www.interserve.org.au/people/chris-stacie

Home at last

Date
01 May 2017
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2017 ONE)
Region
South Asia
Profession
Education

There are many beautiful stories of change in this place where lives are being impacted and empowered to be a blessing to others. Those who have had so little physically have hearts overflowing with gratitude and giving.

Twelve-year-old Nisha* didn’t have a family … she had been abandoned, abused, moved from one shelter to another. Because of her mild intellectual disability, hearing loss and speech impediment, other homes were unwilling to take her in. And that is when she came to Mukti.

Three years on, Nisha has learned to trust her house mother and special needs teacher and make this her home. She is keen to learn and in this last school year has progressed through three whole academic years.

Nisha has made many friends and enthusiastically participates in home prayer times and as many activities as she can. At children’s activities on Sundays she learns more about her best friend. She even volunteered to do the reading at our whole school community’s morning devotions one day. You see, Nisha loves her Lord and can read the Word for herself. She has a song of praise and gratitude on her lips to her Lord that she was rescued that day three years ago from roaming aimlessly by a temple in the market place and brought to a home where people love her and show her His love. And she is not letting her mild disability stop her from reaching her God-given potential.

The homes at which I have been serving these two and a half years currently house 600 displaced women and children, most of whom have been abandoned, left destitute or disowned by their families. Sadly, there is a social and religious stigma attached to having a family member with a disability or physical deformity, generally caused by fear of curses and the unknown.

One of my team members has been caring for her special needs family of 24 children for 14 years. Mary’s* love for God shines through her loving, gentle and caring manner. She has most of the girls helping each other, with older and more able ones looking out for the younger and less able. Before dinner, as in all of our homes each evening, the family meets together to sing, read and pray – it is beautiful to hear them sing and worship Him from the heart. Their disabilities aren’t going to stop them from singing a joyful song. When people ask me how these children know Him, I say that God speaks to the heart. These children love so much from the heart.

Praisey* came here in need of a home when she was only 11 years old. She has cerebral palsy and had never been to school before. However, her slurred speech and restricted movement did not deter her from completing secondary school, so that now, at 24 years of age, she is in the second year of college. She aims to eventually teach in our new special school and so use her gifts for God’s glory.

While helping the girls in their family by scribing and translating their sponsorship letters, Praisey helped me with the letter for a little blind and autistic girl who always has a song of praise to sing. She said to me, “You should write to her sponsor that Swati* always sings songs for her God only”. That is Praisey’s heart cry – it is for her Lord. She is an encourager, always looking for the good in others.

There are many beautiful stories of change in this place, where lives are being impacted and empowered to be a blessing to others. Those who have had so little physically have hearts overflowing with gratitude and giving. I get to the end of each day so blessed and grateful. There are challenges aplenty but His mercies are new every morning, great is His faithfulness.

Ingrid serves with Mukti Mission in India. She previously worked in the Philippines for five years, helping to establish schools on the rubbish dumps and slums. Ingrid is qualified and experienced in teaching children with learning difficulties and developing vocational skills programs and will lead the development of the Special Needs School.

*Names have been changed.

God is moving

Date
01 May 2017
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2017 ONE)
Region
Other
Profession
Hospitality

I didnt want to be alone anymore. I was so lonely I was ready to befriend anything that moved.

I’ve heard many great tales of Christian heroes that begin with someone experiencing an amazing encounter with God or some deep spiritual revelation or a huge life-changing event …

Well, my story doesn’t.

All these things may have happened somehow along the way, but my story began in a leafy green suburb of comfortable Adelaide, motionless on my couch.

And there it stayed for years.

I was not on the move. In fact, my life had come to a veritable halt as I remained on that couch, planted as firmly as the trees outside my window. While they were watered by the rain, I was watered by my own tears of fear and frustration.

“Why?” I asked God, as I studied the ceiling and waited on yet another panic attack.

But God was moving.

If there was a rock bottom, I’d reached it. When I could no longer stay alone, my gracious sister dragged me along to an English class at the local community centre. There people from many cultures gathered to learn and make friends.

And God was moving.

I didn’t want to be alone anymore. I was so lonely I was ready to befriend anything that moved.

God was moving too.

I began to realize the students needed friends as much as I did, and I started to visit them in their homes. I was always welcome. And I learned a lot as we sat and talked and drank tea and ate homemade bread.

Many of my new friends had stories from staying in the detention centre. I’d heard of other people visiting there, but I was never going into one of those places. Not if I had to be locked up with the inmates and be supervised by guards.

But God was moving in me.

This must be why I somehow agreed to visit an Iranian asylum seeker in that big modern building in Adelaide. When the door had opened and closed behind me, I realised I was in the detention centre that I feared. Not that I had much time to worry about it – I was introduced to an Iranian man who requested prayer and to come to a bible study, so I was busy organising this with my minister. He was the first of many.

I went back again and again. One Iranian man had a vision which he feared greatly, of a man in white, so he spent the next day watching violent movies to force the vision from his mind. Though the man was trying to avoid Jesus, Jesus came again to him the following night. The man spoke secretly to me of what he saw in the vision and I showed him the story of Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch from Acts 8 in an Iranian bible. Immediately the man realized it was Jesus whom he saw and he became a Jesus-follower.

What is amazing is that this story is not unusual. God was moving in these peoples’ lives. We saw many inmates come to the Lord. They came to us too, brought by bus with the guards to our church. Some of them had seen a man in white, others saw a great light, and all I had to do was follow God blindly, and work alongside the wonderful work that God was doing in people’s hearts.

Many of the people we spent time with followed Jesus in baptism, and still today some of them live in my neighbourhood. I try to be wherever God needs me to help my friends. Whether they know my God or not, I pray that they see His love in me, whether I’m helping them with practical things, chatting to them on the phone, or sharing our homes with them like family.

I don’t have much time to lie on my couch like I used to.

At one time I wondered if God had forgotten me but I was wrong. It was while I was on that couch that God was moving, preparing me for working alongside him in this new, exciting ministry that he had planned and I would never had dreamed of.

He’s still moving now. I wonder what will be next?!



This is the story of a CultureConnect worker based in Adelaide, told by a returned Interserve Partner who served in the Arab world.

Nurture and hospitality

Date
01 May 2017
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2017 ONE)
Region
Other
Profession
Hospitality

How on earth could we come alongside people with stories like these and stand with them in appropriate ways Even though we knew something about being foreigners and strangers we were beginners in working with displaced people.

In the 20 or so years we served overseas with Interserve, our family lived in three different countries. Each move involved planning, and adjustment to the new location, language, visa requirements and work roles.

This is nothing compared with what we’ve seen as we’ve worked with refugees in Australia over the past 10 years. As the voluntary coordinators to welcome and assist refugees from Burma to our church in Wollongong, we at first had very little idea what it might involve, but we understood their experiences had been extremely traumatic.

Our church already had a solid history of welcoming people from other nations. What started for us in 2007 as a group of three men from Burma’s Chin state has now grown into about 80 adults and 50 children, mostly from Kayah and Kayin states. Many had spent more than 20 years in refugee camps in Thailand, and many were Christians. They attend English-language services as well as their own-language services.

Take Bu*, who was born in a camp in Thailand and spent 15 years with his family there, waiting for re-location to a third country. No phone, no electricity, very few educational opportunities, and only basic healthcare. And for his parents, no way to do meaningful work.

Or Mami*. She and her 6-year-old daughter were transported out of Burma on a small boat, then by car, and on the way lost money given by poor relatives. Eventually, they were re-united with her husband who was eking out a living in Malaysia while waiting for United Nations permission to move to a final destination. That turned out to be Australia! But the stress still shows on her face.

Refugees in Australia are often struck by the relative peace, safety and order they see here, but some continue to move – they long to join relatives in different Australian cities, move interstate for work, or are forced to move when their rent is increased.

How on earth could we come alongside people with stories like these, and stand with them in appropriate ways? Even though we knew something about being foreigners and strangers, we were beginners in working with displaced people.

From the outset, we realised that it was important to raise awareness and to encourage our congregation members and new arrivals to get to know each other better. Because some NGOs in our area already assist re-settlers in material ways, we focussed on spiritual nurture and hospitality. Three of the easy English Bible studies we set up are still running after more than eight years. We also tried to involve the children and teenagers with our Sunday school and youth groups to keep the second generation engaged.

On the hospitality front, we’ve encouraged the Aussie congregation members to visit re-settlers and invite them to their homes to encourage friendships to develop. A list of tips helps the Aussies interact across cultures.

And what have we learned?

That ‘integration’ is a two-way street and both groups need to work at it, even when they are nervous at first. Much, but not all, of this is based on language issues.

That enlisting a small team is important. Aussie church members have helped in leading Bible studies, hospitality, form-filling, transport, furniture removal, and more.

God has graciously given work to increasing numbers of our friends, and they now have well-established networks of their own. Our greatest joy has been to see our friends grow in their knowledge of the Lord, spouses and other family members re-united after years of separation, and to attend Burmese weddings. Already they are making a very positive contribution to our church fellowship, and to our city.

Andrew and Muriel are CultureConnect team members.
*Names have been changed.

Mountains to beaches

Date
01 May 2017
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2017 ONE)
Region
Other
Profession
Other

Thats how I come to live near this beach. My brother and I are sort of like Australian teens already even though the Tibetan community here holds activities to help us remember what it means to be Tibetan.

Drolma* tells her story to her new friend as they sit on the beach.

My story began in a place very different to here. My family lived on “the roof of the world”. They are extremely religious – even here, my parents are always muttering mantras as they finger their beads, and I’ve had to beg Mum not to walk down the street spinning her prayer wheel because it is so embarrassing. My uncle was a monk,– a really good monk. One problem, though, was that his monastery wasn’t allowed to have monks anymore. As if being an illegal monk wasn’t dangerous enough, one time he stood in his maroon robes on the town square and told everyone who would listen that he hoped that His Holiness could one day come back to lead our people. Of course, my uncle was arrested. It’s good that he didn’t set fire to himself – some monks do, you know, as a public way of showing despair.

My grandfather and dad were questioned at length. The truth is that they were sympathetic to my uncle’s cause, and they knew too much. My grandparents decided that they and my parents should flee.

After careful planning, including getting together as much cash as they could, my parents and grandparents slipped away. They were okay while hidden in the back of a truck that took them towards the border, but when faced with several days of walking at night over snowy mountain passes and hiding deep in the forest during the day, my grandparents turned back. Mum and Dad made it though, despite Mum’s growing belly. Mum says that the night they met their contact near the river bordering Nepal was both the highlight and the low point. They love their homeland, but fear for their own lives as well as hopes for the next generation propelled them on. After handing over a wad of money, they were each harnessed to a wire running across the river. It only took a few minutes to be pulled across the churning water below to freedom and exile both.

They made their way down to Kathmandu then on to North India where they registered at the centre for Tibetan refugees and waited … and waited … and waited. I was born a few months after they arrived, and my brother followed a couple of years later. As we grew older, we went to a school for refugee children where we learnt English. The day our parents heard that we would be given humanitarian visas by Australia they threw a party.

That’s how I come to live near this beach. My brother and I are sort of like Australian teens already, even though the Tibetan community here holds activities to help us remember what it means to be Tibetan. It’s hard for Mum and Dad. Even though they’re adults, they go to English classes every day. There are people who will help them find jobs when their English is good enough.

We’re safe and mostly happy here, but Mum still cries when people talk about our hero monk uncle. We don’t know what happened to him. We did hear that our grandparents made it back safely, but Mum and Dad don’t contact them because they are afraid it will only lead to trouble.

Thanks for listening to my story. I’m sure my parents won’t let me to go to youth group at your church, but it’s kind of you to ask. We’re Buddhist, of course, because we’re Tibetan. The lama says that it doesn’t matter what others believe though, so long as they are good people. Can we still be friends, even though I’m Buddhist and you’re Christian? That’d be awesome.


The author is a CultureConnect team member working with the Tibetan community in Australia.

* Drolma is a fictional character, but her story is based on those of many who have fled their homeland and been welcomed by Australia.

More information about Tibetans in Australia can be found at http://www.startts.org.au/media/Tibetan-Consultations-Report-2016-WEB-2.pdf (accessed 21 February 2017).

When Mum and Dad migrate without you

Date
01 May 2017
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2017 ONE)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Community Development

In Thailand one in five children dont live with their parents due to internal migration. Parents work long hours and live in basic conditions while their children remain in the care of relatives or orphanages. In partnership Interserve Partners are proactively working to keep families together through wholistic support.

Recently I travelled to Isaan in north-eastern Thailand to see for myself the effects of urbanisation. By far the largest province in Thailand, Isaan is also easily the poorest part of this kingdom. Homes outside the major centres are simple and rice farming is still the major source of income for most people.

As we drove, the landscape reminded me of rural Australia. The lush tropical green of central and southern Thailand was left behind. This is a more arid part of the country. It is said that the people of Isaan are built tough because they endure hardship.

In recent times this hardship has seen an increase of men and women leaving the region, seeking work in large urban centres. Traditionally such people have been the blue-collar workforce of Bangkok. Leaving home jam-packed into the back of vans, they are the construction workers, cleaners, truck drivers and cooks who run the city. Men drive taxis and women work as hosts in karaoke bars. They work long hours, live in basic conditions and send money home to support their families while their children remain in the care of relatives or western-run children's homes.1

The scale of this migration is extraordinary. UNICEF recently reported that “about 21 per cent of children or more than three million children in Thailand do not live with either of their parents due to internal migration”.1 In the north-eastern region that I visited, this is more severe. Here, up to one third of children are separated from their mum and dad.1 This is many times more than the scale of internal migration in surrounding countries, and is a significant cause for concern because of the long-term impacts on children’s development and wellbeing.

In about 90% of cases grandparents become the new primary carers of children, but are not always able to provide the care children need. Many local and western individuals and NGOs have tried to help by setting up residential care facilities for children. However, such facilities add to the problem because parents perceive that they will provide better education and life for their children. Many parents don’t know that long-term residential care tends to have negative impact on a young child’s development and can result in a child losing their connection to family and community. In fact, simply being separated from their parents for an extended period puts young children at greater risk of developmental and language delays. This disadvantage continues to impact them into adulthood.2

Our aim is to take a proactive approach to scaling down the use of residential care and assisting children within the context of their families. Programs such as Safe and Informed Migration and Keeping Families Together are working in partnership with local community leaders, the local church, the Thai government and UNHCR. Our work with Keeping Families Together mobilises the local church and community to support families affected by economic migration through holistic development trainings, income generation assistance, educational opportunities, psychosocial support, health care, and spiritual transformation. The local church’s engagement demonstrates the love of God in action and bears witness to an eternal Kingdom where every child matters.


Emmanuel and Marie Clare are Partners working in Thailand with Step Ahead (Keeping Families Together). They have recently completed language study and are now using their skills in education and health to support Thai families alongside the local church.


Footnotes:

1 See “More than 3 million children in Thailand do not live with their parents” (24 June 2014) at www.unicef.org

2 See The Impact of Internal Migration on Early Childhood Well-Being and Development by Mahidol University and UNICEF (April 2016) at www.ipsr.mahidol.ac.th/ipsrbeta/en/BookReport.aspx

What is home

Date
01 May 2017
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2017 ONE)
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Other

Home is a place.Home is people.Home is sacred.

I have been thinking a lot about home: home here, home there …

Home is a place. We moved to a new house in June. It’s not quite home yet but it is becoming so. The boys love to entertain visitors with Cleopatra’s bath (2m x 3m plunge pool that goes with the sauna), and the fairy grotto (a small cave-like room covered with natural rock inside the house which contains the central heating and the toilet). Mark is laying down supplies of jam, pasta sauce and sweet chilli sauce (26 litres of sauce!), purchasing freezers and fixing cupboards. I am dreaming of photo frames, curtains (so the boys can sleep in in the mornings) and shoe racks.

But Ethan still cries over the tree and the trampoline from the backyard in Australia and, when he cries, we all cry.

Home is a place.

“For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” Hebrews 13:14

Home is people. We visited the town where we lived before. And as we drove up the starkly beautiful shore of the lake I knew I was home. The boys’ “Aunty Mila” was with us and, as we arrived, her mother hugged us and took us in for tea. For four days we went from person to person; hugged, laughed over, fed – coffee and chats in the morning with our closest friends, morning tea and lunch with workmates, unexpected midnight rice and meat with friends from the local fellowship. Home with the people we love and who love us.

“Why aren’t we living here?” asked Robbie. A good question that was hard to answer even to the boy who says his favourite thing in life is making new friends. Moving to new people is uncomfortable. And yet, as my new workmates tell me about God, it feels like a fresh breeze coming in my window.

Home is people.

“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” 1 Thessalonians 2:8

Home is sacred. Two nights ago we all had disturbed sleep. The two little ones had bad dreams and crawled into bed with us, making sleep almost impossible for Mark. Robbie had insomnia at 3am and crept into the study to read. I dreamed of being bitten by a snake in the garden.

When I was a child I would crawl into my parent’s bedroom and fall asleep safe. I knew I was safe where they were. Now I am the parent. But, even so, the night can be a dark place in a strange house. Our safe place, our home is with Jesus.

Home is sacred.

“You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:7–8


The author is an Interserve Partner serving in Asia. Names have been changed.

Reaching the scattered

Date
01 May 2017
Publication
Interserve Malaysia / Go Mag Australia (2017 ONE)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Other

Christian mission fields are thus being redefined in the process. Thanks to people movements across the globe many unreached peoples from overseas are now part of the diasporas right at our very doorsteps. Missions has become from everywhere to everywhere

Diaspora missions is fast becoming a buzzword among Christian missions around the world.

While it may sound new to many Christians, “diaspora” is in fact a very old phenomenon since the Old Testament times. This word originates from the Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible, meaning “dispersion or scattering” of the Jews after their captivity in Babylonia in the 5th century BC.

Fast forward to the modern times, the last century has witnessed an unprecedented spike in both international and internal migration largely due to globalization, technological advancement, natural disasters, regional conflicts, civil wars, oppression, and persecution. The effects of the current conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere are even more pronounced, resulting in the human tidal waves of refugees and displaced people flooding across Europe, Africa, Middle East and Asia. As if history is repeating itself, the worst-hit refugee crisis area happens to be the very same area where the ancient Babylonian empire once existed.

Christian mission “fields” are thus being redefined in the process. Missions is no longer confined to going into fields that are abroad or elsewhere to reach the unreached. Thanks to people movements across the globe, many unreached peoples from overseas are now part of the diasporas right at our very doorsteps. Therefore, cross-cultural missions can now be done without going abroad. Missions has become “from everywhere to everywhere!”

Migrants, whether legal or illegal, economic or non-economic, voluntary or involuntary, are mostly made up of expatriate workers (professionals, skilled and unskilled labour), businesspeople, international students, asylum seekers and refugees. Professional expatriate workers, businesspeople, and international students are obviously most welcomed and desired by governments because of their financial contributions to the local economy through their expenditures and student fees. In recent years the number of undocumented migrants (including victims of war and persecution) have also increased, helped by porous borders with neighbouring countries, human trafficking syndicates and corruption.

What does this mean to the Church and the individual Christian? What are the implications? Clearly, it is an issue that cannot be ignored or taken for granted. The mission field is already right here at our very doorsteps!

The Church has a responsibility to love her neighbours as herself and proclaim the Good News in fulfilment of the Missio Dei. We are called to be compassionate and care for the “aliens” who are in our midst, especially the less fortunate. We are also called not to harbour any racial discrimination or religious prejudices that prevent us from demonstrating God’s love to them regardless of their status. Many are refugees, international students and migrant workers who could be struggling with loneliness, homesickness, financial woes, hopelessness, fears, trauma and uncertainties about their future. They probably just need a friend to talk to and someone who cares about them.

We truly want to see them gathered into the Kingdom of God. So we want to challenge you – will you pray for us and partner with us in our mission to share God’s message of love and salvation to them? Will you be Christ’s ambassador to them so that they will meet and encounter Christ through you?

Perhaps you would like to encounter Jesus Christ by personally meeting and serving these people. After all, Jesus himself was once a refugee too! He said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:40).

Philip Chang is the Chair of Interserve Malaysia.

In a temporary place

Date
01 May 2017
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2017 ONE)
Region
South Asia
Profession
Other

Speaking and sharing with some of these asylum seekers we realised the there were common questions we all shared about our lives. We were all in a temporary place wondering about our and our childrens futures.

In mid-2015, we responded to God's call to move to Nepal. With two young boys, we knew it wouldn't be easy; we prepared ourselves as best we could to face the challenges of settling into one of the least developed countries in the world. Little did we know, however, that an even greater challenge awaited us: the challenge of being on the move.

It took several months for us to adapt to our new life in Nepal: new language and culture, new house and community, new school for the kids, new workplace and expectations. Yet, despite shortages in electricity and gas and petrol, we were finding our feet. We were starting to thrive.

Then we got the news: to comply with changing visa requirements, we, with all the expats in our organisation, would have to leave the country. There was no certainty about when we could return, though it was hoped it could be within a few months.

A few months turned into many months, and we found ourselves making makeshift homes in two different countries while we waited.

Of the two places, we spent the most time in Malaysia. There, God provided for us in an extraordinary way, organising everything we needed to set up a temporary base. Yet, we longed to return to Nepal. We wanted to go back to the home we had set up, pursue the language we had worked so hard to acquire and continue the work we were excited about. Longing turned to aching turned to despair. Being in limbo was much harder than we could have anticipated.

It was also in Malaysia that we spent time with a refugee and migrant ministry serving the needs of asylum seekers and migrant workers. Speaking and sharing with some of these asylum seekers, we realised that there were common questions we all shared about our lives. We were all in a temporary place, wondering about our and our children’s futures.

The humbling difference was, however, that we had an irrevocable Australian passport. They had no safety net. There was no guarantee they would be accepted by any country and, therefore, no certainty of safe work or education for their children. Their limbo stretched so much longer and deeper than ours. And many of them did not know the restful arms of the Saviour or the hope of His promises.

Our sense of uncertainty – with its accompanying confusion, frustration and despair – was but a tiny glimpse into their experience. As these communities continued their agonising wait upon an increasingly begrudging world to accept them, we could see they were at great risk of mental health and social problems.

When it finally came time for us to return to Nepal, we left Malaysia still uncertain of our futures. We had been able to obtain only tourist visas, our work roles were unclear, our son would be starting in only a temporary school (his fourth in 18 months) – we had little idea what 2017 would bring. In our confusion and frustration, we continued to turn to the Father, looking to His sovereignty, victory and goodness.

Bidding farewell to our new asylum-seeker friends, we wondered and worried of the even greater uncertainties that awaited them. Could they be re-settled? Where? When? Would those still waiting for their interview with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) be granted refugee status? Could those whose families had been split be reunited?

We are grateful for those we met who are committed to walking with migrants and work hard at supporting them through this trying and lengthy limbo. Our hope for them in this uncertain and changing world is that they would find some security and stability. More so, we hope they will take up that most valuable and precious citizenship – irrevocable – in the kingdom of the unchanging and victorious Father.

Grace and Huy served with Interserve in Nepal and Malaysia.
__
FACT BOX
Refugees in Malaysia

There are no refugee camps in Malaysia. Instead, refugees live in cities and towns across Malaysia in low-cost flats or houses side by side local Malaysian homes. This presents a unique opportunity to come alongside refugees to offer practical, emotional and spiritual support.

Refugees have no access to legal employment, but are allowed to work in the informal sector. They tend to work in jobs that the local population does not wish to take (the 3D jobs: dirty, dangerous and difficult) and are at risk of exploitation.

Refugee children do not have access to formal education.

Refugees are able to access healthcare facilities in Malaysia, but the cost of treatment and refugees' irregular income make healthcare unaffordable to many.

Faith-based organisations play a vital role in caring for the practical, emotional and spiritual needs of refugees and migrants throughout Asia and the Arab world. There is a great need for personnel. Would you like to be involved in Malaysia or other areas? Visit interserve.org.au/serve

For information about refugees in Malaysia, visit www.unhcr.org.my

The God at the end of the line

Date
01 May 2017
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2017 ONE)
Region
West Asia
Profession
Hospitality

We try to treat refugees not as numbers in a system but as people loved by God and travelling a long and difficult road. We create spaces for them to step out of the lines to drink tea to learn new skills to talk. Some share their stories more deeply with whispered prayers in Jesus name.

“Before the war”, Moussa* explains, “I had hope. I was in a good school, I had my family. Now, every day is bad. Every day is the same. We are just waiting for something to happen”.

We are standing in a tiny upper room in the old quarter of the city. Outside, the autumn air is crisp and tinged with the smell of burning coal as locals struggle to heat their homes ahead of the winter. In here, though, it’s mercifully warm. Moussa and I have found a patch of sunlight and we are cradling tiny glasses of tea as he tells me in broken English and local dialect about his old life in Iraq. He had been in high school in Mosul when the war had come – he had wanted to go on to university and study teaching. But as fighting intensified between local security forces and tribal militias, and, later, with the group calling itself “Islamic State”, Moussa’s family knew they had to go. Hidden in the back of a truck, they crossed borders until they arrived in our city in West Asia, hoping they might return in a month or two. That was four years ago.

Moussa is one of literally millions of people on the move out of Central Asia and the Middle East. Fleeing conflict and persecution, they have escaped by any means necessary and they are searching for new places of refuge. But we’ve learned that life as a refugee is as much about waiting at the pit stops as it is about moving along the highway. Our family recently moved to one such pit stop, in a country which hosts one of the largest single populations of refugees on the planet. Here, refugees must quickly learn the art of waiting. They queue for everything – for registration with the United Nations or the local government, for their weekly check-in with local police, for assistance at aid organisations. They sit before blank-faced civil servants and patiently, haltingly, retell their stories over and over as they make their claims for protection under international law. Moussa’s friend shows me a card for his next meeting with the local government ministry for refugee aid. The earliest appointment available was for mid-2019. “No-one cares”, he says. “You feel you are dead, that you aren’t human anymore”.

This life of despair and hope is nothing new to the people of God. They were brought out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 26:5–8), sat by the rivers in foreign lands and wept for what was lost (Psalm 137) and, later, became known as “exiles” and “sojourners” whose true home is not of this world (1 Peter 1:1, Revelation 21:1–4). Migration and movement, waiting and wandering, is one of the ways God is at work in the world. So a question we often ask ourselves is, “What is our Father doing, even in the misery of these waiting lines?”

Since we arrived four months ago, we have seen several of the tiny local churches reaching out to refugees in welcome and compassion. Working together, they make essential food and clothing available to thousands of families each month. The sheer scale of their need can be overwhelming, and there is always more that could be done – on our distribution days, the line of people winds through the neighbourhood’s narrow streets, often in bitter cold. But we try to treat refugees not as numbers in a system but as people, loved by God and travelling a long and difficult road. We create spaces for them to step out of the lines, to drink tea, to learn new skills, to talk. Some share their stories more deeply, with whispered prayers in Jesus’ name.

Back in that upper room, Moussa drops another cube of sugar into his glass of tea with a faraway look. “We’re just waiting”, he says again. “But what for, I don’t know”. With my limited language, I can’t say much in response. But I am happy to wait with people like Moussa, and as in that perpetual waiting, we hope for new and divine beginnings.

Joel* serves in West Asia.

*Names have been changed.

When Women Speak...

Date
02 Nov 2016
Publication
GO UK Jul-Sep // GO Magazine Australia (2016 TWO)
Region
Other
Profession
Theology / Church

Interserve worker Cathy explains why the voices of women are incredibly important in understanding Islam today and introduces abrand new forum for discussion.

Interserve worker Cathy explains why the voices of women are incredibly important in understanding Islam today – and introduces a
brand new forum for discussion.

When Women Speak… is a new network formed to encourage exploration of the place of women’s voices where Christians and Muslims meet. It exists because we believe it is time we heard the voices of Muslim women more clearly.

The network was launched last year with a colloquium in Melbourne, bringing together 28 women scholar practitioners from 16 nations,
including first and second generation followers of Jesus from a Muslim background. Our vision is that women who follow Islam are not veiled from the good news of Jesus Messiah, and that the message is communicated effectively to them.

This network is important because in Muslim culture women have a significant role in preserving and passing on faith to the next generation, yet approaches to mission are often gender-blind. Christian women scholars and practitioners have a unique ability to speak into the gap but they are surprisingly underrepresented in the development of mission strategies and missiologies, in publishing and teaching.

Space for learning
That’s why When Women Speak… network’s activities will include networking, academic and ministry research, publishing, mentoring, training and resource development.

One of these, the ‘Women’s I-view’ course, is presently bringing women practitioners together from Australia and Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Muscat, Egypt and Tunisia. The women, from Interserve and CMS Australia, are exploring topics through readings,
conversations with Muslim friends, and shared learning in a virtual classroom. One of the comments has been, ‘Now I have something
to talk to my friends about apart from babies, clothes and cooking!’

The When Women Speak… blog (whenwomenspeak.net/blog) is a fortnightly posting that explores a woman’s experience of Islam and the implications for the gospel. It provides a space for women to share their
learning, and so help shape the way we engage with our Muslim neighbours.

And the Vivienne Stacey Scholarship was launched as part of the network. Following Vivienne’s vision, the scholarship is committed to
providing resources and mentoring for women from countries where Islam is the major religion so that they can be equipped for ministry among their own people.

Collaboration at the heart
It’s all about collaboration. Collaborative research will explore how women who follow Jesus from Islam form community and are included in the family. Collaborative resource development is bringing together a group of women from Muslim backgrounds to explore discipleship needs and develop those resources. Collaborative training will bring women from different backgrounds together to share learning and make that learning available to the next generation. Mentoring is about investing in women so that women who live under Islam receive the message in ways that communicate the reality of God and his goodness.

When Women Speak… is the generating centre for practical acts of loving our Muslim friends. It will enable us to explore innovation in ministry to women living under Islam. There is vision for a conference that brings together Christian and Muslim women scholars to address issues of violence and women. Another part of the vision is for a major research project that brings Christian and Muslim women together to explore important social values that are shaping their lives.

Creating positive change
Muslim women are calling for change, and they are rewriting the discourse of Islam. Women of the mosque and piety movements within Islam want to live a life of faith, and gather to explore what faith looks like in their everyday lives. At the other end, radical women are calling for a fresh interpretation of the Qur’an that is shaped by the realities of our world. Women activists are pressing for change to address social issues that control and harm women’s lives, and Muslim women academics are addressing areas of challenge in faith, society and politics. Each of these is an opportunity for the gospel to engage with these changing discourses.

When Women Speak… is an innovative response to the opportunities in ministry with Muslim women today. Recognising that God is at work drawing women to himself, it challenges the contextual stereotyping of Muslim communities that says if we reach the men, we will reach the community. It says women are the keepers of tradition and among the greatest innovators in Islam today. It enables women who are passionate with love for their Muslim neighbour to explore ministry in a collaborative network.

Find out more about When Women Speak..., read the blog and discover resources at whenwomenspeak.net

Why faith and action

Date
02 Nov 2016
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2016 TWO)
Region
Other
Profession
Theology / Church

Without faith it is impossible to please the Lord (Hebrews 11:6). It is tempting to quote this verse alone. But the passage it comes from lists what the great characters of the Bible did with their faith. Faith and action werent just passing acquaintances but their lifelong companions.

Without faith, it is impossible to please the Lord (Hebrews 11:6). It is tempting to quote this verse alone. But the passage it comes from lists what the great characters of the Bible did with their faith. Faith and action weren’t just passing acquaintances, but their lifelong companions.

Faith compels action
Central to the Christian message is a personal belief in the claims of Jesus Christ. ButChristianity’s individualised faith also hides a trap within – it can disconnect us from the actions that should demonstrate it. Comforted by our own salvation, satisfied by token expressions of faith, and blessed by our relative wealth, putting our faith into action can be ignored or at least minimised. But every aspect of the gospel actually screams: Live it! Act on it! The Apostle Paul’s motivation is that Christ’s love compels him to no longer to live for himself but for Him who died for us all (2 Cor 5:14-15). The motivation is not a belligerent Biblical command but a heartfelt compulsion to share God’s love with the world. Our faith in the transforming power of the gospel compels us beyond belief into action.

Faith perfects action
Anyone can love and serve the needs of others. It’s part of what it means to be human. What makes the difference for us is our faith. Not only does our faith provide the motivation for action, it also informs and perfects how we do it. As Christians, we represent Christ in our service for others. Jesus is the one we look to, as Saviour and as exemplar. His life gives us a template for action, specifying our goals and testing our
motives. Running around trying to prove our faith to God or others only leads to frustration or failure. Instead, we measure our actions against the tenets and experience of our faith as exemplified by the life of Jesus.

Action inspires faith
Seeing God at work in our often inadequate attempts to serve is a great inspiration to our faith. Stepping out in faith, however tentatively, unleashes the opportunity of seeing God at work. Faith is no more than a theory in our lives before we do anything with it. Real faith puts us at risk. Real action is the only way to develop our faith.

We have much to learn from Christians in Asia and the Arab world whose faith in action can put their lives in danger. Sharing their journeys of faith stretches ours, giving us the privilege of learning from each other and together walking with Jesus amongst the poor and marginalised.

So, why not?
So what stops us from putting our faith into action? Is it lack of conviction that the gospel is really transformational? Sure, Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on caring for others. Is it fear that our finances or safety will be threatened? Yes, they will be. Does social or family pressure to preserve certainty play a part? Of course. Faith by definition is a belief in the unknown, and that can be scary. Is it a lack of confidence in our abilities? Living and serving in a cross-cultural context is known to challenge our capacity, resilience and skills. So when all of these fears threaten to paralyse my action I look two ways. First, I look at the world; particularly those regions where unspeakable pain and suffering exist not just for a moment but as a way of life with no means
escape. I’ve lived there and am forever changed by these wonderful people. Then I look through the eyes of Jesus and imagine his response to their suffering as His call to me. I need to do something about God so loving the world. Following in the footsteps of Jesus is putting faith into action.

By Peter Smith, Returned Partner, Church & Community Engagement Director

The best place to be

Date
02 Nov 2016
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2016 TWO)
Region
East Asia
Profession
Theology / Church

Working alongside with the national church is not to show and tell what it means to follow Jesus but to learn discern and participate in what God has already been doing amongst the local people. It is not just to say Here I am use me but to say Thank you God for using these people to teach me about humility trust and perseverance thank you for giving me the privilege to witness the mission movement amongst them in a time such as this.

Working alongside with the national church is not to ‘show and tell’ what it means to follow Jesus, but to learn, discern and participate in what God has already been doing amongst the local people. It is not just to say, “Here I am, use me,” but to say, “Thank you God, for using these people to teach me about humility, trust and perseverance; thank you for giving me the privilege to witness the mission movement amongst them in a time such as this.”

Ministering from the prosperous coast to the devastated earthquake region, from the cold mountains to the arid desert, from the rural villages to the urban apartments, I’ve had many unforgettable experiences in Asia. Here is a glimpse:

Can you imagine being woken up by the orchestral sounds of birds, indigenous music and singing, and fervent prayers at 5am every morning? I lay on a hard wooden bed in a simple hut in rural Asia and was deeply touched by the presence of God in this special setting. I knew that this was where God had placed me. This is close to heaven. I forgot about the high temperature, bites of fleas and mosquitoes, regular power failure, lack of water and the unbearably filthy toilet. All I knew was that I was deeply touched and spiritually enriched. The indigenous songs, sung right from their hearts without any instruments, echoed again and again in my ears.

In the eyes of the world, they are lowly, uneducated and poor. Yet, they
and servants of the Most High who demonstrate an amazing godly lifestyle. There is a deep sense of spiritual connection between us. My heart joins with God’s and there is an overflowing love for this simple, humble and thirsty people.

Their purity, boldness and sacrifice for the sake of the gospel exemplify what is described in Acts 4:13: “they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Some of them have served the Lord for over thirty years, starting to preach with only one chapter of the Bible at hand (which was shared by the entire church back then). They travelled and preached the gospel by foot or bicycle throughout the years until revival came to the region. They fed the beggars, healed the blind, and drove out demons in Jesus’ name.

My colleagues and I came to provide intensive training. Who are we to serve these treasured people? Yet, they called us ‘teachers’, they served us with the best of their food and they saved the best place for us to stay and use. They even took our clothes to wash so that we could focus on teaching. They kept saying, “Teacher, thank you for your hard work, we feel so unworthy … yet God loves us so much and sent you.”

The beauty of the picture is that God dwells and manifests himself when we are humble to each other and serve together. It is humility and love
in action that conquers the enemy and changes our world. I am honoured to witness what God is doing here in Asia. When we are in the place where God puts us, it is the best place to be.

Jewel* provides pastors and leaders training in Asia.

*Names have been changed.

People of peace

Date
02 Nov 2016
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2016 TWO)
Region
Other
Profession
Theology / Church

For more than 30 years God has given me a consuming passion for discipling people from a Muslim background. In this process I havealways looked for key people with great spiritual potential. In reflecting on the time I shared with these people I have learned a lot about how to minister more effectively with them.

For more than 30 years God has given me a consuming passion for discipling people from a Muslim background. In this process I have
always looked for key people with great spiritual potential. These could be referred to as the good seed in the good soil (Mark 4:20; Luke
8:15) that multiplies up to a hundredfold. A related concept is the “person of peace” (Luke 9:4–5, 10:5–6) who is strategic in the
spread of the gospel to others.

There is an Afghan man I’ve known now for about 11 years, and who I consider to be my best friend. We often meet for prayer and to share the scriptures and have some fun times together. He loves to share his faith but has suffered a lot of rejection from his relatives because of his allegiance to Jesus. He has a real gift for explaining the scriptures and all the believers greatly appreciate him. He is a person of peace.

As I think back over my years in ministry, I can identify three other people who I would call people of peace. Like my Afghan friend, they have a common strength in their faith and are making a wonderful impact among people from their ethnic backgrounds. In reflecting on the
time I shared with these people, I have learned a lot about how to minister more effectively with them.

During the 14 years I ministered in the Philippines I met a Filipino Muslim man who lived about one metre from my front door in a depressed neighbourhood in Manila. Over a period of 18 months he became a follower of Jesus. He was poor but much respected by his family and friends; a generous, unselfish man who had exceptional people skills. Together we shared the word of God with several of the people close to him using chronological Bible studies. I was amazed at the way he shared when he led the studies. His fluency of language and cultural expression of his faith in the scriptures was amazing. In the years to come he suffered for his faith but was mightily used of God. As I look back on that time I’m thankful for our ministry together but realise key mistakes I made. I dominated the biblical sharing and teaching far
too much. I should have focused much more on mentoring and enabling him to reach his own people.

There is another Afghan man I met in early 2003 in Melbourne. He and his family were new believers when they transferred to a location near where I lived. We quickly started reaching out to his friends and relatives with the gospel. Several of them came to faith and were baptised. His gifting was in sharing his faith and he was a natural evangelist. However, since they were all new believers, I felt I needed to take the lead in the ministry.

The third man is an Iranian who came to our country and joined a Bible study I was leading. It quickly became clear that he wanted to be the
pastor and lead the group. He invited a number of Iranians to our study and really helped the group to grow. My fear was that he wasn’t mature enough in the faith to effectively lead the group, and I was also conscious of avoiding any power struggle. And so I held him back instead of more effectively nurturing his leadership skills.

A key characteristic of people of peace is their deep value of personal relationships. Personally praying and sharing God’s word with them
is vital. My key mistake was controlling the Bible teaching and sharing when I should have stepped back and taken a mentoring role. By
God’s grace and with the help of others who share this ministry, I continue to learn and grow! I hope these insights may be valuable for others engaged in outreach to our beloved Muslim people.

Robert* is a CultureConnect Team Member who is helping churches in Melbourne to reach out cross-culturally.

*Names have been changed.

The gentle healer

Date
02 Nov 2016
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2016 TWO)
Region
East Asia
Profession
Education

We met Joshua 10 years ago when we first came to East Asia as Interserve Partners. He was a humble gentle medical doctor and qualified counselor who worked in our counselling company where we initially gave training and supervision.

We met Joshua* 10 years ago when we first came to East Asia as Interserve Partners. He was a humble, gentle medical doctor and qualified counselor, who worked in our counselling company where we initially gave training and supervision. Joshua had always been highly
motivated to support people in dire need; his previous work was with AIDS victims. When we shared with him the wholistic Bible-based
counseling program that we use, he was very receptive to this approach to understanding and working with people.

Joshua has identified issues that are critical for promoting healthy individuals and communities in his country: issues such as grief, anxiety,
keys to healthy marriage, raising children, and domestic violence. His burden for the brokenness of so many local people, together with his robust faith and God’s love, led him to open his own counseling initiative and to plant a church. Edward continued for some years to supervise him. Joshua’s vision is to enable individuals, within community, to find healing and wholeness in Christ, and train those who desire to assist people on this journey. His humility, servant heart, deep faith, resourcefulness, teachability and his capacity to help others grow
leave a deep impression.

Opportunities for Joshua to train and influence others are expanding. Recently Joshua was asked to teach 480 school principals and deputies how to care for their students (just be kind!) rather than using fear as motivation for learning. He also teaches key government and women’s agency leaders in a prominent Muslim town. In an exciting development this year, the local radio station invited him to share on whatever topic he wished in prime time. Joshua now reaches more than 80,000 listeners. And while he shares on air, his church prays!

In the midst of all this, Joshua maintains a specific focus on training his own group of 12 counselors each year and has used our Bible-based
counseling program for 10 years now to care for people wholistically. His counselling trainees teach regular spots at a significant seminary that trains minority people, 700 km away. He is raising up others to lead home groups in his church by mentoring leaders and preachers. That initial church plant now has two daughter churches!

Joshua is truly a humble man of God with wisdom beyond his years, yet with humility and clarity of thought. His unusual passion for the rural poor and for training minority people, whom the nation’s church often overlooks, is outstanding. Joshua was delighted to share his story with you and asks for your prayers.

We are grateful for God’s goodness and how He meets us as we take small obedient steps into the unknown. We are especially thankful
for Joshua: his life, faith and passion for leading others into healing and wholeness. And we are thankful for how God has woven our lives
together in such a beautiful way over the past 10 years.

Edward and Inga* are counseling trainers in East Asia.
*Names have been changed.

--

Edward* is a GP and Inga* is a professional counselor. They seek to empower local believers to bring healing to broken hearts.

As a result of rapid social change, the heart needs in their country are massive. The national church is growing fast, but many believers carry deep inner wounds and the divorce rate is high. Wise pastors increasingly equest counseling training, wanting future church leaders to be more effectively equipped.

Having lived and worked in Asia for more than 10 years, Edward and Inga train local Christian counselors and church leaders. They use a certified framework that Asian Christians have found to be biblically robust, theologically and psychologically integrative, culturally sensitive, systematic and teachable. Students personally receive emotional and
psychological healing and they are equipped and empowered to bring healing to others.

Four denominations one church

Date
02 Nov 2016
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2016 TWO)
Region
Arab World
Profession
Theology / Church

I have been privileged to serve the national church in the Middle East and to see God at work. Under the local leadership of the Anglican Methodist Orthodox and Presbyterian churches I helped pastors and directors of church-run non-government organisations (NGOs) inparticular through administration for community development projects.

I have been privileged to serve the national church in the Middle East and to see God at work. Under the local leadership of the Anglican, Methodist, Orthodox and Presbyterian churches, I helped pastors and directors of church-run non-government organisations (NGOs), in
particular through administration for community development projects.

I enjoyed working with these denominations and hold them in high regard. Serving God is considered a real honour and privilege and they do it with zeal.

--

Little Akram was brought to the Anglican-supported deaf school at nine years of age. He had absolutely no idea how to communicate. When his parents left him at the city boarding school in less than a week, instead of gradually settling him in, Akram was beside himself. He felt abandoned, left with strangers who were making funny signs he could not understand. He expressed his bewilderment through sobs and tantrums that lasted for hours. He was so desperate, they even had to lock the front door to stop him dashing outside onto the busy street.

The director and staff put their Christian faith into action and showed kindness to Akram who slowly began to respond. Although Akram was initially placed in a class with four-year-old children learning sign language from scratch, the teacher soon saw he was very bright. He even started to help his fellow classmates. After extra lessons during the
summer break, he moved into a class with children his own age the following year.

--

One Methodist pastor ministered in a very poor village of about 1500 inhabitants, where illiteracy was estimated at 75%. He saw the need to hold literacy classes and after-school classes to help the children grasp literacy and numeracy so they would not drop out of school. The NGO also provided poor families with school bags with essential items.

It was a joy to see how the children had grasped reading, writing and arithmetic skills. I was struck by the testimony of one teacher who admitted that initially the students were obnoxious, and after struggling for some time she was ready to quit. She prayed with the pastor about the situation. God responded by first giving her a loving heart for the
children then an amazing turn-around in the children’s attitudes followed.

--

The NGO supported many village projects and met with Orthodox priests who were working towards bettering the state of their village communities. One successful program provided small loans to villagers for projects that generated income: loans to purchase goats, sheep, sewing machines, or necessary stock for grocery stores, mobile accessory shops, motorcycle repairs and restaurants. The loans transformed the lives of families – widows could make a living using their sewing machines and men could work locally instead of in the cities, thus keeping their families together.

--

I attended a large Presbyterian church in the capital city. During the upheaval of the Arab Spring, the church found itself a possible easy target as it was situated just behind a now-famous city square. Instead
of closing the church building to the public for protection, the church opened their gates, set up a makeshift hospital and ministered to the wounded. The church also allowed Muslims to use their water so they could perform their ablutions before their prayers, as the nearby mosque was unable to cater to the large numbers. This was a friendly gesture that became a great witness to the people. Many Muslims spoke of the church in a positive way.

--

Thank you, Interserve, for allowing me to assist Arab Christians in serving their communities and see these people living out their faith
through active service.

Written by an Interserve Partner recently returned from the Arab world.

The Bible changes the church

Date
02 Nov 2016
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2016 TWO)
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Theology / Church

The Bible changes the church and God uses the church to transform the world.

Imagine a national church that began just over 20 years ago after years of domination by a regime that forbade any form of religious belief and practice. Now many people have welcomed the good news that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead. Their lives have been
changed, and the church has grown.

Can you imagine what this church is like? Enthusiastic new believers share their faith, while still coming to grips with what it means to follow Jesus. Leaders with little or no biblical and theological training often find it difficult to recognise false teaching. There are few useful books to help leaders or people understand the Bible, and no models of preaching from a Bible passage to help people grow as Christians.

A major need is for the church to grow in depth. Local leaders are working with Interserve Partners to help raise the standard of biblical
teaching and preaching. They aim to equip believers with God’s word to
Jesus and to fulfil God’s mission in the world.

A Bible college, operating with government approval, exists from month to month with enough to pay a small allowance to the five local staff. Many foreign teachers were involved at the beginning, but the need now is to equip local teachers by providing opportunities for study and teaching. After working together with a Partner teaching a subject, the local teacher then teaches independently. When Valentina* taught an extension class recently, students were amazed at how much they learned from her through studying the book of Ezekiel and how much they enjoyed her interesting teaching method.

Because of the threat of extremism in this part of the world, the government requires all religious leaders to have some qualification. Consequently, many church leaders from all over the country are now coming to evening or extension classes. They say, “I’ve learned so much here!” … “I’m already teaching what I’ve learned here this week!” … “I never appreciated how good and loving God’s law is” … “I have
a completely different understanding of the Old Testament now” … “When is the next session?”

Providing good literature is also a key to growth in maturity. We have been upgrading the library with suitable books and computer software,
which has streamlined the librarian’s work. Tom Wright’s 13 New Testament for Everyone books are also in the process of translation
and publication in the majority language. One enthusiastic reader
others saying, “This is an historical moment! The first Bible commentaries in our language!” A small team of people who have seen the value in preaching clearly, faithfully and relevantly from a Bible text is encouraging and resourcing small preaching clubs where people learn and practise together. Now others are asking for this training. One participant remarked that all you have to do is study the text carefully, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and present its teaching in a clear,
relevant and interesting way. She encouraged her pastor husband to attend a preaching club too. Another pastor who used to agonise over
what the Lord wanted her to say has now been liberated by realising that God actually speaks through His word when it is faithfully preached.

These are some of the ways local leaders are working with Interserve Partners in a very young national church. It is slow, patient work, with few immediately evident results, but we know that faithful and effective teaching and preaching of God’s word equips His people for mission. The Bible changes the church, and God uses the church to transform the world, in His time and for His glory.

Gwen* is a Partner who has been working alongside the church in Central Asia for the past 12 years.

*Names have been changed.

Bijoy Koshy visits Australia

Date
02 Nov 2016
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2016 TWO)
Region
Other
Profession
Other

The global missions paradigm is changing

The global missions paradigm is changing!

This was the message that Interserve’s new International Director, Dr Bijoy Koshy, shared during a whistle-stop tour of Australia in September. He visited our staff and spoke at Bible colleges, churches and special
events in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. Bijoy shared his vision for strengthening Interserve’s international and
interdenominational heritage by improving our partnerships, sharing our resources and increasing our flexibility in response to the great opportunities that we have as a global community of ordinary Christians seeking to serve Christ. Interserve is increasing its partnerships with mission sending agencies and churches in the global South and has
also launched initiatives to grow our ministries amongst women and refugees. Bijoy’s passion is to see all God’s people work together as a
global community to serve Him.

Taking a back seat

Date
02 Nov 2016
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2016 TWO)
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Community Development

Putting aside our strong desire for personal connection and involvement frees us to step back from front-line tasks confident that local believers are quietly going about Kingdom business even through we dont - and shouldnt - know what is going on.

Stumbling out of the train in pitch darkness, I’m bundled unceremoniously into a rickshaw. “Don’t show your face. Don’t speak. Keep your head down.” My companions and our luggage on board, the rickshaw jolts off through the night. Arriving at our destination, I’m rushed inside. Three days later, still inside, I have full-on cabin fever. Frequent requests for a walk are politely declined: “It’s not safe.”

Eventually I protest: “Why is it unsafe? What’s so dangerous?” The answer follows a long pause: “To be honest, it’s not your safety that
worries us. Our concern is for ourselves and our work. People here know we are Christian. They tolerate us as long as we are thoroughly Indian Christians. This was a colonised country. In some ways it still is. Please understand, it would not go well for us if people saw you here... You are our guest, if you insist on walking we won’t stop you.”

Fast forward and cross the map to another country, never successfully colonised, that has endured decades of military occupation and the cultural, economic and political domination that accompanies it. The world leaders who initiated the international intervention self-identified as Christian. One described the country as a “Godforsaken hell-hole of a place.” All proclaimed a salvific gospel (liberation for women; education, prosperity and democracy for all) interspersed with oracles of retribution and pre-emptive strike.

In this country, local Christians are not tolerated and never have been. Now, after decades of occupation, associating with foreigners puts local people of all persuasions under suspicion and exposes their communities to danger. Experience shows that well-intended attempts
to contact local believers and work alongside the local church often alienate the church from its community and are as likely to prevent
transformation as to promote it.

Anthropologist James C Scott explains that we cannot begin to gauge the depth of a people’s anger until we understand the cultural shape
of their humiliation.1 Only then will we begin to realise that our sincere attempts to serve with love and compassion risk stripping those we
would serve of their last vestiges of dignity and pride. Only then will we begin to sense how difficult it is for good news to be heard when spoken by those associated with forces of domination and oppression.

Vinoth Ramendchandra warns us not to assume that nothing is happening unless we or our team engage in all dimensions of integral mission.2 The challenge is not to balance our activities (words, mercy, social action) but to refuse to draw unbiblical distinctions between different aspects of mission. It is God’s mission, not ours! We are not the only people involved. Anyone and anything that serves God’s purposes
contributes. Putting aside our strong desire for personal connection and
us to step back from front-line tasks confident that local folk are quietly going about Kingdom business even though we don’t – and shouldn’t!
– know what is going on, where and how.

So what roles are appropriate for Interserve Partners in contexts like these?

1. We may counter the violent ‘Christianity’ visited upon subjugated nations by living as locally visible foreign Christian communities that refuse to serve worldly power, renounce violence and coercion, and respect all people.

2. We may create a somewhat safer space for local believers by working alongside but not with the local church, praying for them without associating with or otherwise drawing attention to them.

3. We may celebrate the many things Muslims and Christians share (our fundamental conviction that God is good, just, merciful and compassionate; our confidence that God created the world and loves all people; our recognition that all have sinned and need salvation) rather than reinforcing walls of distrust and suspicion.

4. We can partner with and work alongside local people of faith and action from the majority religion.

Authentic partnership becomes possible when we invite other-faith friends and colleagues to teach us about their faith experiences rather
than assuming that we know what their faith entails. Such partnerships
Christendom mindsets. Many questions arise.

Missiological certainties fade in the light of individual stories and actual experience. When expatriates working with our agency spent a week together, we shared stories: stories of disappointment and failure, stories of bewilderment and confusion, and stories of discovery and joy. Some of us confessed to being humbled by the courage, dignity and
wisdom of local neighbours and colleagues. Others were sceptical. Some recalled conversations through which they glimpsed a Muslim brother or sister’s intimate relationship with God. Others doubted this was even possible. Some shared their admiration for Muslim colleagues, people of faith and action, who lived out their vocations to bring healing,
alleviate poverty and seek justice, sometimes at great personal cost. Others questioned how people who did not themselves know Jesus could possibly facilitate transformation. Personally, I’m amazed at how God’s Spirit works through cross-faith partnerships to transform communities and individual lives – including our own.

Judith* has lived and worked in the hard places since 1992.

*Names have been changed.

1 Scott, J. C. (1990). Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. New Haven: Yale University Press.

2 Ramenchandra, V. (2006). What Is Integral Mission? In: Micah Network Triennial Consultation on Integral Mission and Violent Conflict. [online] Thailand: Micah Network. Available at: www.micahnetwork.org

More than the sum of our parts

Date
02 Nov 2016
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2016 TWO)
Region
Arab World
Profession
Business

This year I celebrated the tenth anniversary of the rather dubious distinction of being blacklisted (refused entry as a risk to nationalsecurity) by the country where my family and I had served as part of the Interserve fellowship for nearly a decade.

This year I celebrated the tenth anniversary of the rather dubious distinction of being blacklisted (refused entry as a ”risk to national
security”) by the country where my family and I had served as part of the Interserve fellowship for nearly a decade.

One of our core commitments as a fellowship is to work alongside national believers, equipping and empowering them to be light and salt
in their community. Among other things, this ensures that the task can continue long after we have left. I thought it appropriate on this tenth
anniversary to review how well that is happening in the community we were a part of.

Nearly 20 years ago, my wife and I, along with our 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son, moved to an impoverished third-world city. Not
unlike many Interserve Partners, I thought I was well equipped with professional expertise (a 4-year agricultural science degree, 3 years of
doctoral studies and 4 years of postdoctoral research). But 10 months later I found myself sitting in the dirt of an inner-city garbage dump (also a primitive industrial area and home to thousands of people), selecting some crude pottery. I had begun to work with a Dutch entrepreneur (let’s call him Pieter) who thought he could build a business and ministry in the midst of such squalor. My part was to be the world’s most highly qualified pot inspector!

So began a most unexpected decade-long adventure. Pottery became a path to friendships with people in communities across that country whose faith and worldview were utterly unlike mine. In the process, we exported hundreds of containers of pottery, brought substantial income into some of the poorest communities, and shared about the wonderful hope we have in Jesus with many of those people. We had the opportunity to demonstrate by our daily life the goodness and mercy of our wonderful Lord and Saviour.

We also often got it wrong, and the people we worked among were often liberal with the truth. Indeed, like any genuine friendship, we all
needed to give and receive forgiveness quite regularly. But, like many friendships that endure hardship (even self-inflicted hardship), those
friendships became all the more precious as those moments of grace, given and received, somehow welded us together.

Perhaps no-one had to do more forgiving than the group of young Christian men who we employed on a daily basis to help us with the
work and who participated with us in the ministry. This was no charity: long days, often travelling for hours on dangerous roads, working out in
the open, hard physical work under a hot sun – but always alongside the people who made the pottery. Over the years, these young Christian
men grew with the business and took over much of the day-to-day operations. They shared fully in our ministry but also took initiatives, establishing their own business and even starting their own ministry.

After nearly a decade of living and working intensely with these young men, Pieter and I were suddenly no longer permitted to re-enter that country. Overnight, something that had filled our lives so completely was gone. It’s now 10 years since we were unable to return and I have
been so encouraged by the way those young men have continued to build on our rather shaky foundations. So I wanted to tell you about each of them – let’s call them David, Michael, Stephen and Josh.

When we left, David was already our Operations Manager and Pieter and I decided that hewas the person to take over the business. He
bought the business from us and we continued to provide working capital (on which we charged interest). The business has continued
to function and provide a basis for David’s day-to-day engagement with those majority-faith communities across the country. David continues to employ both Christian and majority-faith people and last year was the best year for sales turnover in 10 years. He has had to contend with the impact of the Arab Spring chaos and the global financial crisis before that. Yet this business has survived and continues to generate significant work for impoverished communities.

David and Stephen together decided to also respond to the situation of women in that community by starting small micro-finance projects. All of this may not seem remarkable to you, but the subtext is that this is a society where there is an invisible but very strong separation between the majority and minority (Christian) faith communities. The Christian
community sees the majority as their persecuting oppressors. So the idea that Christians might consider the vulnerable and needy among the
majority faith worthy of care and concern is a revolutionary mindset.

Michael has also not been still in the 10 years we have been away. He and his wife (who has specialist skills in the care of children with disabilities) started a centre for children with disabilities in the village where our business was based. In this culture, as in many countries,
to have a child with a disability is a matter of significant personal shame; such children are frequently hidden in homes, neglected, living without dignity or opportunity. Michael and his wife currently have over 100
children at the centre and they have trained local women from the village (many of them mothers of the children) to provide the children with high-quality care and education. Last year, a 6-year-old girl, the daughter of a local religious leader, was brought to them because she had never spoken. One day, after six months with them, she began speaking whole sentences. As a father I can only imagine the impact this had on that girl’s family. This is a profound witness of what it means to follow Christ. I don’t know if this was a miracle or simply the result of placing the child in a stimulating environment, but just the fact that a Christian would choose to care for the child of a religious leader speaks volumes to that community about the Jesus we serve.

Stephen was for me always a bit of surprise. He never really seemed to like working with us (it might have been something to do with the fact that every day was a bit like boot camp!). He was often late for work and not very reliable in participating in the ministry we were doing. Yet, after we left, he turned himself to sharing his faith full-time with people from the majority community. Not only did he get involved in this work himself (which in that region is a dangerous thing to do), but he also trained
others and equipped them with skills to run their own businesses (as he did) so that they could support themselves in their ministry. Stephen
also travelled to adjoining countries to share his faith and to encourage and equip Christians there to do the same.

Ironically, perhaps the most gifted businessman of the group was Josh. When Josh started working with us, he had a full-time job with the
government. These jobs paid a pittance but were highly valued for the security and benefits they afforded. I remember asking Josh how, as a Christian, he felt about being paid to work full-time but only doing two hours work a day (the rest of the time was spent reading the paper and
drinking tea). He said, “Well, if I did more, then there wouldn’t be enough work for everyone else!” Despite coming from this socialist utopia (!), Josh quickly grasped the capitalist principles of commerce. He built his own business while we were there, first sourcing then producing key inputs for our business. Even before we left he had established a substantial factory employing many people. Today Josh is a significant trader in that area and the profits from his work go, in part, to support
the ministries which others are involved in.

The six of us met up last year. It was lovely to be together again, to catch up on each other’s news and share the challenges we face. These
men clearly saw their work and ministry not as an end in itself but as a faith response to Jesus’ work in their lives. Pieter and I felt very privileged to have had a part in their stories.

Of the four billion people living in Asia and the Arab world, more than half do not know a single Christian. In the last 20 years, Interserve
Australia has sent just over 200 Partners who together have clocked up
years. If we were to single-handedly befriend, share the gospel with and disciple all those who had never met a Christian, we’d have had 25 seconds for each one! So we came up with a bright idea – or recognised it as such in retrospect, which is how most good mission is done! This is it: we disciple some people and they disciple people and together we seek to make Jesus known. We empower the local church so that they are equipped and motivated to bring the goodness of Christ to every
community.

If there is a message in my story, it is that if we – a relatively small group of Christians in Australia – want to share the gospel with more than 2
billion people in Asia and the Arab world who have never even met a Christian, then doing it in partnership with local believers is the way to go!

Scott* and his family have served in Business as Mission ministries in the Arab world and Asia.

*Names have been changed.

A bus ride to a world away

Date
02 Nov 2016
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2016 TWO)
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Education

Alica and Gulzat are Christians who have set up a small kindergarten in their home. Your role has been to provide theoretical and practical knowledge about young childrens development to equip people like Alica and Gulzat.

A short ride in a local bus from the capital city brings you to a small town where you alight. It is not particularly cold (-10ºC) but you carefully
traverse the icy footpath and the frozen rutted road. Your first time here was a bit scary because the streets are not always labelled and the houses look similar but the instructions were helpful at the time. Now that you are familiar with the zigzag route through the maze of streets, you can enjoy the shards of ice in the puddles and the sunshine glinting in the icicles suspended from the roof edges and gutters.

You enter the house yard, pass through the outer door and kick off your shoes – fortunately there are no big guard dogs to worry about! You are a little early and the children are having their after-lunch sleep so you make yourself comfortable in the bare lounge room-cumclassroom.
Soon Alica* and Gulzat* join you and the tea and biscuits appear on the table. After the chit-chat, you open up your laptop, pass over the handouts and resources and the tutorial commences. An hour later the first of the children shyly pokes their head around the door and the training time is finished. You confirm times and dates, greet the children, farewell the ladies as they return to their charges and commence your journey home.

Alica and Gulzat are Christians who have set up a small kindergarten in their home. It is not glamorous work but it allows them to earn some money; it is also a ministry of the small church of which they are members. Because the government has been unable to provide kindergarten places, Christians are in a unique position to offer this ministry to their neighbours. Your role has been to provide theoretical and practical knowledge about young children’s development and academic learning to equip people like Alica and Gulzat to provide a quality service and develop a good reputation in the neighbourhood.

Not all the neighbours are in favour. Early on, an old lady up the street had been warning everyone “Watch out! Don’t send your kids there! They are Baptists!” (an old soviet term for nonconformists). Now she recommends the kindergarten to others! The faithful witness of Alica and Gulzat’s caring manner for the children in their little kindergarten has apparently impressed the parents and neighbours and the word is spreading.

The tutorial is for just an hour a week but, in a land where knowledge and experience is a valuable commodity, local people are keen to learn, especially when they have been inspired to become involved in an area that is new to them. In a culture where doing things out of the ordinary is unusual and where there is not much money to invest in new ventures, this can be a brave course of action.

As an Interserve Partner or On Tracker, your contribution may be small but it can provide much encouragement to local Christians as they endeavour to live out their calling in their world.

The authors served as Partners in Central Asia.

*Names have been changed.

Hope after border crossings

Date
20 May 2016
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2016 ONE)
Region
West Asia
Profession
Other

The world took notice of one lifeless child on the beach and responded with tears. Yet thousands of refugees continue to make desperate border crossings in hope of something better.

The world took notice of one lifeless child on the beach, and responded with tears. Yet thousands of refugees continue to make desperate border crossings in hope of something better. The UNHCR estimates 4.8 million Syrian refugees have flooded into neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. This region, known as West Asia, is buckling under one of the gravest humanitarian crises in modern memory.

The onward journey is complicated and slow at best. As time stretches on, poverty and ill health become problems, and despair sets in. Many have given up hope.

But there is hope. In West Asia, a small local church with a big heart is reaching out to refugees, with amazing impact. They began with blankets, mattresses, baby formula, and gas stoves. The refugees were astounded – no one else treated them like these ‘Bible people’ did. As numbers increased, a refugee centre was opened, and they now provide regular food relief and programs for over 5,500 refugee families.

The church knows they are in this for the long haul. They want refugees fleeing violence and strife to find love in Jesus' name and, by God's grace, faith in Him. Multicultural Interserve teams have been serving alongside this local church for over twenty years.

Two new Australian Interserve families are departing this year to join the refugee work of this church. These families bring skills in trauma recovery, special-needs education, IT and project management, and experience with asylum seekers in Australia. Experience tells us that as Interserve workers apply these skills, we will see innovative solutions developed. The smartphone-based system for managing food distribution at the refugee centre, for example, was created by an Interserve worker.

These two families are committed to long-term service –to making West Asia their home, and being attentive to what God is doing there. We believe that this kind of investment in long-term workers – who themselves are invested in a local body of believers – is the single most effective, sustainable and innovative contribution we can make.

This project has been submitted as part of the Mission Travel “Giving Back” campaign. If you are a Mission Travel client, you can help by voting for this project at missiontravel.com.au/givingback.

Brendan and Penny* have just departed for West Asia. Joel and Erin* are raising support. If you would like to be a part of their support team, you can give online using the supporter code 2059 or contact us for more information.

These families are not superheroes. They are ordinary Christians who are responding to the world’s need and God’s call to serve.

*Names have been changed.

Remembering John Reid

Date
20 May 2016
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2016 ONE)
Region
Other
Profession
Other

John loved the people he led with genuine interest and prayerful concern.

Bishop John Reid passed away on 2 January after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. His legacy of leadership within Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship (BMMF)/Interserve is not widely known but is very significant. John became the International Chairman of BMMF International in 1986 and continued in that role until 1998, when Rose Dowsett succeeded him. In his first two years as Chairman John helped to steer the Fellowship through the difficult transitions from BMMF to Interserve and from its base in India to Cyprus.

John’s interest in cross-cultural mission began in his days in the Melbourne University Christian Union and through his close friendship with Howard Barclay, who left for missionary service in India in 1952. John’s first of several visits to the Barclays was in 1966 when they lived in Amppipal in the remote hills of Nepal. The other strong influence on John was his senior colleague Bishop A Jack Dain who was Executive Chairman of the Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization (LCWE) in the 1970s and concurrently Chairman of BMMF. It was this connection that led to John’s significant roles in the LCWE: from 1981 he took over from John Stott as Chairman of the Theology Working Group and was LCWE Vice-Chairman at the time of the Lausanne II Congress in Manila.

Despite John’s heavy responsibilities as Bishop and Chairman of both LCWE and Interserve, his leadership was characterised by calm, astute wisdom and insight, and a remarkable attention to individuals, which flowed from his love for people. This was manifested in two ways: firstly, in prayer – John and Alison used the Interserve Prayer Diary daily – and, secondly, in correspondence – in his first year as Chairman of Interserve John tried to write personally (pre-emails!) to all Partners. His letters were brief and to the point – insightful, challenging and encouraging. John was a mentor to many a “Timothy” in the fellowship.

John had many leadership qualities. He had a tinder-dry wit and could tell the funniest stories with an impassive face; his levity often diffused tense discussions in meetings. He was deeply thoughtful, wise and humble and he had the ‘personal touch’, a quality that is often lacking in more charismatic leaders. John loved the people he led – not in a superficial way, but with genuine interest and prayerful concern.

I experienced this myself on several occasions. I will never forget the way John led the concluding communion service at the Interserve Quadrennial Conference in Kathmandu in 1994. He commented on what a remarkably gifted and competent group of people was present representing the wider Interserve fellowship, but then continued on to make the point that we were flawed and frail and in need of God’s grace and sanctification (how true that was).

After John retired, he and his wife Alison joined United Mission to Nepal as personnel counselors and they were both instrumental in helping me professionally (Alison) and pastorally (John) to survive two very difficult and challenging years (1994–95) at Gandaki Boarding School. One of John’s letters to me during that time referred to the “tottering fence” imagery in Psalm 62; it has been a consistent source of encouragement over the years when times are tough.

John wrote recently to Dr Saphir Atyal, “I often reassure myself when the going gets tough that I do not have anything that a good resurrection will not fix”.

John Barclay (returned Interserve Partner)

So am I called or not

Date
20 May 2016
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2016 ONE)
Region
Arab World
Profession
Other

Gods call is to be a particular kind of person. This is where we should start to look for His call the practical will unfold as we remain faithful and obedient.

Serving cross-culturally often begins with a call from God into this ministry. Sounds straight-forward, right? Well, not really. As you can see from the stories in this edition of Go, people experience “call” in many different ways and some of our established ideas about “call” are often challenged during the journey.

Firstly, we often think that call needs to be something that is specific and direct. However, aspects of the call can be just as valid when they are general and indirect. Scripture is full of statements which call us all to sacrificially serve Christ throughout our world. This general call is so powerful that we could argue that no further specific calling is necessary, or that not to serve in this way demands a clear call.

Furthermore, our knowledge of the immense needs in a hurting world surely constitute such a compelling indirect call that a direct call from above should hardly be necessary. However, what emerges from these stories is that obedience to explore what the general call to be missional means for us personally often leads to specific and direct aspects of this call on our lives.

Secondly, how the call to cross-cultural service develops is often as much about common sense as about extraordinary events. We already have gifts and abilities that we believe God has called us to thus far. How can we use them in another culture? How can we develop and grow spiritually and professionally as we explore God’s purposes for us? But beyond our common sense we need to remember that God’s call is to be a particular kind of person over and above what job or location he calls us to. This is where we should start to look for His call; the practical will unfold as we remain faithful and obedient.

Thirdly, we need to be open to change during the journey. Sometimes, we get the message wrong and God needs to change us. As Bernie found (page ?), “It was a very fluid yet intentional process”. We may be clinging on to false dreams. We can also mistake circumstances or closed doors as direction from God when it may be a test of our resolve or an attack of the evil one. Discerning the differences is not always easy, but God remains faithful and will continue to patiently guide, shepherd and grow us.

Finally, our personal call is not just between us and God. We are part of the body of Christ – a community on which there is also a call. Our church, family, friends and, yes, even our mission agency are also collectively called to discern God’s will for the body of Christ in this world. This can be a challenge to Western individuality and independence, but this was firmly part of the early church’s missional strategy and is still a powerful aspect of faith in action among other cultures. Let the Christian community speak into your life. Be prepared to let go, remembering that God’s voice is often heard through His people.

We need to be sure of God’s leading as we seek to serve cross-culturally. It’s a big undertaking with a lot at stake. And it will be this call that sustains us when the going gets tough. However, if we are open, our call will keep developing as God continues His work in us, not just as His servants but as His children.

Peter Smith is the new Church and Community Engagement Director. He and his wife Prue recently returned from serving in the Middle East.

Called to Connect

Date
20 May 2016
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2016 ONE)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Other

This is global mission and as followers of our Lord Jesus this is what we are called to.

CultureConnect was established by Interserve Australia in 2007 to partner with local churches in mobilising Australian Christians to reach out with love and the good news of Jesus to their neighbours from Asia and the Arab world. No longer is cross-cultural mission exclusively the domain of theologically trained workers with overseas ministry aspirations. It is accessible to ordinary Christians doing everyday life with those around them. As we extend the hand of friendship to these neighbours, our prayer is that they will encounter the Lord Jesus and grow as His disciples.

So what does a CultureConnect team member look like?

Our paths are many and varied. I began this journey after years of working among migrants in factories in Sydney and seeing how open many of them were to discussing spiritual matters. I was born in Australia. I speak only English. I know nothing of lives endured in countries I’ve never even visited, and yet God opened my eyes to how he could use me to share Jesus with these people whom He loves. I joined CultureConnect in 2011 as a self-supported team member and began reaching out to migrants in south-west Sydney through church-based English as a Second Language (ESL) ministry.

Vivien* was born in South East Asia. She came to Australia for education and trained in health sciences. She first became involved with Interserve as an On Tracker and worked in Nepal for three months. In 2013 she joined CultureConnect and reached out to Hindus in Melbourne. As she still works full-time as physiotherapist, Vivien focuses her involvement on one Indian family that she regularly visits.

Evelyn* worked as a school teacher in NSW before first going to East Asia over 20 years ago. A long-term Interserve partner who is fluent in the local language, Evelyn moved back to Australia in 2015 and is studying Tibetan Buddhism. She is involved in training local Christians and making contacts in her home city’s Buddhist community.

All of us want to see the local church envisioned and equipped to reach out to our Asian and Arab neighbours. All of us want to see these neighbours’ lives transformed through an encounter with Jesus Christ. How might God use these people as their lives are forever changed by him?

My Nepali friends Larry and Simone* and their two children were baptised in Sydney in 2013; the baptismal service was skyped into villages of Nepal. The local church then decided to send a mission team to Nepal. They prayed. They raised money for smokeless stoves. And then they sent Larry and his family back to Nepal where he preached the gospel in his own language, in the villages he and his wife came from. People heard the good news of the Lord Jesus for the very first time, repented and believed.

This is global mission and, as followers of our Lord Jesus, this is what we are called to.

The life of faith is a life of living out our calling – the calling to follow Christ. How will I serve Christ? Who is he calling me to serve? These are questions for every believer.

“Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.” Ephesians 4:1

Lisa Bateup is the new CultureConnect Director

*Names have been changed.

Obedience

Date
20 May 2016
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2016 ONE)
Region
South Asia
Profession
Engineering

Poem by Huy serving in Nepal

Some people have asked me.
Dear Sir they will say.
What fears do you have?
What scares you today?

When you think about moving.
To Nepal of all places.
It’s crazy. It’s silly.
To move. On what basis?

The earth shakes with earthquakes.
There’s landslides on mountainsides.
There’s monsoons from early June
And bumpy, treacherous car rides.

You’ll struggle to breathe
There’s hardly no air
On top of those mountains
And there’s Yetis. BEWARE!!

The food is unsafe.
The water’s not clean.
With lotsa trips to the loo
If you know what I mean.

The government is shaky.
There’s political unrest.
Public transport is dodgy
And their planes aren’t the best.

There are power cuts aplenty.
Crazy cables all around
And hazards are everywhere.
In the air and on the ground.

So tell me again.
Now why would you go?
After all I have told you
With all you now know?

I paused and I waited.
They had a good case.
There still is one answer
So I said it with grace.

“Make disciples of nations”
Is what God commands.
Obedience to Him
Is His only demand.

And Nepal is a country
With needs that are clear
And we’re willing to help
In spite of our fear.

So grant us the wisdom
Dear God we do pray.
To walk as you tell us
Each and every new day.

By Huy

A heart for the poor

Date
20 May 2016
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2016 ONE)
Region
Other
Profession
Engineering

Our call to cross-cultural mission started before we got married. We both had a heart for working with the poor. God had blessed us abundantly and had called us to be a blessing in return. So it was just a matter of timing if and when God would call us. It took 15 years but in that time God prepared us through a number of short-term trips courses and conferences. Huy also has written a Poem called Obedience which is included.

Our call to cross-cultural mission started before we got married. We both had a heart for working with the poor. God had blessed us abundantly and had called us to be a blessing in return. So it was just a matter of timing – if and when God would call us. It took 15 years but, in that time, God prepared us through a number of short-term trips, courses and conferences.
It was three years ago that God first put Nepal into our heads. Throughout that time, reminders about Nepal kept coming in. It felt like God was speaking through repetition. Two years ago, we took a family trip to Nepal to explore further. As soon as we set foot in Nepal it was clear – we were never coming back! It was such a crazy place. But we still had people to meet and places to visit and, after two weeks, God turned our hearts around. Although Kathmandu was pretty full-on, we really did enjoy being in Pokhara. And so, 15 years and two boys later, we moved our family to Nepal in August last year; we are now working with the poor in Pokhara, fulfilling the plan God had for us so many years ago!

Grace (a doctor) and Huy (an engineer) serve in Nepal.

Obedience
Some people have asked me.
Dear Sir they will say.
What fears do you have?
What scares you today?

When you think about moving.
To Nepal of all places.
It’s crazy. It’s silly.
To move. On what basis?

The earth shakes with earthquakes.
There’s landslides on mountainsides.
There’s monsoons from early June
And bumpy, treacherous car rides.

You’ll struggle to breathe
There’s hardly no air
On top of those mountains
And there’s Yetis. BEWARE!!

The food is unsafe.
The water’s not clean.
With lotsa trips to the loo
If you know what I mean.

The government is shaky.
There’s political unrest.
Public transport is dodgy
And their planes aren’t the best.

There are power cuts aplenty.
Crazy cables all around
And hazards are everywhere.
In the air and on the ground.

So tell me again.
Now why would you go?
After all I have told you
With all you now know?

I paused and I waited.
They had a good case.
There still is one answer
So I said it with grace.

“Make disciples of nations”
Is what God commands.
Obedience to Him
Is His only demand.

And Nepal is a country
With needs that are clear
And we’re willing to help
In spite of our fear.

So grant us the wisdom
Dear God we do pray.
To walk as you tell us
Each and every new day.

By Huy

God shaped me for this

Date
20 May 2016
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2016 ONE)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Medical / Health

But thats how God works sometimes He brings surprises a turn of events the intercession of His children to break our focus on the earthly refocus on the eternal and point the way to something unknown.

The plane took off and, full of nervous energy, trepidation and excitement, I felt like I was flying to Neverland. For the first time in my life I was headed somewhere totally foreign. Four weeks before, I hadn’t even heard of this country, tucked deep in Central Asia. But that’s how God works sometimes – He brings surprises, a turn of events, the intercession of His children, to break our focus on the earthly, refocus on the eternal and point the way to something unknown. When the seatbelt light turned off, it signified a break from the safety of my culture and my lifestyle.

An email telling me of an American couple’s prayer for a music therapist to train their orphanage employees had instigated this departure from the norm. What’s a music therapist, you might be thinking. Exactly. Not many people know it’s a real job. The prayer of this couple was so specific that, when I heard of it, my interest was immediately sparked. I’m a music therapist, I thought. I work with kids with disabilities. I can do that.

But the greater reason for my going was that God had shaped me for this. In Ephesians 2:10 we read: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”. It was God who created me and moulded my life to be on such a search – He built in me a deep-seated compassion for those in need, an interest in learning about other cultures, and a desire to use my skills and experience to be a blessing to others and a witness of God’s grace and mercy. I had been inspired and challenged by the stories of many other Christians who had served cross-culturally, and I wanted to see if this could be for me too.

On my connecting flight to Central Asia, I knew I was in foreign territory when, as soon as the “fasten seat belts” sign turned off, the duty free vodka started flowing freely. I felt as if I had gate-crashed a family reunion. We landed in freezing conditions and my senses were assaulted – there was nothing familiar to grab on to. Already, my trust in God was rising exponentially; I prayed and prayed! When I finally passed through Immigration and Tom and Kara*, the American couple I had been expecting, were there waiting, I sighed with relief, ready to follow them, to listen and to learn.

During the next three weeks I participated in Tom and Kara’s everyday life. I encountered many stories of how God was using them to change the orphanage from a place of hopelessness to one of life, with love and mercy penetrating its hard walls. In all they said and did, they beautifully intertwined word and deed as they played their role in God’s great story of salvation. I also met people like Zara*, a local believer who lost her husband in a terrible “hack job” surgical operation. She worked for Tom and Kara and exemplified compassion, gentleness and faith. And while I was able to share some of my knowledge and experience, I’m sure I took away the greater share.

So it was that in that country God fanned a spark of interest into a greater desire to explore cross-cultural service. It was those experiences that would influence my future decisions and where I am today, serving God with my husband and young children in South East Asia. Through all this I can see God’s hand, His call to “Follow Me”.

The plane took off and, full of nervous energy, trepidation and excitement, I felt like I was flying to Neverland. For the first time in my life I was headed somewhere totally foreign. Four weeks before, I hadn’t even heard of this country, tucked deep in Central Asia. But that’s how God works sometimes – He brings surprises, a turn of events, the intercession of His children, to break our focus on the earthly, refocus on the eternal and point the way to something unknown. When the seatbelt light turned off, it signified a break from the safety of my culture and my lifestyle.

An email telling me of an American couple’s prayer for a music therapist to train their orphanage employees had instigated this departure from the norm. What’s a music therapist, you might be thinking. Exactly. Not many people know it’s a real job. The prayer of this couple was so specific that, when I heard of it, my interest was immediately sparked. I’m a music therapist, I thought. I work with kids with disabilities. I can do that.

But the greater reason for my going was that God had shaped me for this. In Ephesians 2:10 we read: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”. It was God who created me and moulded my life to be on such a search – He built in me a deep-seated compassion for those in need, an interest in learning about other cultures, and a desire to use my skills and experience to be a blessing to others and a witness of God’s grace and mercy. I had been inspired and challenged by the stories of many other Christians who had served cross-culturally, and I wanted to see if this could be for me too.

On my connecting flight to Central Asia, I knew I was in foreign territory when, as soon as the “fasten seat belts” sign turned off, the duty free vodka started flowing freely. I felt as if I had gate-crashed a family reunion. We landed in freezing conditions and my senses were assaulted – there was nothing familiar to grab on to. Already, my trust in God was rising exponentially; I prayed and prayed! When I finally passed through Immigration and Tom and Kara*, the American couple I had been expecting, were there waiting, I sighed with relief, ready to follow them, to listen and to learn.

During the next three weeks I participated in Tom and Kara’s everyday life. I encountered many stories of how God was using them to change the orphanage from a place of hopelessness to one of life, with love and mercy penetrating its hard walls. In all they said and did, they beautifully intertwined word and deed as they played their role in God’s great story of salvation. I also met people like Zara*, a local believer who lost her husband in a terrible “hack job” surgical operation. She worked for Tom and Kara and exemplified compassion, gentleness and faith. And while I was able to share some of my knowledge and experience, I’m sure I took away the greater share.

So it was that in that country God fanned a spark of interest into a greater desire to explore cross-cultural service. It was those experiences that would influence my future decisions and where I am today, serving God with my husband and young children in South East Asia. Through all this I can see God’s hand, His call to “Follow Me”.
The plane took off and, full of nervous energy, trepidation and excitement, I felt like I was flying to Neverland. For the first time in my life I was headed somewhere totally foreign. Four weeks before, I hadn’t even heard of this country, tucked deep in Central Asia. But that’s how God works sometimes – He brings surprises, a turn of events, the intercession of His children, to break our focus on the earthly, refocus on the eternal and point the way to something unknown. When the seatbelt light turned off, it signified a break from the safety of my culture and my lifestyle.

An email telling me of an American couple’s prayer for a music therapist to train their orphanage employees had instigated this departure from the norm. What’s a music therapist, you might be thinking. Exactly. Not many people know it’s a real job. The prayer of this couple was so specific that, when I heard of it, my interest was immediately sparked. I’m a music therapist, I thought. I work with kids with disabilities. I can do that.

But the greater reason for my going was that God had shaped me for this. In Ephesians 2:10 we read: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”. It was God who created me and moulded my life to be on such a search – He built in me a deep-seated compassion for those in need, an interest in learning about other cultures, and a desire to use my skills and experience to be a blessing to others and a witness of God’s grace and mercy. I had been inspired and challenged by the stories of many other Christians who had served cross-culturally, and I wanted to see if this could be for me too.

On my connecting flight to Central Asia, I knew I was in foreign territory when, as soon as the “fasten seat belts” sign turned off, the duty free vodka started flowing freely. I felt as if I had gate-crashed a family reunion. We landed in freezing conditions and my senses were assaulted – there was nothing familiar to grab on to. Already, my trust in God was rising exponentially; I prayed and prayed! When I finally passed through Immigration and Tom and Kara*, the American couple I had been expecting, were there waiting, I sighed with relief, ready to follow them, to listen and to learn.

During the next three weeks I participated in Tom and Kara’s everyday life. I encountered many stories of how God was using them to change the orphanage from a place of hopelessness to one of life, with love and mercy penetrating its hard walls. In all they said and did, they beautifully intertwined word and deed as they played their role in God’s great story of salvation. I also met people like Zara*, a local believer who lost her husband in a terrible “hack job” surgical operation. She worked for Tom and Kara and exemplified compassion, gentleness and faith. And while I was able to share some of my knowledge and experience, I’m sure I took away the greater share.

So it was that in that country God fanned a spark of interest into a greater desire to explore cross-cultural service. It was those experiences that would influence my future decisions and where I am today, serving God with my husband and young children in South East Asia. Through all this I can see God’s hand, His call to “Follow Me”.

Amy* is a music therapist serving in South East Asia.

*Names have been changed.

Go with God

Date
20 May 2016
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2016 ONE)
Region
Arab World
Profession
Education

From then a combination of nudges from the Holy Spirit doors opening providentially perceiving an alignment of my spiritual gifts and personality with potential roles and a deep desire to serve God and to invest my life in significant ways led me to cross-cultural service.

My initial “call” came in response to human need. I had been a follower of Christ for about four years, with a commitment to sharing the good news, when I attended a missions conference. The speaker told of the desperate need for the gospel among Muslim nations. I felt convicted in my heart that I could and should be part of God’s wider purposes in this matter. I did some short-term trips to check out possibilities overseas (none of which ultimately eventuated!), and then signed up for Bible college. From then a combination of nudges from the Holy Spirit, doors opening providentially, perceiving an alignment of my spiritual gifts and personality with potential roles, and a deep desire to serve God and to invest my life in significant ways led me to cross-cultural service. The advice and encouragement of others was a key part in my journey. It was a very fluid and yet intentional process.

We served overseas with Interserve for more than 21 years in four countries. In a couple of them, we were forced to leave by government order, a rather strange form of divine guidance! Looking back, we can see the Lord’s hand in those events, although it was hard to discern at the time. Our ministries were and are based on our professions – teaching for me and medicine for my wife. We are now living in Australia, having returned to help our sons settle into what was for them a foreign land. I teach Islamic studies at the Melbourne School of Theology and am involved in outreach and training with CultureConnect.

It has been exciting to see God actively working in the things He has called us to. We have, by His grace, been able to establish a clear gospel witness to our Muslim neighbours and friends in the different places we have lived. There have been many opportunities to influence individuals, families and communities for His sake. Some people have come to faith, grown in their discipleship and are reaching out to others. It was encouraging to see our Interserve teams grow, with more people being mobilised for mission and more ways of mission being developed. Having returned to Australia, it is heartening that God has opened up unforeseen paths of ministry through teaching, writing and evangelism to local and international Muslims. God never gives up on people if they desire to be used for His kingdom.

As I considered what advice I would give my younger self starting out on this journey, my initial thought was, “Relax and go with the flow”. However, on reflection, if I had done too much of that, I would probably not have been asked to write this article! So my more considered thoughts would be, “Trust God, step out in faith, be courageous, take the opportunities, don’t die wondering”. Other advice might be: “It doesn’t all depend on you. Jesus said, ‘I will build my church’. Let God be God.” This might seem contradictory, but I have discovered that there is a dynamic relationship between God and us which is described as “co-workers”. He takes our contribution seriously without needing to depend on it. Staying connected with God is the best way for that to happen, so that the glory goes to Him.

Dr Bernie Power lectures in Islamic Studies at Melbourne School of Theology and serves with CultureConnect. His first book, Understanding Jesus and Muhammad, was just published.

Why not

Date
20 May 2016
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2016 ONE)
Region
West Asia
Profession
Information Technology

We were serving for four months in Malaysia at a school for people with disabilities as part of our honeymoon. I remember the exact spot as we walked around a deep dirty drain where we asked each other could we do this long term

God had planted a question on our hearts … could we go long term?

After a half-hour bus ride past the stinking palm plantations, we walked a couple of kilometres to the local supermarket in the midday sun with the humidity soaring. As we walked around a deep dirty drain, I remember the exact spot where we asked each other, “could we do this long term?” We were serving for four months in Malaysia at a school for people with disabilities as part of our honeymoon. As newlyweds, God planted this seed and over the next four years He gave it life. He did this through his Word, through people He brought into our lives who had served in that part of the world, and through revealing to us the need to go to the unreached.

Sometimes we concentrate so much on asking, “why us?”, but maybe a different way of thinking is, “why not?” Why not go and serve alongside those who don’t live in a safe and materially blessed society as we do. We feel that God has given us 30 years of abundant blessings, so why not now use these blessings to bless others.

When we returned from serving short term, we were disheartened to hear it would be at least a two-year journey before we could depart to serve long term. However, we now see that this time of preparation is invaluable as He reveals His call and purpose, and will potentially save us from making many cultural blunders!

God has led us to West Asia. When we were in Melbourne for Partner orientation, we asked our host where she had served. We were amazed to hear that she had served in the country we were currently considering! We plan to spend the first year language learning and from there use our professional skills to serve refugees and children with disabilities.

Even before we arrive in the country we see fruit in the way God is shaping both us and our church family. We are seeing our local church engaged in kingdom work outside of Australia. People are now involved and excited to see the unreached have the opportunity to hear of His love.

God has also changed our hearts and is teaching us to put our faith into action as we move out of our home, pack up our belongings and rely on His provision. A wise Partner advised that during the challenging process of support raising, “keep your eyes fixed on West Asia and the support will come”. We have learnt to rest in Him.

Adam (IT/project management) and Penny* (special education) have just left Australia to serve the church in West Asia.

*Names have been changed.

The unlikely missionary

Date
20 May 2016
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2016 ONE)
Region
West Asia
Profession
Other

For the longest time I was pretty set on not being missionary......Our imaginations were captured by the idea of working alongside local believers doing whole-of-life discipleship with them in a hard place.

For the longest time, I was pretty set on not being a missionary.

I knew the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19–20 – the deep call to go and make disciples everywhere, which is so basic to our faith. But it was the portability of that call which made me so uncomfortable. It drew a strange divide in my world between places we ‘are’ and places we could ‘go’ and invited me to cross between them in Jesus’ name. I largely knew those places through the television news, and it was not pretty: scud missiles in the Arab Gulf, thick concrete walls dividing Berlin, tanks rolling across Tiananmen Square, and planes crashing through American skyscrapers. These other places were not hospitable, so I resolved fairly early in life that I was going to stay put.

It was six months after my wedding that I ventured beyond my border to South Asia for a short-term exposure trip. That was when God did His work. The experience wasn’t always pleasant – beyond the usual linguistic and cultural confusions, we were battered daily by appalling human need. What was compelling, though, was God’s people. The local church, loving the same Jesus I did, saw those human needs and met them as best they could, in the face of very real dangers, in the name of Jesus. I returned to Australia battered by a sense that my life is genuinely owned by Another, and I should be available to Him without condition.

We had no voice-from-the-sky moment about what cross-cultural work would look like for us, but we knew we wanted to do it. Our imaginations were captured by the idea of working alongside local believers, doing whole-of-life discipleship with them in a hard place. We prayed and planned and studied and talked, trying to work out how our personalities and skills could intersect with a church and a city somewhere out there. Things narrowed. A placement in the Middle East began to emerge. So when God put the brakes on and caused us to wait, to say we were frustrated would be an understatement. Months and years had gone into our preparations, only to now drift in the doldrums and wonder why the Sender Himself would blindside us like this.

It was a hard lesson in our Father’s logistics. Disappointment and confusion – yes, and anger – are natural reactions when we lose a sense of where God is taking us. Those feelings, however, should never blind us to possibilities He is opening up elsewhere. We changed plans for a time and joined an Interserve CultureConnect team serving ethnic minorities in Australia. We started working among people seeking asylum in Sydney’s northwest – people who live daily with a deeper uncertainty than we may ever know. Drinking tea, celebrating birthdays, laughing and crying and praying with them, we pondered the courageous faith Jesus commends in the face of anxiety (Matthew 6:25–34). We don’t always know the way, but our Father does, and He is never less powerful or less worthy of our trust because of it.

The delay turned out to be temporary. These days, our family is preparing to join the refugee-welcoming church in West Asia. I still glimpse the place we will go to in television-news images – bomb blasts, leaky boats and, above all, masses of people crossing borders, a river which stretches to the horizons of belief. Those pictures are still bewildering to me. They no longer frighten me, though, because they’re part of the same basic script our Father has always given to us: those old imperatives to go and to make disciples, to bind up broken hearts, and to set captives free.

Joel* (a social worker) is preparing to serve in West Asia alongside people seeking asylum.

*Names have been changed.

Vivienne Stacey Scholarship

Date
01 Oct 2015
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2015 TWO)
Region
Other
Profession
Theology / Church

Established to honour this innovative pioneer the Vivienne Stacey Scholarship is for equipping Christian women scholar-practitioners from Middle East Africa and Asia to engage with the Muslim world. It follows Viviennes heart to see women including those coming from a Muslim background trained equipped and engaged in ministry.

Vivienne Stacey Scholarship

Vivienne Stacey studied English at University College London then spent some years as a teacher before joining Interserve in 1954. When she learned that the United Bible Training Centre (UBTC) in Gujranwala trained Pakistani women for their witness among Muslims, she requested that as her place of ministry. From the very beginning of her mission career she was committed to equipping local people to engage in ministry among Muslims in their own context.

Established to honour this innovative pioneer, the Vivienne Stacey Scholarship is for equipping Christian women scholar-practitioners from Middle East, Africa and Asia to engage with the Muslim world. It follows Vivienne’s heart to see women, including those coming from a Muslim background, trained, equipped and engaged in ministry.

Soon after her arrival in Pakistan, Vivienne and Esther John became firm friends. Esther was born in a Muslim family but had become a follower of Jesus through seeing the love of Jesus lived out in her Christian school and through the study of scripture. She went to UBTC in 1957 from where she and Vivienne visited homes in the surrounding villages, sharing the story of Jesus. Esther went on to minister in other parts of Pakistan; she was murdered in 1960, becoming the first of many martyrs that Vivienne knew.

Vivienne was a much-loved friend, mentor and example. She worked with the Community Development Team from Multan Christian Women’s hospital, training them in outreach and setting assignments individually tailored to areas where each member of the team needed to grow. Vivienne challenged them to find ways of integrating what they learned into their work. The full impact of her commitment to that little community development team was immeasurable.

Vivienne encouraged many to scholarly practice – in Interserve and other organisations, in local churches in the countries where she worked, and right across the globe. She formed a study group in Pakistan that gave many their first foot into research and writing on significant ministry issues for working among Muslims.

Ida Glasser, now Director of the Centre for Muslim Christian Studies in Oxford, wrote about her experience of Vivienne’s support as she pursued her PhD:
The great thing Vivienne did for me was to take me out for lunch when I was struggling towards my PhD, and then to ask whether money might help. She then (probably through a trust of which she was senior trustee) provided enough to pay Crosslinks for I think half my time for 3 months, so that I could break the back of the writing up. I might never have completed it otherwise. Another time, after a conference in Holland, she treated me to a day in Amsterdam – took me on a canal trip and gave me a good dinner – things I'd never have done for myself, or been able to afford.

The Scholarship does not just provide financial support. It is also committed to providing mentoring, both individually and as part of a learning cohort; to investing in the development of the whole person as they pursue their studies.

The Vivienne Stacey Scholarship Fund was launched during the When Women Speak… colloquium on 25 September 2015. It is actively seeking partnership with academic institutions in Asia and the Middle East, and in the West, as it builds capacity to support these women. Please join us in supporting the fund. You can do this through your local Interserve Office, marking your gift ‘Vivienne Stacey Scholarship’, or by clicking on ‘donate’ at www.whenwomenspeak.net For further information contact admin@whenwomenspeak.net or cathy@whenwomenspeak.net

By Cathy Hine

Three Ladies of Prayer

Date
01 Oct 2015
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2015 TWO)
Region
Other
Profession
Other

In the past 12 months South Australia has farewelled three wonderful saints of prayer.

In the past 12 months, South Australia has farewelled three wonderful saints of prayer. Since the early ‘70s, in prayer meetings in people’s homes and church halls, prayer warriors represented anybody who toured through Adelaide on deputation before the Father’s throne. They sent care parcels, wrote letters of encouragement and committed to memory the prayer and praise points in partner’s letters. These prayer heroes were, in the main, lowly educated women who developed outstanding knowledge of geography and world politics. They teamed with returned partners and short-termers, mentored younger people in the passion for prayer and launched seekers into careers overseas. The influence of Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship (BMMF), and later Interserve, was extended because of their intercessions and encouragements.

Win Carson was generous in her prayer for overseas mission and, when she died this year, South Australia lost a Christian woman of great influence and Interserve lost a prayer warrior. Win shared with her husband Cec the lifetime habit of a breakfast prayer time dedicated to many missions and people, including Ramabhai Mukti Mission and Interserve. They believed God answers prayer and boldly claimed righteous territory for the Lord. They welcomed missionaries into their home and after Cec’s death, and even in increasing frailty, Win still clung to the privilege of offering her home for the praying circle so that she too could be included. Win was an inspiration to all and we give thanks to God for her life.

On Easter Friday this year, the Lord welcomed Bessie Eames into his presence. She first became involved with BMMF when her daughter did a short-term stint overseas in 1978; from then on she supported prayer meetings, attended events and more latterly offered her home as a prayer centre. As technology developed, she took a seniors computer course so that she could connect to the internet and print off prayer requests for her monthly gathering. She plodded along using one finger to write emails but much preferred to write in her flowing cursive script. Bessie loved prayer and exercised her spiritual gifts and discernment in intercessory warfare. She rejoiced in breakthroughs and tenaciously never gave up when answers were delayed. Partners enjoyed being ministered to by her nurturing embrace and deep insights.

Within weeks, Jean Illman, a stateswoman for God, also went to be with the Lord. Jean was a visionary and facilitator for all things mission. Under her prayerful care, BMMF was launched in Adelaide in 1959 and through her passionate commitment it grew. She served as secretary for 30 years and as mission representative. Jean supported each partner with monthly letters and treasured their letters, filing them away for prayerful reflection. Her house was the centre for prayer gatherings and fellowship meals, and she hosted every visiting missionary. Jean could see with clarity the needs of emerging mission and prayed to that end. She wrote letters and campaigned to implement strategies that would enable Interserve to flex and adapt to the changing mission culture. Mrs BMMF, SA, has left a legacy of devotion to mission.

These three women were passionate about their walk of faith, knew the power of God’s forgiveness and salvation and understood God’s open invitation to every person. Each was convinced of her calling to prayer and to make intercession for people and places, and was totally confident that God was more than able to hear and answer her requests. We thank God for their lives, their example and the heritage they have laid down.

Now it is time for the next generation to step up and assume their positions.

Tributes by Carol Eames, Aileen Pike and Geoff Pike.

Grace for the long haul: reflections on 13 years o

Date
01 Oct 2015
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2015 TWO)
Region
South Asia
Profession
Medical / Health

We dont see you as a foreigner we see you as one of us. I was so stunned to hear those words three times soon after I reached 10 years of service in my adopted country.

Grace for the long haul: reflections on 13 years of service

“We don’t see you as a foreigner, we see you as one of us.” I was so stunned to hear those words three times, soon after I reached 10 years of service in my adopted country.

The first hint I got that I might one day have some level of approval in my new culture was when I returned after my first Home Assignment. The local people realised then that I was serious about being in their culture and their acceptance of me began to grow. So when I crossed 10 years and people acknowledged me as one of the team, serving together, my heart was so encouraged. Ten years is considered a long time to serve in cross-cultural work these days but it has some excellent rewards. As I look back I can see how the Grand Weaver has been weaving the threads of my life and experience to bring me to where I am today.

I remember being handed an exercise book with four pages of notes, essentially my first job description as school nurse at an international boarding school. Over the four years there, I found tasks I did not enjoy doing and others I had never been trained to do: making budgets in a currency I didn’t really comprehend and working with children who had suffered sexual abuse are good examples. Even as I struggled with some of those challenges, I also saw how my previous training was used by God in that placement. Being the eldest of eight siblings and working in children’s camp ministry was helpful experience. Working in the Emergency Department in a major Melbourne hospital proved very good training for handling the accidents that occur in a school of 300 children.

I guess in some ways I have done it the hard way with four different placements in three different language areas. I remember a particular time when I felt I was a failure. I had persevered with a placement for five months but it became obvious that it was not going to work out. Eventually, when I was removed from the placement, feelings of failure overwhelmed me. I learned two things from that experience: failure (real or perceived) is not final, and you are not a failure if you have been faithful. I took a month out to recover, then moved on to a placement that was a much better fit and led me to the unique niche I now enjoy.

Teaching and mentoring health care workers to be involved in health research came to me after some years in the country. Despite its challenges, it has been a fulfilling role, teaching people theoretical and practical skills, but also having opportunities to teach life values along the way. I have grown into the role, but God has also brought people across my path who opened doors for me to do this job.

There were a lot of things I wanted to achieve in the early days. I remember the list I kept on my wall of what was still to be done. These days I don’t have such a list but I still have dreams of what I’d like to see done. I now focus a bit less on the tasks and more on relationships with people. We have wanted to do a community survey looking at a local health issue. It has been delayed for two years because I wanted it not to be driven by me alone, but this year I have a local colleague who has a passion to see it done and I am trusting others to work with us will be provided.

I now have more white hairs. Sometimes that is helpful in Asia because people give you more respect. However the respect that comes from the wisdom and experience gained can only come from living each of the 365 days of each year. Someone recently asked me how I learnt resilience. My reply was, “You can’t learn it in a week!” On my wall is drawing of a tree with the words of Jeremiah 17:7–8 (NIV):

But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when the heat comes; its leaves are always green, It has no worries in the year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.

That verse became very precious to me and some of my local colleagues when we faced a difficult time in the leadership in an organisation. Together we dug deep into our relationships with God. Resilience comes from plodding on and remaining calm, through the summers and the droughts.

Luke 10:17–20 tells how the 70 disciples came back to Jesus and reported on their mission. Their highlight was the power they had over Satan but that was not Jesus’ agenda. “All the same, the great triumph is not in your authority over evil but in God’s authority over you and presence in you. Not what you do for God but what God does for you – that’s the agenda for rejoicing.” (The Message) These words have been a strong reminder to me as I prepare for my next Home Assignment that God has taught me much and it’s really important to share what He has done in me.

“For God’s love compels us” is the verse on my prayer card. In recent days God has been teaching me new things about his love, especially from the Servant passages of Isaiah. “Take a good look at my servant, I’m backing him to the hilt. He’s the one I chose, and I couldn’t be more pleased with him” (42:1 TM). It’s been good to be reminded that He is pleased with me because He chose me out of His love and not because of the tasks I do. I can relax in that and then serve freely because I am secure as His child. And His love becomes again my motivation to serve. I am still learning; I wonder what more I will have learned in another 13 years’ time. I do know the loving Weaver will be at work making me a more useful servant in His service.

The author is a Partner in South Asia

By grace alone

Date
01 Oct 2015
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2015 TWO)
Region
Other
Profession
Other

Suzy is a 32-year-old yellow Suzuki Swift who was loaned to us by friends when they realised we needed a temporary second car. She can be reluctant to start some mornings and she is not as beautiful as she once was as her flooring was ripped out because she leaks and then fills up with water.

By Grace Alone

Some mornings I don’t want to get up. I just want to put my head under the covers and pretend I don’t exist. The morning in this story was one of those. I could see a long tedious day stretching ahead of me, full of things I didn’t want to do starting with the dreaded school lunches and finishing with a mountain range of washing to fold. What’s more, this morning had a dental appointment tucked in between school lunches and learn to swim classes. So it was that, not so promptly, at 8.15 I raced down the stairs and jumped into Suzy.

Suzy is a 32-year-old yellow Suzuki Swift who was loaned to us by friends when they realised we needed a temporary second car. She can be reluctant to start some mornings and she is not as beautiful as she once was as her flooring was ripped out because she leaks and then fills up with water. This particular morning was my first opportunity to drive Suzy and I leapt in with some trepidation. Being unable to adjust the seat forward, I drove off sitting upright like a heroine in a Jane Austen movie dropping the clutch and stalling her every few seconds.

By the time I reached the first traffic light I was killing myself with laughter. But I had managed to move the seat forward and we were off. See Suzy, in spite of her age, drives like a race car. She is incredibly stable when you turn corners and, because she has no floor, you can feel the road beneath you. Driving Suzy just makes me feel real and I can’t help loving her. On this morning, however, Suzy was more than my personal dilapidated race car, she was God’s grace to me, reminding me of the joy in the every day.

It is easy to see life as mundane and to forget that God’s grace is all around us. It’s there in the dreaded school lunches made from grain that grew at the grace of God, in the breeze and the sun that brush my shoulders as I hang out my washing, in the gift of my husband and three beautiful boys. All of these things are precious gifts that I have not earned, that simply come to me from the hands of a Father who loves me. Suzy reminds me that life is good even when I’m driving to the dentist.

But Suzy also reminds me of the way that God’s grace is given to us through the hands of those around us, sometimes those who care for us, sometimes complete strangers. One of the strange, spiky gifts that living on support has given me is an awareness that everything I own, the food I eat, the education for my children, my healthcare is reliant on God’s grace through the kindness of others. But it is not always easy to see this support as God’s grace. More often than not I am tempted to worry. Do I deserve it? Am I working hard enough? What outcomes have I achieved? Sometimes I wish for a simple job where I am paid for what I do, where my finances are in my control.

And yet what a gift it is to remember that we have not earned any of these things. They are gifts that come from the hand of the Father, most often administered through the loving hands of others. Gifts we should use in his service, yes! But gifts none the less. All of us, no matter what we do, exist only by God’s grace. Suzy was a gift of love to us when we needed her and the grace in her brings us joy.

Jesus said, “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!” Luke 12: 22–24

The author is an Interserve Partner currently on Home Assignment.

Jonahs Tree

Date
01 Oct 2015
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2015 TWO)
Region
Arab World
Profession
Other

Here is a noisy place. Kids cars donkeys horns calls to prayer. But I arrived home to an unfamiliar noise last month and went to investigate. I followed it all the way to my balcony and discovered that I was hearing the noise of a chainsaw doing its work on my flame trees. And they were due to bloom in two weeks

Jonah’s tree

I never thought I had much in common with Jonah. The whole running in the wrong direction thing, thrown out of a boat, being vomited up by a big fish. I’m definitely not like Jonah. Anyway, when God called, I went. Right?

Yep. I’m here. Living in an overcrowded grey metropolis, my apartment indistinguishable from the thousands of others that overlook me when I stand on my balcony.

This balcony has always been a favourite place of mine. Though it is just large enough for a single chair, I can get outside, look at the trees, listen to the birds, and enjoy quiet time in the morning shade. There have been two flame trees below the balcony which flash into bloom every year in summer. I look forward to it because it is the prettiest time of year in this beauty-starved concrete city.

Here is a noisy place. Kids, cars, donkeys, horns, calls to prayer. We get used to them all. But I arrived home to an unfamiliar noise last month and went to investigate. I followed it all the way to my balcony, and discovered that I was hearing the noise of a chainsaw doing its work on ‘my’ flame trees. And they were due to bloom in two weeks…

I watched from above with barely controlled dismay as three men chopped down my beautiful trees. Within the hour, the birds were gone, the stump removed and all I could see was a concrete, rubbish-strewn courtyard. The single bit of beauty and colour I could see from my flat – gone in an hour.

I was angry about my tree being chopped down. Every time I looked down at the ugly ground past my washing line, my anger was refuelled. What is wrong with this culture that they would chop down such a beautiful tree when every bit of green should be so precious in this city? I was still moping the next morning when I sat down on the balcony for a quiet time.

But my conscience had started to hum and, like a mobile phone on vibrate, I felt urged to look at Jonah. Fast forward past the big fish and Jonah’s sitting on his hill in the sun (Jonah 4:9–11). God’s grace is about to fall upon the entire city of Nineveh, but Jonah is preoccupied with the loss of his shady vine. So God says:

”Do you have good reason to be angry about the tree? You are concerned about the tree for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow. I am concerned about the millions of people in this great city.” (my paraphrasing).

Now I know God cares about the environment. But so much more than that, God longs to pour out his grace upon this city.

And my part in it? Ouch. What a humbling reprimand. Maybe I’m not so different to grumpy old Jonah after all – no big fish required. Am I more concerned about my tree than those who cut it down? In my pride for ‘being here’, have I got this so wrong?

God is definitely reminding me to get back to his priorities. This is something I’ve asked before but I so quickly get distracted. And not just by trees.

Forgive me Lord. Thanks that your grace extends to me and my failures too. Break my heart with what breaks yours, Lord. And help me truly live a life worthy of the calling I’ve received. Amen.

The author is a Partner in the Arab world

The lost song

Date
01 Oct 2015
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2015 TWO)
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Other

Can you believe that no electricity and during the midst of loud screeching noise from the mosque I found myself singing Holy Holy Holy Holy is the Lord Tears came to my eyes as I realised that my lost song had been restored and this had happened in the most unlikely of situations.

The lost song

Restless and sweating, we woke to the screeching cry of our local cow man as he took his turn ‘calling’ from the mosque situated just 50 metres from our house. It was the day of the annual feast of sacrifice and, although we had no electricity, the generator at the mosque was obviously in fine form. It was going to be a big day of celebration in our 99% Muslim city, so we were up and awake before first light, as were most of the people in our city.

Many people who live in Muslim countries have told us that they enjoy hearing the calls to prayer and we can also occasionally listen without distress to music or plaintive, earnest calls to prayer. However, over the past two years our mosque had changed, as had many in the city. ‘Plaintive’ had insidiously turned to screeching and often the cries were angry and hostile. On occasions we (foreign women) were also ordered out of our beds at 3.30am to cook breakfast for our husbands during the fasting month. This is normal for Muslim women but is totally not normal for foreign non-Muslim women and, in fact, was a breach of local Sharia law.

Eventually this exposure to noise of up to 80–85 decibels (the levels of a hairdryer and sometimes a jackhammer) took its toll. Two months before home leave, we and one of our neighbours ‘hit a wall’, finding it difficult to concentrate and suffering sleep deprivation.

For months I had been living two lives. Three months earlier my father, who was normally active and well, was diagnosed with acute myeloblastic disorder (leukaemia) and his life expectancy was weeks rather than months. I flew back to Australia and had three weeks with my dad before he suddenly developed pneumonia and septicaemia and died just five days later. My husband joined me at short notice. We had just seven days to help organise the funeral and pack up my dad’s property, situated on 3.5 hectares of land, prepare it for sale and place it on the market.

When we returned to the field, our reliable internet access, which we loved, became a source of great stress as the journey of problem solving from overseas for the sale of my dad’s house by auction began. At this time activities in our field role were at peak level with impending annual leaders’ retreats and visiting teams coming from three countries for various events. Between managing local logistics in our host country and organising survey reports and dealing with solicitors, agents and estate matters in Australia, my emotional and physical health began to suffer. A younger brother was slowly dying from cancer in Australia; he had been a recluse for decades, but he had finally let me close. Bridging both worlds, I was contacting him weekly to walk alongside him in this difficult journey.

Somewhere, in all of this, I had ‘lost my song’. While not a good singer (I sometimes declare I can sing in one key only), it had been common for many years for me to sing – whether preparing food, driving in the car or reflecting. Singing came readily from a heart of worship, but somewhere, somehow I had stopped singing and I knew that a great healing needed to take place to restore my soul.

Can you believe that during the time mentioned at the beginning of this story, with no electricity and in the midst of loud, screeching noise from the mosque, I found myself singing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord’? Tears came to my eyes as I realised that my ‘lost song’ had been restored, and this had happened in the most unlikely of situations. How often such surprises of joy come to us when we make choices, such as to praise when everything is uncomfortable or distressing. This was my choice that early morning and God’s Spirit began to restore my soul. This healing has continued, despite the death in July of my brother and also a close member of my husband’s family.

May I encourage you also, as the Scriptures say, to know that sorrow endures for a night (or a season) but joy will come in the morning for those who are faithful. If we have learned one thing from the past decade of our lives, it is this: that a full life consists not of an abundance of possessions but of a God-directed mix of heartache and sorrow and indescribable joy and compassion, expressed to us and through us as we live as ambassadors of the Kingdom.

The author is a Partner in Asia

God give you strength

Date
01 Oct 2015
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2015 TWO)
Region
West Asia
Profession
Other

Sometimes Id be caught in a sea of hands tapping me on the shoulder or tugging on my arm while I try to answer questions about when they might be seen or whether we can provide more assistance or would I please tell the manager about their seven children and husband in prison in Syria

God give you strength

I look at myself in the mirror, in the bathroom at the refugee centre where I help out. I’ve come in here to hide away a little, to step out of the fluster and hustle for a moment. As I dab at my sweat-smeared makeup, I think to myself that anger is a funny emotion.

We arrived this morning to an overwhelming scene of about 60 (mostly Syrian) women crowding the courtyard, all manner of children in tow. I am one of only two English–Arabic speakers on team today and after a morning of translating with my very limited Arabic, and repeatedly saying “I’m very sorry, but we can’t help you with anything else”, I’m quite a variety of angries.

I’m angry with the crowd for making me so overwhelmed. I’m angry with myself for getting flustered; for having money but not being able to hand it out to one and all. I’m frustrated with my limited Arabic, which drops in capacity the more stressed I become. I’m annoyed that all I’m thinking right now is how much I hate disappointing people … How is this suddenly about me?!

Sometimes I’d be caught in a sea of hands, tapping me on the shoulder or tugging on my arm, while I try to answer questions about when they might be seen, or whether we can provide more assistance, or would I please tell the manager about their seven children, and husband in prison in Syria? On this crazy first Monday of a month (the busiest day when new registrations are taken), the women crowd around the registration table, determined to be heard. “Please, sit down!”, the other translator urges, as eager faces lean in, wanting to make sure they are all getting fair treatment.

By the end of four or five hours I don’t want to talk to anyone, preferring to sit in a corner with my eyes tight shut. The last of the women have been assisted, as far as possible. When I got home later I spent a little while in the foetal position, then unwound over language homework and TV. And despite all of the flusters and splutters of the day, the thought I return to is not about anger, frustration, injustice or exhaustion. It’s about the sacredness in Arabic greetings.

Syrians in particular are a very polite people. At the end of virtually every interview with a refugee who was asking for assistance we couldn’t provide, they would stand and say “Thank you” or “Peace be with you”. And as they left, with frustration fading from their eyes, they would simply say, “God give you strength”. It’s a frequently used line, but each time it is said the words make the normal sacred and remind us both of the bigger picture. And as I respond with the set reply, the words teach us to offer grace to each other.

Some, understandably, will still leave angry or hopeless. But I’m comforted to remember that it’s God who gives strength, and God who loves more than I ever could. And I am humbled that these most vulnerable of people are the ones reminding me.

Hannah* is a recently-returned On Tracker who served in West Asia.
*Names have been changed.

UMN Earthquake response

Date
01 Oct 2015
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2015 TWO)
Region
South Asia
Profession
Community Development

UMNs response to Nepals earthquake. Please check with Australia Comms team before using this article. Content written by UMN.

Everyone who was in Nepal on 25 April 2015 will remember that feeling – the horror of the solid ground beneath you rolling like surf, cries of fear, buildings crumbling, clouds of choking dust, the shock and the confusion that followed.

For villagers near the epicentre, the experience was even more deadly. In some communities, most of the houses were reduced to rubble, the few possessions of families already very poor buried and destroyed, food stocks and precious animals lost, and in some cases, family members lost too.

The United Mission to Nepal has been working in Dhading, one of the most affected districts, for more than 20 years. We have strong relationships there, competent local partners, and a track record of working with the poorest and most disadvantaged. So it made sense to focus our relief activities there, in three Village Development Committee areas (VDCs) in the south and four in the rugged, mountainous north.

The challenges were many. The northern VDCs have little or no road access at the best of times – just narrow walking trails snaking through the Himalayas, crossing steep gullies via sinuous suspension bridges. Landslides and rockfalls made the trails virtually impassable, and broke or damaged the bridges. Getting relief to the villages in the north meant negotiating access to scarce helicopter transport, or long, dangerous road journeys to drop-off points to which affected families walked, sometimes for days. UMN and its partners managed to distribute comprehensive relief packages to more than 12,000 desperate families.

Now the work of reconstruction is beginning. Over the next two years, UMN will be providing training and assistance to communities so that the new houses built will be more earthquake resistant; we'll be providing temporary buildings for schools, repairing damaged water systems and toilets, restoring livelihoods through seed and tool distributions and replacement livestock, training people in disaster preparedness, and helping deal with the psycho-social impacts through trauma counseling groups.

There are huge challenges ahead. Thank you for your prayers and support – they are much needed, and much appreciated!

Lyn Jackson is Communications Director at UMN.

Towards an Unshakeable Kingdom

Date
01 Oct 2015
Publication
Go Magazine Australia (2015 TWO)
Region
South Asia
Profession
Community Development

It is months since the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated large areas of Nepal on 25 April and for most people life has now taken on normality albeit an altered one.Content written by an Interserve Partner on behalf of INF. Please check with Australia Comms before using this article.

Towards an Unshakable Kingdom

I am lightly jolted as I kneel at the cupboard in my office in Kathmandu and the earthquake alarm dings briefly. I ignore the aftershock as it is so small but a Nepali colleague starts to yell loudly and rushes outside where she gets on her motor scooter and rides off to her small sons’ school to make sure they are safe. From a nearby college there is a great hubbub as students move outside in response to the slight quake.

It is months since the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated large areas of Nepal on 25 April, and for most people life has now taken on normality, albeit an altered one. However, the emotional scars have not yet healed and some people react badly to even the smallest of the continuing aftershocks, which trigger memories of frightening experiences.

Recently a Nepali man recognised me in the street in Kathmandu and called out. He was someone I had worked with in the hills at Okhaldunga Hospital in 2004. He told me his wife and two daughters had been killed in the earthquake and his 19-year-old son had had both his forearms amputated because of a crush injury. I asked about another man I had worked with at the hospital and whose daughter’s wedding I had attended – he was killed in the earthquake my friend replied. All quite shocking for me.

I work for International Nepal Fellowship (INF) and, although it is not a relief organisation, immediately after the earthquake it quickly formed a disaster response group that organised relief supplies and utilised government and other community contacts to offer medical aid and make distributions of emergency food and shelter to some of the worst hit areas. INF liaised with the Pokhara Christian Community (PCC) and its social welfare arm, Asal Chimekee (meaning ‘good neighbours’). As well as PCC supplying and distributing much aid, it also provided volunteers, mostly from youth groups, who worked tirelessly with INF, packing goods, loading trucks and distributing the relief items. Many local church and para-church organisations were also involved in relief work.

At a feedback meeting in one village, the people told the Asal Chimekee team that they were happy with the quality of food, materials and training that had been given to them. One leader asked if the team were there to convert people to Christianity. The team took the opportunity to explain why they, as Christians, were doing disaster relief and explained how many people around the world loved the villagers and had contributed generously. These misconceptions are not uncommon and it is also frequently assumed that Christian organisations will only help Christians. The media often does not report on what is being achieved by Christian organisations but this does not deter the ongoing work.

The initial relief efforts are over but many in the hilly regions where destruction was worse than in Kathmandu are still suffering badly as whole villages were shattered and the roads needed to bring help are impassable due to landslides and the monsoon rains. A new phase has begun now, one of rebuilding. INF has been allocated an area in Ghorka District by the government to work in; its immediate focus has been the provision of materials for emergency shelters and the building of Temporary Learning Centres to replace the many destroyed schools, as over one million students have not been able to attend school since the earthquake. INF is also working with local churches to respond to community needs.

Likewise, Asal Chimekee is continuing its work and practically providing for people with such things as seed distribution, constructing health posts, schools and toilets and running children’s health camps. It stepped out in faith with $7,000 and God provided one hundred times that in the weeks that followed but future plans require that much again. Please remember the people of Nepal and organisations like INF and Asal Chimekee that are showing Christ’s love under adverse conditions.


Rowan Butler is an Interserve Partner serving with INF's Communications team.

A special place in Gods heart

Date
01 Oct 2015
Publication
GO Magazine Australia (2015 TWO)
Region
South Asia
Profession
Other

We met and fell in love there in 1981 and since then have worked and lived in Nepal on and off for almost 18 years. I would like to share with you how God gave us a big measure of His grace for our time there.

Asia – a place that gets under your skin! We lost our hearts there.

We met and fell in love there in 1981 and since then have worked and lived in Nepal on and off for almost 18 years. I would like to share with you how God gave us a big measure of His grace for our time there.

We strongly believe this country has a special place in God's heart and He shared that love into our hearts too. Sometimes when we talk about Nepal, people say, "Oh that must be a difficult place to work!" To be honest, some times were difficult but God's grace was sufficient in all our circumstances.

Jesus says, “... no-one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age … and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). This scripture was so true for us in Nepal. We did miss home and family and the comforts of the West, but we received so much more in return; the people there became our family.

We left Nepal in April. After living there so long, it was hard to leave. Living back in the West is good with its comforts and around-the-clock power supply, but we miss the work in Nepal and our friends. The person I miss most is Laxmi, the lady who helped me with household chores.

Laxmi never had an opportunity to go to school as her parents died when she was very young. She became a Christian after she was married; after having three beautiful children of her own, she wanted to give more kids the opportunities she had missed out on in life. Laxmi and her husband don't have much money but lots of love for the five girls they have fostered for the last 10 years. Laxmi and her extended family became our own family and we were so blessed by this friendship.

God’s heart goes out to the poor and He hates injustice. We asked God to give us His heart and His love for those we served in Nepal. Does not God choose
“… to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58).

And he promises, if we do this, “your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear” and “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun­scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well­watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”

Our life was not always easy in that sun-scorched land, but the blessings were plentiful and His grace was sufficient in all our circumstances.

Marlene is a recently returned Interserve Partner. She served in Nepal with her husband Paul.

Remembering Mongolia

Date
01 Jul 2015
Publication
GO Magazine (Aotearoa New Zealand)
Region
East Asia
Profession
Theology / Church

Hugh Kemp founder of Mongolia TEE returns for its 20th anniversary in 2015. Fifty-five of the best tutors from all over the country attended some now with 20 years of experience in leading dozens of TEE groups.

I traced the railway line 30,000 feet below me, two silver hairs lying across the Spring-greening Mongolian steppe. I’d amused myself with this challenge 23 years previously when I first flew to Ulaanbaatar, via Beijing, in 1992. Now I could get a flight from Hong Kong, a new convenience serving those from the South Asia and Pacific context.

I found the railway tracks again, signposts pointing to a city that still echoed its 70 years of socialist planning, but was now subsumed in a speedily growing population, new glass towers, traffic congestion and all the trappings of a financial boom financed by Korean, Chinese, and Japanese investment. I
arrived Thursday 21st May, 2015: there was an air of cautious optimism for the future, for Rio Tinto, the global mining company had signed another contract with the Mongolian government the day before. Mongolia’s wealth had been its grasslands, but in the last 20-odd years, what is under those grasslands – gold and copper, mainly – has been of more interest. Mongolian Christians were cautious, for did not an economic boom result in yet more poor?

It was for the Mongolian Christians that I had returned to Mongolia, not to celebrate Mongolia’s new-found wealth, but to reflect again on being Christian in their particular and unique context. My wife, Karen, and I along with our children, had lived in Ulaanbaatar from August 1992 to July 1996, as Interserve Partners seconded to JCS International, then an infant umbrella organisation through which several mission agencies accessed Mongolia. I had returned five times from 1996 to 2002 – a sort of non-residential commuting consultant missionary – teaching at the Bible School, and advising Mongolia Theological Education by Extension (MTEE). But now the gap had been 13 years!

On Saturday 23rd May, 2015, MTEE held its 20th anniversary celebrations. This was the reason I had returned. I had founded the MTEE in 1995. TEE, by using a tried and educationally sound methodology of workbook and well-trained tutor, was a proven way of training Christians in discipleship, Bible knowledge, Christian leadership, and ministry formation, all in the students’ contexts of home and church. Now I was the guest of honour – invited back by MTEE’s Director, Naranbaatar, and the Mongolian leadership team – and I was to experience a deeply moving two days of celebrations.

On being picked up at the airport, I was taken immediately to a tutor training event that was in full progress. Because many tutors were going to be in Ulaanbaatar for the big celebrations on 23rd May, an ‘added value’ training had been arranged for them. Fifty-five of the best tutors from all over the country – some now with 20 years of experience in leading dozens of TEE groups – were gathered around tables, practising their leadership of small groups, encouraging and critiquing, praying, worshipping and learning together. They were being introduced to a new course on the book of Proverbs, as well as hearing reports from TEE movements around the world.

“Do you remember me?” asked one woman. With some prompting, I did. “I am Urnaa. I was in the very first field trial group of the very first course, in the summer of 1996. The course was Abundant Life. I have been tutoring TEE groups ever since.”

Mongolia is an event-orientated culture, so I took my watch off. Also, I had mistakenly left my camera battery charging back at the flat. The only thing I could do then was to soak up the event, not distracted by time or picture. The 20th anniversary celebrations were a typically Mongolian moment: a banquet with traditional music (one of the pastors is a skilled musician of traditional Mongolian genres), a big worship service with speeches and entertainment (including more traditional Mongolian music, a Korean worship dance, and Cossack dancing). About 200 attended: the founding employees, current employees, board members, tutors, past students, local pastors, teachers from the Bible College. Testimonies were told and vision was shared. I was simply overwhelmed by what God had done over those 20 years, and what the ongoing hopes and dreams were for the future.

MTEE had been set up originally as a joint project between JCS International and a donor agency. Current JCS and donor agency leaders were able to attend the celebrations. The celebrations were a true salad bowl of all those who had given so much to developing the programme over 20 years. As I looked out over this assembly when I had to make my speech, I was overcome with emotion: a simple seed of an idea in 1995 had grown to become a dynamic movement extending to the remotest nomad family in Mongolia’s farthest provinces, equipping disciples throughout Mongolia’s cities, and even penetrating into Mongolia’s prisons. Today, at any given time, there are about 600 TEE students throughout Mongolia, studying at foundation, certificate and diploma level. The Asia Theological Association has accredited the four-year Certificate in Christian Ministry programme, and this has inspired and cross-pollinated with TEE projects in other Asian countries. We give credit to our God, and also to the hard- working employees of the project over the years, and the current team under director Naranbaatar’s leadership!

As part of the celebrations, the MTEE hosted an academic symposium at which five academics presented papers on various aspects of Mongolian Christian history. During our residence in Mongolia, I had come to understand that Mongolians were passionate about their history; I myself had made it a project to research and publish for them. At this symposium I discovered a movement had started. Others now – all Mongolian – were researching uniquely Christian history of Mongolia. And MTEE was seen to be able to move amongst the academics of Mongolia, something that will give MTEE credibility and kudos for its ongoing legitimacy as both a methodology and a Christian training programme.

After the 20th anniversary celebrations, I stayed another week, co-leading the Langham Preaching partnership training of 29 pastors in Biblical preaching. I remember a good number of these pastors as teenagers, 22 years ago. I had baptised several of them.

We met in a summer resort village outside of Ulaanbaatar, and it was Spring. The last of the snow had melted and the trees were bursting into leaf. In all these events – academic symposium, MTEE 20th anniversary, Langham Preaching training – there was a recognition from several pastors that “the initial work is complete; the church is well planted. What we need now is consolidation and capacity building.”

*Hugh and Karen Kemp were with Interserve from 1992 to 2002. They both now work at St John’s Theological College, Auckland, where Karen is one of the deans, and Hugh is an adjunct lecturer.*

Extract from GO Magazine (Aotearoa New Zealand) July 2015.

Postcards from the Himalayas

Date
20 Apr 2015
Publication
Go Australia
Region
South Asia
Profession
Medical / Health

Some months back I had the privilege of visiting a leprosy hospital with one of the counsellors Helen. I was so moved by meeting these patients that I had to share.

Some months back I had the privilege of visiting a leprosy hospital with one of the counsellors, Helen*. I was so moved by meeting these patients that I had to share.

From a Partner in Nepal

Basanta* is a young woman (aged 26) who lives in a very remote part of the hilly western region. She has grossly deformed hands and feet; she had been aware of changes in her limbs for 13 years but did not know where to go for help. She heard on FM radio a description of her disease and a phone number to contact. Not having learned to write, she recorded the number on her phone. When she contacted the number, she learned of a mobile medical camp being held. She was helped to this camp where she was told about leprosy and her need for long-term medication and good care of her limbs to avoid further damage. Leaving her family and all that was familiar, Basanta travelled hours and hours by bus to reach the hospital. That was just a few days ago. Since then, along with medical treatment and care, this beautiful young woman has taken the opportunity to begin to learn to read and write, her pencil held by a stump of a finger. Sometimes a teacher is able to visit the ward. Other times, fellow patients use their spare hours reading to those who cannot read or helping them to learn to write their name and the alphabet. She also is enjoying the fellowship meetings held for patients.

There was another man (aged 53) – I did not catch his name –who also came from a very remote area. He had a below-the-knee amputation due to disease. His three daughters are all married and have left his home; only his wife is waiting for him there. He came seeking help as he realised that although he had only a ‘sore’ on his foot that he continually damaged, it could be leprosy. Even now, in phone calls to his wife explaining that he had an amputation, he did not speak the dreaded word ‘leprosy’ so as to avoid the stigma and exclusion people with this disease still often experience. He smiled gently as he explained that he had some land that he could pay others to work now that he was not able and that he had a hand-turn sewing machine and could earn some income that way. This man’s face beamed as he shared all this with Helen this morning.

Astha* was seated on a wooden stool on wheels from which she was carefully spreading the sheet and folding the quilt as she made her bed. Her leg had been recently amputated below the knee. Wounds and damage, occurred because she had no sensation of pain due to the disease, could not be healed. She was missing her three-year-old daughter, who was being cared for by her sister. How would she cope when she returned to her home in a big town on the plains south of the mountains? It is hot and very wet at this time of monsoon. Her home is a small room and water floods in during storms. Although the family has lived there for a long time, they do not have any paper of ownership. She uses a neighbour’s toilet that is some distance away and the nearest tap is at another neighbour’s. Her husband, also a sufferer of this disease, earns a meagre salary as a rickshaw driver and Astha tends a very small vegetable patch. She related that through all these struggles she has a growing faith in God that gives her great peace. Helen gently placed her hand on the bandaged stump of Astha's leg and prayed for good healing and trust in God to provide for her future.

*Names have been changed

Abis story

Date
20 Apr 2015
Publication
Go Australia
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Medical / Health

Jesus help me Jesus help me The words came from the small six-year-old girl who had already been sick for four days. What became devastatingly clear was that Abi had dengue haemorrhagic fever and had now gone into shock.

“Jesus, help me! Jesus, help me!” The words came from the small six-year-old girl who had already been sick for four days. What became devastatingly clear was that Abi had dengue haemorrhagic fever, and had now gone into shock. Her parents had been watching her deteriorate but, like so many of their friends and neighbours, they had no familiarity with the early signs of the disease. Knowledge of these symptoms would have told them that this was not the ‘normal fever’ so commonly experienced in this tropical land. Knowing this information can mean the difference between life and death.

Celebrating a rare ‘day off’, my Saturday was interrupted by a desperate call for blood donors for “a six-year-old girl who was dying from dengue”. The phone calls and emails started and donors began giving blood. Others were on standby. Prayer calls went out – to the local community and further afield – as Abi’s condition remained critical.

Who is this little girl? Abi’s family are Christians who moved to our strict Muslim area just two years ago. Her father worked for a car sales company,who tried to get him to do dishonest things. Instead he resigned, and just a month ago he and his wife started a business here in our city. They had limited contact with the broader Christian community in this city governed by sharia law and felt very alone at this terrible time. Far from extended family and familiar home surroundings, they stood watching their little girl slipping away from them.

Friends of the family kicked into action and Abi’s parents were astonished as strangers came and went from the hospital, donating blood to a little girl they hadn’t met. They heard of people they didn’t know who were praying for them and their local friends surrounded them and kept vigil with them, coordinating donors and updating information.

On Sunday evening, the fifth day, Abi went into a coma. Her parents asked for her to be transferred to the large provincial hospital where there were more facilities in the Intensive Care Unit. Such a transfer in itself would take a toll on Abi’s failing body and more prayer calls went out to more people unknown to the family. Pray for a safe transfer … pray Abi can make the trip … pray the doctors at her hospital will agree to transfer her … and so it went.

As an acute care nurse, I knew that Abi’s chance of surviving medically were about zero. From information received it seemed she had septicaemia, was in shock and her vital organs were failing. From my experience her chance of surviving would indeed require a miracle.
Well, the miracle happened! I cried as I translated the message on my phone that came through the next morning. Expecting that I would hear Abi was now with Jesus, instead I was reading: “Praise God last night Abi was successfully transferred to [the main provincial] hospital. The transfer went well and her condition has begun to improve. She has been calling for her mother and requested food. This morning there will be a result from an X-ray of her lungs and it is hoped that today she can leave the ICU area”.

My husband and I, with our director, were privileged to visit Abi a few days later and hear in more detail the horror and relief of this family’s journey over the past week. Abi’s mother wept as she explained the depth of their agony, the two times Abi was misdiagnosed and how it was not until she felt Abi’s icy body one morning that she knew her child was dying and the health providers finally realised what was happening and began resuscitation.

Abi herself was awake when we visited but had not walked for 10 days. She was discharged to bed rest at home a week later and finally after three weeks of illness was able to walk and return to school.

Abi remembers our hospital visit and still talks about it, and the family has just recently returned to their home city due to work circumstances. The evening before they left they came to our house to share a meal and to say goodbye and once again to say “thank you”. This whole experience has been a blessing to Abi and her family through her recovery and the sense of belonging to a large community of faith that exists in this city where our faith is actively opposed and believers are often discriminated against and persecuted.

It has also been a joy and blessing to those of us who walk alongside the local church in its varied forms of expression here. Thank you to those of you who prayed for Abi and her family, and for the calls to prayer that we send out from this land. Please be encouraged that your prayers are so often answered, even though you may not always hear the results.

We especially say “thank you” to the One who lovingly gave healing to Abi and who has given us the honour to serve in this amazing place with all its joys and challenges.

The author is an Interserve Partner in South East Asia

Love made complete

Date
20 Apr 2015
Publication
Go Australia
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Medical / Health

I met Jesus the other day. He asked me to come with him to see a man who was sick dying maybe.

“This is love: not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:11

I met Jesus the other day. He asked me to come with him to see a man who was sick – dying maybe. A man who couldn’t walk anymore, who had pressure sores 12 cm wide across his spine, who people forgot to feed and whom no one wanted.

The room smelt revolting and I hesitated but Jesus walked straight in. He was carrying food for the man and he started by straightening up the room a little and giving the man something to eat. Jesus thought about me too and gave me some surgical gloves and a face mask.

Jesus had invited me because I am an expert with 17 years’ experience working with people with disabilities. But I had never seen anything like this before. Aside from disagreeing with the diagnosis the man had been given, I didn’t know what to do. I was utterly helpless.

But Jesus knew what to do. He began changing the man’s dressings and the man’s sodden bedclothes, something he came every two days to do. He started to clean the man’s wounds, taking away the old skin that had been replaced by new. And in between hisses of pain, the man in the bed asked him questions about the story he had just read in the Bible Jesus had given him. Jesus listened and answered him gently. I couldn’t always follow the answers because my language is sometimes a bit inadequate.

Jesus finished his work with fresh bandages. He asked me if I could do anything and I could see that he loved this man he served. I said I needed time to think and we left.

Of course it wasn’t really Jesus I was with. He was actually a rather short, dumpy 50 year-old with a murky past. I know him and his wife well since they took us, foreigners, under their wing. We laugh a lot together and drink tea. But that day all I could see was Jesus, and that man in the bed could clearly see him too.

“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” 1 John 4:12.

The author is an Interserve Partner in Asia.

Second Chances

Date
20 Apr 2015
Publication
Go Australia
Region
East Asia
Profession
Medical / Health

Sarah is mother to a nine-year-old boy with a physical disability. ... Gradually Sarah started to smile more chat with other parents and most importantly enjoy her relationship with her son.

“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. … Fear the LORD your God and serve Him.” Deuteronomy 10:17–18, 20.

In a culture where conformity is almost necessary for survival and the competition for resources is instinctive, those who are different, weak or suffer from misfortune are quickly marginalised and cast off without the hope of a second chance, compassion or love. But because of people who fear our God and wish to love as He loves, hope can become a reality and transformation a daily part of life.

Sarah* is mother to a nine-year-old boy with a physical disability. He is unable to walk steadily on his own without a walking frame. But Sarah is reluctant to let him use the walking frame as it would mark him out as a ‘crippled’ person. Sarah has struggled to come to terms with her son’s condition and holds on to the hope that he could be totally cured one day. As a result, Sarah carries him in her arms wherever they go, causing her stress and exhaustion.

Sarah and her son live alone in the city with no connection to family or friends. Her husband is in prison and they are far away from family support. There is neglible government assistance available, and schools can refuse a child enrolment because of their disability. Not only does Sarah need to manage her son’s therapies by herself, she lives in constant fear of debt collectors. In a society where marriage and children are upheld as every woman’s happiness, Sarah is ostracised by those who were once her friends and by strangers who throw insults when they see her son struggling to walk upright. There were many days when Sarah would lock herself and her son at home, avoiding any contact with the outside world and not knowing when or how relief might come.

By chance, Sarah heard about a group of local Christians who had set up a resource centre specifically to support children with disabilities and their parents. This group, in turn, has been supported by the work of Interserve Partners.

Sarah reluctantly attended one event. She was overwhelmed by the support, love and understanding shown to her. For the first time she didn’t feel despised or discriminated against. Gradually Sarah started to smile more, chat with other parents and, most importantly, enjoy her relationship with her son. As Jesus’ love surrounded her, she began to see her son for his strengths rather than his disabilities.

It would be so wonderful for Sarah, and for the people ministering to her, if this was where her story ended. But the road ahead is long and at times very uncertain. Sarah will need to continue to struggle against battles both from without and within. I feel privileged to have had the chance to share, in a very small way, a part of Sarah’s life and the lives of those who continue to minister to her.

*Name has been changed

The author is a psychologist who recently served On Track with Interserve in East Asia

God the Master Craftsman

Date
20 Apr 2015
Publication
Go Australia
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Education

Before I headed off as an On Tracker for four months I was told that the experience would change my life. I smiled and nodded it was just for four months

A month and a half into my time in South Central Asia, standing by my door ready to go to work and looking at the snow covered trees and the crisp blue sky, I knew, with a heavy certainty, that my life would never, could never, be the same again. My whole view of the world had shifted. I can’t put my finger on what exactly prompted the shift but the epiphany was profound and would endure through a range of experiences.

In the weeks and months that followed, I was evacuated twice to different cities. My little house was rocked by a bomb blast and gunfire reverberated all around my compound. I heard stories of fellow workers gunned down. I saw my long-term colleagues grapple with the death of friends and the genuine security threat it heralded, but more so, with the implications of having to leave as all non-essential personnel were evacuated. What would happen to the men and women they employed? What would happen to local families? What would happen to the people being served through various projects? What would happen to their friendships? The minds and hearts of my colleagues were for the people they love and serve.

I was privileged to see some of the work being done. I visited a hospital that had served the country through some incredible regime changes. Not only had the hospital brought healing to thousands, locals were equipped and empowered to take over the hospital’s management. I had seen groups of women meeting together in homes learning, for the first time, to do basic mathematics and to read. I saw hope and dignity in their eyes as they too were empowered to use their gifts and talents to run their own businesses and help their families. I saw university students and professionals alike, learning to speak English and engaging with global issues in a country that had been sheltered from the outside world for years. I heard stories of prison ministries and classes on hygiene and parenting. Work was being done amongst counselors and psychologists to help a generation traumatized by years of war and by the mistreatment of women in particular. This is just a sampling of the work being done.

“I don’t understand. I heard that none of you get paid. You are volunteers. You leave behind your comfortable lives in the west and come here to work with us. Why would anyone do that?” It was a question one of my students asked me and it was a sentiment I heard echoed in various ways. After the second evacuation and when I settled into the new city where I would see through the remaining two months, I had the opportunity to run literature circles with a range of professionals and businessmen. Together, we studied a graded version of Les Miserables. It was fascinating to see them grapple with the extraordinary acts of kindness and forgiveness and grace as presented in the text. Self-sacrificial acts of grace were considered “utter foolishness”. It made no sense to them whatsoever and yet there was something undeniably life-giving about not only the actions but the people practicing it. Why do people do this? Because they are compelled by a greater love.

I imagine it was primarily this love which made it difficult for some of the long-termers to leave. Ultimately, this love comes from above and since our trust is in a God who is not swayed by circumstances, we can rest assured that He will complete the good work He has begun.

In addition to the tangible love I saw being practiced by our brothers and sisters, I was honored to get a little glimpse into the incredible and powerful way God works in us and through us in the world that He loves. The way God protected His people during a bomb attack targeting believers was incredibly humbling and awe-inspiring. Little moments of apparent serendipity illuminated God’s hand, such as the fact that I could stay in country to see out my four months since I am a teacher and a teacher was needed in another city when people were being evacuated. Even the fact that I studied philosophy, arguably one of the most useless of degrees, opened doors to have conversations with people about the problem of evil and sin, grace and forgiveness, the nature of God and other powerful and fruitful concepts.

Although it is hard for me to see it, since I am living it, one of the startling things about my experience there was the reaction of long-term workers to the very fact that I exist. I know that sounds strange and it is strange for me, but you see, I was born in South Central Asia and the emotional connection is still there. My family left when I was two years old and came to Australia. How this all came to be is another story; a story that again illuminates God as a master craftsman of destiny.

As I grew up and saw year after year of war, and later, of oppression as girls were forbidden to go to school, I felt so incredibly privileged to have the indulgent opportunity to study for the pure enjoyment of studying –for the intrinsic value of learning. There was a very real sense that my life could have been so very different. It was encouraging for me to be back in my birth country, to see the genuine progress being made and the years of love and toil that brothers and sisters had poured into the country. There was an understanding too, though, that much remains to be done. The country still has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, especially amongst women. While the rate of children in school has risen markedly, there is much to be done within the education sector.

The love that has been modeled for me by long-term brothers and sisters over there; the love for the locals and the country that in some sense is mine; and the incredible life-giving love that I have experienced from above, all compel me now to explore ways to serve long term in this place.


The author served On Track with Interserve in South Central Asia

Tangible Love: our desire to honour God

Date
20 Apr 2015
Publication
Go Australia
Region
Other
Profession
Other

Dr Bijoy Koshy reflects on tangible love and the elements of purpose

“I don’t want to draw, I hate Art,” the student muttered rebelliously to his teacher. Though well known to all his teachers as difficult and sometimes just unlovable, this teacher refused to give up on him. Three years later, Robert, now in secondary school, once again stood in front of his previous Art teacher. “Mrs P,” he said, “I have been having bad dreams and felt in my heart that I should come and see you for help”. With the same patience that had characterised her relationship with Robert years earlier in Primary School, the teacher led the boy to put his trust in the person of Jesus Christ. Time and again, and not just with Robert, she influenced the lives of the children she taught. The children who came into contact with her heard of the love of Jesus and experienced that same love in her classroom. Here in this classroom they came face to face with Love that could be touched, experienced and was real. Tangible love.

It is this Love of God that should characterise the lives of everyone who belongs to Interserve. This is the love that Jesus demanded of Peter by the Sea of Galilee – “Simon son of John, do you love Me more than these?” (John 21:15 NIV) At the core of our organisational life should lie the ability to answer that question of Jesus in the affirmative.

Discipleship is one of our elements of purpose as an organisation. At the heart of Discipleship is a love and passion for God and His Kingdom, above every other love. The Biblical narrative, however, always sets individual discipleship within the context and framework of a community. Just as the evidence of our love for God is the demonstration of our love for each other, so also the evidence of true discipleship (both being and making) among our individual members is the presence of real community in the life of the fellowship. If we find it difficult to work with others or tend to criticise others far too quickly, then we know nothing of Calvary love (in the spirit of the book If by Amy Carmichael). One look at the life of Jesus should convince us of this. The sinners, the ‘rejects’ of society and the failures of the world found themselves (paradoxically) most comfortable in the presence of the One who was always effective and in whom was no sin found. Our discipleship, while driving us to excellence and holiness, needs to understand how to encourage those who fail, be available for those who struggle with sin and be compassionate towards those who miss the mark.

Discipleship and Community Life lead almost naturally to the other elements of our organisational purpose – Partnership and Serving the Church. Discipleship and community confer on us an agenda that is bigger than our narrow and sectarian understanding of purpose. They give us the security that comes from our identity of belonging to Him and to each other. Sure of who we are organisationally and driven by a Kingdom agenda, we are able and ready to give ourselves away in service and collaboration.

In the last few months, God has clarified His purposes for us as a fellowship – Discipleship, Community, Partnership and Serving the Church. But these are outcomes of the Love of God in our lives. Tangible love is the clearest signal of our desire to honour God in who we are and what we do as an organisation. God’s call is also our challenge today. To fulfill the elements of our purpose, we are reminded that we are to operate in the love that we have received – the love of God that enables us to love Him and our fellow community members.

Reflections on Tangible Love

Date
20 Apr 2015
Publication
Go Australia
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Theology / Church

Emily reflects on Jesus call to make His love tangible in the world and on the people and challenges shes met along the way.

Emily is an Interserve Partner, currently preparing to serve long term in a very difficult part of Asia. She hasn’t left yet, but her journey began a long time ago. Here she reflects on Jesus’ call to make His love tangible in the world, and on the people and challenges she’s met along the way.

When I think of the concept of ’tangible love’ I think of my Nan. She passed away a couple of years ago. What I remember most about her was how her life was characterised by a quiet, joyful, servant heart. Even until her last waking moments, she was knitting little booties for the neonatal intensive care unit. She knitted hundreds of those little booties and toys for the babies. She even made tiny hospital gowns for the premature babies. She never got up on her soapbox to ‘go tell the world’ (though she did need one to reach the wool for those booties), yet her motivation for doing these things was never hidden. Unlike her tea (white, no sugar, three dunks of the tea bag please) her faith was strong. Her faith was simple yet deep. She had Jesus and that’s all she needed. She loved Him. Her servant heart and gentle character spoke volumes about God’s love to me and those who knew her.

Nan’s life displayed tangible love. In thinking about tangible love, two prevailing thoughts come to mind.

Tangible love is made possible because Christ first loved us
Nan’s seemingly endless and unconditional love for others was a reflection of Jesus’ love for her. It wasn’t until I made a personal decision to follow Christ with my whole life, and experienced this love that conquers all, that I understood how one could make love tangible without expecting something in return. Now, I know that the source and strength to make love tangible is a response to the love God has lavished on us: that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Moreover, I have found that as I grow in my faith and walk closer with the Lord that it grows more natural to live a life characterised by tangible love. My prayer echoes Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else” (1 Thess 3:12).

Christ’s love compels us
There was a time when Christ’s love was so tangible it was overwhelming. There was a little old lady in a hospital in Kolkata, India. She looked downcast when I walked in the room. She had lost all her fingers as a result of leprosy. I was filled with compassion for her, a love that was not my own, but Christ’s love.

I wrestled in my mind for a moment, then I looked into her eyes and took her fingerless hands in mine. It was the first time I had touched a person with leprosy. Although I didn’t know a word of her language, as she told her story our hearts connected and her eyes welled with tears. Love was tangible in that room.

I was compelled to reach out that day and take her hand. That day, 2 Corinthians 5:14–15 took on new meaning for me: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again”.

Tangible love accepts risk and sacrifice
Tangible love is an expression of agape love, which by definition is unconditional and self-sacrificial.

Whenever we love in tangible ways, there is some sort of sacrifice, whether it is time or money that could have been spent in other ways. However, for those called to serve the Lord overseas, counting the cost of following Jesus can be much more. For some it can mean losing your life because of and while loving in tangible ways. This became the story for Tom (surname withheld) in Central Asia. His wife, Libby, has also counted the cost, yet in the midst of her loss continues to live her life as a living sacrifice for God’s glory.

As my husband and I prepare for serving the Lord overseas we have grappled with the concept of risk and sacrifice. We have chosen to leave our well-paying jobs and comfortable home to live in one of the poorest and least developed nations in Asia. In fact, when my passion started to come alive for this country, it was home to the fourth most persecuted church in the world. It was this church’s ‘counting the cost of following Jesus’, this acceptance of risk and possible sacrifice that enlivened my heart to pray for this nation. I admired this faith that had counted the cost, and this people’s conclusion that choosing to love Jesus was worth it. I desired that my faith would grow strong like theirs and that one day I could serve the Lord alongside them.

Perfect love casts out fear
People ask me whether I have thought about the sacrifices we have made in our decision to serve in a developing nation or whether we fear for our safety or health. In this journey we have considered many potential situations and our response to them. We are also aware that our decisions affect others, and that our families are also making sacrifices over which they have no control. When we are faced with these questions, we choose to follow Jesus and His plans for us. When we focus on Him and his love for all people, our fear of risk subsides because “there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18) and “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7).

We know that we can trust Him because of what we have already seen Him do. We have seen Him protect us, direct our paths and do the impossible in our lives. He is faithful. We remember that God does not promise that we will be ‘safe’, but He is good and promises that He will be with us (Is 41:10, Matt 28:20, Heb 13:5). We know that our eternity is secure in Him. We have come to peace in our decision to follow Jesus and to make His love tangible among the neediest people in the world. We pray that our families will be filled with the same peace, and that they also fix their eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.

Tangible love points to Jesus
Demonstrating Christ’s love is not possible in our own strength. Rather, tangible love is Christ loving through us. It is a sustainable love because its source is eternal. Christ’s love never spoils, fades or runs dry. Tangible love isn’t motivated by trying to earn approval, favour or forgiveness from God. Nor does it expect to be loved in return. We love because Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19).

As I reflect on tangible love, my desire is that my whole life is lived as a living sacrifice to the Lord in response to God’s great mercy and reflecting His love (Rom 12:1). May the way that we live out our lives be a beacon, a lighthouse, that points to Jesus wherever we are and in whatever circumstances we are in. This, to me, is tangible love.

Do Muslim women need saving

Date
10 Feb 2015
Publication
GO News
Region
Arab World
Profession
Other

Saving Muslim women has been one of the justifications behind military economic and social interventions in Afghanistan Iraq Syria Egypt Tunisia Pakistan and many other countries where women live under Islam.

Do Muslim women need saving?[1]

In May 2014, while I was on an extended retreat, God spoke to me from Exodus 3 about women who live in Islamic contexts: “Cathy, I have heard their cry, I know the burden they are under. I want to bring them out from under that burden, and I am sending you.” It was reiterated recently when, during worship, God gave me a picture. I saw the joy of His people worshipping together, dancing and celebrating, and among them I saw some women wearing hijabs and burkas. But then He pointed me to a well, and huddled beside it was a woman who looked poverty- stricken, broken and afraid, and who was being completely ignored by the worshipping community. As Jesus invited me to see this overlooked woman with His eyes my heart was broken with compassion.

Women worldwide experience many injustices, and for women living under Islam there is further injustice when religion is used to justify these abuses. The facts on maternal mortality, poverty, discrimination in education, violence, killings in the name of honour, female genital mutilation, to name just a few, are terrible. Despite the Millennium Development Goals, CEDAW [2], 2 wars,and NGO projects focussed on women, the situation for women who live under Islam is improving only superficially.

Some recent trends in mission strategies have also seen Muslim women marginalised from the good news. For example, the emphasis on ‘reach the male head of the household and you will reach the community’ has made cultural assumptions that have isolated women, as research indicates that the gospel in Muslim communities rarely crosses the gender divide. As one believer from a Muslim background said, when asked if he had shared the good news with his wife, “Why would I? She is just an illiterate village woman.” But, within Islam,women are both the greatest keepers of tradition and the most radical voices for change – this makes them important for transformation in the world of Islam. Even extremists have recognised that empowered women are the foundation of stable and resilient communities [3], and have brutally attacked women and their rights. The Church and mission workers must also recognise the importance of the role of women in the spread of the good news.

There are Muslim women who are calling for change. They are creating a space for conversation and action, challenging accepted norms and casting a vision for changed societies. As a Christian I want to join hands with them; I want to add into that conversation the values, example and good news of the kingdom of God so that, like the woman at the well in her encounter with Jesus, these women too might be invited into friendship with Jesus and become agents of transformation
in their communities.

I dream of seeing Christian women from Asia and the Arab world becoming part of that call for change, advocates for justice, developing their own contextual theology and challenging the conditions for all women who live under Islam. It is the Gospel, and its embrace of weakness and self-sacrifice, and the
power of the Holy Spirit to comfort, transform and heal, that will bring transformation and reconciliation.

This requires a new missiology for inviting women who live under Islam to friendship with Jesus. It needs to be one that connects with their reality, challenges injustice and offers transformation through encounter with Jesus Christ.

Dr Cathy Hine is our guest speaker for Interserve Day on 2 May 2015. Register and pay at www.interserve.org.nz or call us on 0800 446 464.

[1]: From title of book by anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod;
[2]: Convention to Eliminate All forms of Discrimination Against Women;
[3]: Women are the best weapon in the war against terrorism, http://foreignpolicy.com, 10 February 2015.

An MK perspective on community

Date
01 Oct 2014
Publication
Go Australia
Region
Other
Profession
Other

From our common experiences we could share about leaving home to come back to our parents home that was not really home for us at all.

GO asked two missionary kids to reflect on what community means to them – the strengths and highlights of growing up on the field, their experience of community as they transitioned to living in Australia, and how the Christian community in Australia can support MKs.

Sophie

We lived at a boarding school for missionary kids in the north of Pakistan, where my parents were teachers, and it was incredible experience doing church and community with such a range of nationalities and church backgrounds. It was great to learn from each other and see Jesus as such an important commonality. It was a blessing to be part of a close-knit Christian community, all living onsite or close and sharing so much of our lives with each other. We called everyone who wasn't a teacher auntie and uncle. I really missed this coming back to Australia where we have very individualistic tendencies, not really knowing our neighbours or inviting people into our homes as much.

Transitioning to living in Australia was a little bit of a shock. It felt hard to connect with people, even as a teenager, and now with hindsight I can attribute feelings of isolation to this less-involved community life, even in our churches. I think we need to work harder to be culturally different here. The MK network was my closest and most-at-home-feeling community for a number of years when we got back, and it's hard to explain why, other than that we have shared experiences and it’s easier to just ‘get’ each other.

What is helpful for one family or individual might not be helpful for the next, but in general the Christian community can support and encourage MKs by keeping in communication and taking an interest in those who are on the field in a two-way capacity; don't just ask them questions but let them get to know you too. Don't treat them as a phenomenon when they return, but give them room to be who they are and feel as ‘mk’ as the want to feel, while exploring who they are in other capacities, most importantly as a child of God hopefully.

Alison

I spent nine years in Nepal as an MK with my parents. Nepali people tend to be quite community oriented and there were kind people from our church, from the hospital where my Dad worked and people who worked for our family who welcomed us into their lives. The missionary community was also a highlight. With on average seven kids in the small school, the one teacher was more like an auntie than just a teacher.

I also attended a Christian boarding school for a couple of years while my parents were on the field. Though I found it hard to be away from my family at times, being at boarding school was great fun. With about 350 kids, it was also a helpful transition between my small village school and my school in Australia with 1000 students. Starting at the Australian school was overwhelming; a couple of the students tried deliberately to shock me in my first few days, but it was generally a fairly accepting place, which contributed to me settling in.

I found some great support in my church youth group and a girls’ Bible study group. It was in this group that I grew a lot in my faith and understanding of God. Another great source of community for me was the Missionary Kids Network. My brother, sister and I caught up with MK friends at annual camps and Interserve weekends. From our common experiences we could share about leaving ‘home’ to come back to our parents’ ‘home’ that was not really home for us at all. I often did not feel very Aussie ... in fact my feelings and reactions often seemed to be much more Nepali.

My family was also a great source of community for me, and we helped each other when it was tough. During the time we’d been in Nepal our extended families had been great at keeping in touch with us, so when we came back our cousins were already our good friends. Church friends or people in the mission agency can play a significant role during home assignment, which is a busy time for parents. Taking MKs out to do special, fun things with them is helpful. On one home assignment I remember a wonderful lady from Interserve taking us out ice-skating with her children.

The fruit and joy of gospel mission: the church

Date
01 Oct 2014
Publication
Go Australia
Region
Other
Profession
Theology / Church

The fruit of our joy in the community of Gods people is prayer.

Stuart Coulton is the Principal of Sydney Missionary and Bible College (SMBC). He was key-note speaker at the Interserve Encounters Conference in New South Wales in July 2014. This is an extract of his address.



Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica reveals both the fruit of gospel mission – the community of God’s people, the Church; and also the joy of gospel mission – the community of God’s people, the Church!

In 1 Thessalonians 1:3 Paul picks up a common theme: faith, love and hope. “We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” John Calvin called this “a brief definition of true Christianity”.

Firstly, the Thessalonians had faith which produced work. It was by God’s grace that they were saved – through faith. But genuine faith produces genuine good works that adorn the gospel.

Secondly, they had love which produced labour. The difference between work and labour is more rhetorical than substantial; however, labour here carries with it the idea of weariness, an exhaustion that flows from hard and unceasing labour. That is helpful; the labour produced by love wears itself out for others.

We don’t know what that actually looked like in the Thessalonian context but there was something conspicuous about their love because news of it spread throughout the region. Whether it was forgiving those who wronged them; treating women with respect in a society that generally did not; caring for the poor; making themselves servants of others; replacing anger with gentleness, malice with kindness and greed with generosity – the opportunities for love were everywhere.

Thirdly, they had hope. Every chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church draws to a close with Paul speaking of the return of Jesus (1:10, 2:19, 3:13, 4:17, 5:23). Our Christian hope is not incidental to our faith. Our hope produces endurance that endures hardship and persecution for the sake of an eternal crown.

How did this all happen?

The gospel was preached to them (1:5). It is the gospel that motivates and shapes all Christian behaviour. Our future pastors and church planters, church workers and cross-cultural missionaries, those we send out to overseas mission field and we ourselves must be men and women who are Christ centred, gospel centred.

The Holy Spirit came with power (1:5). John Stott said:
We must never divorce what God has married.
The Word of God is the Spirit’s sword.
The Spirit without the Word is weaponless;
The Word without the Spirit is powerless.

FRUIT: the result of Spirit-anointed gospel ministry

The Thessalonian community turned from their worship of idols to serve the living true God! (1:9). A fundamental reorientation occurred that changed forever the direction and character of their lives.

They became imitators of Christ (1:6). What a stunning evidence of faith in Jesus! Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, self-control, goodness, kindness, faithfulness. People who had led self-centred lives, lives that ignored even rebelled against God, were now living lives that yielded the fruit of the Spirit.

They became a model to others (1:7–8). Like the sound of a trumpet or the roll of thunder that reverberates through the mountains in an echo, so the model of faith set by the Thessalonians as they imitated (mimicked) the Lord Jesus reverberated everywhere!

When the north-African city of Alexandria was stricken with plague in the middle of the 3rd century, Dionysius a Christian bishop wrote that:
Most of our brother-Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick…drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbours and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead … The best of our brothers lost their lives in this manner … The heathen behaved in the very opposite way. At the first onset of the disease they pushed the sufferers away and fled … treating unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease… (HE 7; 22:10)

Even the 4th century non-Christian Roman Emperor Julian complained that Christians cared not only for their own poor but for the unbelieving poor also: a community of God’s people, born out of gospel preaching by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

JOY: Paul rejoices in the church

It is this community of God’s people, the church, which is the source and focus of Paul’s joy. In the New Testament the Church is spoken of as the body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, sheep for whom the shepherd lays down his life, God’s own family, His adoptive sons and daughters. God’s affection for His people, His love for the church is everywhere in the Scriptures. And Paul shares something of that affection. Notice the language he uses:

In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul uses the imagery of both mother (vs 7) and father (vs 11–12) to speak of his relationship with the believers in Thessalonica. He writes that, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (2:8).

Later in chapter 2 Paul speaks of being torn away and of his intense longing (2:17) for the community of believers, and describes the church as “our hope, our joy … the crown in which we will glory …” (2:19).

It is the language of love! And it is the church that Paul is speaking of. Is that how you feel about the community of God’s people, formed out of the preaching of the gospel and by the power of the Spirit?

So what is the reason for Paul’s joy? Paul sees the church not from a human point of view but from God’s point of view. His perspective is an eternal, heavenly one rather than a temporary and earthly view.

PRAYER: the fruit of joy

Finally, what is the fruit of joy? In 2:17–3:8 Paul has been describing the deep-hearted affection he has for the church, his fears for their well-being when persecution forced him and his companions to leave at short notice, and his perspective on the church as a work that will last into eternity.

In 3:9–13, Paul prays! The fruit of our joy in the community of God’s people is prayer (3:9). Notice the substance of his prayers:
• the opportunity to visit and supply what is lacking in their faith (vs 10–11)
• increased love for one another such that it breaks the banks and overflows to deluge everyone (vs 12)
• strength to be holy and blameless as they wait for the return of Jesus (vs 13).

These are big pastoral prayers that will have an eternal impact. Paul’s prayer is a reminder that it is our work as Christian men and women to pray.

JI Packer says, “… prayer is the measure of the man, spiritually, in a way that nothing else is, so that how we pray is as important a question as we can ever face”.

Seeking community: the church and the refugee

Date
01 Oct 2014
Publication
Go Australia
Region
Other
Profession
Hospitality

Our church and yours has a rich opportunity to invite refugees and new migrants into our community. Why not have a go

“I’m not in a good situation right now.”

Daryush stares at the floor of the church hall with glazed eyes, cup in hand (two teabags, four sugars). The words slowly spill out in broken English. He had just spent the last of that fortnight’s money on antibiotics when his caseworker called. “They move me again. I have to be ready tomorrow morning. He not explain why.” Moving means leaving his only near-culture friend and finding his way in yet another neighbourhood – his fourth since arriving in Australia three years ago. Then came an email from his family in his home country. Daryush’s parents, who are strict in their faith, know he has become a believer and want nothing more to do with him. He blinks back tears. I ask what he will do now. The cup quivers. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

*

We still haven’t become used to the weight of stories like these, a common part of our work with asylum seekers, refugees and new migrants in Sydney’s northwest. Of course, there are the stories of cruelty and oppression we expect for asylum seekers – of torture, arrest, police brutality, religious hatred. There is the constant heartache of those who have left everything and everyone to make that perilous journey to seek safety in Australia. We expect to hear that much. What we weren’t prepared for were the ways these stories continue within our own borders.

It wasn’t so long ago that our Prime Minister launched his policy of deterrence of so-called ‘illegal’ attempts at asylum with these words: “This is our country. We determine who comes here, and the circumstances in which they come.” Since then, we’ve learned what that word ‘we’ – that tiny, yet powerful word – can mean for asylum seekers, and what it betrays about Australia’s sentiments. ‘We’ decides who comes here. ‘We’ are not obliged to assess ‘you’, accommodate ‘you’, or tolerate ‘you’. When asylum seekers, refugees and others from across the seas are so framed, the gap between settled Aussies and these unsettled others begins to widen.

For friends of ours like Daryush, that gap is only getting wider. After years in a detention centre, he was released and given permission to live ‘in community’; two years later, though, I remain his only Australian friend. When I express my surprise at this, he tells me story after story of trying to strike up conversations on trains, at the shops, or waiting for the bus. “Nobody talks to me.” He laughs. “Maybe because I’m brown. Maybe they think I’m a terrorist.” For Daryush, and for thousands more, this is the distressing irony of life ‘in community’. Surrounded by Australians, there is no-one to welcome him home, no-one to talk to over a cup of chai, no-one to show him the best picnic spots, no-one to listen. Instead, unable to meaningfully structure his days, he spends most of his time alone, thinking of a family far away and waiting, perhaps, for the phone to ring.

The church of God stands ready to resist this gap between ‘we’ and ‘you’. We ourselves live in a community carved out by the unrelenting beat of God’s heart for the unworthy; while “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23), God saw fit to pursue us and to give us new life at the cost of His dear Son. ‘We’, like the refugee, could contribute little, but stood to gain so much through that love and the love of His people. And, so loved and transformed, we are now able to love and include others in the same way – not plagued by anxiety about our resources or our national security or even our awkward post-church morning-tea conversations. Instead, we are to be haunted by the stories of our spiritual ancestors (themselves a displaced people – Deut 10:18–19), by our Lord’s words of welcome for all who bear His image (Matt 25:35–40).

In our corner of this city, we’re having a crack at being this kind of welcoming church community for the asylum seekers and new migrants among us. At times, it means providing bags of groceries, mobile phone credit and other essentials, but we’ve been most surprised and encouraged by what happens when we gather around the dinner table. In this, the ministry of the roast chook and prefab pavlova, the refugee and the student can mingle with locals, and friendship and trust begins. We’ve laughed, we’ve shared, we’ve learnt new things. Occasionally, we’ve cried. Almost always, we’ve planned to meet again. And through these meals, we’ve seen people from far-off lands draw closer to the One who Himself became a refugee, if only for a little time (Matt 2:13–14).

It’s not always easy, and we are never far away from rehearsing those same tired divisions between ‘we’ and ‘you.’ But we are convinced that our commitment to both ‘word’ and ‘deed’ cannot be delegated to an NGO or a faraway mission agency. Our church – and yours – has a rich opportunity to invite refugees and new migrants into our community. Why not have a go?

*

Steam fogs the windows as we open the crockpots and serve up. Daryush, along with four other asylum seekers and two international students, has joined us to mark Persian New Year. There is red wine, kebabs, and even our feeble attempt at Persian rice. Many hours of comparing cultures and faiths follows. Daryush is quiet – this is meant to be a time when the pain of the old year is forgotten, though there is little chance of that when no-one knows what might happen to him tomorrow, or the day after. But, as he leaves that evening (leftovers in hand), he smiles and embraces me. “Thank-you”, he whispers. “Thanks, God, for you, my family.”


If you would like to know more about how you and your church can connect with asylum seekers, refugees or new migrants in your area, contact CultureConnect via cultureconnect.isa@gmail.com

The authors are Interserve Partners, serving in Australia with CultureConnect.

Capturing Nepal

Date
01 Oct 2014
Publication
Go Australia
Region
South Asia
Profession
Other

Its not often that one has the chance to present the gospel to someone who is considered a god.

Since 2008 Rowan Butler has worked in Kathmandu as part of the communications team of International Nepal Fellowship (INF), a Christian development organisation. His main work is in photography, promoting INF’s worldwide profile to raise human and financial resources so it can serve the people of Nepal through health and development work. Rowan, who previously worked as an electrical engineer with the United Mission to Nepal, is also occasionally consulted on engineering problems.

These stories recount Rowan’s interaction with two very different Nepali children: one in the course of his normal work, photographing an INF medical camp; and the second in a chance encounter, part of living life together with Nepali friends.

Ram
Eight years old, undernourished at 15kg and sad looking, I met Ram* as he waited on a chair along with his uncle before he went into surgery to remove a bladder stone. No one could cheer him up. The operation was done at an INF medical camp by a surgeon from New Zealand who had volunteered for the medical camp and paid all his own expenses to come to Nepal, travel to a remote location and stay in a local hotel.

This camp had the luxury of being run in a small hospital, but some take place in remote areas in ordinary buildings and without the benefit of wards for patients to recover in. They are run specifically for the poor and sometimes people like Ram walk for days over steep country to get treatment.

Finally, a smile from Ram! He was feeling much better and his mother had bought him a toy digger and he was enjoying playing with it.

The Kumari

She was being carried down the street at night, a small party accompanying her. Ahead walked a man carrying a burning torch and above her was held a large parasol, trimmed in red and gold. This was the Kumari of the Patan area, the living goddess, that Hindus believe is the incarnation of the goddess Durga. She was on her way to visit my friend Ritesh’s relatives, as they are descended from the ancient Malla kings of the Kathmandu Valley. There are a number of Kumaris in the Kathmandu Valley, all representing the same goddess. She remains set apart until she reaches puberty, at which time she returns to normal life and another girl is chosen.

On another occasion, she was in public for a festival and I took pictures of her. Then after she was taken inside and I was packing up my camera, I was asked if I would like to go in and take more photos of her.

On telling one Nepali friend that I had photographed the Kumari in private, he seemed to barely believe it, and Nepali colleagues at INF seemed astounded. Perhaps it is like being invited in to photograph the Queen!

The Kumari’s mother had asked if she could have copies of the pictures, so I went back later with prints and took two items to give the Kumari as a gift; one a game, because she is really just a girl, and the other, a small Nepali book in comic form about the life of Jesus. It's not often that one has the chance to present the gospel to someone who is considered a god.


Rowan is an Australian Presbyterian World Mission missionary with Interserve, which in turn seconds him to the International Nepal Fellowship.


*Names have been changed

From one community to another

Date
01 Oct 2014
Publication
Go Australia
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Other

Building community doesnt have to be complicated. In fact it can be as simple as offering friendship and caring for people.

“Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.” 3 John, 5–8 ESV.

“We are to grow up…into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:15–16 ESV.

The team in Central Asia has a beautiful cultural and denominational diversity. We are supported by dozens of sending communities from places as far-flung as Germany, New Zealand, Korea, and even China. Despite such varied backgrounds, there is a palpable sense of unity and shared vision when we come together for our annual conference. This year, through a series of talks by Dr Chris Wright, we were encouraged to consider the importance of community in the context of God’s redemptive mission. As we studied Ephesians and worshipped together, I found myself reflecting on the strength and love of my sending community back in Australia, who support my work and generously allow me to invest in this place.

When anyone starts thinking about leaving their passport country for overseas mission, the first question that must be asked is how their church community can support them. The early church provides some wonderful examples. One of my favourites is in Acts 15 where the congregation in Antioch rejoices over the encouragement in a letter from the Jerusalem church. I think I know how they felt, having rejoiced in a similar way over letters and emails! With this in mind, I decided to ask some of my co-workers about their experiences.

Sent by community

R has been in Central Asia for nine years, involved in theological education. She was in her early fifties when she first considered taking her work overseas. “When I first thought of going, my friends and colleagues resoundingly said, ‘Yes! Go! We’ll support you in every way we know how’.” That support has been unceasing; for example, there is a group of women clergy that has met for many years to pray for missions. When I go back on home assignment we always have a meal together. I hear about what they’re doing and it‘s wonderful. Such funny stories! We share our joys, difficulties, hopes. It is a source of mutual encouragement.’

There are many other practical ways that the church can remind its overseas workers that they are valued members of the sending community:

“Receiving care packages is a big deal. Some of my favourite things are coffee beans, handwritten notes and nice stationery. It’s not just the material blessing of small things – sometimes by the time I get the parcel other people have gone through it and it’s always sad if something’s missing – but it’s knowing that someone has cared for me and carefully considered what I’d like. And gone to the expense.” (B, from Holland)

“I had a group from my church come and visit. It was the best thing they’ve done for me. Even though there’s cost involved on both sides, you can’t put a price on a shared experience. They saw how I lived and who I worked with, and had direct experience of my daily challenges and relationships. Now they can pray for me and visualise my life, and I feel deeply satisfied to know that.” (C, from the UK)

“I’m awful at writing letters and am always behind with my emails, but I still love hearing from people. It opens up my own perspective in various ways, as lives are shared. I can think of them as I pray for them, as they pray for me. It’s a shared thing.” (R, from Australia)

On the whole, our workers in Central Asia seem to feel well-supported by their churches; so, does this influence the way they contribute to their new community in Central Asia? After all, part of the role of a partner is to foster our team on the ground.

Building new community

This can be a difficult reality. Central Asian life is rarely easy and never simple, and the routines we used to take for granted now require a surge of effort: finding ingredients for a balanced meal, catching public transport, paying bills, communicating basic concepts in a second language. Life takes a lot of energy. And yet, building community doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it can be as simple as offering friendship and caring for people. The tried and true buddy system, where an experienced partner helps to orientate a newly arrived worker, is the first step in this important process.

“I make it my business to meet new people and do what I can for them. When I first arrived, I remember someone telling me not to expect anyone to invite me to dinner because they’re all too stressed themselves. And yet I’ve been enriched by being an orientation buddy to so many people, and connecting them with others. I want people to feel like they belong because we are all very scattered with our work: women’s evenings, for instance, young parents, different ethnicities. It’s not easy here! We must provide a sense of belonging.” (R, from Australia)

“Arrival can be very traumatic. Experienced partners need to meet people, go with them to new places. You have to do community on the ground; one of the most important things is just being a friend. Why not invest in new arrivals? They’re God’s people. You miss out if you don’t.” (S, from America)

For my part, I’m profoundly grateful to be part of the community here. It is manifested in different ways: in my small group that meets to eat, pray and share together; in a wide variety of friendships; in the pastoral and professional care that I receive.

But it doesn’t end there.

Bridging communities

My relationship with my sending community is not one-way. They have sent me out with financial support, prayers and blessings; how can I bless them in return?
• By communicating a vivid, honest picture of this country and its needs, so that they can pray in an informed and specific way, with love in their hearts.
• By encouraging them to see a broader picture of God’s work in the world, and communicating as much as I can about the work of our company.
• By sharing good news and answers to prayer, so that they can rejoice.

Whether we are serving God in our passport country or overseas, we can’t do it in isolation. The body of Christ is called to be in community, and it is the particular blessing of workers to participate in numerous communities. When the time comes for me to return to Australia, I’ll have an enriched understanding of the sending church’s role; I’m pretty excited to see what my part will be.

Transition

Date
01 Oct 2014
Publication
Go Australia
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Other

Poem. It is in community that the kingdom is glimpsed a future hope present today.

It felt like ages but it was such a short time…That time between seeing the support come in and leaving.
The uncertainty.
To pack or keep going with life as it is.
To move around or stay put.
To organise one more visit or have time for yourself.
To invest in new relationships – or not.
To communicate with supporters and not to spam.
To research, understand or be overwhelmed and pause
To watch relationships change – yours with others, others with others, groups and organisations that you care about shift and bend.

With one email, it changes.
“Congrats guys, you can buy tickets.”
The excitement and the fear.
The packing and unpacking.
The suitcases and scales.
The cleaning and dumping.
The coffees and the crying.
The times to meet people.
The people you have no time to meet.
The crowds and commissioning.
The solitary and the sad.

It takes a community to raise a child. It takes a community to do life. It is in community that the kingdom is glimpsed, a future hope present today.

It is community that is ripped away.
No shared history
No inside jokes
No common understanding
No one with the same experiences.
No one.
Ever.

Old friendships are like a favourite jumper. Warm and familiar. Comforting and secure. Loved, patches healed and memories stored within the stretchmarks.

But summer is here and the times for wearing jumpers is few and far between.

The summer wardrobe awaits.
New. Unfamiliar. Ill-fitting in places.
Clean and unweathered.

And so tears come.
Grief for relationships changed and friendships lost.
Grief for potential friendships that never had time to grow.
Grief for people that don’t seem to understand
Grief for the friendships that know the heart without having to use words.
Grief for stuff once owned, once valued, locked away or discarded.
Grief for childhood experiences never to be experienced.
Grief for knowledge unlearned.
Grief for organisations and structures continuing and changing without us there.

But summer is coming and beneath the heat, a seed germinates. A promise of the kingdom now and to come. A seed that needs to sit in the soil for a while. To grow from the life that has been before. To push through the dark-yet-safe. To reach for the sun.

Stacie is an Interserve Partner, serving with her family in Cambodia

Community grows under pressure

Date
01 Oct 2014
Publication
Go Australia
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Medical / Health

An interview about community strengthened under stress.

Dirk and Nel work in Afghanistan where Dirk is the Executive Director of a registered Christian NGO. Nel supports Dirk and, being a paediatric and psychiatric nurse, also works part time training nurses at a mental health project in the west of Afghanistan. While in Australia they took time to share with GO about their work.

GO: Please tell us about your work.

Dirk: The general purpose of our organisation is to serve the people of Afghanistan. The expatriates in our organisation feel called to work out God’s love in practice on the ground. Because we are a small NGO we focus on the ‘niche’ of finding innovative solutions to problems Afghans face. In partnership with international agencies, we bring in aid funding and volunteer professionals and connect these with local expertise. Innovation happens when Afghan and foreign specialists collaborate to find solutions that are actually right for Afghanistan.

GO: What of the mix of ethnicity and faith backgrounds when expats work alongside Afghan locals?

Dirk: Afghan society has at least 34 (some say 64, depending on how you classify people) different tribes, the major tribes being the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras. In our projects we avoid any perception that we are siding with one tribe. We have about 500 employees, and the foreign volunteers come from all over the world, including Australia, Singapore, Europe, America and Canada. Virtually all the foreigners who work for our organisation have a protestant background, with one or two with a Roman Catholic background.

It is quite a powerful message and example to the Afghans when they see that, as foreigners and Christians with different backgrounds and origins, we are still able, somehow, to work together. Of course that is pretty biblical – through our love for each other people will see that we are God’s people.

GO: What are the communities you relate to in your daily life?

Nel: I relate with the foreigners and Afghan people who work in our organisation, and also Afghan neighbours who live in our apartment block, so I get very natural contact with neighbours and people in the street.

Dirk: For me, there are several communities. First there is Nel and myself as a couple, then there is the management team of six directors and myself – directors for personnel, finance, health support etc. – who I meet with every week. The leadership team involves those directors plus the team leaders of our seven regions. That group meets quarterly to take major decisions in our organisation. The community of leaders of other like-minded agencies in the region also meets regularly.

GO: What difference does it make to meet with other leaders?

We are all members of God’s team here on the ground. We each have our own part to play, but we are working together in a bigger team that has no formal structure, but still it’s there. It’s very enriching to meet because we share similarities but also have different perspectives and contexts. We also very much need each other, just like the various parts of the human body. The hand cannot say to the foot “I don’t need you”.

GO: How has living in a high-risk country shaped you as a community?

Nel: In the wider community, we have a member care network which I am part of. Every spring we arrange workshops such as the ’Transitioning Well’ seminar which prepares the people who leave in June to transition well: for their children in the community, how to say goodbye, and to prepare them for returning to their passport countries.

This year there have been several attacks on foreigners and places where we work and meet. This is a disturbing development because for us as member care people, there is much more to do. We also could not do what we had hoped to do. Actually, in such circumstances we needed each other so much and went through a grieving process together. Grieving alone is much more difficult than grieving together as a community, and feeling the comfort and compassion that comes from the Lord.

Dirk: If you are in trouble together, it is actually very helpful because you can debrief each other in an informal sense. There is a lot said about post-traumatic stress syndrome, but probably not enough about how stress can actually strengthen you. We see that, for instance, in Afghan women. When somebody from a Swiss donor agency visited one of our women’s projects, she commented that our project had strengthened the women and made them very aware and self-confident. Actually those women were already pretty resilient before we had anything to do with them, because they had gone through so much trauma.

Nel: We could call that ‘post-traumatic strength’!

Dirk: That’s not to say that people are not damaged by stress – they are, and irreparably. But that is not the only story.

Nel: It has strengthened them and us. The Afghan people have gone through this so often, and now we as westerners understand them so much better.

Dirk: I think living in an insecure context also corrects our faith, because in many ways we have been influenced by the prosperity gospel and the general tendency of Christians to believe that God will keep them happy and safe. There’s nothing in the Bible to suggest that, if anything there is the opposite in the New Testament; we can expect to suffer. We have worked that out of our faith and our world view, and in Afghanistan suffering is part of our life. Actually our faith is strengthened by it, and our theology of risk and suffering has been adjusted to become more biblical.

GO: What has been your focus as you’ve led this community through difficult times?

Nel: One of our Afghan workers told me that under Dirk’s leadership they felt understood and that he was right beside them as a friend. They also ask me if we could please consider staying a bit longer instead of leaving in September.

Dirk: For me, the overall goal is the long-term sustainability of the organisation, equipping of the Afghan staff, and thriving of the expats. One advantage of working in an organisation that has a long-term perspective is that we hardly ever have to make short-term decisions. Even when we recently drew down a team in Kabul from well over 30 to only 10, the first considerations were the long-term sustainability of our organisation and the wellbeing of the workers. We temporarily withdrew to get through a period of additional risk so that in due course they could return and continue the work. From a western perspective that is counter-cultural. We expect everything instantly but in Afghanistan, where everything takes more time, having that long-term perspective is appropriate.

We often have a shortage of team members, so there is a pressure for newly arrived team members to get on with the job immediately. However, we say, “No, first do six months of language study. If you don’t, then ultimately your work will be hampered. You will not understand or communicate well with the Afghans and our mission will be impossible to implement”.

GO: Over the long term, violence or tragedy or trouble is inevitable, but does it make a difference when they come in quick succession?

Dirk: It does make a difference because from research and psychology we know that trouble and stress add up. There’s even research that assigns a stress level percentage to stressors such as a bad illness in the family, divorce or losing a job. We have been able to cope with quite a lot over the last few years, but we don’t know whether we can cope if there is one more serious incident. We have therefore made sure that there was always backup for us.

Nel: We were recovering from an attack on one of the places where we meet, and then one month later three of our friends were killed at the hospital in Kabul, and that became a bit much for a number of people in the community.

GO: How has your life in community helped you understand yourself and your role in God’s work?

Dirk: The first thing is that it is God’s work, not ours. We only see glimpses of what is going on, but we must be obedient to the call. We are called to this role, and even if there are many things that are not good enough or that are wrong, that doesn’t really matter; we do the best we can.

Nel: The different parts of the body all have input in God’s work in different ways. It is very special being among God’s children from many different parts of the world. We are the family of God and we don’t find that in our home country, not like we have experienced in Afghanistan in the wider community.

GO: How do you see the future for Afghanistan?

Dirk: People in the Global North generally have very negative perceptions about the future. They think that once the foreign troops are withdrawn at the end of 2014 everything will collapse, but that is only one possibility. If the new president negotiates a settlement with the armed opposition, there would be the least civilian casualties and the best future. If the country splits up into regions run by different warlords that wouldn’t be too bad as long as they leave each other at peace. The worst scenario is if the regions and their powerful warlords start fighting each other in a civil war. While that may happen, and in the west the perception is that that’s the only option, it’s definitely not the only scenario.

Nel: The Afghan people are fed up with the years of war. The younger generation particularly have this longing for change. Many people voted in the first round of elections. We saw on TV that it was a rainy day, and they stood in line for a few hours in some places – many women in burkhas, even a 69-year-old woman who had come on a donkey to the polling station. Though many people have given up on Afghanistan, the Afghan people have not. They are very resourceful, very resilient, and humanly speaking that’s one of the most hope-giving aspects of the country. Of course we believe that God does not give up on any people, on any country, and He’s at work and He’ll continue working there.

GO: What is your prayer for Afghanistan?

Dirk: Firstly, the biblical prayer, that there will be Shalom and everybody will enjoy the fruits of their own labour, and live in their own house. Or, to use the words in Micah 4:4: “Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig-tree, and no-one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.”

Secondly, over the last six years, I have realised how much our work on the ground is often in the limelight, but we are actually part of a much bigger family, which includes our international partner agencies. It’s only together that we can do this work. We may get all the attention, but without the folk at home we could not do our part on the ground. God’s work is the work of the whole body of Christ. Everyone needs to play his or her part. Many are doing that. My prayer is that all God’s people will realise that they have a contribution to make to God’s work!

The hard work of life together

Date
01 Oct 2014
Publication
Go Australia
Region
Other
Profession
Other

The hard work of life and community in member care.

Ian and I met as idealistic young adult Christians in an inner-city church located near a community of people living in a high-rise area of Melbourne. Despite living in close proximity, people struggled with isolation, discrimination and issues of broken trust. Our understanding of what it means to walk alongside people who fear violence and injustice in their immediate neighbourhood grew as we shared with troubled teens and their families.

Then, like many baby boomers during the 1970s, we travelled and studied overseas before settling to work in children’s homes in southern England. The team of care givers and their own children lived and shared their lives with 20 children from different cultural backgrounds including Africa, West Indies as well as UK, who were in long-term residential care. I remember scornful onlookers when pushing a well-sprung English pram containing a nine-month-old Nigerian baby, accompanied by two pre-schoolers from Nigeria and the West Indies when I was in my 38th week of pregnancy! What a contrast to the 20 wonder-filled faces of children who had experienced traumatic personal family lives when I brought my newborn home. Crucial to our ministry was the ordinariness of giving time and self to establish trust before we could effectively share our message of hope and reconciliation.

We later spent three years living in Christian community at theological college on the outskirts of Morpeth, New South Wales. This experience equipped us both pastorally and spiritually for parish ministry. As a community we shared gifts from God’s people on numerous occasions. Living by faith, we had just enough materially and so often a food parcel provided what we needed just in the nick of time. I learnt about grace in giving and dignity in receiving. However, issues of unrealistic expectations of fellow Christians and lack of clarity about the role of sending churches proved painful.

Community is defined in the Macquarie Dictionary as “a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government and have a cultural and historic heritage”. The church is a body – a community – not a business. The model in Acts 2:42–47, the life of Barnabas, the ’one another’ verses of the Epistles, and the relationships reflected in the book of Acts and the apostles’ writings give us basic insight into the task before us. The same love requirement is incumbent upon the church of the 21st century with our own complex and ever-changing challenges. But what is the cost of striving to live in Christian community?

It seems that in Christian ministry and overseas mission work the biggest pain reported by members is in connection with Christian community living. Our experiences parallel similar issues for Interserve partners as they prepare to serve cross-culturally in places far from family and friend supports. From the experience of Paul (check out his listing in 2 Corinthians 6:4–10) we see that anyone practising true, biblical community life will experience much pain. We all fall short and fail each other. When we love deeply we also hurt deeply. We could choose to protect ourselves from much of this pain by staying at a safe distance from others and not committing ourselves too deeply to them. Alternatively, we could lower our standards and expectations to avoid much of the pain. However, Paul reminds us that Christianity is lived out in community. Attitudes and behaviours such as we read in Acts 2:42–46 and 3:32 must have been difficult to achieve and perhaps that is why Paul urges the believers in Philippi to work hard at achieving community (Phil 2:2; 4:2–3).

The Great Commandment to “love each other as I have loved you” is the essence of what we are to teach, how we are to disciple, and the way to develop Christian community. In many ways, though, it is when we share our vulnerability that Jesus opens doors for the community to minister with us.

Since Ian’s ordination for the Anglican Church in 1983 we have lived and served in several Australian towns: Bendigo, Kerang, Yackandandah and Heathcote as well as the Mornington Peninsular south of Melbourne. Our ministry and work has indeed been a family affair. Ian’s pastoral and teaching role, children at school, and community nursing assisted us to relate to locals in practical ways. Over time, opportunities arose to share God’s power for healing and translating the message of the gospel to reach people who had felt estranged from the church. The message of Jesus needed to be heard in new ways. The church congregations were often tiny and isolated from village culture but God’s people began to explain their faith and adjust worship styles and ministries to assist new members to understand the gospel message. The Great Commission is not complete until we have made disciples, ”teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”.

Both of our daughters, together with their husbands and families, live their lives as incarnational ministers of the gospel. Ruth, David, Abby and Josh serve Jesus in South East Asia. Our second daughter Naomi and son-in-law Chris lived in South East Asia last year on a short-term assignment and are looking to serve cross-culturally in future. Ruth was ministered to by her local Christian community last year when she was very ill. David was away and she had sole responsibility for the children. The people in their slum neighbourhood rallied at her bedside in prayer. Children were fed and cared for by trusted church friends.

Currently we are transitioning from pastoral parish ministry to serve with a new community of believers through Interserve and related missionary organisations. As this unfolds we are honoured to partner with others who have the courage and conviction to serve Jesus in His global village in the community of faith.

From our experience, it would seem that the way we interact with the issue of suffering and pain in most churches and the way we ‘sell’ missions today do not always adequately prepare missionaries for life on the mission field. So often we highlight the excitement at the expense of the reality. Churches in the West may teach people how to respond to suffering but often fail to teach them about the indispensability of suffering – a doctrine clearly taught in the New Testament. If missionaries are truly going to identify with and become servants to those they serve, they will face severe frustrations, along with what initially looks like failure and fruitlessness.

As member care workers we want to encourage you to bear in mind constantly that suffering is an indispensable feature of discipleship and hence community life. Hopefully, then, when it comes we will not be so surprised and we can respond to it in a Christ-like manner. May your community life be enriched by the love of God as you grow in the ways of Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Risk Suffering

Date
01 Apr 2014
Publication
Go Australia
Region
Other
Profession
Administration

Risk and Suffering in the footsteps of Jesus. Whole PDF magazine.

See attached PDF

Growing as a disciple through On Track

Date
01 Oct 2013
Publication
Go Australia
Region
South Asia
Profession
Medical / Health

An On Tracker relates how serving in Pakistan became a profound turning point in his journey of following of Jesus.

Pakistan can be a turbulent country. According to the Western media, it is a country of desolate landscapes, cruel and unfriendly people, desperation, brokenness and poverty. It’s true that life in Pakistan is far from easy: power cuts can be extreme, prices are rising without salaries doing the same, and many die needlessly due to inadequate health care.

But, ask an Interserve Pakistan Partner and they’ll tell you a very different story of the Pakistan they know and love. They’ll tell you that Pakistan is a beautiful country, often lush, green and mountainous, full of hospitable and friendly people, amazing food, a wide variety of cultures, staggering landscapes, and a significant indigenous church. And God is at work there in remarkable ways – sometimes in secret, sometimes in the open, but always at work, building his church.

It was into this context that one Interserve OnTracker went to serve as a doctor for a short term. Here, he relates how the experience grew and changed him, and became a profound turning point in his journey of following of Jesus.

I chose On Track after being inspired by a chance meeting with an IS partner on a train. I decided to take a year out from my career as a doctor to work in Bach Christian Hospital, in the north-west of Pakistan. I had cared for the Pakistani community of north Manchester during my time as a junior doctor, and at a time of increasing controversy in the press regarding the Islamic world, I wished to see for myself this much maligned society, try and understand how the message of Jesus fit into it all, and decide whether I had anything to offer there.

I discovered that Northwest Pakistan was a stunningly beautiful place to visit and culturally fascinating with a variety of ethnic groups. By day, the bazaar surrounding the hospital was bustling with traders selling mangoes, spices or (inevitably) mobile phone credit, as well as people servicing the ageing lorries plodding along the Karakoram highway. By night, to step out of the hospital compound was to step into a world of wild-eyed silver-bearded men, smoke from fires burning beneath metal plates containing sizzling kebabs, and ovens baking naan.

One of the strengths of Pakistani culture is the lavish and endless hospitality to visitors. In a country where I had anticipated there might be some hostility towards Westerners, I instead received free meals, bus fares, chai, haircuts and more from strangers, yet fierce refusal when I tried to reimburse them. Another virtue is the strength of the family structure. It was touching to see fearsome turbanclad Pakhtun men tenderly spoon-feeding their frail demented father. This is something I miss, back amongst the often disjointed families and individuals in English society.

It is very hard to summarise the ways in which my time in Pakistan developed my understanding of the gospel message, of mission and of the Islamic world. Certainly, it was not how I had anticipated it. There, with people with whom I’d assumed I’d clash I found relaxed, pure-hearted friends.

Opinions I’d previously ridiculed I now, seeing them in context, understood. It was also truly inspiring to meet those individuals who had chosen to spend their life serving in Pakistan. In the face of a struggling infrastructure and significant security threats, and away from their family and friends, the teachings of Jesus took on a whole new meaning. It was also inspiring to meet the Punjabi Christians of Pakistan. Should you ever become comfortable in coffee-morning western Christianity, this was cold water in the face –people making huge sacrifices and taking big risks to follow in the path of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Many people question how much relationship building can be done while on On Track. I found that if I was open and vulnerable I could form a number of good friendships, ones which I still maintain. I was also able to provide real tangible help to a community in need of medical help. Sustainable mission is about a team, not individualism, and if you can help prevent others from burning out by covering for colleagues to go on a long-deserved holiday, reducing patient waiting-lists or changing the frequency of on-calls from one-in-three to one-in-four, then this should not be underestimated.

After all, if a chance meeting on a train was enough to send me to Pakistan for five months, then surely five months can have a great impact.

I’ll end on one of my favourite anecdotes from Bach Christian Hospital. Further north up the Karakoram highway lays a remote, mountainous region named Kohistan. The people there speak an as-yet unwritten language and are notoriously suspicious of outsiders. During the Gulf War the staff at the hospital opted to stay in situ rather than leave as many others were doing. One afternoon, at the height of the tension, a jeep full of wild-looking long-haired men from Kohistan brandishing Kalashnikovs screeched up outside the front gate of the hospital. ‘Where is the head doctor?’, they demanded. As the guards nervously tried to make an excuse, the doctor happened to walk past.

‘Doctor sahib!’ they cried. ‘We’ve heard your hospital is under attack, and so we’ve come to defend it!’

In the times in which we live, I can hardly think there is anywhere more exciting, radical and crucial to be serving, and I am extremely grateful for the time I was able to give there.

The author is a former Interserve OnTracker from the United Kingdom.

Splashing Over

Date
01 Oct 2013
Publication
Go Australia
Region
South Asia
Profession
Medical / Health

Being disciples of Jesus means allowing His love to fill up our lives so we are ready to let that love splash over on those around us.

Sometimes discipleship happens in the context of long-term relationships. At other times, brief encounters give us the opportunity to share God’s love in meaningful ways. Being disciples of Jesus means allowing His love to fill up our lives, so that whatever the situation, we are ready to let that love splash over on those around us.

“May God our Father himself and our Master Jesus clear the road to you! And may the Master pour on the love so it fills your lives and splashes over on everyone around you just as it does from us to you.” 1 Thess 3:12,13. The Message.

I see a glass, full of water. As more water is poured in, it splashes over onto the tablecloth, the cutlery, the serviette and whatever else is around. A glass that is empty will not splash over; but a full one can’t help but splash over! The splashed water runs over hard surfaces and it is also absorbed into soft, dry things like cloth, carpet and soil. Its impact can be far-reaching and can bring about change in that which absorbs it.

The part of the country where I work in has less than 0.05% Christians, so this has become my prayer for myself and other staff of the hospital where I work: That the love of God would fill us and splash over to the people around us. Only a few expatriates work with the hospital team. Most of the Christians working here are cross-cultural missionaries within their own country. They come from the south and north-east—the more Christian and richer parts of their country. They leave behind family and well-paying jobs to come and serve in a place that is called ‘backward’ and very poor, so that they might share the love of God with the people in their care.

Government Medical Officers completing extra training in Family Medicine (General Practice) come to our hospital for the clinical part of their course. They stay with us for a period of ten days at a time, three times over two years. They get to see us at work and at home, so they get to observe all the aspects of our lives. They say things like this to us: “Your hospital is different. The hospital is clean”, “The doctors talk nicely to the patients”, “The doctors are willing to share their knowledge with us”. They often ask why we have come to work in this ‘backward’ place, and then we have a chance to share about the love of God that compels us.

Some of our doctors go to visit the Government Medical Colleges in our area. They seek to encourage the Christian medical students and also build relationships with other students there. In the Diwali holidays, the medical students are invited back to our hospital for a retreat. During the day there is a clinical training program to supplement their college training. In the evening there is a spiritual program including testimonies, discussions and messages. Now we have some of these students coming to us on other holidays just because they feel at home with us. They want to learn more about God’s love—the love that they have experienced splashing over to them.

Raj was a 20-year-old young man who came to us after eating rat poison in a suicide attempt. Unfortunately, the rat poison he had eaten was one that we cannot reverse and so this young man would die, probably in the next 24-48 hours. Olem is one of our nurses who has been changed by the love of God. During her duty she was able to share with this young man of the difference God’s love made in her life. Raj’s case is just one of over 400 suicide attempts we see in our hospital each year. Many of them come to our hospital because it is known in the area as a place that deals compassionately for people who attempt suicide. God’s love is splashing over again.

I first saw Beryl when she was left screaming and scantily clad on the ground outside the Outpatient Pharmacy. We guessed she must have been about seven months old but she was just skin and bones unable to sit up. She ended up in our Children’s Ward where the staff gave her the name of this precious jewel. Within a week she was smiling and responding to anyone who came to give her a cuddle. I often finished my ward rounds by going in and playing with her. The hospital carried the cost of caring for her, since her family was never found. Today Beryl is a healthy little girl, thanks to “super flour halva” and the care of the staff in the Children’s Ward. (Super flour halva is a porridge made from local grains and pulses that provides a great source of carbohydrates and proteins). Beryl has also gained the love of a family: in the home of a couple who were not able to have a child of their own but are full of the love of God.

Pari was one of our nurses who came in to visit me and ask for advice with her crocheting. As we worked with the wool, she shared with me the challenges she faced regarding her family who were not following God’s ways and wondered what she should do when she had to leave the hospital and return to her home district. Now I get text messages from her from time to time. She is working in a remote part of the country where she has no phone, no electricity and she is both the doctor and the nurse. I thank God for the chance I had to splash over some of the love of God to her, which she is now splashing over to others.

Some years ago, after facing public transport in the heat and humidity of Darwin, Denise and I bought a big, cold, refreshing milkshake. As Denise sat down, she managed to spill her drink, and what a mess it made! Before it completely spilled, she managed to catch the drink with about three quarters still in the cup. What amazed us was how far the spilled part had spread. It covered a large area of the table and the cleaner had a big mess to clean up on the floor too. And that was just one quarter of the drink!

And so I keep praying: that the love of God would fill my colleagues and me to overflowing. We have seen some of the impact as God’s love has been absorbed into dry and thirsty lives around us—but we long for more. Just like with Denise’s milkshake, sometimes we are amazed at how far the splash spreads. I think that we will be even more amazed when we reach heaven, because God has promised that His love and His Word will not return without making an impact in the world around us.

The author is an Interserve Partner in India

Pressing on toward the goal

Date
01 Oct 2013
Publication
Go Australia
Region
Arab World
Profession
Education

An Interserve Partner and football coach reflects on his role: shaping young players into people who can receive apply and spread love and grace in every aspect of life.

A good football coach understands that they are not just coaching a game, but coaching life. They recognise the need to develop the whole player. As in the journey of discipleship, what we learn on the football field touches all areas of life and community.

An Interserve Partner and football coach reflects on his role: shaping young players into people who can receive, apply and spread love and grace in every aspect of life.

In 2011, I was fortunate to be able to attend a 2 week coach education course in Spain, along with 30 other coaches from Australia. We had lectures from coaches involved in the youth programmes at some of the biggest and richest clubs in the world - clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Espanyol, Malaga to name a few. And without exception, these coaches all started their lecture with the same line: that they “first develop the person, then develop the player”. The biggest football clubs in the world know that having players with good character and behaviour, who can work well together in a team and be role models to the community are a valuable asset to the club. They are beneficial both for its on-field success as well as for its reputation and economic success off the field.

Can we also develop people as we develop players?

More recently, I attended another conference in a nearby country, this time for like-minded young coaches of many sports. The focus of this conference was not just on improving coaching ability, but on how coaches can become role models for the young people in their care.

At this conference, some recent research was presented which showed that sport itself has a neutral effect on players. It can be used to positively influence a person’s life, but it can also be detrimental. If the coach adopts a “win at all costs” attitude, then sport has negative impacts on the moral fibre of the players. Their behaviour off the sporting field is eroded by the messages they receive at training. When winning is everything, being honest, respectful, loyal, humble and fair are disregarded. When winning is all we focus on, self-centredness, greed, pride, violence and bending the rules all take centre stage.

But, as the teams in Spain prove, it is possible to adopt a winning attitude without abandoning our moral accountability.

Combating negative influences

There are many negative influences that we need to counteract as we strive to teach our players positive personal characteristics and attitudes. After all, we live in a fallen world. I will highlight two:

Firstly, there is the lack of positive role models for youth, especially fathers. This applies especially in the countries where we serve. Due to many factors, fathers are absent from young people’s lives. While coaches can’t become a new father, they can certainly become a new positive role model in the players’ lives.

Secondly, there is the effect of poverty. A newspaper editorial about World Humanitarian Day this year stated that, “poverty kills solidarity and dehumanises people. When I have less and feel insecure, I am less inclined to associate or support others.” In poor communities, it said, people have “lost the mechanical sense of cohesion where people help one another without thinking.”

The effect of poverty

Poverty causes people to abandon any thoughts of working together and instead adopt a survival attitude: you must look after yourself or you will go without. No one else will look out for you. Poverty is a very real factor in many countries where we serve.

I had a glimpse of how that plays out in real life in 2004 when I first came to my adopted country and spent some time at an orphanage. One of the activities I did with the kids was to play a variation of baseball, using a football and kicking instead of batting. Sounds simple enough. There was a fielding side. There was a batting side; all sitting and waiting their turn. Well, almost. Whenever it was time for the next “batter”, every one of the batting team was up and fighting for position and I had to pull them apart. Waiting in line wasn’t an option. Was it just because they were naturally self-centred and greedy? Or did their lives condition their behaviour? When you realise that they are amongst the poorest of the poor, and waiting for anything means missing out, then it is easy to understand that they didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to play.

Training to win – on and off the field

When you look at the way a team plays sport - in my case football - you can learn a lot about the culture and society of the players. Football is just a microcosm of life. When I watch the local games here in my country, I see the same problems arising from poverty and lack of positive role models, the problems that hinder community spirit and development in the society, all played out before you on the football field.

So why use sport as the vehicle to combat these effects? Sport is a natural bridge between the coach and the players. As we coach, our focus is not just on making better players, but on making the players think about the concepts and attitudes involved. Concepts like teamwork, serving others, forgiving others, encouraging others, helping the weaker members of the team, helping others to score goals, planning ahead, making good decisions, respecting others, being loyal, humble, working together for a common goal, overcoming challenges, and working hard to improve ourselves are all important for a successful team. They are also all important in a successful and caring society.

By giving the players a tangible example of these principles in action, we hope that they can understand their value and apply them within their families, communities, and their future work. In so doing, they may ultimately transform the communities where they live.
Transforming lives and communities

And there is more. A wise man once said that we only need to do two things. The second was to love our neighbour. How do we love our neighbour? By doing what’s best for them, and putting their needs above our own. We do that in a team environment by doing what’s best for the team;

By serving the team.
By respecting the coach, the opposition, the referee.
By being loyal to our teammates.
By accepting responsibility for our mistakes; admitting them and not blaming others.
By being honest.
By working hard and improving ourselves so we can better serve the team.
By helping others to score goals, especially when they are in a better position to do so.
By being honest, and not stealing from others: not their belongings, their opportunities, or their worth as people.
By being humble in victory and gracious in defeat.

All of the things that we want to encourage in our players go to the very essence of loving our neighbour. As we encourage our players to obey this second command for the sake of their present lives, we ask and hope that it will lead them to understand the very nature of the One who gave the command, and then to their understanding and obedience of the first.

Sport provides a unique bridge between the coach and the players, but it also touches many others in the community who enjoy participating or watching it. It has a levelling quality that gives us acceptance in the community. Because of this, it is also a unique opportunity to reach into and share the lives of the people we live amongst, allowing us to reveal the hope we find in following the One who lets us share in His victory.

There are many opportunities in the countries we serve. Find out how you can be part of His team in these countries. Don’t wait on the bench, but get involved in the game.

The author is an Interserve Partner in the Arab world.

Whole of life discipleship

Date
01 Oct 2013
Publication
Go Australia
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Agriculture

Reflections on what it means to follow Jesus in all of life

Whole of life discipleship

Rod and Helen* have served in Pen Asia for the last 8 years; he as an agronomist and she as a home-schooling mother.
Here, they each reflect on what it means to follow Jesus in the diverse contexts of their daily lives.

Helen’s perspective

‘Whole of life’ discipleship means living a life of faith alongside others and encouraging them in their faith journey. This is very challenging to me because it’s intricately linked with my own faith journey. Discipleship of others feels most natural, and most authentic, when it overflows from my own experience of following Jesus, my own experience of being His disciple.

I’m still learning how to stay aware of His presence amidst my everyday activities and to walk through my days with Him. I’m still learning to turn to Him over and over again in small moments, with thankfulness and cries for help. I’m still learning to put my failings, my hopes, my needs and the needs of others around me into His hands.

As I learn more about how to follow Him, and as I experience His loving care, His provision and His encouragement, then I find myself sharing these experiences in a natural way with those around me.

John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

I find it hard to strike a balance between being intentional in discipleship and allowing the Spirit to lead me. I am committed to encouraging others to follow Jesus more closely, but I want to do it in His strength, relying on His wisdom and His timing and not my own. The times I feel a welling up in my spirit, an urgency to share an experience of His grace or an encouragement from His Word, are the times I sense His Spirit touching others through me. I pray for my heart to become more sensitive to His nudges and for more of these moments that seem truly God-directed.

The people I live my everyday activities amongst are the ones I have most opportunity to share with and encourage: my three kids who I teach at home each day, a few local women who I come into contact with regularly, and a few other expat friends in our community. These people, with whom I interact most closely, see the best and the worst of me. Amidst the messiness of my everyday life I hope they will see His strength made perfect in my weakness as I seek to follow Him.

I have the opportunity to live life and faith alongside our house-helper Bee*. She is from a small village in the south of the country but is living in the capital with her husband while he does further study. She works in our home to help support her husband’s studies and they live with us. Bee is a follower of Jesus, but her husband is not.

It is a privilege to walk alongside Bee and we’ve experienced some exciting answers to prayer. She was keen to learn tailoring skills whilst living in the capital; but we knew it would be difficult to find a tailor who would be willing to teach her around her work hours, and who would teach her a wide range of skills rather than seeing her as an opportunity for quick money or as someone to give all the drudge work to. We both prayed about how to find the right tailor to approach and one day I felt a strong urging to take Bee to a particular tailor who had made some clothes for me a couple of times before. I shared it with Bee and we went there that day. To our delight, the tailor agreed to teach Bee for a reasonable ‘one-off’ payment and for an open-ended amount of time—until Bee learnt as much as she wanted to learn. Bee has been learning alongside this tailor for over eighteen months and it is working out so well. An obvious answer to our prayers!

It’s harder to walk alongside Bee when circumstances are difficult and His answers are less obvious. It’s harder for me to trust His timing and His wisdom and to encourage Bee to do the same. Earlier this year Bee’s mother was very sick and so my family and I joined Bee in praying for her. Despite our prayers and our efforts to try and find the right medications for her, Bee’s mother died. Her family is left in a difficult situation with two younger sisters still at home and Bee’s father travelling away for work.

Although Bee’s husband is not a believer, he attends church with her each week and has been interested to read some Christian books and even a Study Bible. He has remarked that Christians really seem to care for other people and he was struck by the difference between the Christian funeral for Bee’s mother and the Buddhist funerals he is familiar with. He hasn’t decided to follow Jesus yet. Bee and I are still praying for him.

As I walk alongside others I learn so much from the way they live as a disciple. I have been challenged by Bee as she works in our home. She does her work with such diligence and care, always doing tasks to the best of her ability, and never seeking recognition or praise. When I read in the Word about taking the attitude of a servant, I think of Bee. Her example challenges my own willingness and efforts to be a servant.

Rod’s perspective

Eight years of living in Pen Asia have provided me with a variety of experiences related to discipleship and how discipleship might work in this context.

In a broad sense, discipling others is to be available to help shape their spiritual life. There is a sense of this being intentional, and yet also a natural process to help others seek increasing fruitfulness in their lives. Discipleship viewed this way is what we might refer to as sanctification.

As westerners, we usually think of discipleship as taking place during a set period of time, often early in our spiritual journey, a time we set aside to let God do His work. Discipleship may fit into a class at a set time where we form our theological views. Perhaps we ignore the claim that God has on our lives, that our journey of growth should be continuous and ongoing, that God can use chance encounters or even suffering to form and shape our spirituality—that He is orchestrating all things to work together for our good.

Adopting this approach fits my context. Local folk don’t split apart their spiritual lives from their secular lives. Spirituality permeates everything. Discipleship, then, can take place through all sorts of actions, forms and situations. Discipleship is actually a whole lot of life experiences with the key ingredient being the promptings of the Holy Spirit (who, by the way, works so powerfully in us; see Col 1:29).

For some time, I managed a team made up largely of Buddhists. Despite our context (where evangelism is viewed as creating disharmony and may lead to expulsion), there were many opportunities to share Christ gently in word and deed. Some of this was direct: sharing a parable at a training session, explaining my Christian motivation to walk alongside the poor, praying with those in difficult situations, or responding to questions about my faith. But much was indirect: consciously donning a servant leadership approach, respecting others, discussing ethics and morals, or demonstrating love in action.

My current team is made up of believers, quite a different situation. We have been following a Bible study series to explore and discuss passages in depth. The book of Romans, for instance, is not something to be rushed through. Much of our discussion has centred on questions from our staff that have not been answered in their church settings. Discussion of theology has led them to consider life application in areas such as diet and health, raising children, the use of technology, and ethical business practices.

Living as a Jesus-follower means, however, that discipleship stays blurred. It involves a whole lot more than simply sharing scripture passages. It involves showing, demonstrating, guiding, or applauding others as they put Jesus’ words into practice. It may also be listening, crying, or hearing broken stories. Much of this takes place in the midst of the everyday. Note how often Jesus performs an action or provides teaching while he is “on the way” to somewhere else. Am I ready to adopt this view, to be available anytime, to point others to the Jesus way?

Lately, I’ve enjoyed asking our staff about their faith journeys and helping them relive why it is that they follow Christ. I like to encourage them to expand their faith, such as through specific prayer or re-reading small passages of scripture. Attending their church services has also been encouraging for them, giving them a kind of solidarity and me a deeper understanding of the challenges of worshiping in their context.

What about those who are yet to follow Jesus as their Lord? Discipleship can then take on the form of revealing the truth of scripture as played out in real life. Acts of kindness play a role here. When I worked in development, building a bridge with a poor community, a major undertaking for all involved, led to changes in mindset about “Christians” such that some villagers are now working with a nearby Christian business. These are small steps indeed, but as we are faithful in small ways, so God can do His work to orchestrate bigger changes in the future.

Rod and Helen are Interserve Partners in Pen Asia

*Names have been changed

Dear Supporters

Date
01 Apr 2013
Publication
Go Australia
Region
Other
Profession
Other

For you who have stayed but still care about us who have gone it is to you who I dedicate this letter

This magazine has a great name; GO. Three years ago, we went. But for many of you, you have not gone; you have stayed to be used by God in Australia. For you who have stayed – but still care about us who have gone – it is to you who I dedicate this letter!

When we were asked to write an article for Go, I was excited. I like to write. When I was told it was on prayer....that made me think twice. That’s because, well.... I’m really not such a great pray-er. As many Mums of young children might identify, I sit down to pray and within a few minutes of quiet I’m either fast asleep or back on my feet dealing with the latest toddler emergency.

I’m really a little embarrassed to admit it of course, because aren’t most “Missionaries” (except me and my husband) pretty perfect? Hmmm. Anyhow, here’s where you come in. Though I strive for a better prayer life, and hope for a great intercessory future, right now, I am a better dish-wiper than intercessor. Yet, we are blessed to have a God who knows our weaknesses and I am eternally grateful for those of you who are faithful intercessors on our behalf.

I know that God hears your prayers for us. I hope you have also seen the evidence of this, and been encouraged, as you read our newsletters, and hear the stories which prove His, and your, faithfulness.

A perfect example was when we needed $10,000 to save the School (for the poor) that we serve at: we asked and you prayed. Two years in a row, at the last minute, we saw God answer these prayers in miraculous ways. Like some of our mission heroes, we now have evidence of God’s providence when we were handed a $10,000 check from an individual we didn’t know, just days before the cut-off. This has not just happened once, but several times. So in the last few years, not only has our ministry been able to continue, but our faith has also grown, through these (character building) waits for God’s answers!

Similarly, when the nation we serve in had some violent and unsettled months, we had to make some tough decisions. Should we stay? Should we go? Would we be safe here? What was God’s will for us at that time? Through those especially scary months, we needed your prayers more than ever. And even when the internet was out for a long while, we knew that you were watching the news and praying for our family. And when it came time to make decisions, God clearly led us into deciding to stay in that nation, despite the uncertainty. But if I had not known that back in Australia there were people committed to praying for us, and upholding us daily, I’m not sure that we would have made the same decision.

There are the simpler things you have prayed for – that don’t make such exciting stories – but are just as important. When you asked on our behalf, for a home for us on home assignment, God answered your prayer. Sometimes I wish God would not wait until it is down to the wire for things, but by now, we are getting much better at trusting in God’s provision! We also saw the provision of a car from a stranger, who happened to email the State Office at the right time, with the right car, and a generous heart – after you prayed. Thanks!
Similarly, we have been aware and humbled that people have been praying for us continually in everyday things, like our walks with God, for our kids settling in a foreign country, and especially for our health and safety. We are happy to share we have not got many exciting stories in that area – a divine answer again.

Individually, some may say these things could be lucky coincidences. They just happened to work out in our favour. But when we look back, over three years, and see the continuous blessing, provision and protection of God on our lives and ministry, we hope you see this cannot be true. There have been countless examples of our family being protected – through death threats at work, in the traffic, and in day-to-day life of emotional strain. As you uphold us in consistent prayer these potentially critical situations have been diffused.

In one situation we were aware that a gang of armed youths were active in our city, and had threatened to come and visit the school. They had attacked churches and other schools, damaging property extensively and slashing and attacking a number of young people indiscriminately, sending six seriously injured youths to hospital. We asked you to pray protection over each child, teacher and the premises. A prayer team from the UK specifically prayer walked the area two weeks before the time of the incident.

The gang did come to the school just before students were released one evening. When they came, my husband came out to confront them, dressed in a suit and dress shoes, and without a weapon of any kind. Yet, when they saw him, the entire gang ran from him, so he chased them into the next suburb, where they dispersed into the market. The school students were able to be dismissed safely, and the gang hasn’t returned yet. Why would the gang not do the same thing here as they had done throughout the city in the weeks previous? Why would they fear a slightly crazy foreigner chasing them? My only credible explanation is that some faithful pray-ers were covering him and the school that day. I don’t know why God chose to protect here and not the other places. But we are very thankful that hundreds of kids were kept safe.

I wish I could understand the mystery of prayer. I wish I could be a great intercessor. The hard times have pushed me into praying more passionately but I still have a long way to go! What I am most grateful for is that you have been there praying for us, and your prayers have been answered time and time again.

It is not only our own supporters for whom this letter is written. Every Partner serving cross-culturally could share of God’s faithfulness and answers to your prayers, just like us. On behalf of them all, to each one of you, our faithful prayer partners: thanks!

Love S.T.

The author is an Interserve Partner

And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.
Isaiah 65:24 (KJV)

Bright neon flashing signs

Date
01 Apr 2013
Publication
Go Australia
Region
South Asia
Profession
Education

It started about a year ago when I was devoutly talking to God - nay - pleading with him to show me in bright neon flashing signs where on earth I was supposed to go...

Teaching five-year-olds does not often allow for quiet time. They just love to talk! About their families, their friends, their new toys, a wobbly tooth, just about everything! But what I love is when they talk to God. Their prayers are so honest and they are not afraid to ask God to supply their needs and to thank him for what he does for us. I must say it is hard not to smile when they pray for their teacher’s plane to stay away from eagles in the sky, or, “thank you Jesus that it’s summer soon because I can’t wait to have milkshakes.” Their honesty and thankfulness has made me think about prayer and its importance in our mundane day-to-day lives.

Prayer has always been something that I have done, but it wasn’t until coming overseas to serve, that I have found the importance of and daily reliance upon prayer. It started about a year ago when I was devoutly talking to God - nay - pleading with him to show me in “bright neon flashing signs” where on earth I was supposed to go after returning from two years away in an exotic location; England. He had planted Nepal in my heart months before, but I was having an inner wrestling match to properly accept my calling. I think the idea of going appealed to me more than the physical aspect of moving halfway across the world to a foreign, dusty, third world country. However, like many times in my life I have found that when I pray for leading, I imagine him smiling, leaning back and with a flick of his wrist or a blink of his eye, he answers our prayers in mind-bending ways.

So once again at the beginning of 2012, I found myself willing to follow God’s leading but not really sure where that was. But, as in so many instances before, God has allowed these prayers and pleas to be answered when and how he wants them to be. I had been home from London for a few months and things were starting to get a little desperate. I needed an answer, I needed funds, and I wasn’t quite sure which way to turn. However I made a decision to make sure that whatever I decided to do, that I would completely consult God in prayer on every decision I made. So I tried to subside the panic that was slowly brewing inside of me, like a good cup of green tea, and just hand it over to the Big Guy! So I did! And he was faithful.

I remember that day well. I was fiddling on the computer, organising things (not really organising, more agonising over future plans), when my friend Marilyn popped online to answer my questions about Nepal. I had been liaising with Marilyn because she had been in Nepal for two and a half years and it was she who initiated my interest in serving at KISC for the 2012/2013 school year. Marilyn asked if I had done anything in regards to finding funding for the year ahead. I hadn’t. So she said to me, “I will email a couple of my friends because they know how important it is for us to find teachers out here. You can start to write letters to friends and family, and that is at least a start.” We organised to talk again later once her friends had responded.

Not even half an hour later, she called me back and said, “Honey, stop writing those letters; I think you’re covered for the whole year!” A friend of hers had read the email and replied instantly with “I think we should be able to cover that!”

BAM! I was numb with shock, and fear, and disbelief. If that wasn’t a neon flashing sign, then I’m not sure what is! Later, I learned that the staff at the school had gathered to pray for me that very day about my finances and direction for me to come to KISC. My sponsor also informed me much later on that he gets hundreds of emails across his desk every day and doesn’t commit to helping others unless their message speaks out at him. But if he feels led to take it up, he does so without any hesitation and accepts immediately. Even in a season when business was quiet, he still decided to step out in faith and support me financially for the year. God has blessed his faithfulness abundantly with a business year so full that he has had to outsource to meet the demands. I was so humbled to hear this, and grounded in my calling to serve the year at KISC.

Since arriving on the dusty roads of Kathmandu, prayer has been a method of survival, necessity and comfort. Adjusting to a new culture, a new climate and a new school has not always been easy. At the beginning of the school year I had a few significant problems with my class and there are times when the pain of homesickness trickles in and little things like the crazy traffic, or no electricity can almost be the end of you. But I have experienced and witnessed things here that have changed me forever. The school that I have been working at has just finished 40 days of prayer and fasting for the future development of the school and seeking God’s leading. I have enjoyed being a part of a community where if there is a need, a problem, or even success, we turn to God. Sometimes during a lesson or lunchtime, we pray for the needs of a staff member or the school, taking everything to him in prayer.

The mother of one of my students came to me last term to explain her husband’s sudden-onset battle with a brain tumor and to ask if we could pray for healing. After many months of prayer and medical treatment the doctors found no tumor remaining. It was a miracle!
But despite the many miraculous times when he says “Yes”, sometimes God’s answer is “No”, and some sad and disappointing results this year have led me to ask him, “Why?” Yet, despite his occasional “No” answer, I have learned that his plans are bigger, his ways are higher and he is always faithful.

A favorite verse during my time in Nepal is, Phillipians 4:6: “Don’t worry or be anxious about anything, instead pray about everything, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers.”

If you had told me when I was a little girl that in 2013 I will be living in Nepal, working at a mission school and sharing God’s love with the people of Nepal, I would not have believed you.

I am thankful that God had a different plan. Stepping out in faith to follow his calling this year has been one of the most fulfilling experiences, and I will not leave the same person I was when I arrived. I have learned that prayer is not just part of our routine before bed, but a constant source of support and comfort, as God cares for us in every mundane and major detail of our lives.

Tara is an OnTracker serving on a one-year placement in Nepal.

Learning the Language of Discipleship

Date
01 Apr 2013
Publication
Go Australia
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Community Development

We are not just learning to speak another language. We are building relationships...

It’s an exciting stage of the journey. Interserve has accepted us as Partners, we know where we are going and have some idea of what we might be doing. We have thoughts about how we might meet people in our neighbourhood, build relationships in our community, engage with the local church and, God willing, see lives transformed through encounters with Christ. Then comes the rollercoaster ride of visiting churches, hosting information nights, raising support, packing up our home and, of course, saying goodbyes.

After an exciting, sometimes stressful, extremely emotional deputation period, we finally arrive at Bangkok International Airport with 3 kids and more than 150kg of luggage safely in tow. In the first few days, the excitement of catching up with old friends, eating favourite foods and revisiting favourite parks keeps our spirits high. And then, when the initial excitement has worn off, we find ourselves living out of quite a lot of suitcases with nowhere to hang our wet clothes, sick children and, something I never thought I’d see, my husband desperate for fresh vegetables! The first few weeks of living at a guest house while trying to find a home, a school for the kids, a school for language and a suitable doctor, are difficult but to some degree expected and thankfully, only short term. But often, after this initial and intense phase of setting up home in a foreign country is over, it is easy to believe that life will settle into some sort of routine and we will be able to get on with what we came here to do.

So why are we here? Well, the official reason is to work in the national church’s Office of Child Protection. But we also hope to use our time here to get alongside the local church. To encourage believers and non-believers in their understanding and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and to be one more light, a witness for Christ, in a country where more than 80% of the population is Buddhist and less than 1% is Christian.

Fortunately for us, when we arrived this second time around, we already knew a few locals; we had experienced, long term missionaries to help us out; and quite a lot of the people at our church speak English very well. This initial transition phase was perhaps easier for us than for some, as we had already done a little of the groundwork, building relationships when we came to Thailand as OnTrackers in 2010. So although we initially thought we could hit the ground running, it would appear life has come to a grounding halt or at least moving very slowly – a lot like the Bangkok traffic! And like sitting in a taxi through three changes of lights and not going anywhere, this has been, at times, quite frustrating and sometimes even disheartening. Dan is still doing full time language study, while I am looking after the kids, doing part time language study and helping out at the kids’ school. Perhaps with the exception of natural linguists or extreme extroverts, language learning is slow, hard work. We often feel like we are progressing at the rate of two words forward, one word back. Eight months down the track, we still can’t understand a sermon at our Thai church, I can read the hymns but I can’t read and sing them at the same time, in time with the rest of the congregation. Even on a good day, I often struggle to converse fluently with my Thai friends in their language. And then of course there is the unavoidable embarrassment of language faux pas. Surely they just cause misunderstandings and offense!

Language learning often seems better at breaking relationships than building them. Dan told a man he had just met to ‘go away’, I told a girl putting on make up that she was ‘bad luck’ and, most embarrassingly, the son of a church elder that he ‘had many breasts’ instead of ‘many turtles’! There are plenty of people in Bangkok that we can witness to in English and Dan could probably get by doing his child protection work in Thinglish. So why put ourselves through the embarrassment, literal pain of fortnightly exams, headaches and sore eyes (Thai script is very intricate!)?

Well for one thing, language learning teaches humility. There is nothing like asking for an extra plate at a street café so that you can share a meal with your daughter and ending up with a whole extra meal to teach you that you are not in control of the situations in your life, even when you think you are. Then there is wounded pride that comes with answering the phone in Thai, and giving what you think are clear directions to your home, only to be told, “I can speak in English”. I am not sure that when Paul exhorted the Christians in Philippi to have the same attitude of humility as Jesus Christ, he had language learning in mind. However, being in a country where you are learning the local language does lower you to the same level (at least communicatively) of a one year old. A fairly humbling place to be! So whilst it is easy to come into a new culture, especially one where the church is either small or still young, thinking you have all the answers and knowledge about the best way to do ministry. Language learning reminds us that we are also learners, mere babes in understanding and in need of help in order to grow. It is also a humbling reminder of Paul’s words to the Corinthians and something the Lord is still teaching me. So often I rely on my own wisdom or my own capabilities to serve the Lord. However, in God’s wisdom, He chooses to work through the foolish and weak things of this world to shame the things of this world. So that our boasts may not be in ourselves but rather in the Lord; so that our faith might not rest on man’s wisdom but on God’s power. (see 1 Corinthians 1:27-2:5)

Secondly, I think language learning demonstrates and often tests the commitment we have to the people we wish to work with and live amongst. As most foreigners living in Bangkok do not bother to learn much of the language, people are often pleasantly surprised to learn that we can converse with them in their own language. I only have to ask a taxi driver how many children he has and how old they are and he usually comments on how well I speak Thai. Unfortunately, at this stage I don’t understand much else of what he says to me, so the temptation to feel proud of my linguistic abilities is short lived. I hope though, that even though I can’t (yet) understand all that the taxi drivers, shop keepers and language instructors are saying to me, that I am demonstrating that I value them and are willing to invest time into learning how to communicate with them in their own language.

I think testing our commitment is also important. As one of the main goals of all this language learning is being able to disciple people and discipleship is not always easy. Like language study, it is often slow, it involves sacrifice of personal time and there are times when results are seldom seen. In times of frustration over the language learning process, when we feel we can’t possibly learn one more exception to the rule, it is easy to doubt and wonder whether it is all worth the effort. It is at these times that we need to look to the cross and the demonstration of God’s love and commitment to us. “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NIV) (If you are not sure how to pray for Partners in language study, perhaps you could pray that we would continue to be compelled by Christ’s love to persevere through what sometimes feels like a testing of our commitment to serve overseas).

Learning the local language also helps with understanding the culture. Apart from all the practice reading exercises about family relationships, religious practices and the news and media, the vocabulary and sentence patterns used in language often gives insights into what a culture values and the way its people think. For example, a common phrase in Thai is “mai bpen rai” which translated into Aussie means “no worries”. This is an attitude I need to develop more of when we invite people over for dinner and they arrive over an hour late because they oversleep then get stuck in Bangkok traffic. Rather than getting annoyed or becoming judgmental, God is teaching me to be more gracious, flexible and understanding of others. This is an important lesson in godliness in any part of the world, but particularly in a culture where relationships are far more important than keeping to a schedule or plan.

Finally, time spent in language study also gives us time to build relationships. While there is a desk and plenty of work waiting for Dan in the Child Protection Office, going to language school and meeting up with the team for lunch most days, has allowed him invaluable time getting to know them before he has to work with them and help manage team projects. It has also allowed him time as an ‘outsider’, to see and understand a bit better how the politics of the church denomination work (sadly even here there are church politics). For me, practising language is an excellent excuse to meet up with a Thai friend for coffee, chat to taxi drivers or sit down and talk with the lady who comes to look after Lilla while I teach. It is only after relationships are built that discipleship can effectively take place. Just as Dan will, God willing, be able to do a better job as project manager knowing how the team works and what they value and prioritize. Hopefully, they will respect his opinions more knowing who he is and what his values are. I believe the same is true for discipleship. I think it goes without saying that we value advice more from people we know and respect. Likewise, we are better able to encourage and advise those that we know well.

Humility, commitment and understanding are all characteristics that are refined in us through the process of language study and are essential for effective discipleship, mutual encouragement and the building up of God’s church, in which we are all equal members, still in need of purifying through God’s grace. And of course, none of this can happen outside the context of relationship. So, during those times when we despair at the seemingly countless number of rules required to determine whether the word we are reading is said in a high or low tone, it is helpful to remember that we are not just learning to speak another language. We are building relationships, practising humility, demonstrating commitment and gaining a better understanding of our new culture. So that we ourselves will be better disciples of Jesus and better able to disciple others as followers of Christ.

Rachel and Dan are Interserve Partners in Thailand.

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:27-2:5

Grounded in Prayer

Date
01 Apr 2013
Publication
Go Australia
Region
Other
Profession
Theology / Church

Im convinced prayer is the key to the health and vitality of our relationship with God for the individual church community and nation.

I’m convinced prayer is the key to the health and vitality of our relationship with God –for the individual, church, community and nation. Prayer is our way of connecting with and trusting in the living God - it is his design and therefore God answers and honours prayer.

Jesus clearly modelled the significance and power of personal prayer as recorded in the gospels. Jesus often withdrew to quiet places to spend time praying with his Father. Notably, he did this prior to choosing the twelve disciples and prior to commencing his public ministry, when for forty days he prayed and fasted in the desert while being tempted by Satan (Mk 3:13-14; 1:12-13). Jesus would retreat in prayer to be alone with God to discern his will and replenish his strength for what lay ahead of him. We see the culmination of this in the garden of Gethsemane prior to his arrest, when he agonised over the prospect of the cross. In a deeply moving scene, Jesus collapses at the feet of his Father and in honest desperation asks if it’s possible for the ‘cup to be taken away’ (Mt 26:37-41). However, he gained clear resolve to go to the cross in knowing God’s will, through honest and anguished prayer (if only the disciples had stayed awake to keep watch and pray, as he had asked!).

In an incident when the disciples couldn’t deliver a boy from demon possession, Jesus rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith and in private told them “this kind can only come out by prayer”. With the coming of the Kingdom of God, the disciples were engaged in spiritual warfare, but they had neglected to robustly pray and exercise the faith that would make them effective in healing the boy (Mk 9:14-29). Furthermore, when the devil asked to sift Peter ‘as wheat’, Jesus responded by saying that he had ‘prayed for him’, that his faith would not fail after his denial and go on to strengthen his brothers (Lk 22:31,32). Indeed Jesus’ prayers were effective, as Peter became ‘rock like’ in his faith and a bold leader of the early church. Likewise, Jesus also prays and intercedes for us, and like Peter when we have our struggles with sin and temptation, he prays that we come through the testing - purified and stronger in our faith. Jesus also commended bold and persistent prayer. He taught the parable of the persistent widow who sought justice from a dodgy judge, and the parable of the pushy nocturnal friend who needed bread for his unexpected guests (Lk18:1-8; 11:5-10). Likewise there is a mystery and timing to prayer, and we are to trust in the goodness and purpose of God and persist in praying. Prayer is transformative. It helps us to grow closer to the Lord, it fortifies and strengthens our faith and enables us to listen to God and discern his will for our lives. Through prayer we abandon self-reliance, and bring our concerns to the Lordship of Christ and exercise our dependence on him.

Prayer is also the lynchpin to renewal and revival. In the national revival lead by one of Israel’s few good kings, King Hezekiah is an inspiring example of the power of prayer. After years of spiritual and moral decline in Israel, Hezekiah lead the nation back to God and revival followed. As soon as he was in power, Hezekiah consecrated the temple, reinstituted the law and the sacrificial system, and publically led the people in passionate prayer and worship. On one occasion whilst preparing for the Passover, many Levites had not consecrated themselves, so Hezekiah prayed that the Lord would pardon them and instead see their hearts - to which the Lord answered his prayer and blessed the nation (2 Chron 29-30). When the Assyrians invaded Judah and King Sennacherib threatened to lay siege of Jerusalem, Hezekiah didn’t cower, rather he and the prophet Isaiah took to prayer. God heard their prayers and sent an angel to annihilate the Assyrian army leaving Sennacherib to withdraw in defeated disgrace (2 Chron 32:16-21). Towards the end of his life, Hezekiah was stricken with a terminal illness and in desperation turned to God in tearful prayers. As Isaiah records, the Lord heard his prayer, provided a miraculous sign (by casting the sunlight back ten steps) and in mercy added fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life (Isa 38:1-8).

What do we learn about prayer in the beginnings of the early church? The early church was born on Pentecost when the Spirit descended upon the apostles during a time of devoted prayer and worship (Acts 2:1-4). Further on in Acts we read that after fasting and praying, the Lord revealed to the leaders of the Antioch church, to set apart Barnabas and Paul for their first missionary endeavour (Acts 13:2-3). Prayer preceded the formation of the church and its first missionary journey.

Dr A.T. Pierson has been noted for saying “There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer”. Behind every spiritual renewal - both personal and corporate - the common denominator is prayer. Preceding the reformation Martin Luther locked himself away in a monastery room to pray and study the word. The Methodist revival in England was birthed by the likes of John and Charles Wesley and George Whitfield who reportedly spent hours in fervent prayer and fasting. Perhaps prayer gave them the courage to boldly preach the gospel to the masses. Historians have suggested that Methodism was so transformative on English culture (particularly among the destitute and working poor), it prevented England from following France into violent revolution during the 1790s. Similarly it was a movement of prayer that sparked the Welsh revival in 1904, spreading onto other nations. In the Welsh revival, hundreds of thousands of people were converted to Christ, alcoholism was halved and violent crime was reduced to the level where police officers were made redundant, leaving the police department to justify their existence. The Welsh revival swept Britain, Scandinavia, Germany, Australasia, the Americas and parts of Africa, forever changing history – all ignited by prayer.

At a personal level there have been perplexing and difficult times in my life where prayer has sustained me, and God in his grace has answered. Over the years I have encountered times of intense anxiety, sleep disturbance, immense work pressures, urgent resource needs, and desperation for his direction and guidance. During these troubling times I’ve always found the resolve and peace that God graciously gives through prayer. So I’d like to encourage you to continue to persevere in honest prayer to God, for he hears and answers according to his good purpose and timing.

The Interserve staff meets each morning to pray for our Partners and short termers across the globe, because we believe in the power and purpose of prayer. Interserve also has prayer groups that pray for our workers and the wider Interserve fellowship. Have you considered joining one of these prayer groups or receiving our prayer newsletter so you can pray more effectively for the work of Interserve? Let’s continue to pray for God to touch and transform not only our lives, but families, communities, churches, mission work, people groups and nations – for his good glory.

Matt Walton is Interserve’s State Director for Victoria.

References:
J. Edwin. Orr - Article on Prayer and Revival.
David Yonggi Cho – Prayer that brings revival 1998.

Hopeful for the Future

Date
01 Feb 2012
Publication
GO News
Region
Arab World
Profession
Other

What will happen when the international troops leave Afghanistan

The van came to a stop at a wayside tea house in Warduj. My young Kiwi guest and I stayed in the vehicle satisfied with our scroggin. I had been warned that the least secure section of our journey was the valley of Warduj.

Close to the Pakistan border with Afghanistan, Taliban fighters had found it to be a safe haven for their activities in the region. I had hoped to pass through unnoticed as quickly as possible. Stopping for tea was not part of my plan.

But our driver called out to us, “Come have some tea”. Reluctantly we joined the group of men under a spreading tree by the simple hut. They placed a paratha, a Pakistani fried flat bread before us, and asked the standard questions: our origins, our reason for coming, our opinions of Afghans. Thankfully the conversation turned away from us to the surrounding canyon walls enclosing the valley.

“Is there a path to the top?” I asked.

“Yes,” our host replied. “From the top of the canyon walls you can fire guns right across to the other side. Many battles, before the time of Karzai, were fought high above the valley floor.”

“It is a great place for fighting,” one of the men offered, to affirmations from rest. I stuffed a salty piece of paratha into my mouth and washed it down with sweet tea.

Now back in New Zealand on a visit, I am often asked what will come next for Afghanistan. What will happen when the international troops leave? Will the Taliban regain control of the country?

I reply that the place does not lend itself well to predictions. I can’t say. As with most cases in life, it really is a bit of a mixed bag. But I do know that the Afghans I am most in contact with are hopeful for the future.

We recently returned from a conference in Europe where we had taken a few of our Afghan colleagues along. Upon his return, one of our managers was asked why he had not stayed in Europe. He replied, “The countries of Europe were torn by war fifty years ago and they rebuilt their nations into what we see today. I am a young Afghan and I want to build my country in the same way.”

Our role is to engage with Afghans, like our colleague, in whom we can help build their capacity to make a better life for themselves and their nation. Yes, evil men with evil intentions are at work there. But God has led us to work with men and women of peace. Investing in their “good skins” can give us a cause for finding hope in an otherwise hopeless situation.

Today I received a February prayer calendar for Afghanistan. It included the following: These past few weeks the security in Warduj, Badakhshan has deteriorated. The result is that it now cuts off five other districts from receiving aid.

Dont cry God is kind

Date
01 Feb 2012
Publication
GO News
Region
Arab World
Profession
Medical / Health

A nurse in Afghanistan longs to share that God truly does care for those who suffer.

I returned to Afghanistan a little over six months ago, after a two-year hiatus at home that had seemed to take forever. Yet now that I am back here, that time at home seems more like a memory, a blink of time that in reality passed very quickly.

I have returned to a very different part of the country to what I left. No longer am I in an isolated, almost forgotten, rural location: I am in a city, bustling with over half a million people, full of the noises and busyness of urban life. I am also in a very different job to before; I am now a nurse in a government hospital.

I work in the Children’s Ward in a teaching/mentoring capacity. The ward is made up of about eight rooms with 7-10 beds in each, but they double- and triple-bed, so there is actually ‘space’ for over 200 patients. I work in the ‘ICU’ room with the sickest patients: ICU just means there is usually oxygen available, and two to three nurses in the room instead of only one.

One of my most overwhelming doubts over the past months has been, can I cope? can I do this job?

At least two or three children die every day in the ICU. Some of these children have arrived too late at the hospital, and probably would have died in any case. But I often feel that what most children seem to die from here is ignorance and injustice. It’s not that the nurses and doctors don’t want to help, but they are hampered by the lack of resources and knowledge, and understaffing.

Each morning I enter the ICU with a degree of trepidation, not knowing what this day will hold. Will the six-week-old girl with pneumonia still be there, or the little boy with meningitis, or the older boy who was in a car accident and suffered severe brain damage? But, as I enter I am quietly greeted with ‘salaam’s’ from every corner of the room. Many gazes are anxious and worried as they meet mine, and many mothers beckon me to come to their bed first. And I find, as I enter into this strange world, that the anxiety goes – there will be grace for this day. There may be tears – mine and theirs – before the day is over. I will almost certainly be frustrated and even angry at what feels like unnecessary suffering as I discover, yet again, all the oxygen cylinders are empty, or there are no IV fluids left in the pharmacy, or some other shortage that is inconceivable at ‘home’. However, if I allow myself to stop, to truly see these families and their precious children, if I allow myself that moment to sit with them in their struggles, perhaps something of the aroma of our Father will inhabit that moment.

I remember when I was first thinking about coming here, I heard a song, only about 30 seconds long, that wondered, “What if I am too small, what if I lose my way, who will be there for me?” This song has been playing over and over in my head these past months. The needs at this new hospital seem so overwhelming. The grief is so huge, the loss of life so frequent, the opportunities, by human reckoning, to really make a difference so lacking. I often have only moments with the family of a seriously ill child. Moments fraught with pain and grief, and that seem all too brief.

I hear those around me, from the dominant faith, saying “Don’t cry, God is kind.” But, I know what they really mean is, “Don’t cry, death is inevitable, nothing can be done. God is distant, but we must accept what comes from His hand.” My heart breaks and I long to cry out: “God is kind, so it is okay to cry, because He too weeps at the injustice and pain of this world. So much so that He suffered the loss of His own child to make sure that this pain would have an end.” Instead, I pat an arm, rub a back, hold a hand, and hope that somehow this act of gentleness in the harsh environment of the ICU, this taking time to recognise a mother’s grief, will bring something of God’s presence into this situation.

What I have recognised is that I am small – too small. I get lost, I lose my way, I lose faith, I forget who is in charge. But He is neither too small, nor lost, nor faithless, nor forgetful, and He is with us, dwelling in us and working through us wherever He has called us to be.

The author has been serving in Afghanistan since 2004.

Grace on the Frontlines

Date
01 Jan 2012
Publication
GO NZ
Region
Arab World
Profession
Other

Libby Little shares on step-by-step faith bare bones obedience and how God provided in times of great need.

Libby Little is an international speaker, who has spent thirty years serving in Afghanistan. We were recently privileged to have her as our guest at Interserve Day, where she shared a glimpse into life in a war-ravaged country.

My husband, Tom, and I were invited out to a city in western Afghanistan, to finish the construction of a desperately needed eye hospital. While my husband was at work, I ventured out with my daughters (a four-year-old and a newborn) to try to make friends with my neighbours. But the local women were very suspicious of me, and no one would open their doors.

A couple of months into our time there, the Russians, preparing to invade, sent advisors to Herat to lay the groundwork for the overthrow of the government. But the people started to fight back, and in an effort to disperse the mobs, government planes began to systematically strafe our houses with huge bullets that went straight through the mud roofs. We hid out in a basement – just an underground kitchen, really – and my husband threw his body over me and our children. It was very frightening, and I longed to leave.

When things were a little quieter, a government convoy offered us safe passage back to the capital. “You might not get out alive,” they said, “this is your last chance.” That was the first hard decision. But we remembered what someone had said to us: “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” And so the convoy left without us. After that the people who had closed their doors to us started bringing us food and inviting us into their homes. Only when we were ready to be part of their lives, part of their risk, part of their danger, were they ready to receive us.

One dark, dark night, when the mobs were very strong and we could hear the Russians screaming as they were killed, an Afghan neighbour made his way up through the fighting in order to protect us. He lay at our door and motioned the mobs to pass by.

At one point while we were hiding in the basement, and bombs were falling all around us, our four-year-old complained that she was hungry. I told her that we’d get something to eat as soon as the bad explosions stopped. “But I’m hungry now,” she said.

Then she asked, “What happens if one of those big things lands on us?” While inwardly horrified, I tried to stay calm as I replied, “Well, we will all go straight to heaven.” “Oh, good,” she said, “’cause Jesus will have dinner ready!”

The decision to stay, on our part, was just bare-bones obedience; we wondered if we’d ever see our families again. But staying there with our neighbours had an immeasurable impact. That Christmas – our second in the city – our living room was jam-packed with women and children. They had come because our daughter invited them to a birthday party for Jesus. And a wonderful friend who was based in a neighbouring country shared the Christmas story with them, using a flannelgraph. For most of them this was the first time they had heard about Emmanuel, “God with us”.

Grace on the frontlines

The darkest time was during the ‘90s, when we were based in the capital. Hundreds of rockets landed in the city each day for years. Our houses were sandbagged. We never used the second floor. Most of us slept in basements or other safe places. They were dark days, but many of us felt it was a privilege to come alongside our Afghan neighbours in their place of suffering.

God was there on the frontlines with us, in the middle of the mess. Our houses were hit, projects burned down, our vehicles were turned into ambulances and our homes became triage centres. We came to understand that God provides for us in these times of great need. It was step-by-step faith, bare-bones obedience, and
God gave grace.

God was at work through ordinary people, who were just on duty for the Lord. Like the Japanese nurse who, every day, hugged the walls of the dangerous streets on her way to the hospital, where patients lay in the hallways, on the floor, as the rocket and bombing attacks continued year upon year. As the nurse navigated the war-torn streets one day, a local man grabbed her and shook her, asking, “Why are you doing this? Don’t you know how dangerous it is? What compels you?” All she had time to say before running on was “Jesus”. It was just one word, a name, but it burned in his heart and drove him to search for the truth.

True Worship

On 15 July 2010, some of the Nuristan Eye Camp team met in our home for prayer. The following day the team left the capital, and drove for two days, until there were no more roads. They then had to trek for several more days through the mountains, over a 16,000-foot pass, to provide medical care to some of the poorest and most remote communities in the country.

I was back in the US waiting for the birth of our first grandchild. My husband didn’t want me to worry, so he carried a satellite phone and called me twice a day. Calls were very expensive, though, so we only talked for half a minute in the morning and half a minute at night.

When the Eye Camp ended they made their way back over the mountains, over the plains, and then back to the river where the cars were parked. When Tom called he said, “We made it to the cars. We’re waiting for the river to recede so that we can cross over. I’ll call on the other side.”

I never did get that next call – the team was ambushed after they crossed the river, and all except one were killed.

Later that month, some of Tom’s personal items were returned to me, among them a small notebook. One of the last entries he’d jotted down was Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

The first chapter of the Bible I ever memorised was Romans 12, and it has followed me through my life. We are urged to, “offer [our] bodies as a living sacrifice … this is [our] true and proper worship.” Worship songs are good, yes, and getting down on our knees, but actually offering ourselves to God to use in whatever way He chooses, that is true worship.

I look at life from a different point now, thinking of the ones who lost their lives by that river in Afghanistan. But God is no debtor; He‘s helping, He’s restoring and, through ordinary people, is doing something extremely beautiful behind the scenes. Sadly, even though the work continues in the major cities, many of the neglected, hard-to-reach places continue to be avoided. Jesus is already there on the frontlines, but He needs hands and feet. Please pray that a whole new generation will rise up and respond to the call to serve in Afghanistan.

New Life and Freedom

Date
01 Nov 2011
Publication
GO News
Region
South Asia
Profession
Hospitality

Finding hope through a BAM venture in one of Kolkatas red-light districts.

A red light district isn’t normally a place where you would expect to find hope, freedom and new life.

But in the red light district in India where my wife and I live and work we often have the opportunity to celebrate and be challenged by these very things as they unfold in the lives of the women we serve.

One such illustration is the story of Asha’s* act of self-sacrificial love towards a woman struggling to break free from a life of exploitation. This story beautifully captures the way in which a new start in a business built on hope, freedom and Jesus is changing and transforming lives.

Asha has worked for many years in the business-as-mission venture we are involved in. She struggles from chronic illnesses and her accommodation is a sub-standard room under a stairway in a local brothel. Asha needed a new room.

In the red light district, though, good and affordable rooms are hard to come by, and it took months of searching to find a room for her. At the same time, however, a woman came to us wanting to leave behind her life in the sex trade and start a journey to freedom, but couldn’t because of pressures relating to her living situation. She also desperately needed a new room.

One room, two equally deserving women, what to do?

When a friend brought up the dilemma with Asha, Asha promptly handed over the room: she said that she already had freedom, but this new woman - who needed a new start, needed love - didn’t. Asha said she was happy to stay in her sub-standard room so this other woman could have an opportunity to experience the freedom that Asha had already found.

It is incredible to be part of a business where Jesus is breaking through heartbreak, desperation, loneliness and fear and transforming lives both inwardly and outwardly. Asha’s story captures what new life in Jesus looks like and the change that is possible. This story should fill us all with excitement and joy and remind us that God is alive and at work in this world.

But as well as celebrating this story we must also let this story inspire and challenge us. Asha’s story not only reveals a changed life, it also embodies what it means to follow Jesus. We see in her story the deep understanding that it is not only about freedom for ourselves but also freedom for others; it’s about laying our lives down for others in costly and often painful ways so that they may also truly experience the deep love God has for them.

Like Asha, are we prepared to let go of what we have - our time, our money, comfort, pride and status - and enter the lives of the enslaved and imprisoned, so that they may be set free? We must be prepared to not only celebrate our own freedom, but to also actively work for the freedom of those who desperately need it.

Dan (33) and Mai (25) are Kiwi Partners serving long-term in Kolkata, India. * Not her real name

Crisis in Cambodia

Date
01 Nov 2011
Publication
GO News
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Medical / Health

Severe flooding in Cambodia inspires HOPE International School and others to roll up their sleeves and help out those affected.

The people of Cambodia are used to high rainfall during the months of September and October; they rely on the regular downpours to ensure a successful harvest of rice, the main source of livelihood for the majority of the population.

This year, however, the rainfall has been the highest on record for fifty years, and the resulting floodwaters have decimated crops, killed more than 250 people, and left thousands more homeless. Water that normally would just cover the rice paddies rose several metres higher: in some areas just the tops of coconut trees could be seen, and in villages the floodwaters forced people onto their rooftops.

Phnom Penh, on the whole, has not been affected by the floods, but students from HOPE International School (where we work) were moved to action, and gathered and delivered 380 bags of emergency supplies including food, candles, mosquito nets and medical supplies. Thirty-one students, staff and parents filled two old wooden boats and chugged across flooded rice fields for over an hour until they reached a temporary island where the distribution took place. It was wonderful to see the students take seriously the teaching on Micah 6:8 and find a practical way to outwork it.

Ruth and David are Interserve Partners from Australia. They live in a poor Phnom Penh community that endures floods every year, thanks to a nearby lake. Although their home is normally just outside the flood zone, this year they had to wade through knee-deep water to get down their lane. Make-shift plank bridges, cobbled together from flood debris, helped keep them all dry. Ruth writes: "I’m always amazed at people’s resilience. For some the floods meant relocating to family or friends’ homes on higher ground. For others it meant placing bricks under the bed-legs and sleeping in a room submerged in two feet of stinky black water. " "It’s also a time of revealing those in the community with the least resources. As friends and family pitch together to help each other, it becomes more obvious who the people are without these networks: the elderly widow whfose children aren’t around; the young mother whose husband is in prison; the family who fight all the time andnobody likes. Our local church offered shelter to some of these people. It was inspirational to walk alongside the Christians here who, in amongst moving their own possessions to higher ground, had capacity and concern to visit those they knew were doing it very tough."

While many organisations have done what they can to deliver emergency supplies to flood-stricken areas, there simply have not been enough resources to help all of the estimated 1.2 million people affected by the floods. The rains are now subsiding but the effects of the floods will continue for many months yet. Incomes have been lost, children who would normally attend school will stay home to help replant the rice crops, water- and mosquito-borne diseases continue to plague poor communities and for many there is no money to pay for medical treatment.

Disasters like this open our eyes, not only to which nations have enough resources to provide aid, but which nations are noticed by the international community (the media covered the floods in neighbouring Thailand, while Cambodia’s suffering went almost unnoticed). We have also realised how few resources this nation has to draw on when it faces a national disaster like this.

Please pray for God’s mercy upon the land and the people, that the land will recover so that crops can be replanted and grow sufficiently to supply food for the next year. And if you would like to offer assistance in any other way, please contact the NZ office.

Dan and Kim (and daughter, Riana) are IS NZ Partners, and have been based in Cambodia since 2008.

Extending Gods Kingdom

Date
01 Jul 2011
Publication
GO News
Region
Other
Profession
Administration

Interserve introduces a new On Track initiative Consultants in Mission.

Interserve is pleased to announce a new On Track initiative, Consultants in Mission (CiM).

It is designed to bring together the professional skills of the consultant with the missional goals of Interserve. A small number of consultants have already served through Interserve’s short-term programme, but CiM On Track will allow Interserve to channel consultants in a more focused way.

The process is simple. Once approved for CiM On Track, the consultant’s name, area of expertise and availability will be posted on Interserve’s secure website. Field based teams can then look through the list of possible consultants, select any that fit their needs, and approach them for help.

It is a brilliant opportunity for those people who, although they want to serve God in mission, are unable to move lock, stock and barrel to the mission field. This way they can still contribute their skills and experience while being based primarily at home.

My consultancy work in South East Asia and the Middle East provides amazing opportunities to share about God. I operate on the pattern that the Apostle Paul modelled – one’s job is one’s ministry, and one’s ministry is one’s job – and every morning when I wake up I pray, “Who will You connect me with today, Lord? Provide me with conversations where I can mirror something of the gospel truth.”

I recently spent three weeks in a country that is officially closed to the Gospel. My purpose for being there was purely professional – I had a task to complete – but the connections I made with local people, and their willingness to engage in conversations over food night after night, made the whole assignment exciting.

One such conversation began with a comment about an aspect of God’s creation, and His skill in making it. This simple comment opened the door for a longer exchange that allowed sharing of ideas about New Zealand, the host country, politics, sports, education and employment… and how Jesus fits into the jigsaw.

This scenario repeated itself several times: different people, different places, but the same pattern of conversation, and the same openness to engage and listen. The most memorable was one that broke all the cultural protocols: a women and her daughter (both fully covered, I could only see their eyes) invited me to join them at their table. We began by discussing countries, universities, jobs and politics but in the end the conversation came back to Jesus: who He is, and how an understanding of Him adds to one’s understanding of, and relationship to, God.

As I boarded the plane to leave that nation, I prayed for the Holy Spirit to keep moving in the hearts of every person that I had talked with. Consultancy in Mission is real and effective, and the opportunities are endless. To learn more about extending God’s kingdom through CiM, and how you can become involved, please contact the Interserve office.

The author has a long track record in consulting, the educational business sector and missions.

Grace Seeking Muslims

Date
01 Jun 2011
Publication
GO NZ
Region
Europe
Profession
Other

Steve Bell ISs Director for England Wales shares how God is reaching Muslims through dreams visions and miracles.

Osama Bin Laden is responsible for more Muslims following Jesus than anyone else alive* today, according to Patrick Johnstone, the founding author of Operation World.

His claim, backed up by years of research, is made because the atrocities that are being committed by radical Islamists seem to be backfiring on them.

By that I mean that while Islamists are inflicting judgement on non-Muslims for their secular materialism, moderate Muslims see what is being done in the name of Islam and are saying to themselves, “If this is the truest expression of Islam, I don’t want it.” Some such moderates are choosing to find other ways of submitting to God, including the option of turning away from the ‘way of the Prophet’ (i.e. Muhammad) and instead following Islam’s second most prominent prophet - ‘isa al-masih (Jesus Christ).

Johnstone’s claim is supported by analysts such as David Garrison, who goes even further, saying that, “More Muslims have come to Christ in the past two decades than at any other point in history.”

Brother Andrew has stated, “We must start spelling Islam ‘I Sincerely Love All Muslims’. We need to take time to get to know Muslims and show them real love.”

Taking this stance does not mean we have to become politically naive about the agenda of radical Muslims. I have always been concerned about the potential of such radicals especially when they become politically subversive or organise themselves into the networks that are sympathetic to Al-Qaeda’s vision. The Christian response to this sort of Muslim is the power-encounter which comes through concerted intercessory prayer. However, the Muslims who are turning to Christ are not from the radical core but the moderate fringe. These are the ones I call ‘ordinary’ Muslims. My optimism for Muslims comes not from the popular lack of understanding that is usually based on shallow news-coverage, but from firsthand experience of living and travelling in the Muslim world. It is my personal knowledge of Muslims, both radical and ordinary ones, that has brought me to the place where the love of God can come in and dissipate fear. The Bible is clear that love and fear cannot coexist (1 John 4:18). As a result, my instinctive reaction to Muslims is no longer one of fear or anger but compassion.

In the past I felt a sense of isolation amongst western Christians due to my belief that Muslims could – and would – follow Jesus, but now many others believe the same. Destructive fear is turning into constructive prayer. This is a trend that has been paralleled over the past twenty-five years by a marked increase in the activity of God’s Spirit among Muslims around the world. Take, for instance, a Pakistani-born British Muslim woman who became a follower of Jesus in Leicester. She told me that when she visits her extended family in her Pakistani hometown, she finds more Muslims following Jesus there than she does in the UK. Logic says this should be the other way around but these are the upside-down ways of God.

It seems that the early twenty-first century is likely to be a time in which hundreds of thousands of Muslims choose to follow Jesus. According to the research of Reverend Dr David Barrett, in one area of India up to fifty thousand Muslims are believers, and hundreds of thousands of Muslims are choosing to follow Jesus in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Iran, Palestine, Iraq, Turkey and across North Africa.

It is time for the western church to make a connection between the patient ‘tilling of hard ground’ over the centuries and the present movements of Muslims to Christ. New technology (such as satellite TV and the Internet) is also reaching the once-isolated areas to reap a harvest. Sources in the Gulf report seeing the DVD of the Mel Gibson film The Passion of the Christ selling out of the boots of cars in areas where there were no cinemas because of the strict Wahabi Islamic laws. The Spirit of God is also working through dreams, visions, healing and deliverance. Jesus is appearing to Muslims in various places. Here are some examples.

• A group of Nigerian Muslims saw Jesus as they were performing the hajj pilgrimage at the ka’aba in the heart of Mecca.

• Jesus told a string of individual Gulf Arabs the exact name and address of a Christian bookshop in a neighbouring Middle- Eastern country where they could buy the Bible. The shop owner told me that one of them walked in and pointed to a picture of Jesus on the wall and said, “He told me where I could buy the injil (Gospel).”

• Minaz is from the isma’ili group within Islam, and owns a luxury-car dealership in the north of England. One day in 1999, a light came into the room. The face of Jesus appeared in the light and He spoke to Minaz for about ten minutes. During this time Minaz felt the love of God enter his body, cleanse him internally and heal him. He began to follow Jesus that day and soon afterwards his wife joined him. They now run an outreach to others.

• Jesus appeared simultaneously to an Islamic cleric in the Middle East and at the foot of the hospital bed of his dangerously ill daughter in Germany. As Jesus told the cleric He was healing the girl, she was instantly cured. When the father received confirmation by phone of the miraculous healing, he left the country with his family in order to follow Jesus.

• Sources in Iran say that since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, tens of thousands of Iranian Shi’ite Muslims are following Jesus Christ inside Iran, in spite of sporadic persecution. Thousands more Iranians around the world are following Jesus.

• A North African nation has one of the fastest church-growth movements in the Muslim world. An estimated fifty to eighty thousand Muslims are following Jesus and an estimated fifty home fellowships are being set up every year. Believers are meeting in homes daily in spite of opposition. They also experience dreams, visions and healings. Even former terrorists and Islamic sorcerers are now following Jesus.

• One Christian organisation reports that over five hundred Muslims are visiting its Arabic website each month to enquire about Jesus. It is also reported that over the past ten years a thousand home fellowships of believers from Muslim backgrounds have been set up across the Middle East.

• Amer is from a nation that borders Israel. He was a radical who became a violent jihadic activist. He ended up in Khartoum, the capital of North Sudan. One evening he was praying alone in a mosque and the voice of Jesus boomed into the mosque asking, “Why are you persecuting Me?” At the same time the glass window high above Amer shattered and Qur’ans toppled off shelves. This supernatural intervention triggered Amer’s search for Jesus. He soon took the dangerous step of becoming one of His followers.

The Great Commission contains no exclusion clause for Muslims. God loves them as much as anyone else, and His grace is actively seeking them.

Beware – God is at work! God is not only touching Muslims but He is also gently creating a new climate of faith for them among Christians.

Open Doors with Brother Andrew ended a seven-year prayer initiative for the Communist world in 1989 – the year the Berlin Wall came down. They then embarked on a ten-year prayer initiative for the Muslim world. In 2000, I visited the World Prayer Centre, directed by Dr C. Peter Wagner in Colorado Springs, to familiarise myself with their state-of-the-art technology. It is used to track the millions of Christians around the world who are praying for Muslims, especially during the Ramadan month of fasting. Shortly after my visit to the Centre, Peter Wagner reported that the intercessory networks for Muslims around the world were growing so fast, they had become impossible to count and were therefore humanly ‘out of control’. God is initiating this prayer thrust for the remaining unreached.

What began as droplets of Muslims following Christ in the 1980s became a trickle in the 1990s and a tiny flow around the turn of the millennium. The attacks in America on 11 September 2001 proved to be another factor that compelled Christians to pray; they also loosened the heart allegiance of thousands of Muslims from their traditional structures, causing them to turn to Jesus Christ.

The flow is not yet a flood; nevertheless, Christian leaders in the Muslim world tell me that the phenomenon of Muslim enquirers who want to talk about spiritual issues is now a daily occurrence. The baptism of believers from Muslim backgrounds has also become a regular feature of local church life in several Muslim lands.

The Great Commission contains no exclusion clause for Muslims. God loves them as much as anyone else, and His grace is actively seeking them right where they are, both within the Muslim world and the West.

Steve Bell is National Director of Interserve England and Wales. This article is extracted from his book, Grace for Muslims?, published in 2006 by Authentic Media. If you would like to buy this book, please contact our office.

* Osama Bin Laden was killed in May 2011.

New ways...

Date
01 Jun 2011
Publication
GO NZ
Region
West Asia
Profession
Theology / Church

When the physical door of a church building is not available for new believers we have to construct new doors.

The Middle East is a region of great contrasts. In some parts, there are established churches with history and traditions going back well before anything we can relate to in the West. In other countries, there is barely a handful of national believers, and none meeting together.

Levels of acceptance and persecution can vary greatly as well. In one country, the local international schools can hold a Christmas Carol Service that will be well attended by parents of all faiths, yet there could be great repercussions if you passed out invitations in a local mall for the same service.

In many Middle Eastern countries, churches are tolerated in carefully established compounds (only one or two do not permit any buildings related to the Christian faith). Tolerance is always combined with a degree of surveillance, though; some is quite obvious, such as taxis that sit near churches but never take passengers, while other monitoring is done electronically or through a network of informers.

In the permitted buildings, there is generally good freedom to express the full range of Christian faith, and even evangelism is allowed – but only within the church walls and only towards non-Muslims. So a difficult situation exists for people who want to introduce Muslims to the Christian faith.

On the one hand, we would like to say, with Paul, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” On the other hand, we also have to say, “Sorry, but you can’t come to church with us as you will immediately be marked and could get us into a whole bunch of trouble!”

All over the Middle East, people are having to learn, and perhaps relearn, what the essential elements of spiritual life together are, and how they can be experienced outside a church building. The ‘from house to house’ of the New Testament is taking on a renewed meaning for many believers. As we learn to make do without a ten-piece worship band or a six-point sermon from the pulpit, we’re discovering that personal testimonies of the work of God in our daily lives are coming more to the centre.

And when the physical door into a church building (or even a house church) is not available for new or potential believers, we have to construct new doors. We have to find neutral ground where people of all backgrounds can get together without having to learn the rules of one culture or another; places where aspects of Christian life in community can be seen without a religious context.

The spy on the hilltop is fictitious (we hope!) but the events he could have seen are actually repeated every week in this part of the Middle East. We’ve also tried art exhibitions, coffee tastings, exercise groups, marriage enrichment courses, parenting courses, craft groups, music quiz nights and a myriad of other activities that don’t have a ‘church’ label but do involve a keen core of Christians wanting to make their life accessible to others. In some of these, communities are forming that include people from the local culture, and, as relationships are built, invitations are then offered to other activities.

It is difficult to rate progress or results. It would be fair to say, however, that there are now quite a few local people comfortable with an alternative community in some part of their week: people who feel they belong enough to bring along friends, or who are comfortable enough with the moral tone they observe that they now bring along wives and daughters. Many have heard or observed Christian perspectives on various world and local issues. Yes, it is fragments and pieces rather than a full meal, but some can still taste the Kingdom of God in these events: one of our new friends speaks of these times as a dream that he does not want to wake up from.

In this style of ‘church’, there are no altar calls or challenges for intellectual commitment and conversion. We cannot count any fruit that would make statisticians happy. In fact, it seems back to front compared with the traditions of our evangelical upbringing, where belief (making a commitment to Christ) leads to community (joining the church). However, in the New Testament, Jesus often called people to follow (to join community) before He called them to believe… and we take comfort in that as we continue to build communities that honour Him.

Ben and his wife, Alice, are NZ Partners who have been serving in the Middle East for over twenty years.

New Doors in the Middle East

Date
01 Jun 2011
Publication
GO NZ
Region
West Asia
Profession
Other

The spy on the hilltop stirred into alertness in the late-afternoon heat. That dust cloud in the distance... was it them

The convoy of four-wheel-drive vehicles was coming his way. Amazingly, it was almost exactly to the minute that he had sighted them the previous week. They were making towards one of the wadi valleys at the foot of the mountain range behind him. As luck would have it, the last fork in the track took them to the wadi right below him. He was in the perfect position to observe their activity.

Drawing to a stop at a point in the track where only the reckless would drive further, the group began to emerge from their airconditioned cocoons. The sound of closing doors and distant voices drifted up to the spy’s hilltop shelter. Greetings were exchanged; some folk were clearly old friends while a few others, passed around in a circle of introductions, were obviously new. The whole process was almost obscenely rapid by local standards. But, even in the late afternoon, the sun still had considerable power and people were restless to move up into the shaded steeper parts of the valley.

It was the first time the spy had seen them this close. He was confused. He had thought he would be able to categorise them immediately into one of the expected social strata he was accustomed to in his country. Instead, the variety staggered him. Wishing he had a camera, he quickly scrabbled for a notebook to capture the details: Arab, Asian, African and European. Almost a third were his own countrymen, cheerfully removing national garments to reveal shorts and T-shirts. There were even a couple of national women in modest clothing suitable for hiking. His keen eye, used to supervision of his sister’s social activities, appreciated that they came in cars with other women.

Amongst the others there was a wide range of nationalities – many he would not expect to see together. In the fragments of speech that rose up to him, he could detect British, American and South African accents, along with various Asian ones, and some others he could not identify. The wide range in ages, too, was perplexing: some people were clearly of retirement age, others were in their thirties, and there were even some teenagers and children.

After tightening bootlaces and adjusting day packs, the group seemed ready to go. One voice rose over the others; the spy observed the speaker point generally up the wadi and, after just a couple of sentences of instruction, the group moved off. How he wished his own briefings could be so quick. The spy realised that, from his vantage point, he would have them in sight for some time. This allowed him time for some deeper reflection. What on earth could bring such a disparate group of people together like this? There was certainly no militaristic discipline to the march. Some leaped ahead like gazelles over the rocks (he was pleased to note that the majority with this skill were his own countrymen), but others were clearly struggling with the difficult terrain and were being guided by more experienced members.

As the people wove their own tracks up the wadi valley, he noticed that conversational groups seemed to form and reform without regard to nationality, gender or age. It was a sharp contrast to the strict gender segregation he had been brought up with. However, he felt strangely undisturbed by the sight. Even at this distance he could observe the body language of respect and deference among the group. Hands that would probably never join together in any other situation were held out in offer – or receipt – of help over difficult parts of the track. The spy wondered why he could not summon any moral outrage at the sight. Even the contrasts of the wider scene began to speak to him. Here among the ancient fossilised rocks was a trickle of happy human life. Was this a new form of community emerging from the hard and rigid traditions he and his people had lived with for centuries? What were the possibilities?

Among the last traces of voices fading in the distance was the occasional gleeful shout of discovery. Had the spy been closer, he would have heard some of the people marvelling at the ‘creation’ around them. Again he would have been puzzled. His experience with politically correct textbooks and media had led him to believe that the whole Englishspeaking world could only relate to a godless ‘nature’.

Just on dusk, the spy was roused by returning voices; he was able to see by the clusters that there was still no distillation of the group into expected social categories. As people eagerly gathered around a small cool box at the rear of one of the vehicles, the spy raised his binoculars again. At last – something to report! What illicit substance were they getting out of it that led to such cries of delight? Disappointingly, however, the box just contained chilled, damp facecloths, that brought great refreshment to the hot and weary hikers.

Waiting until after the last of the group climbed back into their vehicles and drove away, the spy finally unfolded his cramped limbs, grimacing in discomfort as he did so. He was puzzled by what he had observed, and suspicious of the unusual camaraderie and acceptance he’d witnessed within the group… but also strangely drawn to it. There was no other option: he would return.

From Fatalism to Hope

Date
01 Jun 2011
Publication
GO NZ
Region
Arab World
Profession
Community Development

A handicraft business helps provide an income and new hope for families in a small Muslim nation.

When I first met Basma six years ago, I was immediately drawn to her sense of humour and positive outlook. Like many other women in this small Muslim nation, Basma married young and soon had six children to provide for.

Basma made a small income through sewing simple dresses for her neighbours but when her husband, Ahmad, lost his job, they struggled to make ends meet. Although unhappy, they resigned themselves to the life they had been given, with the fatalism typical of Islam. They also both chewed qat (an addictive narcotic leaf) regularly, an addiction which contributed to their financial hardship.

Finding the best way to help About four years ago Basma needed to have some urgent dental work done. When she approached me for money, it was awkward: I could see that my friend was in pain but I didn’t want to just start handing over money, as it inevitably leads to dependency and loss of dignity. So I gave Basma some paracetamol to help with her immediate pain, then made her a proposal – she had already been making bags out of local embroidered cloth for a friend, so I told her I would pay her costs, plus give her a fair hourly rate, if she could make some bags for me to sell to other foreigners.

Basma borrowed money from relatives to fix her teeth, but made enough money from her first production of bags to start paying them back. The opportunity to earn her own money not only helped Basma through an embarrassing and desperate situation but also provided her with more independence.

A dream comes true Basma had once had a dream that we would end up in business together. Even though great importance is given to dreams in Islam, I thought little of it when Basma told me about her dream… yet within a year, our micro-enterprise had begun.

An expat colleague had already started a little craft business with her local friends using traditional embroidery, so we teamed up together. We had no formal business experience but it seemed an enjoyable and helpful way to generate regular income for our local friends. We decided to name our little business ‘Patience’ in the local language… and we certainly needed lots of it to get the product ‘just right’. Because work is seen as a curse, there is often no pride in finishing things here, and we have returned products multiple times for reworking to make them suitable for selling.

Our business sells three types of products. The first is qamariya, small, decorative halfmoon windows that are made out of plaster, cement and coloured glass. The second group includes embroidered pillowcases, mobilephone bags and pencil cases. One woman cuts the fabric and coordinates the colours, gives the pieces to six other women to embroider, and then the products are sewn by two other women. The third is what grew out of my response to Basma. Her three daughters help her sew the bags, and this gives them some money for clothing, schoolbooks, the bus, and social events.

Encouraging giving Even though our business is very small, it helps local craftspeople generate income to support their families. The women in particular have benefited, as it enables them to earn an aboveaverage income in a country where opportunities for employment outside the home are not common.

We display the products in our guesthouse, a guesthouse in the capital city, and in a café. We also encourage other Christians to take the products at cost to sell to their own friends or through stalls at meeting places or markets. We have even set up a website, but postage in and out of our country is a problem so most goods are carried by hand, which places a big limitation on the development of the business.

Our customers appreciate being able to easily buy genuine gifts from the region, and feel good about the fact they are helping families directly with every purchase. Also, the products are portable, making them a very convenient gift to take to families, friends and supporters to help them remember our country in prayer. Any extra money generated is used for product development and for giving non-monetary bonuses to the craftspeople involved, from schoolbooks up to computers.

Growing hope and confidence Life is harder now in the city than it was six years ago. However, the perseverance of Basma and her family has paid off. Her husband now has regular work as a security guard, two of their daughters are in higher education – and are being encouraged by their father to finish before getting married – and the other four children are doing well in school. Basma and Ahmad have even stopped chewing qat, after realizing that every leaf was money that could be used for education instead.

I have grown to love Basma and her family. Although it is against the law to share Jesus openly here, and conversion from Islam can mean the death penalty, we have had many “God” conversations that have all come through developing a business together. Basma’s sewing continues to improve – last year she even taught herself the traditional embroidery and within two weeks was doing a professional job – and she now has a hope and a confidence that I believe comes from God. Although she has not confessed, she now knows life can be greatly different from what Islamic fatalism expects. Pray for her to be brave and to start reading the Bible. Pray for all her family to read it also, and together make a decision for Him.

Sue and her family have been serving in the Arab world since 2004.

Remarkable Turkey

Date
01 Jun 2011
Publication
GO NZ
Region
West Asia
Profession
Theology / Church

Rich in Biblical history Turkey is a remarkable land struggling with its social political and spiritual identity.

Turkey is not just an odd country on the other side of the globe; it is a remarkable land struggling with its social, political and spiritual identity.

There are tensions between its overwhelming Muslim population and its secular tradition; its desire to join the European Union and its place in leadership in the Islamic world; and its stunning economic development and its lingering internal conflict and poverty. Like almost every country, Turkey is a nation full of contradictions, where one can experience the image of God in the love of people and the joy of hospitality and then encounter the full fury of the Fall in the abuse of women, the ongoing civil conflict and the blatant injustice to minorities.

Turkey is rich in Biblical history. Haran (where Abraham’s father died), Mount Ararat, the seven churches of Revelation, and the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, are all in Turkey. The Cappadocian Fathers, most notably St Basil, articulated the doctrine of the Trinity in Turkey and the majority of the early church councils took place here. The apostle Paul was born in Tarsus in Turkey and travelled extensively here on his missionary journeys.

But the Biblical history is in the remote past and irrelevant to most of today’s Turks. Turkey has a population of nearly 75 million people, and fewer than 70,000 of them are Christian. Of those, the majority are nominal Armenians, Syrian and Greek Orthodox or Catholics, and those communities are all in danger. The local government of Mardinis is trying to claim part of the property of the 1,600-year-old Mor Gabriel Monastery. The only seminary for Greek Orthodox priests has been kept closed by the government since 1972 and their community is now numbered at less than 3,000 souls.

On the other hand, the small Muslimbackground Protestant church has been growing slowly and steadily since the mid- 1960s. The constitution of the Republic guarantees freedom of religion and the Turkish courts have upheld numerous challenges to this through the years. There are now dozens of legally recognised Christian meetings and, unlike most Muslim-majority countries, Turkey allows its citizens to change their religion and permits Muslim converts to Christianity to meet freely for public worship.

While the church in Turkey is among the oldest in the world, dating back to the church in Antioch as described in the book of Acts, the modern Protestant church only began in the 1960s, after a small number of western evangelists started distributing literature and making the good news known among Turks. Progress was very slow and difficult in the early decades, but perseverance paid off: the Bible was translated, small house fellowships were started, books and videos were made available in Turkish and the convert church began. By the late 1980s there were an estimated 200 Muslim-background converts in the country and about the same number of full-time expatriate mission workers.

In 1988 the government decided that things were getting out of hand. They concluded that these 400 people, half of them Turks and half foreigners, must be up to something dangerous because their actions were mysterious and made no sense. So they deported the foreigners and arrested the national believers, in the hope of stopping the work while it was still young. However, thanks to prayer from around the world, all of the foreigners who were deported returned and all of the nationals who were arrested remained true to the faith – and the church began to grow. There were difficulties, but slowly the government and society began to recognise the rights of people to consider a different faith, and in 1990 the first legally recognised church meetings began, testing the Republic’s stated freedom of religion.

One of the biggest issues was that for Turks (and most people in the world), religion is closely tied to social identity and ethnicity. “Turkish Christian” is viewed as an oxymoron, a contradiction of terms – Christians are the people of the Crusades; the immoral people who swim at the Turkish beaches; Armenians, Greeks or Europeans; and therefore they are the enemy. They can’t be Turks. Turks are Muslims and Christians are Foreigners. Even if they’re citizens of the Republic, they are still foreigners: they are different, they are dangerous. Or so the popular thinking goes. Turkish converts still sometimes ask, after they’ve been baptised, whether they are still Turks.

There has always been pressure on the Christian community here in Turkey, from the pogroms of the late 1800s to the abuse of the minorities during WWI and then on through the population exchanges of the 20th century and the various atrocities. In recent decades the small Protestant community has also undergone attacks – stones thrown at buildings and the occasional unjust court case – but in April 2007 things escalated significantly when three Protestants (two Turks and a German) were brutally murdered in the city of Malatya because of their evangelistic activities.

The murders in Malatya have changed everything. Society is now aware of the convert church as it never has been before. Ultra-nationalists are horrified that the church exists, but sincere Turks of goodwill are equally horrified at the abuse heaped upon the small church. The church itself has responded with anger and alarm, but not with fear. There is a confidence in the church that God is in control, and a determination to stand up in society and claim the rights of citizens, much as Paul did before Agrippa. The Turkish church leaders have a fresh appreciation that the issue is theirs and is not to be left to foreigners.

Today we have over 4000 Muslim-background Turkish Christians living in varying degrees of safety and acceptance in their families and communities. We have a growing number of small fellowships and there are significant efforts to help people grow in Christ as individuals and as communities of believers. We also have a growing understanding in society that things must change, that xenophobic attitudes are not fitting for a modern, secular republic trying to join the European Union.

In addition to the 4000 or so actively participating in fellowships, there are many thousands who have attended and subsequently left, or who have heard the Gospel but been afraid to respond. Every month there are stories of people who have chosen to follow Jesus but who have no idea how that can happen. They may have listened to the radio, watched a television programme or visited a Christian website, but the closest fellowship is hundreds of kilometres away and they don’t know what to do next.

The church in Turkey is now working on growth in two directions – horizontal growth (increased numbers) and vertical growth (increased depth). Discipleship is a key issue here because the prevalent worldview is so very different from anything taught in the Bible. The change is hard and people need individualised help. There are also deep social problems that must be addressed by the church: injustice, poverty, abuse, corruption, and the trafficking of women. All of these are appropriate issues for the followers of Jesus to address.

Turkey is blessed by a heritage of unity from the early foreign workers. There is a council of church leaders that meets regularly to discuss common issues, not with ecclesiastical authority, but as brothers and sisters working to pool their gifts and resources for the advance of the kingdom. This council has identified seven priority areas: prayer; holistic discipleship; children, youth and families; evangelism and church planting; leadership development; social action; and media and the arts.

All things are possible for God. We have seen phenomenal growth, that has taken the church in Turkey from nothing just a few years back to the gloriously insignificant position in which we find ourselves today. Four thousand out of 75,000,000 is a rounding error. Even when we include the nearly 70,000 members registered with mainstream churches, Christians make up less than 0.1% of the population. It will take a miracle for the church to survive and a hundred miracles for it to grow. That’s why we know we must start and stop with prayer, for this is the work of the Holy Spirit. Please pray with us for this country and consider joining us in the labour: there remains so much more left to do!

The author works as a tentmaker and in business as mission in Turkey. He and his family have lived in Turkey for over 20 years.

Surprised by Kurdistan

Date
01 Jun 2011
Publication
GO NZ
Region
West Asia
Profession
Education

An Interserve missions team experiences laughter and tears amongst the Kurdish people of northern Iraq.

“You’ve been WHERE?” is the most common response when I talk about what I did last January. “Iraq,” I repeat. “But in the north,” I add quickly, “where it’s very stable and safe.” I don’t want them to think I’m a complete nutter.

“So what was it like?” is usually the next question.

“Cold,” I reply. “It snowed.”

They look surprised: “Snow in Iraq? You’re joking!”

But snow in Iraq was not the only surprise that our missions team faced. There was the hospitality of the Kurdish people; their resilience in the face of decades (no, centuries) of persecution; their stories of survival under gunfire and gas bombs; their willingness to move forward with enthusiasm; their desire to learn English. Then there was the massive rebuilding that is taking place. For us there was the fun of being a team of ten Kiwis and Aussies, together in a totally new and surreal environment; walking through a foot of snow across an old mine-field; meeting the Iraqi President’s wife in a swanky restaurant; drinking tea in a refugee camp; having dinner in a Chinese brothel (actually a Chinese restaurant, but the large red lanterns and ‘Love Bar’ sign apparently had a deeper meaning!). We went tenpin bowling and rode dodgem cars with our students; we had meals in their homes and met their families; we talked with them about God and shared stories of Jesus. These were just some of the amazing experiences that we were privileged to enjoy. The unplanned side-trips to Jordan and Israel only happened because the airlines messed up our itinerary, but I suppose you have to take the bad with the good!

We had been invited by an Iraqi university to teach a conversational English course. When we arrived, the university put us up in a nice hotel, arranged visas, transport, classrooms and students. Our team worked in teachingpairs with classes of about ten students, teaching four hours a day. Our course was a big hit, with its fast-moving and interactive menu of games, activities, debates and roleplays. The students (including college and university lecturers, with doctorates) had not come across anything like it before, and some even drove an hour or more from other towns to join us.

The positive reports filtered out. A TV crew even showed up at our graduation and we were featured on the regional news. Apparently not many foreigners come to do this kind of stuff. Nor do they take the opportunities to connect with the students outside of the classroom as we did.

We not only showed the film from the C.S. Lewis book, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, but we also broke into small groups afterwards to talk about its meanings. We prayed for, and sometimes with, our students. We connected with the local Christians. We laughed a lot with our students, but cried too as we toured the museums of their sad history. We ate and drank and danced. By the end of the three weeks, we were exhausted.

“Please, will you come back again?” the students asked us, and the university officially invited us to return next year.

So it’s on again in January 2012. If you have a love for Jesus that you are not ashamed to talk about, a desire to serve people, and a willingness to trust God in a challenging situation while working with a spectacular team, we’d love to hear from you.

Bernie works with Culture Connect, an Interserve ministry to people of non-English speaking backgrounds in Australia.

If you would like to join the 2012 mission team to Kurdistan, please contact us on 0800 446 464 or email talk2us@interserve.org.nz Limited spaces are available. Training and orientation will be provided.


Matt:

The Kurds were very open to talking about spiritual matters in general. Because they come from a broadly Muslim background, almost everyone believes in God, which makes discussions about spiritual matters easier. We were asked questions about Christianity, and also discussed their faith with them. The Kurds have been treated really poorly throughout history, and many of them reject Arab culture on principle. This means there is more freedom and willingness to question Islam, entwined as it is with Arab culture.

The most unforgettable night happened in our hotel’s restaurant. The food was spectacular: we had ‘shish kebabs’ where the meat was actually skewered on swords and set on fire. We were having such a great time that the security guards, who were carrying assault rifles, were giving us suspicious looks. Then we discovered the reason behind the heightened security: Hero Ibrahim, the first lady of Iraq, was eating in the restaurant. When Bernie asked if our team could take a photo with her, she agreed, and so I now have a photo of myself with the President’s wife.

Matt, 24, is from Christchurch.


Jeremy:

Because we didn’t want to teach six days a week, day six was designated as ‘field trip’ day: the class would take us out somewhere to help us understand their city and their culture, and they had to practise their English in a practical environment.

One place they took us to was known as ‘The Red Building’ – the ex-headquarters of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party in Sulaymaniyah. Until 1991 it was a place where the locals were tortured and disposed of by the regime of that time. It is now riddled with bullet holes – a way that the locals vented their grief after the hell they were put through. Inside the burnt-out shell of the building is a museum of models and photos of the treatment that went on in that place. Outside are captured Iraqi tanks and artillery. The experience really helped us understand a little more of the Kurdish psyche.

We also went to the Kurdish town of Halabja, which gave me more of an understanding of the tension between the two main ethnic groups here in Iraq. On 16 March, 1998, Iraqi aircraft launched a five-hour chemical bomb attack on Halabja’s residential areas, killing 5,000 people and injuring around 7,000 to 10,000 more. Our guide was one of few survivors. The windows of his truck were up when the gas hit the ground and so he was not harmed, but all those who were sitting on the back of his truck died within seconds. Due to these attempts at ethnic cleansing in the North, there is so much bitterness and unforgiveness. So many lives changed due to grief which hasn’t healed.

Jeremy, 27, is from Auckland.

What is TEE

Date
01 Apr 2011
Publication
Go International
Region
Arab World
Profession
Theology / Church

An insight into how TEE started how it works and how God is using it to build the church around the world.

‘Theological Education by Extension’ is often misunderstood as ‘distance learning’ or ‘correspondence courses’ – but it is not really either of those things! So, how can it best be explained? In some contexts it may be put simply as ‘discipleship and leadership training, based in the local church’. In others, where higher-level courses are on offer, as ‘a seminary in every place’.

Those who study a TEE course do not need to be uprooted from community, family or work situations. They can study where they are, in the time they have available, and apply what they learn to their everyday lives straight away.

It is local church-based. Learning takes place from the course book, and from other members of a local learning group, facilitated by a trained local tutor.

There are three components in the TEE model: home study; weekly group meetings and practical application.

As the ‘railway track’ illustration shows, each one of these elements is vital if the method is to work well. Of course, none of these elements is distinctive on its own, but the combination of the three is a distinctive of the TEE approach.

TEE began in Guatemala in the 1960s. A training college in the capital found that students coming from the countryside to be trained as pastors rarely returned. Life in the city was too attractive! ‘Theological Education by Extension’ was an attempt at taking the training to the students, allowing people to study without leaving their context.

Since that time, TEE has been used successfully in many different countries. Courses first used in South America have been taken, translated and contextualised for use in different cultures. And new courses have been developed to meet the needs of different situations.

One of the key organizations in providing TEE courses has been SEAN (Study by Extension for All Nations), which began under the leadership of Archdeacon Tony Barratt, in Argentina. The most widely-used SEAN discipleship-level courses are ‘Abundant Life’ and ‘Abundant Light’. ‘Abundant Life’ is now available in over 70 languages, and has been studied by hundreds of thousands around the world!

But ‘TEE’ is not an international organisation, or a particular set of courses. It is an approach to discipleship and theological training which has given rise to many distinct, independent, national movements around the world. The Kathamandu conference (which you will read more about in this edition of GO), aimed to bring together different national movements in Asia, to encourage mutual learning and encouragement, co-operation where possible, and cross-fertilisation of ideas and practices.

Today, TEE is moving forward! Its educational method has been tried and tested, and it is providing many people with effective Christian Education, at a number of levels. This method of ‘training in context’ is equipping many believers to grow in their Christian faith and to demonstrate it by practical service and gospel outreach in their communities.

Steppe by Step

Date
01 Apr 2011
Publication
Go International
Region
Europe
Profession
Theology / Church

An interesting article about TEE in Mongolia and how a programme there has blessed many lives all over the country.

“Why didn’t anyone tell us this before?” asked a Mongolian Christian, after Hugh Kemp spoke on the history of Christianity amongst the Mongols at a church in Ulaanbaatar in 1992.

This question prompted a seventeen year journey to June 2009, when Tuukheen Balarkhai Jimeer was published in Mongolia. “It’s the Mongolian translation of a book I published in 2000 called Steppe by Step,” says Hugh. “There were Christians on the Mongol steppe before Chinggis Khan, and long before any Buddhists or Communists were in Mongolia. The new church needed to know its own story.”

Hugh and Karen Kemp were Interserve Partners in Ulaanbaatar from 1992 until 1996, with ongoing involvement to 2002. “I realised early in our time in Mongolia that the Mongols are proud of their history. In the 1990s they were regaining their sense of place in the world, and it was a time of huge transition. Researching and correctly telling the Christian threads to their story was crucial,” says Hugh. “It was always my goal to respond to that original question, and publish their Christian story in their own language”.

While in Mongolia, the Kemps had a broad cross-section of supporters – from Invercargill to Whangarei, and right across the denominational spectrum. “Many people have followed this project with interest and prayers over the years” says Hugh. Tuukheen Balarkhai Jimeer – translated roughly as “by ways of ancient faded pathways” – was published as a textbook for a Christian history course in Mongolia.

“It has much wider potential though,” says Hugh. “It will serve pastoral and evangelistic purposes as well. Mongolian Christians can demonstrate that they have a legitimate place in Mongolian history, and hence a place of influence today.”

The initial response from Mongolian pastors has been encouraging. Pastor Tugulder is representative in this: “The thing that has encouraged me greatly [from this book] is to see the big picture of how greatly God loves the Mongolian people. Because He has been sending His envoys to this nation over the past many hundred years. I felt very strongly that He did not want to abandon us.”

One of the publisher’s aims was to put the book into the hands of every parliamentarian: the leader of the Democratic Party has already acknowledged it. “And it has already had some profile here in New Zealand,” says Hugh. “I’ve given a copy to a Mongolian public servant on a study scholarship here in New Zealand. He responded with, ‘These are my people. This is my tribe. But I never knew this!’”

In the Mountains of Central Asia

Date
01 Apr 2011
Publication
Go International
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Theology / Church

A look at how TEE is transforming lives in a hard-to-reach corner of Central Asia.

Lyn, now Interserve’s Regional Director for East Asia and the South Pacific, worked for many years in Central Asia, and helped to establish a TEE programme in that region. She sent us this story of God at work, moving mountains.....

M was a righteous young man who was a Muslim Mullah. He often used to scold the older men for drinking, because being a devout Muslim meant that followers were not supposed to touch alcohol. He himself was studying to be better equipped as a teacher, and he took his faith seriously. In his Central Asian homeland everyone was meant to be Muslim and only traitors turned away from this way of life.

One day whilst he was saying his prayers in Arabic, he suddenly found himself saying, in his mother tongue, “Jesus is Lord”. He cursed himself for such blasphemy, not knowing where it had come from. He thought he was losing his mind! He did it again, and again felt the pangs of guilt. Then, in his dreams, he met a man in white and the experience changed him profoundly. In the past he had been witnessed to by a Christian friend, and now he felt he must go to church with him. There he heard, and soon came to know and understood, that indeed Jesus is Lord.

M grew in his new-found faith and was asked to go and study theology at the Bible college. During this time, and immediately afterwards, God used him to plant two or three churches. But he found it both challenging and problematic that, in such a mountainous country, he could not get to visit his groups to nurture them. They would wait for his return, as their teacher, but it was not easy to get there, and it became all the more difficult when he started a family and had young children.

After some time, he was introduced to TEE and realised that this was just what he needed. Here was a way to help his groups grow in faith and practice even when he was not there! The book is the tutor and so, if the leader/facilitator of the group could be helped to use the material, then the group could grow and mature to be effective disciples of Jesus.

M now leads the TEE programme in his country, and he is convinced of its importance to help people, especially in isolated areas, to grow in their knowledge and understanding of the Lord.

Walking in a Minefield

Date
01 Feb 2011
Publication
GO News
Region
Arab World
Profession
Education

A report from a recent short-term mission trip to Kurdistan

It was our third day in Kurdistan, in northern Iraq. As we scrambled up a snow-covered mountain side, we saw a line of rusted metal signs with a skull and crossbones symbol, and wondered what this meant.

Our Kurdish guide announced: “It means ‘private property’.” But then he whispered to me, “It’s a minefield, but don’t worry – it’s probably all been cleared.” When I told our team members, one of them said, “Look, that sign over there is clearer – let’s go and get a photo.” So we just walked across the minefield: at the time it seemed a very natural thing to do.

Serena: “A lot of our students craved the joy that many Christians take for granted, and thanked us for returning some laughter and happiness into their lives.”

Thinking about it later, I realised this did not seem to be a wise decision. However it became a metaphor tome of our whole trip. Going to Iraq in the first place did not seem a wise thing – try getting insurance to visit a country on your Department of Foreign Affairs’ “Do not travel” list. Nor did taking a team of mostly non-teachers to teach classes full of university and college lecturers. Nor did showing the movie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, to a 100% Muslim audience, with group discussions afterwards.

Matt: “One of the most rewarding things was seeing our students make connections with each other.”

How did this all come about? I was leading the team of seven Aussie and three Kiwi Christians (Matt, Jeremy and Serena) who wanted to make a difference by doing something completely different.

The three-week trip can only be described as a testimony to God’s goodness. From our arrival, our Kurdish hosts took great care of us – paying for all our accommodation, meals and transport. The English conversation course that we gave was well-received, and included a range of methodologies including debates, role-plays, casestudies and puzzles. Our students were well-engagedfrom the beginning and had fun. Out-of-class activities included field trips, fun days and the C.S. Lewis movie nights. Relationships with our students developed and blossomed during these times, and some serious sharing of the good news took place. Even in the classroom, our students gave us opportunities to share abut our faith. A couple accompanied us to the Christian church services, and were put in touch with other believers. The students weren’t the only ones happy with our visit: we have officially been invited back by the university.

Sometimes the signs indicating danger, like those in the minefield, may not tell the whole truth.

Jeremy: “How to describe my experience? Challenging, oppressing, beautiful, sad, exciting, hopeful, eye opening and rewarding.”

We survived that walk, the way we survived the whole trip – by walking by faith. Throughout the trip, I was reminded of the thought: “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” When we move outside our comfort and ability zone, the Lord takes over. As Nahum testified: “The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him” (Nahum1:7).

God is Shaking the Nations

Date
01 Feb 2011
Publication
GO News
Region
Arab World
Profession
Other

Examing the recent developments in the Middle East and North Africa

Attention was focused on Sudan and Lebanon as 2010 drew to a close, with the impending referendum in Sudan and indictments in Lebanon for the death of Rafik Hariri. There were many calls to pray for Sudan, recognising the referendum raised potential for war in this strife torn country.

2011 began with a bang, quite literally, when a bomb exploded on New’s Year Eve outside an Orthodox Church in Alexandria as they were celebrating mass. Then suddenly Tunisia erupted, calls for change and the removal of President Ben Ali resulted in the end to more than 20 years of authoritarian rule. The question began to be asked whether this could be repeated in other countries, including Egypt, and many commentators said no, Egypt did not have the level of education that Tunisia enjoyed.

How wrong they were: the end of January saw people come out onto the streets and call for change, violence erupted, and in the end,theNations with the implicit backing of the all-powerful military, the protesters won the day and another leader was toppled – with the jury still out on what is to come. And it did not stop there. The President of Yemen announced he would not stand for election after his term ended in 2013, and added that he would not pass power on to his son. In Algeria, the President announced that he would soon lift the 19 year state of emergency. The Palestinian President is reshuffling his regime, Jordan and Iran have seen demonstrations calling for change, and the government in Lebanon has fallen with the future there increasingly uncertain.

What in the world is happening? Or what is God doing in the world at this time, in particular in the Middle East and North Africa? He is building His Church. Last year we were hearing reports of God at work in ways we could not have imagined. He is shaking the nations. God is at work for purposes that are far bigger than anything we could have asked or imagined, and I for one want tosee Him bring to fulfillment all He has purposed for this region.

These are challenging days. Our peace has been shattered, there is uncertainty, risks, and instability. I am reminded, though, that when we pray for peace we need to pray for God’s wholeness for the nations, not just the absence of war or conflict. In Egypt, where the new year started with suffering for the Church and fear about the future of relationships with Muslim neighbours, recent days have seen Christian and Muslim standing together to protect their neighbourhood, relationships being built that would otherwise have taken years.

At the end of last year I felt we needed a year of focused prayer and fasting for this region, not knowing what the beginning of this year would bring. It is still our cry that many would join, setting aside one day a week, throughout 2011, to fast and pray for the Arab world. God is at work. I don’t know what the end will be, but I know I want to be where He is, joining hands with what He is doing, and seeking His glory in these nations. God is building His Church. We have an opportunity to be part of that great work by joining with the Church here, to stand with, support, and be a part of it, serving God’s Kingdom purposes. One leader wrote that he feared the weakening of the Church in Egypt, as many foreigners have gone, and many local Christians are also looking to leave. He asked that we not forget the Church, a cry that has been echoed by leaders in Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere. In the midst of conflict and turmoil there is still the need for people who will be available to God to come and live in this region, join hands with the Church and be messengers of transformation.

Steps on a Ladder

Date
01 Jan 2011
Publication
GO NZ
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Community Development

Helping Central Asian orphans through the challenges of moving from institutional care to life in the big wide world.

“I remember when you came to help out at summer camp,” Dana said. “We played that game… baseball.”

“You do?” I was a little surprised. Not only had that been over two years ago, before I moved here, but many people had come in different years to assist with the summer camp programmes – why would she remember me?

But as we continued our conversation over chai, it turned out I wasn’t the only one she remembered. She and all the other young people remember at least the faces and some of the names of those who helped out with the programmes over the years.

I work with an Orphanage Project in an industrial city in Central Asia. I first visited this Project back in the summer of 2008 (as Dana remembered) to check it out, to find out whether I wanted to join in the work that was being done among the children from two local orphanages. I was so impressed by the way the Project majored on relationships – how these attention- and love-starved kids were being treated like real people – that I moved here in April 2009.

The founder of the Orphanage Project, Keri, has been here about ten years. As I understand it, she had been invited to visit a children’s home where she was struck by the poor condition of the children: they were small, underfed, inadequately dressed and timid. Soon after, she was joined by Mary, who is still on staff, and together they initiated programmes to fill some of the severe gaps in the orphans’ developmental, academic and life-skills education.

Being raised in an orphanage leaves most of the children apathetic and highly dependent, with no idea how to function outside its walls. Most of the children are diagnosed with a disability of one form or another, ranging from the relatively minor – such as behavioural problems and developmental delays – through to mentally disabled. For some of the children the main issues are institutionalisation and the barriers they will encounter as they enter life with a ‘mental disability’ label. This not only affects their chances of further education but narrows their options for good employment.

The programmes, including reading, maths, life skills, summer camps, city excursions, Saturday visits, can be loosely described as steps on a ladder reaching towards the ultimate goal of seeing the orphanage ‘graduates’ well adapted to life outside their institutions. We also help the children build a support network by recruiting and training local volunteers to work with us.

The graduate programme After I had been here 18 months, we were approached by someone from the Department of Education who wanted to know what we planned to do for children once they left the orphanage. At the age of eighteen, having completed their mandatory attendance at a technical college, the teenaged orphans step into the big, wide world, usually with no support network, no job and no place to live. So, with the backing of the government, we began our graduate programme, in which we help the graduates through the challenges of moving from institutional care to real life, and provide training and encouragement as they seek jobs, housing and a place in society.

And that is how ‘my place’ became ‘our place’: two graduates, Dana and Indira, moved in with me as part of our formal graduate programme, and that baseball conversation over chai (tea) was one we shared in the months we lived together.

Dana and Indira The girls moved in with me on a holiday weekend, and before it was over, they had written their resumes and, though terrified, were ready to start door-knocking for work. Only an hour and a half into the job search, Dana bounced in the door. “I’ve got a job!”

The next day, Indira was really hoping to come home with the same news. I accompanied her as she went from door to door. She came out of the tenth café with a sigh. “This is just not my lucky day!” she said as she came towards me.

We headed to the next one. With a deep breath she disappeared once more and I resumed my wait on the street. She was gone a while this time. Eventually she came out beaming from ear to ear and jabbering away, not making much sense. Attempt number eleven made that day her lucky day.

This was just over eight months ago. The conversation over dinner that night was all excitement; it was as if they each had the world in their hands. They had been in the city for less than a week, both had jobs, which they had found themselves, and this was just the beginning of much more.

Our life settled into a routine as the girls learned the responsibilities of daily living, how to cook and clean, and how to respect those they lived with. Even more challenging was discovering the difference between needs and wants as they learned to stretch their salary across the whole month. But the hardest part was working out what to do with the weekend, how to behave appropriately in the new world around them, and how to act in social situations.

It’s been about four months since they both moved out into flats and became fully independent. They know, however, that my door will always be open to them if they ever want to swing by.

Dana stopped in the other day. We hadn’t seen each other for three weeks so she wanted to catch up. I had another friend visiting so the three of us had chai together. When Dana was living with me, she tended to demand full attention at all times. Her mouth rarely stopped moving and the topic was usually whatever was on her mind. This time, however, I noticed an impressive change: Dana participated in the conversation without taking it over, offering her thoughts and questions and waiting and listening for responses. It was as if, all of a sudden, she had become an adult.

It has been an amazing, exciting and stressful experience for me, watching over Dana and Indira and growing and learning with them. Those few months gave support at a crucial time as the girls transitioned into life in the big, wide world. We are confident that Indira and Dana will go on to establish themselves as independent, valuable members of society, and we are looking forward to our next group of graduates.

Hope has been working with children and youth in Central Asia for over eight years.

The Journey So Far

Date
01 Jan 2011
Publication
GO NZ
Region
South Asia
Profession
Business

A business as mission company celebrates its tenth anniversary in Nepal and shares what it learned along the way.

We live in Nepal. We make software. We love it and think we’re good at it – though sometimes the mess makes me want to cry! We’re a business as mission thingy – BAM for short.

When our daughter was six, she confided to Juliet that she knew both the “S” word and the “F” word. She was right: she did. Just not the ones you’re thinking of. Trying to run a business in Nepal has been a bit like that. Every so often you think you know stuff, and a while later you find that you didn’t know as much as you thought you did.

We’re celebrating a milestone – our little company has just turned ten, and that has brought on a wave of thankfulness, the odd regret, and a few “what-if?”s. Here are a few thoughts on the journey so far.

Build to last Although we’re in a “want it now” world, unless you’re 22 and had the thought “why not build a social network?” before anyone else, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to build a business that lasts in under ten years. Note too we’re saying “build” and not “create”. It’s not so much making something out of nothing, as it is taking the things you’re given (mainly the people) and putting them together in a way that works. And anything to do with people takes time.

Look: if your age starts with a one or two, firstly it’s a miracle you’re reading this and not on Farcebook. But seeing you’ve got this far, listen to this: forget the short career break. Forget the house, the mortgage. Forget the expectations of your friends, your boss. Think about doing the surprising thing and giving this mission beastie the time it takes to build something that lasts.

The cure for faking it A Nepali friend once told me that he knew a lot of people who had become Christians for the money. That will sound strange to a Western ear, but in a poor country your options are limited, and Christians love to help people who have found faith. The trouble is that while twenty years ago there was a real cost to becoming a Christian, in the new Nepal that’s not always the case, and it is creating problems for the Church. There are a lot of Christians here with a sense of entitlement.

Business isn’t the solution to this problem, but it does provide a real connection between what people contribute and the wages they earn. Our clients also provide us with a reality check: they aren’t being forced to use us, and we need to provide them with enough value for money that they don’t go elsewhere. Compare that with working for a Church or an NGO, where the money might still come in if you do a mediocre – or even a bad – job.

Abba was right It is a rich man’s world. Sometimes in South Asian cultures you feel as if they’ve taken all the greed and self-centredness of the West and magnified it. Here, climbing over your friends to be successful, or cheating to get ahead, is considered a virtue!

Jesus warned us once or twice about the risk of money becoming a god. The trouble is, a business has to think about money. There are accounts, tax, wages, income, expenses. Profit even. Businesses that ignore the money side usually aren’t around for long. That said, BAM ventures that obsess about profit don’t really reflect the values of the One we claim to follow.

We’ve had a bit of a conversion about making a profit – for the first ten years we wouldn’t have identified it as one of our objectives. But these days it’s on the list. We want to make a honking big profit. Great gobs of it. Then we want to give lots of it away. There are so many needs here in Nepal. Food. Education. Health care. Respect. Life as God intended it, loving and being loved. Helping people be who they were created to be takes resources, and we want to do our bit to help.

We wish we could provide lots of jobs that would suit the millions of people in Nepal who never got the education they deserve, and which we took for granted. But in our business, we do stuff that sometimes makes our brains hurt: you need a good education to be in the running for a job with us. We can only employ a couple of unskilled people. We wish it wasn’t so. We wish we didn’t have to rely on the trickle-down effect. But this – writing software – is what we’re good at, and we love it, and wish that all jobs were as interesting and fulfilling as ours.

The power problem Power is a problem in any organisation, but with BAM you’ve got all sorts of new problems. Firstly, as a boss you’re powerful whether you want to be or not. If someone shows an interest in faith, are they doing it because they want to please you? Because they think they might get a raise or a promotion? It’s tricky. So much of what Jesus taught was about how the traditional way of relating to people (power) wasn’t His way, wasn’t the way. It’s a real challenge to create an organisation where people do things because they want to, not because you’re compelling them to, whether that be getting a good day’s work done, or responding to the love that draws us all.

Yet in a very strange way a BAM organisation is also vulnerable. We’re a stroke of a pen away from having to shut up shop and move to another country. It happens. And there’s not much recourse, let alone justice. We also hear amazing stories of employees who have brought companies to their knees for no good reason. So much of modern business is about removing vulnerability – we buy insurance, we plan for the unlikely, even the unexpected. Maybe it’s good we can’t be like that.

You’re so vain! These days you could be forgiven for thinking that BAM was the only game in town. If you find any BAMer giving you that impression, cut them down to size, would you? Remind them that BAM is a welcome part of the family, but it’s not the prima donna. We need to remember that we’re only able to do what we do through the support and prayers of the wider Christian community, and that theologians, nurses, engineers, counsellors, plumbers and so on are needed just as much as the BAMsters.

Ten years in business… and we feel as if we’re just hitting our stride. We’ve been blessed with some wonderful people to work with us, a few newbies to run with the baton, a supportive mission agency that has let us be us, and the love of a huge team of supporters. We’re so very thankful!

Craig and Juliet are Kiwi Partners, and have been living in Nepal for about fifteen years.

In the Freedom Business

Date
01 Jan 2011
Publication
GO NZ
Region
South Asia
Profession
Community Development

A young married couple from NZ work in a red-light district in Kolkata helping rescue women from the sex trade.

Millions of people in this world suffer from extreme poverty and exploitation. When we seek to reach these people with Jesus’ love, we need to communicate this message in a meaningful and appropriate way.

Our brothers and sisters living in situations of suffering need liberation from the physical and emotional pain they face every day, as well as the freedom that is found in a life centred in Jesus. Not only do people need to hear the gospel but they also need to feel it, touch it and experience its healing and freeing power in a tangible way. To communicate who Jesus is, how much He loves people and what it means to follow Him, we need a way that humbly and sacrificially brings God’s justice, healing, and redeeming love to all aspects of a person’s life… in other words, we need a holistic approach to mission and ministry.

My wife and I, along with a team of passionate and inspirational people, live in a red-light district in Kolkata, India, and work in a business committed to sharing the message of Jesus in a holistic manner. The business was started ten years ago by a New Zealand couple, who moved to Kolkata with the simple desire to extend the love of Jesus to their neighbours. However, after the Smiths* naively signed up for an apartment in the middle of the day, they discovered they were living in a red-light area, and their ‘neighbours’ were over 10,000 women trapped in sexual exploitation and abuse.

Undeterred by the enormity of the task, and realising that communicating Jesus’ love to these women through word only would be insufficient, the Smiths came up with the idea of starting an export business. The goal of the business would be to rescue women from the sex industry, but they knew that more than alternative employment was needed for the women to find true freedom. They needed a place where they could heal physically and emotionally, and where they could have a real encounter with Jesus in a new community of love, care and trust. With this vision as the foundation, the Smiths’ business was born.

From its small beginnings of 20 women working out of a rented apartment making jute bags, the business now employs over 170 women, and sells hundreds of thousands of fair trade bags and t-shirts every year. Most importantly, though, it’s a business that offers an opportunity to be part of a community of unconditional love, where people can find freedom, hope and healing, and come to know Jesus. Hundreds of women’s lives are being transformed through this holistic approach to ministry, and the stories emerging from the work of the business are amazing and inspirational.

Suraya* was trafficked from rural Bangladesh when she was thirteen years old. She came from a poor, uneducated family, and faced very limited employment options. When a smartly dressed businessman told her he could secure her well-paid domestic employment in the city – the wages would support her entire family! – Suraya agreed to go. However, there was no domestic service job waiting for her; instead she was taken to a red-light area, and was sold, drugged and raped. This was her life for twenty years until she started working in the Smiths’ newly opened business. Suraya’s new job provided not only freedom from the sex trade but also education and healthcare. As she was loved and cared for and treated with respect, Suraya regained her confidence and self-esteem, and became a follower of Jesus. Now a senior member of the business, Suraya still walks the streets and lanes where she used to work, but now it is to take a message of freedom, hope and healing to the women still trapped there.

Holistic mission – bringing Jesus’ love and liberating power to every aspect of a person’s life – should not be reserved just for the overseas mission field. It can, and should, be applied wherever we seek to express the love of Jesus, whether in a red-light district in India, in a struggling community in New Zealand, at school, at work, or with the person who lives next door. Jesus’ call to His followers is to bring the kingdom of God to earth, to feed the hungry, heal the sick, care for the widow and orphan, to be generous, to turn the other cheek, and to invite people to find freedom in Him and His way.

My personal journey that led me here to Kolkata, to help free women from slavery, was shaped by many things: overseas travel where I witnessed extreme suffering in the lives of women; questions about God, His plans for the world, and what it truly meant to be a follower of Jesus; and questions about the life I was living. Was working nine to five – so I could buy things I didn’t really need – and just ‘doing’ Church on Sunday, really living out Jesus’ call to build the kingdom of God here on earth?

As I wrestled with these issues, I reflected on the six months I’d spent as a volunteer with the Smiths’ business several years before, and on how much my own faith had been impacted and transformed by the women I had prayed, sung and eaten with. And I realised that my time of living in that red-light district, walking as the broken person I am with other broken people, and seeking transformation together in a community of faith centred on Jesus, had made more sense, had been more exciting, and held more beauty than anything I had experienced before.

It was a combination of these experiences, thoughts and a strong sense of God’s calling that drew my wife and me back to Kolkata, to live and serve on a long-term basis in the red-light district. It’s emotionally demanding here, noisy, dirty, crowded and often heartbreaking… but there is no place I’d rather be than here in the centre of God’s will.

Dan and Mai are Kiwi Partners. Dan is 33 and has a marketing background, Mai is 25 and is a graphic designer.

* Not their real names.

Intrepid Journey

Date
01 Jan 2011
Publication
GO NZ
Region
South Asia
Profession
Other

You are invited along for the ride as the Personnel Director for Interserve NZ makes a whirlwind visit to India and Nepal.

In the award-winning travel series Intrepid Journeys, Kiwi celebrities experience challenging and life-changing travel to exotic countries. Interservers know all about intrepid journeys – we’ve been travelling to, and living in, the hard places since 1852. In this article we invite you along for the ride as Mark Smith, NZ’s Personnel Director, makes a whirlwind visit to India and Nepal.

Here’s a riddle for you... What do a publisher, a school administrator, a helicopter pilot, an ESOL teacher, a gap-year student, a graphic designer, a marketer, a businessman, a personnel mobiliser, a healthcare administrator, a science teacher and a food technologist have in common? Well, quite a bit actually, but before I get ahead of myself, let’s go back to the start of my journey, after I flew out of New Zealand bearing essential gifts such as Whittaker’s chocolate and Vegemite.

Delhi, India [16-17 April] My first port of call was Delhi, a city of 22 million, and I reckon I met most of them in the 36 hours I was there! Our Partners Ricky (publisher) and Viv (school administrator) were my hosts, along with their children. Integration speaks of one’s ability to enter into the unfamiliar and find acceptance. Ricky and Viv have this in spades: the fact that they count Indian nationals amongst their most trusted friends is proof that this family have integrated well. I experienced further proof when Ricky took me on a white-knuckler of a car-ride to the airport ( drives like a local!), made even more memorable by the bovine traffic on the highway!

Mumbai [17-19 April] I am not sure whether it was the foot-long rat guarding my hotel room or the incessant cacophony of air-horns and hooters that took me back to my days in Metro-Manila in the Philippines. There is something about mega-city living that either invigorates or drains you. Fortunately I fall into the former category. Walking the streets of Mumbai with our Partners Mike and Judy was a highlight for me, and I was especially fascinated by Juhu Beach. Apparently Ghandi used to walk it when he was practising law at the Bombay High Court. At low tide it stretches 200 metres wide, giving plenty of space for the dozens of cricket and soccer matches.

Mike (helicopter pilot) and Judy (ESOL teacher) were based long-term in the Arab world before their recent move to India. As I listened to their amazing stories of adventure characterised by times of great joy but also moments of deep disappointment, I recognised a couple who have learned through good times and bad that their Shepherd is trustworthy. Thanks, Mike and Judy, for reminding me of that.

Pune [19-21 April] The rickshaw ride to the airport took three times longer than the actual flight to Pune: apparently, no matter how helpful an autorickshaw driver may be, he will still struggle to get the ignorant foreigner to his destination if the foreigner doesn’t know that Mumbai has more than one airport!

It was good to hang out for the weekend with Lucy, an 18-year-old gap-year student serving short-term with us On Track. We celebrated Holi, the festival of colours, together: Lucy with coloured dye and dance, me with coloured drink and dizziness (only the naive foreigner would assume that it was iced coffee he was drinking!).

Kolkata [21-23 April] I am certain that the phrase “stone the crows” originated in the streets of Kolkata, as every morning I was tempted to do just that! Mother Teresa and William Carey called this city home and so do Dan and Mai, who carry the same spirit for this new generation. Dan (marketer) and Mai (graphic artist) work in a BAM venture that liberates women from slavery in the sex trade. This couple have found their place in His Kingdom and have big hearts full of compassion for the exploited and downtrodden. May my heart be as big one day.

Kathmandu, Nepal [23-25 April] Kathmandu seemed subdued after my week in India: only two million people in this city, less noise, less congestion, less chaos, more sleep. Craig (businessman) and Juliet (personnel mobiliser) were my hosts, along with their children, Hayley and Tim. What a great family they are! I was deeply impressed by their devotion to their extraordinary work, to their Lord and to each other.

I also visited Matt (science teacher) and Jodi (administrator), who are spending a year in Nepal utilising their skills to advance the Kingdom in significant ways. They have such good hearts, and are so willing to serve; their hearts are healthy because they keep in touch with the Healer. Another good lesson to take home with me.

Pokhara and Dhading [26-30 April] The weekend was spent in Pokhara, a resort city of sorts. Three of the world’s ten highest mountains can be viewed from Pokhara, but unfortunately they were shrouded by a hazy cloud all weekend. Roydon (food technologist) and I caught a bus from Pokhara to Dhading. It was an eventful journey, made even more so by the bus losing a wheel… and me being the only one to find that unusual. Roydon lives in Dhading, and it is obvious that he feels so at home there. His devotion for the long haul is inspirational (25 years and counting), and his continued desire to effect change drives him onward to further years of service.

My bus ride from Dhading back to Kathmandu was uncomfortable, noisy, chaotic and cramped – and quite exhilarating. I prayed quite a bit, selfish prayers like “Lord, let me not catch anyone’s vomit!” When a drunk staggered on to the bus, I sent a little “Thank You” heavenward, because at least ten people congested the aisle between us. How this beefy, semiconscious man made it through those people, and claimed the seat next to me (that only seconds earlier had been occupied) defies belief! For the next hour he used the soft foreigner as a cosy pillow; I’m not sure what was worse… when he was leaning on my shoulder, bringing us almost cheek to cheek, or when he fell into my lap. Anyway, I am sure I provided some great on-board entertainment for my fellow passengers!

New Zealand [1 MAY] Ten flights, five bus rides, seven taxis, eight rickshaws and one ferry ride later, I’m back where I started, and ready to answer the riddle: what do all these people (our Partners and On Trackers) have in common?

Well, for starters, a clear, focused faith. Throw in an integrated and devoted lifestyle, a surrendered and servant-hearted attitude, an intentional way of living and a contented and trusting disposition. In my mind this is a good definition of abundant and complete living. Surely it is the only good way to live.

Now to do likewise in my own small corner of the world!

A Different Way of Doing Medicine

Date
01 Jan 2011
Publication
GO NZ
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Medical / Health

Caring for the mind body and spirit - a medical doctors journey into understanding holistic healing.

I was only fourteen when I decided I was going to become a medical missionary. In my fourth year of medical school, when it was time to decide where to spend my elective term, I assumed I would be going to Africa – back then I thought all missionaries went to Africa.

But I was surprised to learn that female medical personnel were most needed in Muslim countries, where many women died because there were no women doctors to attend them.

So I ended up doing my medical elective term at the Pennell Memorial Hospital in Bannu, north-west Pakistan. It was in a compound with high fences and armed guards. Women were not allowed outside the compound alone, and we had to cover every part of our body including our head. I have pictures in my mind of old rusty beds, surgical gloves hanging out to dry after use, hot sweet tea and lots of kids with thin mums. Women would travel great distances to come to this hospital, some even on horseback from Afghanistan, to see the famous obstetrician Dr Ruth Coggan.

Stomping on Baby’s Bottles I started to think about holistic health and doing medicine in a different way, after I witnessed a nurse at Pennell Hospital stomping a baby’s bottle under her foot. Her strange action started making sense after I learned that bottle-feeding contributed to the malnutrition, infection, growth retardation – and even the death – of babies there.

Big multinational companies sold their milk formulas cheaply, and promoted bottlefeeding as the way of the West, until it became a common belief that good mothers bottle-fed rather than breast-fed. However, many poor village women watered down the formula to make it last longer, depriving their babies of the nutrition necessary for growth. Not only that, the lack of clean water and inability to sterilise bottles frequently led to infection and diarrhoea, then dehydration and death.

My brief time at Pennell Memorial Hospital taught me so much. I learnt the importance of preventative and community medicine. I learnt that even though curative hospital care was exhilarating and necessary, prevention is better than cure. I began to understand that people’s health is more than physical, and that it is bound to their poverty, education level, status, economic means, gender and religious beliefs. In short, I had begun to understand about holism.

I probably could not articulate it at the time, but it was there I first understood that being healthy is not as straightforward as I had previously thought. As I began to consider the type of medicine I wanted to be involved in, it was very clear that, even though I enjoyed hands-on healing, my future lay in primary health care, community medicine, teaching and training.

Theological study I reached another turning point in my Christian journey in Pakistan. While visiting Multan Christian Women’s Hospital I had the opportunity to go on an evangelistic ward round. The hospital evangelist would share the gospel with the captive audience of the patients’ friends and relatives, who stayed there to care for, wash and feed the patient. I thought it was great that the gospel was shared, but I was uncomfortable with the division: doctors dealt only with the physical, and evangelists dealt only with the spiritual. I didn’t want to restrict myself to being only a doctor; I wanted to share the message of Christ myself, and to teach from the Word of God. I realised two major things then: I did not want to do medicine full-time, and I was going to need more theological training than I’d previously thought.

So in 1990 I began full-time theological study, while also working part-time as a GP to help pay my bills. After I finished my theological training, I worked in churches and as an itinerant speaker, still juggling that with part-time GP work. During this time of doing two jobs I was able to reflect on the interaction of the physical, emotional and spiritual. I also did a counselling course which was based on an integrated understanding of the person. We are complex beings and being healthy is a complicated business. Our emotions, hidden or conscious, have a powerful effect on our wellbeing and our perception of the world, and the way we impact others.

Community development When I applied to become an Interserve Partner, I was willing to go where I was most needed. That turned out to be Central Asia, where the church had grown exponentially since the fall of the Soviet Union, but leaders were young in years and young in faith. I would be serving there as a General Practitioner training other GPs.

This role was a concern to me. Even though the GP training programme was vitally important (it was part of a reform of the whole health system from being very hospital based to one that is more primary health care based), it was not the grassroots, community-based medicine that I wanted to do.

My first year there was focused on learning Russian, but I also attended community development training. This was another significant turning point, as I caught the vision of impacting communities in a holistic and grassroots way, where they could be empowered not only to recognise their own problems, but also to solve them with local resources.

By the time my language learning ended, there was a breakthrough in my work situation: my organisation decided to start a community development department. It meant that I got the opportunity to work in a small team that, among other things, did health screening and trained village health workers. Working in the project team was quite a cross-cultural experience, with sometimes four languages needed for everyone to understand what we were going to do, or what we were thinking. I would say something in Russian, for example, then my Russianspeaking friend would translate it into the local language for my Korean colleague to understand, then she would say something in Korean to her husband, and he would then respond in English! It was a wonderful experience, but needed lots of patience.

Initially there were two doctors (myself and another) available to meet the villagers’ needs: we would see patients in the morning, then move on to teaching the local health workers how to prevent and treat common problems. However, I came to realise that I was undermining what we were trying to achieve in the project: as long as there was a doctor available, people wouldn’t bother to learn how to prevent the problems themselves. That is when I decided my main role would be to train and coordinate the work of our community development workers, rather than be directly involved in the community myself.

We had a few different ways of selecting communities and entering them. One involved doing health screening at schools and then presenting the findings to the parents at a public meeting. We then offered to help them, but made it clear that we offered training, not money. We began by training the people in identifying needs and problem solving. Our lessons covered many topics, such as physical health, income generation, agriculture, emotional issues and moral values like honesty and forgiveness.

Sometimes we were able to incorporate stories from the Bible in our teaching. One very powerful lesson on forgiveness was taught by using the story of the prodigal son, but adapting it to ‘the prodigal daughter-in-law’. This seems to be the relationship with the most strain here, the one between the wife and her husband’s mother. Wives go to live with their husband’s family, and the wife has to do the bidding of the family matriarch – her mother-in-law. Most women are not free from this until they become mothers-in-law themselves. We saw many people recognise the destructiveness of unforgiveness after this lesson, and many were willing to do the homework we set them, which was to forgive someone!

Most of the communities we worked with knew we were followers of Jesus, and through years of interaction they developed a more positive understanding of Christianity. We do this work not as a means to evangelise or plant churches, but because it is good in itself and demonstrates the love of Jesus to broken people. In many places around the world, however, the natural consequence of such holistic community development is that, over time, churches are planted.

TEE and discipleship A great number of local church leaders, when surveyed, said the biggest need in their church was for discipleship. The local church is great at evangelism and church planting, but after people turn to Jesus there are many obstacles that prevent them from growing in their faith. Many groups are started in small and isolated communities as people respond to the good news, but without local leadership they often go for months without receiving any biblical teaching.

Theological Education by Extension, or TEE for short, addresses this issue. Group members can study the Bible wherever they are. Books of self-study material become the tutor. Someone needs to know how to be a facilitator or group leader, but basically the group learns together, has home-study tasks and practical ministry assignments.

In my last term overseas I was asked to help develop a TEE programme for one of the Bible Colleges. A few of my former students were keen to work with me on this, as they realised that TEE was the best way to help the church grow, especially in remote areas. Mars, a gifted church planter, used to be a Muslim mullah until he encountered Jesus as he was saying his prayers. As Mars began small groups, he found he didn’t have the time or resources to follow them all up. Now, through TEE, the groups are provided with the resources they need to grow in Christ.

We have a big vision for our TEE groups: we want to use them to address the needs of the whole person. We plan not only to offer theological training in these groups, but also to pass on life-skills and knowledge in the areas of health, parenting, intensive gardening, income generation and so on. It is our hope that group members will become lights in the community which others are drawn to and want to learn from. This is still in process as change is slow.

When there is harmony between people and God (the spiritual dimension), among people (the social dimension), within the person (the emotional dimension) and between people and their environment (the physical dimension), we have holistic health. Illness is a breakdown of these relationships. As Christians we work to reveal the reconciliation that Jesus achieved through His death on the cross. He is Lord of all and has reconciled all things in heaven and earth to Himself (see Colossians 1:15-20). If He is Lord of all, He is Lord of every aspect of this world and of our lives. That’s holism.

Lyn Pearson is Interserve’s Regional Director for East Asia and South Pacific. She lives in Australia with her husband and two sons.

From the Fullness of God

Date
01 Jan 2011
Publication
GO NZ
Region
South Asia
Profession
Theology / Church

Indian Partner Ellen Alexander explores some of the challenges of practising holistic mission in India.

Interserve has been practising holistic mission in India for over 150 years. Holistic mission flows from Who God is, what He has done, and what He is doing.

Interserve defines it as “intentionally bearing witness to the whole character of God and His mighty acts of redemption through proclamation, service and fellowship.”

Holistic mission is ministry from the fullness of God to all humanity, in every kind of society and culture. It responds to every dimension of human need, and brings complete salvation.

Reaching the unreachable India’s high caste Hindu women were often married when very young, then were kept completely secluded with their husband’s female relatives in the zenana – the women’s enclosures, where men were not allowed. They received no education, and usually had no power or freedom to make decisions. They also suffered and died needlessly from a lack of proper medical care, as doctors (then only male) were not allowed inside the zenana.

Interserve was formed in 1852 with the purpose of reaching these ‘unreachable’ women. The first missionaries, all women, found creative ways of doing so; they came initially as teachers, and then as pioneering female doctors, carrying with them the message of hope through Jesus Christ.

Changes and challenges In 1986, changes to India’s visa rules forced Interserve to move its National Office from India to Cyprus, and a year later Interserve India was born. This meant that Interserve mission Partners were no longer just sent to India, but that IS India could place Partners in the rest of the Interserve world (national Partners had already been working within India for many years).

Our current country team consists of about fifty Indian nationals and fifty expatriate Partners. This unique blend of nationals and expatriates forms a richly multicultural team, and is a wonderful reflection of how it should be in the kingdom of God. However, it also comes with challenges: I will briefly highlight two issues.

The first is how Partners understand, and respond to, suffering and risk. Most Indians grow up seeing suffering all around us – we are used to it. But most expatriates have to adjust to it as something new, and they often struggle to deal with it. It’s the same with risk: living with the risk of accidents or sickness is a part of life for us, whereas for expatriates it can be very frightening. The difference in cultural attitudes towards suffering and risk can end up becoming a barrier for expatriate Partners, and cause them to become very negative about India.

The second issue is how IS India is perceived by Indians. Because of the presence of expatriate workers, and because it is part of an international mission agency, local people assume that IS India is supported with foreign money. This false assumption creates difficulty in trying to raise financial support from within India for the work of Interserve.

Breaking down the wall Holistic mission opens up many avenues of service; it breaks down the wall between secular and sacred by taking the sacred out into the market place - just as Jesus did. He was able to turn talking to a woman by the well, or encountering a passerby like Zacchaeus, into a God-moment.

Partners here are involved in a wide variety of vocations and ministries, all of which seek to restore dignity and equality to the people they work with. One Business as Mission enterprise is located in a red-light district in Kolkata, and provides alternative employment for women trapped in the sex trade, as well as the opportunity to get to know Jesus Christ, the only One who truly restores dignity and beauty.

One of our Partners works with an NGO that is involved in anti-trafficking, especially of children. Yet another Partner is involved in running a college, offering education and skills, while living out the Gospel and looking for opportunities to introduce Jesus to urban educated Indians.

Two Indian doctors, a married couple, went to serve needy tribal groups in a remote area of Orissa. The husband died while working there, but twenty-five years on, his widow still continues the work they began, bringing community health and Jesus to these tribes. Today she is recognised by the village heads and is often called on to give advice and counsel on community development in that region.

Holistic mission can even happen while playing football. Interserve partners with an organisation that gathers slum children and teaches them how to play football. It helps keep these kids out of trouble and crime, and some of them have even qualified to play on the state team.

The challenges of contextualisation Some of the challenges that we face in doing holistic mission in a country like India are in the whole area of contextualisation. Where does one draw the fine line between culture and religion? Hinduism is so vast and diverse; it’s a way of life rather than a dogma and so very complex and challenging. It’s easy to let the pendulum swing to either end, from seeing everything as demonic and heathen, to the other extreme of embracing everything without discernment.

Historically, many missionaries threw away a lot of good cultural practices because they judged them to be heathen. This resulted in a loss of cultural identity, caused needless pain, and led to the oft-repeated accusation that the church in India is more Western than Indian. However, when Christians embraced cultural practices without question, not only did they open themselves up to encounters with spirits and demons, but they also brought confusion to the message, and uniqueness, of the Lord Jesus.

Holistic mission calls us to preserve culture in certain situations and redeem it in other situations. We believe God is the author of cultural diversity, but the fall affected all cultures and all cultures need redemption. There are no easy answers to a lot of cultural ‘dos and don’ts’. Globalisation and the media have complicated things even further, so much prayer, wisdom and discernment from God is required.

The way of the cross Persecution of Christians is on the increase here in India, churches are ransacked, pastors are beaten… but we accept that mission and suffering go hand in hand. We are not alone on this path: Jesus chose the way of the cross, and unconditionally loved even those who crucified Him, demonstrating for us the path that we are called to follow. He told us, “I am with you … to the end” (Matthew 28:20), and sent the Holy Spirit to empower and guide us.

We live and work toward that glorious end when Christ will reign supreme but, until then, we strive to see lives and communities transformed through an encounter with Jesus.

Ellen Alexander is an Indian Partner, and Director of Ministry Development for Interserve International.

Stay on target

Date
01 Jan 2011
Publication
Go International
Region
South Asia
Profession
Community Development

Susan has served in Interserve for over 30 years. These are her reflections on some of the dificult times she and her husband experienced.

When I was going through the letters that our family had written through a 20-year period, I was amazed at how many things I had forgotten about. But there are situations that have remained with me almost as clear as the day they happened. These times are not recorded in letters. These are the situations when we never got around to writing home. They were days when the Lord spoke so intimately that it was hard to repeat them to others.

I remember one such time I was sitting numbly in the small waiting area beside the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit of the Islamabad Children’s Hospital. It is late March and Ramadan – although I am not fasting this year. Nazreen, beside me, is telling the rest of us her story. She has come in from her village with her third child, just newly born, who is now in an incubator on the other side of the glass partition. She was married at the age of 16 and is now 22. The doctor has just left the room having lectured Nazreen on eating properly. He has told her that she must eat better – so that she will be able to nurse well and ensure that subsequent babies will be born healthy. He has told her that she should not be fasting during Ramadan.

Nazreen had nodded obediently to the doctor, but when he has left, spreads out her hands in a gesture of helplessness: “What can I do?” she asks the rest of us mothers of the NICU, “my mother-in-law requires me to keep the fast. I can’t just go home and demand these foods.” We all shift uncomfortably on the hard, slatted benches, both from soreness (we have all just given birth) and from knowing that there is no answer to Nazreen’s dilemma. Other women nod – obviously understanding her plight from a firsthand perspective. Our language teacher had told us of an Urdu proverb, “Ek aurat thi…”, which implies that despite good advice and scientific reasoning, the older women will have the final say, and everyone understands that in these kinds of matters, the mother-in-law is the head of the household.

There is a sliding window in the wall between our area and the NICU. Two doctors stand on the other side in conversation and I quickly realize that they are discussing my baby. Perhaps because I am a foreigner they assume that I will not understand them speaking in Urdu. We had brought Sophie in just hours after she was born because we couldn’t wake her up. Since being admitted to the hospital because she was in coma, she has also been diagnosed with a bowel blockage. Surgery has already been discussed with us, but now I overhear one doctor tell the other that they suspect the baby has Down’s Syndrome. I am stunned and overwhelmed. Tears begin to roll down my face and I lean my head back against the wall. Then, as clear as day, a voice inside me asks, “Do you want her?”

I am amazed at the question. Its honesty makes me uncomfortable. “Do I want her?” I think about what life going forward will be like raising a child with a disability. I have no reference for it, as I have no experience of someone with Down’s Syndrome. I have absolutely no idea what it will mean. Then I think back over the last 10 months since our third daughter, Danielle died suddenly of leukemia. Because we live in a country where good medical care is difficult to come by and diagnostic labs almost non-existent, she was left undiagnosed until just 2 days before she died. Despite the wonderful way God had prepared us for Danielle’s death and the way He has born us up subsequently, her dying was the hardest thing I ever had to do – and I know it is not something I would chose to go through again. I have learned that it is always good to say “yes” to God.

“Yes, I want her”, I am able to answer. I’m not sure I would have had the wisdom to choose life over death 10 months earlier.

Later that day Bushra joins us in the waiting room having come in with her eleventh child. The eldest of these is the only other one to survive infancy and we all can tell that this miniscule baby she has brought in will not live long either. It becomes evident to me that Bushra has a learning disability and is probably seen by her husband’s family only as a baby-making machine. Again the doctor lectures: “Too many pregnancies too close together”. Again the women of the NICU spread their hands in helplessness. These decisions are not in their power.

The next morning I am told that Sophie is out of the woods health-wise but will remain in the hospital for a few days and I know that this is the result of the conversation that God had engaged me in the day before.

I begin to bring in food to eat – despite it being Ramadan. Normally I would respect the fast and not eat in public but here in the waiting area of NICU I realize that I want to set an example. The next day a couple of the women have courageously followed suit and by the following day we are all eating our lunches together.

The population of the waiting area changes with the days. Some leave with a healthy baby, some leave with no baby – including Bushra. There are no more tears from me. I cannot feel sorry for myself in this company. After 2 weeks in and out of the NICU of Islamabad Children’s Hospital I am able to go home with Sophie to start a new adventure.

The psychologists of this world talk about finding a “happy place” – that place in your mind where you feel peaceful and where the stresses of life can’t upset you. Usually, it’s a warm, sandy beach, or a shady cottage in the woods. But Jesus tells us about a different “happy place” that defies the definition that the world offers. “Blessed (happy) are the poor…. the needy… those who mourn… the humble… those who really want to see justice done… those who work for peace…” This is the real happy place He tells us. We are all seekers with a deep hunger, and prevailing restlessness, not to find safety and comfort, but rather meaning and authenticity.

Why Go

Date
01 Jan 2011
Publication
Go International
Region
Arab World
Profession
Other

David is an Interserve worker of a friend of Tom Little one of those killed in Afganistan.

I am writing shortly after the news arrived about the death of Tom Little and nine others on a medical mission in Afghanistan. I knew Tom personally for years.

As a professional optometrist, Tom could have lived a gentle life in a safe, comfortable community. He didn’t. Instead, he and his wife chose to serve in a country perpetually at war. They did it because of Jesus.

When I was flying home after serving in the Middle East, I had a unique experience. I felt as if God’s Spirit was speaking to my heart about my own country. This kind of communication does not happen often to me, but it did that day. The words, spoken with authority and love and directness, said simply: “Your country is selfish. It is obsessed with its own security and wealth.”

That’s it. Nothing more followed.

For years, I have wondered about those words. What did God mean by telling me such a thing? To warn me to be careful about safety and comfort and money-making? To suggest that maybe these things could totally deceive a soul? Perhaps.

One thing I do know is this — the cure to selfishness is serving. There is nothing like an old-fashioned, self-denying, pouring-out-your-life kind of giving. During their last week, Tom and the others trudged it out on horseback through deep snow drifts high in the mountains as they sought out remote villages. When they finally reached their destination, word quickly spread and, soon, hundreds came to receive medical care.

On the trip back, Tom said that everyone was exhausted. But it was a good exhaustion, the kind that comes when you know you have served God with your whole heart.

Not many of us have a friend who becomes a martyr. As soon as I heard the news about Tom it sobered me up. It put things in perspective. I stopped fretting over what colour to paint my balcony — it just did not seem that important anymore. It also created within me a desire to serve like Tom did —pouring out one’s life, knowing that it gives the greater satisfaction.

You may be asking, “Why should I go? Why should I leave a life of comfort and safety? Why should I leave an efficient, safe community with fine hospitals, schools and stores?”

Just ask Tom. In Afghanistan he was known to many everywhere simply as “Doctor Tom” — he served so much, teaching Afghans what a true Christian can be like.

Perhaps someone reading this will feel called to go and serve. You may end up giving away thirty years of your life and then die just as Tom did. If so, do not fear such a calling. I remember talking with Tom about the dangers. In reply, he told me of the time when God miraculously protected him from a bullet. He spoke nonchalantly and without fear, as if talking about the weather. He spoke like that because he knew: when we serve God with our whole hearts, our lives and our deaths are in God’s hands.

Just what do you want to live your life for anyway?

Security Risk

Date
01 Jan 2011
Publication
Go International
Region
Europe
Profession
Community Development

Paul Bendor Samuel the interserve director looks at the changing face of suffering in mission.

Paul Bendor Samuel, the Interserve International Director, looks at the changing face of suffering in mission.

I recently heard from a friend working with a mission in Africa. An Ethiopian missionary friend of his recently died from cerebral malaria. He and his wife had fled their work three times due to warfare and constant attacks, but always felt called to return.

It is humbling to see the sacrifice of people working with these young national mission movements. They ask us difficult questions: What is our view of risk? How do we assess it? How do we decide when to go, or not go; to stay or to leave?

Cross-cultural mission has always involved elevated risks. Here are a few:

Health and personal security: occasionally leading to death, generally the risks are greater for our national brothers and sisters.

Impact on our children: yes, children are resilient but they are vulnerable to emotional traumas at various stages of the mission life cycle.

Ministry cut short through forced exit: the destabilising effect of not knowing when you will be asked to leave, sometimes at such short notice there is no time for proper closure.

Professional deskilling: This is a particular risk in today’s fast moving world. Nor is there guarantee of getting suitable employment on return to the passport country.

Financial insecurity in older age: long term service will likely mean little savings and limited pension.

In recent years mission agencies have had to grapple with the realities of risk and suffering in a fresh way. At least two factors have brought this about.

Firstly, mission is being done in a context of increased hostility. For most of the twentieth century, western missions operated in a relatively protected context. Colonial governments provided security. Emerging nationalism was as yet not generally allied to religious ideology. The past twenty years have seen that change. The search for identity in a globalised world has fed the rise of fundamentalist expressions of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, matching the totalitarianism of communism. This change has come largely as a surprise to the Western mission movement, used to ministry from the privileged position of power.

This leads to the second reason why mission agencies are thinking about risk and suffering. Increased risk in mission come as a stark contrast to the prevailing church culture: ease, comfort and security. This culture is not simply a western church phenomenon. It dominates wherever the church is experiencing the affluence generated by capitalism. Present in many parts of the world, it is the dominant culture in the church in the West. Attitudes to life expectancy are a reflection of this. Today, life expectancy in richer nations is around 80 years. Long life is the expected norm in those countries that have provided most of the mission work force until recently. Long life is seen as our ‘right’.

Contrast this with those missionaries that left carrying their possessions in wooden boxes that could also double as coffins. Britains in the 18th and 19th centuries generally did not expect to live past the age of 40.

Our view of risk is so culturally conditioned. Many in the mission force from the global south do not come from cultures where ease, comfort and security are taken for granted. Does this in part help explain the bravery and boldness of some of our colleagues in the newer mission nations? Views of what constitutes ‘acceptable risk’ will be challenged in agencies like Interserve as we open ourselves up to partnership with those who come with very different cultural assumptions.

How, then, are we to hold together obedient, sacrificial discipleship with appropriate risk taking, recognising our cultural conditioning? For us in Interserve it means at least three things.

1. Recognise and own the risks: Jesus warns his followers of setting out in discipleship without recognising the cost. As we recruit and select mission Partners, it is our responsibility to discuss the cost of cross-cultural mission. Selection and preparation must involve the church family and, where possible, the family of the person going. Orientation must involve reflection on the Partner’s theology of risk and suffering in the light of scriptural teaching.

2. Identify and reduce unnecessary risks: At times we bring problems on ourselves through our lack of planning or unwise behaviour. Those who join Interserve join a missional community with much collected wisdom. We cannot eliminate risk, nor should we attempt to do so. However, there is now a mass of understanding about how to reduce the kinds of risks mentioned at the beginning of this article. Much of this wisdom is what is now known as good ‘member care’. This should now include training in personal security, given the contexts in which most Partners work in Asia and the Arab World.

3. Reflect on the cost of taking the risks: When considering the questions of risk and suffering, we focus on the risks that occur because we go.

If we do not take the risks, on the other hand, there will be those who continue to live with a distorted view of Christ, prejudiced against the gospel because they have never seen or experienced the transforming love of Christ in action.

If we do not take the risks, there may be individuals, families and communities that never have the opportunity to become disciples of Jesus Christ.

If we do not take the risks, there will be those who continue to lack community development, employment, health care, discipleship, theological education and who will live in environments that continue to suffer degradation.

If we do not take the risks, there will be those who continue to live under unjust and oppressive structures with no one to advocate for them.

But the risks of not going are not simply borne by the peoples we have been called to serve. It is we who will suffer. We will miss out in joining God in His redemptive, reconciling and recreating mission. Our churches will miss out on the renewing work of the Spirit that occurs when we step out in faith and obedience in mission. By not taking the risks now, we will risk our life’s work perishing in fire of God’s judgement as we settle for security and comfort now. (1 Cor 3:12-15).

We recognise risk. We work to reduce risk. Yet the question remains:

Do we embrace the security risk, or has security become our greatest risk?

Where Christ is not known

Date
01 Jan 2011
Publication
Go International
Region
Arab World
Profession
Other

Jim an Interserve Partner who was recently forced leave the country in which he has served for number of yearsbelieve that the joy of serving God out weights any sacrifices has had to make.

Taking part in God’s mission has always seemed to me to the most exciting adventure that there is – so when I was asked to write an article on the sacrifices we’ve made I initially missed the point. What sacrifices? Have we missed out on much that’s worthwhile? Any losses we’ve experienced have been massively compensated for by the joy of adventuring with God and seeing His Kingdom coming.

My adventure started the first time I read through the Bible as a new Christian teenager. I remember resonating with Paul’s desire: “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation” then “those who were not told about him will see and those who have not heard will understand.” (Ro 15:20-21). And when it came to choose a country in which to serve, I deliberately chose the place that was the poorest and the most overtly hostile to the gospel: home to the world’s most wanted terrorist, reeling from civil war, site of attacks on US facilities and the place where nuns had been shot in the street – killed just for being Christians. Shortly before our first visit two colleagues narrowly escaped a bomb planted just outside their flat. They got up from breakfast and minutes later their kitchen wall was blown in.

Why go to such a place?

Paul would say... “How can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard?” “Christ’s love compels us.” “It has always been my ambition...”. For me, to disobey His leading in my life seemed less safe than walking in His protection. I set off (with my wife and one-year-old) as soon as I was qualified.

The strange thing about living in chaos is that you get used to it. Three months after we arrived, three missionaries were gunned down in the hospital that we’d been planning to work in the following week. Six months in, the war in Iraq started and foreigners in our country were advised to leave. Over the years there co-workers were kidnapped – some released, others not. Neighbours died in bizarre circumstances – the value of life seemed so low to the locals. Embassies sent out warnings of terrorist plots – “wars and rumours of wars”. We felt threatened occasionally, but had an enduring sense of peace.

In time, we moved from the relative ‘ease’ of the capital to a city of 400,000 with virtually no witness. We had a real sense of calling and were completely open about our faith. I shared the message of God’s love as much as I could. I prayed for the sick, went to the homes of Islamic missionaries and invited seekers into my home.

Some were fascinated. Nicodemus-esque, a local lawyer came to my home several times by night. He was one of the first to come to Christ and introduced me to several other young men that wanted to hear about God’s love. The last time I saw him he had led his family to the Lord and had a house church of about twenty individuals.

In the meantime, other neighbours complained to the Secret Police. Soon the Minister of Health and the Deputy Prime Minister were informed of our ‘activities’. They didn’t accuse us of breaking the law but told us it would be unsafe for us to stay there because we’d aroused local emotions. They said the Islamists would take matters into their own hands if the government wasn’t seen to act so they ordered us out of town.

Up until that point we had not felt threatened but that changed at 4am one morning, when an explosive device was thrown over our wall. I was shaken awake by two loud bangs and rushed into my children’s bedrooms to make sure they were still intact. My first thought was about the couple whose kitchen wall had been blown in 8 years ago. Thank God, the children (and the house) were fine. The devices were improvised bangers: all bark and no bite, designed to terror-ise.

Even then, I didn’t want to go. I wrestled with God about staying but instead He led me to the book of Acts where Paul repeatedly got kicked out of every town he went to. He’d move on – and God would use him in each new place. I complied. We packed up and relocated to the capital. And I’d still be there now if they’d let me stay. We lingered for 3 more months trying to get permission to start another project, but the government made it quite clear that we had to go.

I’m not a hero. Romans 15:20 isn’t everyone’s calling, but it is mine. God has used me to help start three house-churches but the main adventure that God has taken me on has been personal. Mission has been His tool to craft intimacy, dependence, faith, joy and excitement into me. To me these far outweigh anything I’ve sacrificed. The beatitudes are true: we really are blessed (“happy”) when we imitate Jesus, no matter what the sacrifice!

Dear Friends

Date
01 Nov 2010
Publication
GO News
Region
Arab World
Profession
Medical / Health

A letter about the work achieved by those who lost their lives working in the eye camp in Afghanistan.

Last night Linda and I sat in our garden for a dinner of take-away chicken. It was too hot in the kitchen to cook. Our guests were late – who knew when they would get in from their eye camp.

We made arrangements to cook them pancakes when they arrived. Maybe it would be the next day before they showed up. They had to come through our city on the way back to Kabul because the mountain passes were blocked with fresh snows.

As we sat at the table Linda noted the oppressive atmosphere. Monsoon rains were flooding Pakistan across the mountains from us. But the humidity in our valley had risen, promising rain but never delivering, making the heat so unbearable. And the light was a strange amber lending an eerie feeling to the twilight. “Look,” I said, “there’s not even the slightest breeze.” The highest leaves on the trees sat stationary as if formed of stone.

Through the night our phone rang several times and an anxious morning confirmed our worst fears. “Ten bodies, including eight foreigners, found in northern Afghanistan” was announced over the news websites. Our guests would not be coming.

The eye camp was led by our long-time friend Tom Little. I had seen him only a few weeks before as he was planning the trip to a remote corner of the world – Nuristan. The name means “land of light” and few attempt to go there because of its isolation. How appropriate an eye camp from the NOOR project would go and help.

Hundreds of patients had been seen. The team had packed their supplies back across the mountain pass to the vehicles they had left a week earlier in the southern district of our province. Tom checked-in by sat phone as they were packing the vehicles and that was the last anyone heard of them.

Linda and I knew most of the team well but our grief can never touch the grief of the families of those who died. We had never met the visiting dentist from the USA nor the visiting pediatrician from the UK. They came along to add depth to the medical work. But we did know Brian, the young videographer who had stayed with us in March so he could film the local sport of buzkashi. We had eaten with Cheryl earlier in the summerwhen we were down in Kabul.

Daniela had taken us under her wing to help re-orient us to Afghanistan when we returned last year. Glen was a great companion and a kindred spirit. Dan had taught our children to shoot baskets and drive his jeep back when we lived in Mazar.

And Tom had been a mentor and friend for thirty-four years. Back when Linda and I met in Kabul in the early 1970’s, Tom led our humble community outreach to hippies. When we left, he and his wife Libby stayed on – through the time of the communists, and the Mujadeen, and the Taliban.

Who knows who killed the team and why. What makes sense in days like these?

The sky is clear now – blue draped with high clouds. A wind is blowing through the trees.

Inside my heart is an oppressive heat – windless – and I wait for the weather to change.

Joel and Linda

Tragedy in Afghanistan

Date
01 Nov 2010
Publication
GO News
Region
Arab World
Profession
Medical / Health

A tribute to the ten aid workers who were murdered on 5 August 2010

Press Release by International Assistance Mission (IAM), 09/08/2010, Kabul, Afghanistan:

Today we bring you sad news. It is now confirmed that the bodies of the ten people found in Badakhshan on Friday were those of our missing Nuristan Eye Camp team. This is a sad day, particularly for the relatives and friends of those killed. Our thoughts and prayers are with them all. We pray they will find strength in their faith and in their communities to bear this unbelievable loss.

Our ten colleagues who were killed on Thursday, 5 August, had just trekked one hundred miles back through the Hindu Kush mountains, after giving eye care to some of the poorest and most remote communities in Afghanistan.

The team had driven to Nuristan, left their vehicles and hiked for nearly a day and a half with pack horses over a 16,000 foot high mountain range to reach the Parun valley. A group of local guides had accompanied the team on their trek, and guided them safely back to their vehicles. Shortly afterwards they drove acrossa river dangerously swollen by heavy rains, then got out of their vehicles obviously relieved that the difficult part of their trip was over. It was then that a group of armed men attacked the team, killing all but one of its members on the spot.

We want to pay tribute to each of our colleagues who died, and to their commitment to serve the Afghan people. They were:

Dr Tom Little, 61, USA; Mahram Ali, 50, Afghanistan; Cheryl Beckett, 32, USA; Daniela Beyer, 35, Germany; Brian Carderelli, 25, USA; Jawed, 24, Afghanistan; Dr Tom Grams, USA; Glen Lapp, 40, USA; Dan Terry, 63, USA; Dr Karen Woo, 36, UK.

In some news articles, the people on this team have been described as ‘saints.’ This is not how they saw themselves. They were basically selfless professionals willing to spend their lives and energy in a meaningful way.

Tom Little, the team leader of the eye camp, was the driving force behind much of what has been achieved in eye care in Afghanistan. He is irreplaceable.

IAM has worked in Afghanistan since 1966, as the guest of the people and the government, and our eye care work alone has benefited an estimated 5 million Afghans. As long as we are welcome, we will continue to stay and serve the Afghan people.


Tom Little

Known in Kabul as “Mr Tom,” he knew his work was dangerous, and that following God’s call could mean losing his life - but it didn’t deter him from making Afghanistan his home for 33 years.

Tom learned the language and culture, and used his professional skills to literally help the blind to see, in a place with very little eye care until Tom went to live there. And it was all from the bottom up – he not only did the eye charts and vision tests, but also ground the lenses for the glasses. Later on he set up hospitals and clinics, and trained Afghan staff in eye care, so they couldsustain the work he and others began.

One of Tom’s trainees is Dr Abdullah Abdullah, a senior Afghan politician and former presidential candidate. After the murders he publicly paid tribute to Tom’s dedication to his people, and labelled the attackers “enemies of the Afghan people”.

“We always knew we shared him with the Afghan people,” his wife, Libby, said. “We honor God’s unique call on his life skills and energy. We believe with Tom that there are some things in life worth dying for.”

Tom was buried 21 August in the British Cemetery in Kabul. He is survived by his wife and three daughters.

The girl who was tied up in a corner of the room

Date
01 Oct 2010
Publication
Go International
Region
South Asia
Profession
Education

Interserve On Tracker Steph Bennett shares one shocking experience from her time in India and the impact it had on her.

Class sizes aren’t only an issue in the UK.

Here I am in Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission in India, my first day…one large class, certainly too large for the one teacher to deal with alone.

That’s where I had come in. I was a helper.

The girls were all different ages and had all kinds of abilities, but all had one thing in common… they all attended this, the “Special” school.

One girl, in particular, stood out to me.

When I arrived, she was tied to a chair and put in a corner of the room out of the way. That’s special, in an horrific way.

What made her different? What made her unacceptable, even here?

I had been worried about how I would cope working in poor conditions, but how did this girl manage to live on a daily basis like this, totally ‘outcaste’?

Her uniform had holes in and she had her shoes on the wrong feet.

I remember her big eyes staring at me, she was panicked by the new face in the room. Her autism didn’t allow for anything that wasn’t part of her routine. Something drew me to her.

Over the coming weeks I found out that because of her condition, she had been rejected by her family, which couldn’t cope with her. She loved running around, especially when it was time for lessons.

This was my challenge, how to transform her from being a child who was used to restraint to a place where she might feel able to run around, to express her freedom in a way that any young girl might wish to do.

It started with a tambourine. The little girl didn’t know what to make of it. She’d watched the others shake and hit one before, but hadn’t done it herself. Her big eyes just stared at it in hope, in expectation, in excitement.

The tambourine was new, something else out of her routine, but it would soon become a part of it and she would understand what to do with it.

The next step was to put her with a group where she would be involved in daily learning activities.

She had to learn slowly and steadily but she was going to learn. I was determined.

The group I was with had 8 girls in it, all needing attention every second. I couldn’t give it to them – I did my best – but I felt that they could give it to each other.

The girl tied up in the corner had become part of the group, slowly integrating herself into a community. She grew in trust, and the others liked her.

She was missed when she wasn’t there.

We gave her freedom. We untied her and we sat her at the table to join in. The panic in her eyes subsided hour by hour, day by day, week by week, as we slipped her into the new routine of being with people and belonging.

During the small time I was there, the girl who used to be tied up in the corner learnt things that we would not even think she would have to learn.

She learnt to hold things without having to chew them, not part of the UK school curriculum! She learnt to understand when it was her turn to do things, such as recognise some matching pictures.

After five months, she even started to speak.

But the biggest change that I saw wasn’t related only to the breakdown of isolation I saw in her. I was beginning to see the same change in myself.

In using me to transform another life, God was transforming me.

Snow and starvation

Date
01 Oct 2010
Publication
Go International
Region
East Asia
Profession
Agriculture

An Interserve Partner working in Mongolia writes about the terrible winter drought or dzud which has wrought havoc in the lives of millions of Mongolians.

One of my first impressions of Mongolia during a visit in 2002 was that it is a land of contrasts and extremes. I’ve now been living in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, for 16 months, and the contrasts still stand out. Extremes of poverty and wealth; modern city lifestyle and nomadic herders; space and congestion; and it goes on.

But the contrast that stands out and dominates is that of the weather, and this past year has been greater than normal in its extremes. Mongolia has a continental climate with warm to hot summers and very cold winters. The last winter, some say, was one of the coldest for 30 years, with temperatures dropping to -50°C in some places. It has also snowed more than normal resulting in the fiercest winter in living memory. The previous summer was fairly typical, but with less rain than normal. So this contrast of a dry, warm summer where grass and consequently hay production was poor, followed by a very cold and snowy winter led to what is called a ‘dzud’. This dzud has been very severe.

A friend, travelling in the countryside for a few weeks, stopped at a ger, the traditional Mongolian home. He writes:

“Outside the ger tied up to the truck there was a goat. We asked the herder about how he made it through the dzud. He still had a good size herd. He told us he had close to 1,000 animals but now he has only 200 – 800 of them died in the dzud. The goat that was tied up outside had been found buried up to its back in the snow. It was the only one from that group of his herd that lived.”

Stories like this are typical. Current estimates are that about 20% of the 40 million head of livestock in Mongolia have died. Many that have survived are weak and the spring new-borns didn’t have much of a chance. Many more will continue to die. As of mid-May, there were reports that over 32,700 families had lost at least half of their animals, with over 8,700 households left without any livestock at all.1 A contributing factor to the extent of the disaster has been a huge increase in the number of livestock to beyond what the land can sustain; the Mongolian pastures have been groaning.

But what does this mean? In a country where approximately one third of the population depend on herding for a living, this is devastating. For those who have lost a large majority, if not all of their herd, this means that they now have no form of income. The UN expects 20,000 people to move to provincial centres or the capital to look for work. Unemployment is already near 50% in some places. The price of meat has risen by 50%. Infant and maternal mortality has increased by 30-40%.2 The children of herders are suffering significant psychological effects, among many other knock-on effects.

Many are trying to help but there have been difficulties in such a vast land. JCS is one of many NGO’s playing a part in distributing aid supplies and also looking to the future trying to advise on animal and land management. All that JCS does is done through the local church, but the Mongolian church itself is poor. I went with a JCS dzud relief trip to a small town with a church with which JCS has connections. Aid was given out to 200 families who had lost all their livestock, yet this was only scratching the surface; just as the livestock try to scratch through the snow and ice to find some grass hidden below, so it seemed with our relief efforts.

Summer is now here. Temperatures have been in the high 30’s. It has rained. The grass is green. It can be easy to forget the groaning and desperation of the cold and snow of a few months ago; the contrast is stark. But for many the devastating effects will last for years to come.

Photo: A car buried in a snowdrift; desperate Mongolians await food handouts run by a Mongolian Christian group; a Mongolian ger during a blizzard; Bactrian camels coping with the winter as best they can; Mongolian herders receiving food and other supplies.

Mission in a groaning creation

Date
01 Oct 2010
Publication
Go International
Region
Europe
Profession
Other

Christian environmentalist Margot Hodson gives a theological explanation for how Christians should care for the world around them.

Today, over 100 years after Edison’s seemingly forward-looking statement –“We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles” – the promise of cheap, abundant electricity seems to hold true only for industrialized countries. Who could have anticipated that today more people have no light in their homes than the entire world population in Edison’s time?

There is a clear relationship between poverty and access to electricity. The more remote the community, the greater its poverty level, and the higher the costs for electrification and other development projects. Approximately 80% of Nepal’s 29.5 million people live in the rural areas, and about half of these live in such remote areas that neither a road nor the national electricity grid will reach them for decades to come. Nepal has no fossil fuel resources, so families in the remote areas use precious trees for firewood for cooking, room heating and light. Villagers – mainly the women and children – spend up to seven hours every other day gathering the needed wood. This dependence upon firewood, and especially the indoor cooking on open fireplaces, has a direct chronic impact on people’s health and is a major factor in the extremely low life expectancy for women and the high death rate of children under five. In some places families do not even name children under five, since child mortality is so high. Deforestation is alarming in these regions. The once picturesque, biodiverse forests and valleys are being stripped of their resources in unsustainable ways.

I have been working amongst these remote high altitude mountain communities since 1996, first with United Mission to Nepal and then, from 2001, as co-founder and director of a non governmental organisation, RIDS-Nepal (Rural Integrated Development Services), and as lecturer and researcher in renewable energy technologies at the Kathmandu University. The vision of RIDS Nepal is to improve, in partnership with individuals and communities, their living conditions and livelihood through long-term holistic community development.

In poverty-stricken mountain villages in Humla in northwestern Nepal, RIDS-Nepal is working on utilizing local renewable energy resources in more affordable, sustainable and appropriate ways. Over the past twelve years, four issues have again and again been identified by the local people as their most urgent needs for their holistic and sustainable development: latrines, smokeless stoves, basic indoor lighting and clean drinking water. This led RIDS-Nepal to develop a holistic community development (HCD) strategy named the “Family of 4”, which is implemented in close partnership with the whole village community.

The “Family of 4” HCD begins with the building of a pit latrine for each family. Next, each family purchases a (highly subsidised) smokeless metal stove for cooking and heating, specifically designed and developed to meet these villagers’ needs while consuming only about half the firewood of an open fire. The next step is a highly subsidised home electrification system for basic indoor lighting. The power is generated from local renewable energy sources, most often through solar energy or small scale hydro power plants. Finally, the commonly-owned village drinking water system is designed and built. Because the local people are involved in each step of the process, it creates in them a strong feeling of ownership, and a greater interest in keeping each project running.

It is crucial to understand that the local community is at the centre of any HCD project and that the contextualised technologies developed and applied are to serve and support their struggle for a better life. Therefore, any project has to be based on a thorough understanding of the local context and culture, and must include an understanding of the “invisible” causes of poverty, and the impact on the community of decades of deprivation. This approach demands time, compassion and dedication. These more “human” aspects of an HCD project are crucial factors that need to go alongside the technical aspects. In this way the people are recognized from the beginning as equal partners and not as receivers of imposed ideas. This time-intensive, often frustrating process is central to a HCD project.

As the “Family of 4” brought about positive change for families and their communities by addressing basic needs, other needs began to be identified by community members. RIDSNepal and the Kathmandu University, supported by the ISIS Foundation, worked together to create contextualised technologies to meet those needs through the “Family of 4 PLUS”, which has the following elements: increased food security (through greenhouses, solar driers and a nutrition programme), non-formal education (for mothers and out-of-school children), slow sand water filters (for indoor use), and solar water heaters (for improved personal hygiene and health). The greenhouse contributes to food security by extending the growing season from 3-4 months to up to 10 months per year; the solar drier provides a hygienic, effective method of preserving food whilst still keeping its nutritional value; and the solar parabolic cooker provides a wood-free cooking alternative. Approximately 65% of children under five in Humla are malnourished, so an intensive nutrition programme has been established, that uses only locally grown and available products.

Periodic surveys and evaluations are part of every long-term HCD programme, so that problems and needs can be identified, and adjustments made accordingly. Our aim is to partner with each village community for two generations (about 20 years), in order to bring about relevant, sustainable and holistic change.

It is our hope that as we listen to, live and work with the local people, over time our mutually identified solutions to their needs will “get under their skins” and become indigenous to their culture. This journey – somewhat like the 17-day trek through harsh Himalayan mountain ranges to reach Humla – is neither short nor easy, and there is no guarantee of success, but we believe the end result will be worth every steep hill we had to climb to achieve it.

Alex Zahnd is a partner with Interserve Switzerland. For more information on any of the projects, go to www.rids-nepal.org

Poverty and the environment

Date
01 Oct 2010
Publication
Go International
Region
South Asia
Profession
Community Development

A Partner of Interserve Switzerland writes about his work in reducing the effects of poverty in Nepal and the effects that such poverty have on the environment.

As we look at how the 21st century is shaping up, we have four really big challenges: climate change, biodiversity loss, human population and resource depletion - especially oil and water. These four issues all impact on each other and in turn affect economics, politics and global security. What does mission mean in a century facing these major environmental challenges? This article will look at a number of biblical passages to provide a theology of environmental mission.

Creation and incarnation An interesting place to start is John 1 and the importance of creation and incarnation to our understanding of mission. It has powerful things to say about the value of the material world. The Word is the agent of creation: all things came into being through Him and without Him not one thing came into being (verse 3). So the whole of creation looks to God as its source. The passage goes on to say that in Him was life; that this life was the light of all people; and this light shines in the darkness. The implication is not that any part of creation is darkness, but that non-creation (that which is not of God) is darkness. This might be the non-being of Augustine, or it might be other interpretations of evil, but it is not God’s creation, which God created to be good.

John 1 has great significance for the doctrine of the incarnation: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (verse 14). Jesus was without sin and affirmed the goodness of creation by becoming a part of it. John 1 connects a high view of the biblical doctrine of creation with a strongly historical and physical belief in the doctrine of the incarnation. This has implications for the way we see salvation and redemption.

Creation and salvation What is the link between creation and salvation? Romans 8 is a good place to investigate these themes. A popular passage for biblical teaching on the environment is Romans 8:18-27 which does seem to be written directly for our own environmental situation today. But before we rush to apply it, we need to remember that it was written within a very different world. The Romans to whom Paul was writing would not have been in the shadow of global warming or environmental meltdown. For them the term “Creation Groaning” was not something that would have resonated with contemporary environmental problems. So what was Paul getting at and what would the Roman Christians have thought? There are four mentions of “creation” in this passage. There are only 24 in the whole New Testament, and this is certainly the only place where the “whole of creation” is included in the same sequence. Like John 1, this passage is based on the understanding that humans are part of God’s creation. The human experience of suffering is part of creation groaning and not something separate. There is a lot of discussion over this concept of a “cosmic fall” and we are sure there will be differing views among readers. Part of the reason why we support the concept of some sort of cosmic fall is that the opposite, a cosmic redemption, is seen in Scripture. We can see this in the amazing promise in verses 20-21: the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay.

Isaiah can help to explain a cosmic redemption. Here we find the idea of a renewal of creation that is integral to the prophecies of salvation at the end of the age. For example in Isaiah 11:6-9 “The wolf will live with the lamb”, we see a picture of harmony between nature and humans. In Isaiah 65:17: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth”, we have an image of creation renewed. The Romans would almost certainly have viewed Paul’s concept, of creation in bondage and waiting to be liberated, as looking toward these redemption images. So creation groaning points toward a redeemed and renewed creation.

But there is another very powerful image in this passage, of a woman in childbirth (Romans 8:22). In the first century, the pangs of childbirth were used as illustrations of cosmic woes accompanying God’s judgment, and they are a metaphor here for the universally shared pain that anticipates new life and the new creation to come. So what will this new life look like? Creation will obtain the freedom of the glory of the kingdom of God, and will become a magnificent sign of God’s love and faithfulness. Our God, who became part of His creation and died for us, was raised bodily as the first fruits of the redemption of our cosmos. We see glimpses of what all of that looks like in Isaiah and Revelation 21-22.

Creation and the kingdom Redemption therefore impacts on the whole creation and not just humans. This means that being part of God’s redemptive plan for creation is a mission imperative alongside proclamation, discipleship, justice and a concern for the poor. As we engage more deeply in integral mission, we discover that God is just a whole lot bigger than we may have imagined! Environmental mission looks toward seeing God’s kingdom come and will be done on Earth as in Heaven.

Margot Hodson is a church pastor and Martin Hodson is an environmental biologist. They are joint authors of Cherishing the Earth and work with the John Ray Initiative.

Weblinks www.hodsons.org/cherishingtheearth www.jri.org.uk

Aibeks Testimony

Date
01 Aug 2010
Publication
GO News
Region
Arab World
Profession
Media

The testimony of the man who aimed for the influence of Christian television to reach even the most remote villages.

About eight years ago, I noticed my mother watching a Christian programme on television. It was in Russian, my mother’s second language.

When I asked how much she understood, she admitted, “only about 30%.” And I realised that this was what it was like for most people across our nation: they hear but do not understand, as they don’t have any opportunity to listen to the Gospel in their own language.

That is when God impressed on me the great need for Christian programming in our national language. Initially, however, I received very little support for this vision, and it took some years of fervent prayer before God started opening doors. But I never doubted that God was in this, and He put people beside me to encourage and support me when I really needed it.

The breakthrough came in 2004, when I was given the opportunity to attend a Christian summer school for training in TV and video production. On completion of my training I was given responsibility for producing and directing a 30-episode Christian television drama: this project marked the start of our studio.

Our country is one of the poorest in the world, and our government, police force, and education and health care systems are riddled by corruption. Our people are bombarded with lies and deception from every direction, and, in desperation, many of them start to seek help from God.

But if they never hear the truth about God they will believe whatever was taught to them in the past, mainly Islam mixed with elements of Shamanism.

Christian television is such an effective way to teach our people the truth about God. They are able to watch in the privacy of their own home, and make the decision to receive Christ without the often negative influence of their extended family and community.

But there is a price to be paid for those who acknowledge their new faith publicly: they are viewed as traitors to their own culture, and are despised, ostracised, and often physically attacked. Persecution comes mostly from their relatives and close friends.

One young man, for example, was thrown out of his home after he became a believer. His father told him that he could only return home if he renounced Jesus, and studied the Koran. This young man refused; he said he could not throw away something that he knew to be true.

As followers of Christ in this country we strongly believe that God will send revival to our land and so, with God’s help, we are trying to do whatever is possible. We are praying that one day we will have our own TV channel, as we believe that God can and wants to use television to reach the people of this nation and influence them for His kingdom.

A New Hope Through Television

Date
01 Aug 2010
Publication
GO News
Region
Arab World
Profession
Media

With the help from God and Interserve Aibek started the first Christian TV Studio in his language which has had a huge impact on the country bringing life and hope to those who live in the hard places.

We have been working in Central Asia for eight years, in a Muslimmajority country overwhelmed by major economic and political crises. In our time here, one of our biggest encouragements has been witnessing a national believer’s dream – that of broadcasting Christian television in the local language - grow from a vision into reality.

After Aibek* watched his mother struggling to understand a Russian language Christian TV programme, he realised that the great majority of his people had no access to the Gospel in their own heart language. And God gave him a vision for using television to reach people for Christ. However, when Aibek shared it with Christian leaders in the city, many of them told him that while it was a good vision, it would never happen: no one could or would help, and most actively discouraged him. But when Aibek shared the vision with us, God put it on our hearts to not only affirm and encourage him, but to work alongside him in bringing it to pass.

That was almost seven years ago. And although it has not been an easy road for Aibek, he stuck to the dream God gave him and now heads up a television studio which produces local Christian programming. These programmes are broadcast twice a week in several strongly Muslim regions in our country; it costs about $200 USD to air each slot, which is covered mainly by donations from local, indigenous churches. Each programme is based around a theme (e.g. forgiveness, family, testimonies of changed lives, alcoholism and other social issues), and contains a mix of teaching, testimony and music.

The vision of the studio is to eventually broadcast all over our country. This seems a long way off at the moment, but we have seen our Father open doors that we never thought would open. The fact that the programmes are being transmitted to some of the more remote, strongly Muslim areas shows that our Father’s hand is on the project. He is using this ministry to touch people who otherwise would never have the opportunity to hear the Gospel, and to bring hope and life to places where there is so little hope and so little to live for.

That Aibek is able to continue broadcasting with current restrictive religious laws is a testimony in itself. The director of the TV channel in one of the regions was strongly pressured to stop, but he told the Muslim community and officials that the programmes were good, and he would continue to show them as long as the studio continued to pay!

Television is particularly effective in reaching remote villages. Recently we received a letter from a mountain village in the south. These people have little contact outside of their village but do have television! Six of them had become believers through watching our shows: they have never met any other believers, and have no Bibles, but they meet with each other to share, and pray to the Father who has given them hope.

There are many stories like this, told through letters and phone calls, from people whose lives have been changed and transformed through the programmes. They include high ranking officials who contact usin secret, wanting to learn more but fearful for their positions, and even for their lives and families if they were to openly ask.

So even though we have encountered a lot of very vocal and vigorous opposition, we continue to be encouraged by the testimonies we receive, telling us of God’s salvation, changed lives, restored families, and how God’s word, through television, is bringing hope in the hard places.

* Not his real name

When The Walls Came Down

Date
01 Jul 2010
Publication
Go International
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Theology / Church

The story of the foundation and growth of the church in one of the most repressive countries in Central Asia written by one of that countrys first Christians.

The story of the church in one of the most repressive Central Asia countries, by Gulzoda, one of the first local believers.

1991 was a year of confusion and panic for people in my country. The largest nation in the world, the Soviet Union, was dividing and no one was sure what the end result would be. I had grown up believing in the Soviet system and was ready to give my life for it even as a local Central Asian. That is how my classmates and I had been taught. Then, one day, we saw everything we thought we were living for collapse around us. All systems of society, banks, schools, government, healthcare, and even transport came to a halt. When all of these systems stopped another work began.

With the government preoccupied people were able to come in and out of the country without problems. Just as our perception of the Soviet Union was crushed our view of the religion of our ancestors also began to wither. When I first learned that the Soviet Union had dissolved I began to look into Islam as a new source of hope and belief. In this religion I couldn’t find answers to my questions. Right away Russian Christians came down to us and began sharing the Good News. At this time I had just entered the university and a woman came to the university where her cousin worked and began preaching in classes with up to 200 students. About 5 or 6 of us students became believers after hearing her share for just a few minutes. In the brief conversation with the woman from Moscow I received all the answers I needed and walked away with a changed heart.

For the next several years many foreigners came and helped to grow the seeds that had been planted. The presence of foreigners also brought jobs, training and education for many. We had a time of rapid growth and saw believers raised up in many cities around the country. We were taught what “church” is and how we are to live as a body. Since we had no background in the Christian life we learned how to understand scripture and teach it to others. At one point I was leading 11 small groups in one week.

These years were not free of persecution as all of us who joined were attacked by family and society. Many of us also lost our jobs. As the new government began to form the number of restrictions also increased. These restrictions also applied to the foreigners, 80% of whom, after more than 10 years of open doors, were forced to leave. This was a difficult time as we saw many close friends and mentors leave as well as losing jobs and support for countless people.

All was not lost. After this the church began to grow increasingly underground. Since there were only allowed to be two official places of worship in each city these were inevitably used by the majority religion. Networks formed between cities and groups that helped connect the small pockets of believers around the country. An increase in unity has also taken place as denominational differences mattered less. People stepped up into leadership roles that had long been held by foreigners. Though it is still a struggle, leaders are being developed to multiply home groups, in essence seeing each person as a potential leader of a new group.

Challenges still persist in our very controlled environment. Like all developing countries unemployment is very high and a pastor who can live on the giving of his group is virtually non-existent. For believers, particularly in smaller cities, it is very hard to find work. Many educated leaders are leaving to go to other countries to find work because they can’t provide for their families here. Almost all pastors need to have a second job to help cover expenses which takes them away from full-time mission work.

Persecution continues to grow, making some stronger and others fearful. One fellow leader lost his job three times when his bosses found out about his faith. By the third time the police told him that if they caught him again they would plant drugs on him and he would go to jail for the rest of his life. Every week we hear about homes being raided and large fines or even jail time given to those present. In order to protect ourselves, times, locations and days of meetings are regularly changed. Unfortunately for some it became so bad they were forced to leave the country.

The need for outside support is still very strong. A new small group of foreigners has recently arrived bringing business models and ideas for income generating activities. This is helpful because instead of just giving salaries we are developing businesses that will remain even if foreigners leave and which also help to support the leaders of the churches. Since it has become very difficult to get training and education in the country many mission workers are now working and offering training in neighboring countries which we can travel to for short periods of time. This helps meet an important need in spiritual maturity as resources and information are very limited here.

As we look to the future of the church here we see lots of potential. Still young, less than 20 years old, with a country which looks increasingly outwards for help, there are many ways for the larger body to serve a group of believers making up less than 1% of the population. Finding ways to invest in the leaders both financially and educationally is crucial for multiplication. They need encouragement from the larger body to remind them that they are not alone. I have had the opportunity, along with many others, to travel to neighbouring countries to bring the good news. This type of effort has been very effective as our cultures and languages are very similar. In order to continue this and other efforts we need more and more people around us. Just as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “this service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God, (2 Cor. 9:12)”.

A Body of Many Parts

Date
01 Jul 2010
Publication
Go International
Region
Europe
Profession
Theology / Church

International speaker and author Martin Goldsmith writes about how the different parts of the world church can work together as a body of many different parts.

Steppe of Faith

Date
01 Jul 2010
Publication
Go International
Region
East Asia
Profession
Theology / Church

The situation facing the church in Mongolia - its history its strengths and its weaknesses and how Western Christians can help. Written by a Mongolian church leader.

Mojic Baldandorj is a Mongolian Christian leader who has served as General Secretary of the Mongolian Evangelical Alliance, as founder and director of the Mongolian Mobile Training Centre, and who is currently pastoring a church in Mongolia and lecturing on Old Testament Studies at Union Bible Training Centre in Ulaanbaatar.

In world history, the Mongolian Empire is considered to be the biggest land empire the world has ever known. In the 13th century the Mongol Empire extended halfway around the world, stretching from Korea to Hungary under the leadership of Chingis Khan. Historians today acknowledge that during the Mongol Empire there were many Mongol Christians in the royal families and royal court. The famous historian, Marco Polo, tells us that 200 Christian missionaries were requested to come and evangelize the whole empire under the reign of Hubilai Khan but the Pope failed to respond to this request. With the fall of the Mongol Empire, Buddhism was introduced from Tibet and the remaining three centuries saw the saturation of Tibetan Buddhism in every family and clan of Mongols until the country became the second communist country in the world in 1924.

During the communist regime, Mongolia remained closed to the outside world for the next 70 years. Known as ``the end of the world``, it was totally impossible for Christian missionaries to enter the country until the fall of communism in the former Soviet Union in the late 1980s. In 1990, Mongolia entered into a new page of history, freedom and democracy.

Taking advantage of this new freedom and democracy, the first Christian missionaries arrived in Mongolia in early 1991. They could only get into the country as English language teachers in those times. It is recorded that the first Christian gathering was founded in spring of 1991 with students from an English class. Three churches separately formed by the end of the same year with 40-50 local Christians coming to worship on Sunday. For just under three years, the passionate new believers spread the Good News day and night. Through street evangelism, home visits, and showing the ``Jesus`` film, the Good News was proclaimed to the newly-opened country. Revival came to the land. The Spirit of God brought new spiritual freedom and revival to thousands of Mongolians who were thirsty for eternal truth.

It is estimated that by 1996, in less than 4 years since the first Christian church was established, almost 60 local churches had been born with over 6,000 adherents of Jesus coming to those local churches. Then by 2002, over 200 churches had been planted literally in each and every of Mongolia’s 21 provinces with 25,000 followers of Jesus in Mongolia. Today, 19 years later, the country is home to 550 evangelical churches with over 50,000 adults, plus thousands of children coming to worship the one true God.

We believe that it is only the power of God which has brought this great breakthrough. The whole nation is experiencing the move of God in real ways in peoples’ lives. The message of Jesus is not only preached from the pulpit, but its real life-changing power is seen in the lives of many. The church of Christ is being built in this nation gradually but surely.

Many national leaders today feel that the young Mongolian church is reaching her “teenage” period. We feel that the excitement of being “young” is gradually over as the church is facing many new challenges. In this article, I would like touch on one issue which is very important for future church growth in Mongolia.

The explosion of rapid church growth creates a leadership shortage. Suddenly we realize that many new-born local churches lack Christ-like, servant leaders, whose personal life and character mark them out as a genuine disciple of Jesus. We have seen in the past that churches can be planted in a relatively short time with many different resources from the West or Korea. However, we have discovered that that is not the end of it. The church needs a good leader. To make a good and godly leader, it takes a long time.

In recent years, unfortunately, a considerable number of pastors and leaders have resigned or have been forced to resign from their ministries due to sexual sins, unfaithfulness in handling offerings, and personal character issues. Sometimes, their position and ministry are regarded as more important than their spiritual growth and personal encounter with God. We see, unfortunately, that many ``good`` leaders fall through the hole, committing sins, and some of them giving up on their faith. When a leader falls, the name of Jesus also falls with it. Of course, developing leaders into godliness is not a one-off event. It is a lifelong process. There might be many ways to develop leaders in other parts of the world, but in the Mongolian church context, the following two practices must be essential steps in developing leaders: personal discipleship and role modeling mentorship. It is my own experience and observation in the Mongolian context that it usually takes as long as 7-10 years or more of personal discipleship and mentorship to see a committed young leader emerge.

I believe that our brothers and sisters in the Western world have a lot to offer for future leadership development in the young Mongolian church. It is estimated that there are over 600 Christian missionaries from many parts of the world working and living in Mongolia. Some of them teach at Bible schools and many work for social projects, but it is my sincere wish that we could work together hand in hand to develop national leaders into Christ-like leaders. We could sit together to discuss real life issues of leadership and promote national leadership development programmes. We could provide personal mentorship for those young leaders. We could work together for training countryside church leaders in their local context. I am not saying that there is no partnership at all. What I am saying is that what we do today is not sufficient and efficient.

Over a hundred years ago, God’s faithful servant, James Gilmour (1843-1891) from the London Missionary Society tried to reach our ancestors for Christ. He ministered to Mongols over 20 years, but saw no converts at all. His precious prayer is passionately noted that,

‘If only the truth can be made to reach their understanding, it is not to be doubted that God will in His own time and way, even among the Mongols, and notwithstanding all difficulties, apply it with living power to the hearts of men, and call out from among them those who will confess Him before their countrymen, and smooth the way for those who afterwards shall follow their examples (Gilmour, 1882:219)’

God has granted His time. It is now time to cooperate and train, mentor, and disciple these young leaders for the powerful transformation that God will bring to our nation.

Broadway and Likay

Date
01 Jul 2010
Publication
Go International
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Community Development

How Western Christians have assisted the church in Thailand through creative arts programmes written by a Thai lady working at one of those programmes.

My name is Yuriam Manowanna. I work at the Christian Communications Institute (CCI) in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Many years ago when I was in my final year at Payap University, I prayed to God that if He would like me to work for Him, I was willing. Upon graduation in 1980, I was offered a position at CCI, and it was an answer to prayer. I love Thai dance and I love to sing, so the opportunity to spread the Word of God through CCI’s performing arts ministry has been a great blessing to me.

CCI is a very unique ministry. It came about in the 1970s through the vision of a special missionary couple. One of them had been a performer on Broadway herself while her husband was an engineer-turned evangelist. They wanted to share the Gospel in a way Thai people could appreciate and understand, and what they chose was the traditional Thai art form of likay, or folk drama. These missionaries were brave because in those days the Thai church was wary of such things. Traditional musical instruments, dance and drama were associated with the Buddhist culture and had no part in Christian worship services. Slowly and with great care, the founders of CCI worked together with a family of professional likay artists, seminary students, and performers like myself, creating a ministry that not only became accepted by the church but was extremely popular as well.

This is a fact: if these missionaries had not come to Thailand and had not started CCI, we would not have our ministry today. We Thai Christians are almost embarrassed to admit that it was foreigners who thought of using our Thai artistic expressions to communicate God’s Word, and it was foreigners who have helped us to preserve a beautiful Thai art form! But of course, we are so thankful. And those of us who have been involved in CCI have been personally inspired and blessed. We have also learned many important things that help us grow in our faith.

I remember one trip our CCI likay troupe took to the town of Phetburi. I was quite new to the team at the time and I was struck by the way CCI’s founding couple truly reached out to the people there. In particular they were drawn to the Lao Song, an ethnic minority group. I watched as they tried to learn some of their language and expressed interest in their food and crafts. I was touched to see them continue to support and help these people long after we left that place. Genuine love for God’s children of all kinds — even those that we Thais sometimes overlook — is something quite difficult to cultivate, and yet over the years this love has been demonstrated over and over again by these missionary friends.

This couple also has modeled humility, which is something that was strange for me at first. In our culture, people in high positions rarely admit to a mistake or ask forgiveness of someone under them, but on many occasions I saw my colleague apologize after having a disagreement with one of our team members. Even more striking was that he always admitted his mistake. This demonstration of humility is a good thing that we at CCI have learned from and which I will always remember.

Over the years I have come to know not only the founders of CCI, who are almost like parents to me, but also many other short-term and long-term missionaries. They have shown us the importance of living together with people from other cultures. They have taught us the value of using our gifts for the glory of God—whatever those gifts may be. Above all else missionaries have taught us the virtue of patience. How patient they must be as they learn our language and customs! They do not just pack up and leave when things become difficult. They patiently persevere. The early missionaries to Thailand experienced great hardship, disease and loss. We Thai Christians are indebted to them for their sacrifices and for their contributions, not to mention for bringing the Gospel. Nowadays life is easier, but still we know there are challenges that require much patience. When these challenges arise we must help each other if we are going to be partners in ministry. Yes, it is good for missionaries to learn as much as they can about our country and culture before they arrive, and dedicate time to language study once they are here. But we Thais should also prepare ourselves and be willing to learn from our Christian partners who come from other places. What a valuable experience it is to live and work together, building the Kingdom of God!

Some people ask if missionaries are still needed in Thailand. It is true that the first missionaries came over a century ago and the Thai church has been well established for years, with qualified Thai leadership and adequate resources. It is also true that Thailand is not on the list of lesserdeveloped countries with great physical needs. No, our needs are not as obvious as those of many countries in the region and beyond. Yet I believe that we still value the Christian partnership and vision that our missionary colleagues have to offer. Thais helping Thais alone is not always enough. We need help with addressing contemporary issues that challenge the church. We need help with networking, with language skills. And we welcome creative, culturally appropriate ideas for sharing the Gospel—such as the idea CCI’s founders had when they stepped out of the boundaries to form a Christian likay troupe and establish CCI in Chiang Mai.

By Yuriam Manowanna with English and editorial assistance from Ellen Collins, who with her husband Andy are IS USA partners serving with CCI since 2006. (Photos from the CCI Archives).

Serving the influencers

Date
01 Apr 2010
Publication
GO NZ
Region
South Asia
Profession
Other

In the last few years India has witnessed the most remarkable economic changes which are beginning to redefine its very image.

In the last few years India has witnessed the most remarkable economic changes, which are beginning to redefine the very image of India. Gandhiji once said that anybody wanting to understand India must go to its 600,000 villages. However, if Gandhiji were alive today, he may instead say that we need to visit the hundreds of towns across India which are fast becoming nerve centres of urban transformation in this once predominantly rural country.

With a focus on “winning the winnable while they can be won”, cross-cultural Indian Gospel workers, building on the foundations of western missionaries, are serving the needy in villages in the remotest parts of our country. And there have been success stories, including mass movements of tribal and Dalit (so-called untouchable) people groups deciding to follow Christ.

Unfortunately, the side-effect of the above ethos has been the neglect of strategic social people groups like the middle class. The church and missions, in general, are not ready to reach urban upper and middle classes. Most Christian workers are trained either to go to the tribal/Dalit groups or become pastors of existing Christian congregations. But Indian missions and churches cannot remain mute spectators of the changes wrought by urbanisation: they need to come to the forefront and be involved in the holistic transformation of India through serving the influencers.

The influencers The vast Indian middle class, with over 300 million people, now exceeds the total population of the USA. Educated, thinkers, and vocal decision makers, they are modern culture shapers and fashion leaders, and the target of multinational businesses. The Indian economy is controlled by their purchasing power, and their opinions influence government decisions in economics and politics.

Although financially secure, the urban middle class struggles with a multitude of social issues, both modern and traditional: the census of India, for example, reported that traditional problems like female infanticide and dowry deaths (where wives are killed because they didn’t bring enough assets into the marriage) are more prevalent among the middle class.

Less than one percent of the urban middle class follow Jesus Christ – yet these are the influencers who need to be touched by His transforming love.

Following the example of Jesus Jesus met two people on His way to Jericho. One was Bartimaeus, the blind roadside beggar, and the other was Zacchaeus, the tax collector. Jesus stopped for both of them, and met their individual needs. As much as Bartimaeus needed to be restored from his physical blindness, Zacchaeus needed to be restored from his spiritual blindness.

Jesus not only proclaimed the Kingdom of God to the poor, marginalised, and oppressed, but also to the rich, the middle class and the influencers of the day. God shows no favouritism, and neither should we.

Consider Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, who first came secretly in the night to talk to Jesus, and later became a follower. And then there was Matthew, the tax collector who invited Jesus home for a meal, and who was later chosen as an apostle. Jesus regularly visited Lazarus and his sisters, who had the means to entertain Him and several of His followers. Women from rich and royal households followed Jesus and supported his public ministry from their personal funds. Joseph of Arimathea offered his own tomb for Jesus to be buried in.

In the Scriptures, the rich young man was one of the very few who declined the call of Jesus. After he walked away, Jesus explained that it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, and compared the ‘hardness’ to a camel passing through the eye of a needle. “When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’” (Matthew 19:16-26).

When Jesus proclaimed, “Today salvation has come into this house,” Zacchaeus went out and shared half of his wealth with the poor, and paid back four times the amount he had taken dishonestly. When the rich hear the Gospel and respond as Zacchaeus did, it is an impossible event made possible by God.

If we want to see whole communities and nations transformed we need to be involved in serving the unmet spiritual needs of the often-overlooked middle class, who are the influencers of today. Sadly, very little pioneering work has been done among these influencers, and although they are often said to be unresponsive to the Gospel, the truth is, very little effort has been made to communicate the gospel contextually, or to provide an environment of appropriate integration among the established Christ-followers.

Zacchaeus was a typical middle class urbanite, exploiting people and making money, but when an encounter with Jesus transformed him, the transformation impacted his entire town (Luke 18:35-19:9). If we allow ourselves to be used by God to help transform the Indian middle class, they then, in turn, have the capability to transform our entire nation.

A wide range of salaried positions in corporate, medical and educational institutions are available right now, and India also welcomes foreign entrepreneurs with funds for investment in transformational business. Are you willing to commit to reaching the middle class?

John Amalraj is the National Director for Interserve India.

Family and change

Date
01 Apr 2010
Publication
GO NZ
Region
South Asia
Profession
Other

Beulah Wood addresses the needs and problems of the South Asian family in her latest book Families in the Plan of God.

However, some traditional values have, in fact, contributed to the problems that have always plagued the Indian family - problems such as wives being deserted, domestic violence, child abuse, female infanticide, dowry, and abuse of daughters-in-law – so returning to “traditional family values” cannot serve us well in all respects.

Christians and Criticism of Culture: God’s plan for family differs in many ways from that prevalent in South Asian culture. The Bible judges all cultures, because it is God’s word for all people. No culture is perfect, and people must change a cultural custom if it does not meet God’s standards.

Cultural behaviours are fine when they have no moral implications; however, if cultural customs lead to morally unacceptable outcomes, like casteism, that will not allow a fellow human being to be treated as an equal, then Christians must speak against it, and work against it. Judging women as less valuable and their wishes invalid, treating daughters as unwanted, or discriminating against them in food, health, education, value and love in the family, is morally unacceptable. Unjust family customs call for change

Jesus as the Example for Cultural Change: Our example, Jesus, rejected much of the culture of His time. Jews did not eat with non-Jews or associate with people they called sinners, but Jesus disobeyed, eating with people said to be unclean (Mark 2:15-17, 14:3, 18-23). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, “It was said… but I say to you…” (Matt 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43). He was explaining to His followers that they could go against their own culture. It is the task of Christians in each nation to understand the culture and follow Christ in saying graciously, “But I say to you…” All of us can work to change family structures and patterns that damage both families and individuals.

Suicide: South India has a higher rate of suicides per 100,000 people than anywhere else in the world. The four states are estimated to have 50,000 suicides a year, approximately 137 a day. In most of the world, three men commit suicide for every one woman, but research on young people in Tamil Nadu found that two young women commit suicide for every one young man. Suicide was the reason for the death of 50 to 70 per cent of young women who died. An Indian women’s group in London said, “The high instance of suicides among Asian women is linked to abusive practices within Asian families.”

Beulah Wood, a Partner with IS NZ, is an author, editor and lecturer. This article has been excerpted from her latest book, Families in the Plan of God: a Theology for South Asia, which addresses the needs and problems of the South Asian family and culture. For more information please visit the Resources section on our website www.interserve.org.nz.

Religion and India

Date
01 Apr 2010
Publication
GO NZ
Region
South Asia
Profession
Theology / Church

Indians find it hard to understand how many people in the West have no religion because in India religion defines your life.

India is a very religious country. Almost every one of the 1.2 billion people to be counted in next year’s census will fill in a religion. Indians find it very hard to understand that many people in the West have no religion, because in India, your religion defines your way of life - where you go and when, what you eat, who you marry, and even burial customs.

For example, Hindus consider Tuesday to be unlucky, and there are many restrictions on what can and can’t be done on that day of the week. One time I hired a young Hindu girl on a Monday, expecting her to start on Tuesday. After a frustrating day waiting for her to show up, I was ready to withdraw my job offer. When she came on Wednesday, though, her explanation was simple: there was no way she could start a new job on such an unlucky day.

Food and religion Hinduism contains many elaborate restrictions concerning food, from production through to preparation and consumption. These restrictions are intended to protect kinship, purity, ritual, ethical values, and social stratification, each of which plays a huge part in Hindu society. If you visit a Hindu home in India, you will rarely get to see, let alone help in, the kitchen, because of the fear you will contaminate the food. Other Hindu food laws vary according to caste: Brahmins are strict vegetarians, but other castes will eat meat. However, all will be adamant about not eating beef, as cows and bulls are very sacred and must not be killed.

In Islam, in which food is divided into two categories – halāl (lawful) and harām (unlawful) – the laws surrounding food are much less restrictive. However, eating pork is expressly forbidden. Many of the butchers in India are Muslim.

Jainism, an ancient religion that prescribes a path of non-violence towards all living beings, has some of the strictest food laws. Jains do not eat meat, fish, eggs, figs, honey, onion, garlic or root vegetables – the latter four partly from the fear that insects could be killed in the gathering of these foods.

For most Christians in India food laws are not a big issue. Some take advantage of their freedom to eat any food, to emphasise their difference, but others choose not to eat particular foods so as not to offend the people they live and work amongst.

Shrines Nazia had been married for over a year and was still not pregnant, so she made a pilgrimage to the shrine of a Muslim saint. She hoped that the prayers she offered to the saint would soon bring the child her family was expecting her to produce.

Many Indian Muslims follow Folk Islamic practices such as visiting shrines - sacred places which are dedicated to the worship of a specific deity or saint. Hindus also often make pilgrimages to temples and shrines in pursuit of miracles and cures, to pray and bring offerings, or seek advice from gurus (Hindu ‘holy men’).

Giving to the poor In Islam, one of the five pillars of faith is giving. Generally money is given to a local Islamic organisation which then shares it with the poor in that community. Many Sikh gurdwaras will regularly host community meals which all, including the poor, are invited to attend. Some of these gurdwaras also provide medical facilities for the poor. These days there are also many Hindu health and development programmes which care for the sick and the poor.

For both Muslims and Hindus, giving is seen as a means of attaining merit towards salvation. This is in contrast to the Christian teaching on giving to the poor: giving is not a way of earning salvation, but rather reflects the character and nature of God and His concern for the poor.

Marriage Vishu had reached the right age to get married. His parents and extended family searched for a suitable wife, and found a girl of the right age, the right education, the right caste, and from a good Hindu family. The next step was to take the date and time of birth for both to an astrologer to see whether they were a suitable match. If they were, the astrologer would look at the stars some more and tell them exactly when the wedding would need to take place for the marriage to be successful.

Marriages are a big event in every religion of India, but for a Hindu, caste and matching the stars of the couple are most significant parts of the procedure. Usually people marry within their own religious circles: marrying someone from another religious conviction – or even just from a different caste – causes major conflicts within families and can sometimes lead to death.

Burial customs Even in death, what happens to the body is determined by religion. If you are a Hindu, your body is cremated and the ashes may be sprinkled into a river; if your family can afford it, the ashes are taken to one of India’s holy rivers such as the Ganges. Sikhs and Jains also practise cremation, but Muslims bury their dead in a shroud (not a coffin), always facing towards Mecca. The Parsees (followers of Zoroaster) have the most unusual custom: their dead bodies are placed on high platforms within a secluded compound where they are devoured by vultures.

In the West, the separation of sacred and secular has left a heritage where faith is often practised in a very private manner, and does not affect the whole of life. But in India your faith is public: your actions, your way of dressing, what you eat, and even your name broadcasts which religion you follow. To live as a follower of Jesus in India – to model Him in our everyday life – is a great privilege, and presents a challenging message to all those around us.

The author, a Partner from Australia, has been working in Health and Research in South Asia for seven years.

VIA Design

Date
01 Apr 2010
Publication
GO NZ
Region
South Asia
Profession
Business

VIA Design helps build sustainable enterprise in marginalised Indian communities where few other opportunities exist.

Incredible India

Date
01 Apr 2010
Publication
GO NZ
Region
South Asia
Profession
Other

Out of the 1.2 billion people in India only 3 are followers of Christ. They need your help to reach their country for Christ.

The economic growth in India has been enormous over recent years: new buildings are being constructed everywhere and modern shopping malls are now common in the big cities. Along with the growth in economy, however, has come a growth in poverty – both physical, and spiritual. In the megacities about 50 percent of the population live below the poverty line, many of them in slums. In rural areas, where about 70 percent of Indians still eke out a living, crops often fail and many farmers are burdened by loans they cannot repay. And amongst the materially wealthy a growing number are spiritually poor, caught up in materialism and a Hollywood-influenced Western lifestyle. Traditional family values are forsaken, many couples live together without getting married, and more marriages are ending up in divorce.

Interserve currently has 116 Partners serving in India: 68 Indian nationals and 48 international Partners from Korea, the UK, Australia, the USA, Brazil, New Zealand, Canada, the Netherlands, South Africa, Germany and Hong Kong.

In recent years there has been a decline in the number of overseas Partners coming to serve in India. Historically, Interserve provided medical personnel for mission hospitals in rural areas and staff for Christian international schools such as Woodstock and Hebron, but we are now struggling to fill these vacancies. Many factors, including entry restrictions, have contributed to this decline, but the primary cause has probably been the media focus on India’s economic growth, giving the misleading impression that India is financially secure, and that international mission Partners are no longer needed. Yet with a population of 1.2 billion people, only three percent of whom are Christian, the task is simply too big for national Christians to handle alone.

The following story from Indian Partner, Iris Paul, who serves amongst tribal groups in remote areas of Orissa, vividly illustrates the need. “After 20 long years I visited a village again. Our early contacts, Rajesh and his wife, were dying. Their daughter, who was only about seven when I last saw her, pleaded with me to cure her parents. They were medically beyond any cure, so I told her, ‘We will pray to Jesus and He can perform miracles if He wants.’ The daughter said, ‘I know you are too busy, so can you please tell me where Jesus lives and I will go and bring Him to cure my parents.’ I cried when I heard this. The work is too vast: with just a handful of staff, travelling every day on rough and dangerous roads, it is not possible to reach and minister to all.”

It is vitally important that we continue to be able to place On Trackers and new international Partners in the fields of healthcare and education. Interserve was originally founded to meet the educational, medical and spiritual needs of the Indian people, and 158 years later it’s important we stay faithful to the task. Currently Interserve Partners fill many crucial roles in a range of educational institutions from childcare and primary right through to degree level theological training.

Prem is a nine-year-old boy studying in a school in Punjab. What makes him stand out is not just his broad smile but the fact that he is two years older than his classmates. When he was first brought to Educare, an NGO in north-west India, last year, he couldn’t read or write, and was emotionally insecure. None of the traditional teaching methods worked, but then one of the Interserve Partners at Educare came up with a strategy to help him learn and also overcome his intense feelings of isolation and loneliness. Prem successfully passed Standard 1 and is now studying in Standard 2.

Besides healthcare and education Interserve India is also focusing on new areas of involvement, such as the growing middle class and business, where the spiritual need is very high. Janet, a Partner from the UK, is an entrepreneur who is using her skills to run a small business in Bangalore, which employs local women (see page 20). Another couple from Australia are involved in a fair trade business called Freeset (www. freesetglobal.com). They make quality jute bags and organic tee-shirts, but their main business is freedom: providing employment for women wanting to break free from the sex trade. Two more Interserve couples, from South Africa and Brazil respectively, have recently also become involved with Freeset, and a young couple from NZ is currently in the application process. We would like to see more Indian Christians in key positions where they can positively influence the direction of their country. In order for that to happen we need highly specialised professionals in fields such as Media, Education and Business to resource, train and coach a new generation of emerging Indian leaders for these positions. There are still so many opportunities to serve in India. We invite you to come and partner with us, and help bring a real change to this incredible country that is so loved by God.

The author is an administrator from the Netherlands, and has been working in India since 2007.

Driving by braille

Date
01 Apr 2010
Publication
GO NZ
Region
South Asia
Profession
Other

A Kiwi family in India discovers the most important road rule: you can do anything as long as you do it slowly enough.

Ricky always says that it was the food that attracted him to India. He grew up in Mamaku, a small community near Rotorua, and the Indian lady who ran the shop, “made the most delicious curries in the world. She prepared my palate for India long before I knew I was going there.”

Ricky’s first trip to India in 1990 exposed him to biryani, halva and aloo gobi. He also met many Muslims, and enjoyed the ease with which any conversation could turn into a religious discussion: the delicious food and amazing conversations convinced him he had to return to India. Viv’s first visits to India were made in support of a child sponsorship ministry. Her heart went out to the children there, and she, too, knew that she would return.

Prior to becoming Partners, Ricky and Viv studied in India at the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS) in a village near Bangalore.

“Living on campus at SAIACS eased us gently into aspects of Indian life, such as irregular bus services that were always going to arrive ‘soon’, markets where the buyer truly had to beware, and auto-rickshaw drivers who always knew where to go even if it wasn’t where you needed to be!”

After finishing at SAIACS, Ricky and Viv returned to New Zealand, were accepted as Interserve Partners, and in August 2000 they and their baby daughter, Susie, moved to Delhi. Life in Delhi was very different, and everyday travel included arguments with auto-rickshaw drivers over the fare, and near-death experiences as buses brushed past the flimsy three-wheeled rickshaws.

“We lived on the ground floor of a threestorey house, and our landlord, who lived upstairs, always seemed to be visiting.

We thought he was just exhibiting the extraordinary hospitality that is ingrained into Indian life. But then we learned that he struggled with us allowing Susie to cry herself to sleep – when he heard her cry, he would come downstairs – because in his culture, a baby should never be allowed to cry without being comforted.

“We now live in a four-bedroom apartment, on the third floor of an eight storey building. Viv and I both come from farming backgrounds, so it was a challenge at first to adjust to apartment living. In winter the temperature drops down to 4 degrees Celsius, but in summer it gets up to 45 degrees, and we all camp out in the only room with an air conditioner – our bedroom.”

In order to learn Hindi, Ricky attended a Government-run language school, and both he and Viv went to the Landour Language School in Mussoorie each summer for three years. The challenges of dealing with scorpions in the old cabin and leeches on the tracks made the Hindi lessons seem easy!

“We can really only speak survival Hindi, though, enough to shop, and talk about health and work. English, not Hindi, is the common language in our apartment complex, because the people who live here come from all over India, and therefore speak different languages.

“We tend to eat mainly vegetarian style: rice, dhal (lentils), vegetables, and some chicken. The supply of beef is extremely limited in Delhi as it is illegal, however buffalo meat is allowed. It’s definitely a shock coming back to New Zealand and eating red meat every day.”

After five years of using public transport the family finally bought a car in 2005. For Viv it meant immediate freedom, but Ricky found the transition more of a challenge. He finally came to enjoy driving, though, when he discovered Rule #1: you can do anything as long as you do it slowly enough!

“In India we drive by braille. Everybody has scratch marks on their car, and if you don’t, you have had a shonky panel-beating job. After driving in Delhi, New Zealand roads were a bit of a culture shock: cars are fast, there are so many rules, and drivers seem unforgiving and ill-prepared for anything out of the ordinary. In India we expect everything on the road: cows, elephants, bikes, trucks… going forwards, sideways and backwards. I could be on the motorway, reversing up the fast lane, and that’s okay… People reverse down the flyer because they haven’t taken the right turn-off, and it works, because everything is done at a much slower pace.”

Ricky also found shopping in New Zealand to be a culture shock. “The vast supermarkets and task-oriented shoppers were overwhelming. And I couldn’t get over the enormous range of food to choose from – a whole aisle for breakfast cereals alone!”

Viv is involved in an administrative role at the international school where their children are students. What excites her about the school is the totally Christian culture that honours Jesus, and values each child no matter what So how long will this Kiwi family remain in India? “Every time we come back to New Zealand on Home Assignment, we ask ourselves, ‘Are we being effective?’ and ‘Is it still working for our family?’ And if we can tick those boxes, we return to India.”  Ricky and Viv live near Delhi with their two children, Susie and Thomas. They have been working in India for ten years. their religious beliefs are. About 70 children, from 19 different nationalities, currently attend the school.

Ricky started his own business in 2002, publishing books in both Hindi and English, with a focus on publications written in and for India, and especially on those written from an Indian Christian perspective. Through his business Ricky encounters people from all walks of life. As he lives out his Christian faith, even in small things like paying invoices promptly, people in the business world notice the difference, and opportunities for conversations about faith have opened up as a result.

Ricky is also passionate about empowering Indian Christians to effectively connect with, and minister to, their Muslim friends and neighbours. He thrives on being able to teach believers how to communicate their faith in a way that will be heard, and has helped to develop a module on Islam for SAIACS’ MTh (Religions) programme.

God will bless His Word

Date
01 Apr 2010
Publication
GO NZ
Region
South Asia
Profession
Other

Although Interserve was founded in 1852 the story behind it began over thirty years earlier on the banks of the Ganges River.

A seed is planted Drums were beating. Men were shouting. Two young Eurasian ladies inside a palanquin - a curtained sedan chair carried by four bearers - commanded that it be set down, and they peeked out. A shrouded, flower-covered corpse was carried past them, and behind it walked a girl in her early twenties escorted by a man with a drawn sword. Seeing the sword, the young women knew that a sati – the suicide of a high-caste Hindu widow – was about to take place. It was legal, even under the British East India Company, and there was nothing they could do.

The procession passed on to the sacred riverside where the widow bathed, and had her hair shorn and nails cut. A large, gleeful crowd helped pile up the wood. The girl was made to walk around the bier five times and then was bound in a sitting position on the pyre, her husband’s corpse across her lap. Straw was heaped over her, and her weeping father was ordered to set it alight. It blazed fiercely.

The Eurasian ladies arrived home numbed and depressed. They knew something of the brutalities perpetrated at that time in the name of the Hindu religion – the rigid barriers of caste, the self-immolations and tongueextractions. But it was the fate of women that stirred them most. If not abandoned to die at birth or thrown to the crocodiles as an offering to the sacred Ganges, the high-caste Hindu girl was married as a little child and kept utterly secluded with her husband’s female relatives in the filth and semi-darkness of the zenana – the women’s section of the house. If she was widowed, however young, and was spared sati, her life was misery, for she was under the curse of the gods and held responsible for her husband’s death.

No Christian teacher could reach these Hindu women. Bibles were of no use, as only one woman in every hundred thousand could read, and schools for females would not be tolerated by Hindu or Muslim men. Spurred on by what they had witnessed, however, these two young ladies persuaded their Baptist missionaries to offer facilities for the education of girls, and in 1826 a Female Central School was built in Calcutta. It was only attended by low-caste girls, however, as all attempts to gain access to the highcaste zenanas had been unsuccessful. And so the seed lay dormant until 1851, when a high-caste Hindu woman astonished all of Calcutta by being publicly baptised.

The seed germinates In the 1840s a Hindu merchant prince of Calcutta arranged for his young son, Gyanendra, to marry a seven-year-old bride, Shunduri. The wedding took place with pomp and pageantry, after which Shunduri was abandoned in the zenana. But when Gyanendra renounced his belief in Hindu gods and goddesses, his father punished him by confining him to the palace for 10 years. Thus Gyanendra was forced to spend time with his wife, and they fell in love. In his father’s library, he and Shunduri, having tired of Shakespeare, picked up a Bible and began to read together, joined by their cousin Mohesuri, a widow of 18. Shunduri became a believer, but then fell ill and died. At her death-bed Gyanendra also openly confessed Christ. His father, furious, exiled his son and banished Mohesuri, but in 1851, Mohesuri, proud of rank and high of caste, was publicly baptised in Calcutta.

Mrs Mackenzie, the wife of an English merchant in Calcutta, was so inspired by Mohesuri’s confession of faith that she proposed to start a school specifically to train female teachers, Western and Indian, in order to reach into the zenanas. Her appeal for funding captured the interest of a remarkable woman in England, Mrs Mary Kinnaird, who passionately believed that, “If we can give them the power to read, and the Book to read, God will bless His Word.” With the vigour and persuasive charm with which a few years afterwards she founded the YWCA, Mrs Kinnaird brought her friends together and formed the London Committee of the Zenana Mission. And on 1 March 1852, the date which Interserve regards as its birthday, the Calcutta Normal School for training women teachers was opened.

The work began slowly – the first zenana didn’t open up to them until late in 1854 – but gradually Hindu men began to see the benefits of education for their wives, and by 1862, eight zenanas had been opened to teacher-visitors. By 1867, the zenanas were opening fast – there were 72 in Calcutta alone – and 10 Englishwomen and a number of Eurasians and Indians were at work in nine mission stations.

Women’s medical missions In 1871, a Scottish medical missionary, Dr William Elmslie, presented a startling suggestion to the Zenana Committee: he proposed that they should launch female medical missions. The need in India was great; isolated in the zenanas, women had no access to medical care, even when they were dying, and their plight was pitiful. Medical missions for women was the key to fit every lock, he believed. Although the Hindus had been responsive to Western education, the Muslim population had been largely resistant - but they would be open to women medical providers.

As there were no medical colleges for women in the UK, two women were trained privately, and were sent to India. But one died en route, and the other died in Bombay just a few months later. Undeterred, in December 1875 a nurse called Elizabeth Bielby travelled to India with a vision of opening a hospital. She was the only female medical missionary in all of India at that time. In November 1878 Miss Bielby’s vision was realised, and she opened a small hospital, although not without great personal sacrifice and ill health from the immense workload.

On home leave in England in 1881, Miss Bielby was granted an audience with Queen Victoria. She made a plea to the Queen on behalf of a cured patient, the Maharani of Punna, for more medically trained women. This led to the Queen granting official sanction to the training of women doctors in the UK, and to the opening of hospitals for women in India. It also paved the way for Indian women to receive medical training. Over the next 35 years Zenana Mission founded four mission hospitals in India.

By the time Zenana Mission was renamed Zenana Bible and Medical Mission in 1880, it had also become international. Miss Thorn was New Zealand’s first Zenana missionary, joining the work in Benares in 1875.

Even as the medical work developed, so too did the educational opportunities for women. Primary and secondary schools were opened, supported by teacher training institutions, and in 1913 ZBMM banded together with four other missions to open a university level Women’s College.

War and Independence By the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, ZBMM had 55 missionaries and 300 national and Anglo-Indian staff workers in 18 centres. The fruit of ZBMM’s labours could be seen in physical form in a range of institutions, all run by women and all serving the girls and women of India: hospitals, schools, orphanages and evangelistic missions, all with a very high reputation.

In 1947 Indian independence was declared: India was no longer one country, but two. During those fearful days, when the partitioned Punjab dissolved in carnage and fire, and minorities in all parts of India and Pakistan were put to the sword or moved out to cross the border, mission stations and hospitals provided refuge for Hindus and Muslims alike, and were the centre of relief work for the refugees.

The first decade of Indian independence was initially a period of uncertainty for ZBMM, but displaying the flexibility that had always been one of its main characteristics, it responded to the changing situation and moved forward. It withdrew from ‘owning’ specific ZBMM institutions, and instead focused on cooperative work, providing professional and expert support to other Christian projects and organisations.

In 1952, the centenary year, Alan Norrish’s appointment as Field Secretary, based in India, marked a big change: a shift from the ‘women only’ policy of the first 100 years. By 1956 six married couples were on the field, among them a New Zealand couple, Bruce and Kathleen Nicholls, whose work in India over almost 40 years contributed greatly to the growth of the Indian church. A second New Zealand couple, Ian and Elizabeth Kemp, joined the Nicholls at Union Biblical Seminary in Yavatmal four years later. With new paradigms and fresh priorities came a realisation that the name ZBMM was no longer suitable, as the work had greatly expanded beyond the zenanas. So in 1957 ZBMM became known as the Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship (BMMF).

Widening horizons Along with the changes in India and Pakistan came exciting opportunities for expansion beyond their borders, beginning with Nepal in 1953, with ZBMM helping form the joint agency, United Medical Mission to Nepal. Then in 1966 BMMF was instrumental in forming the International Afghan Mission, also becoming involved in Lebanon and Iran at around the same time. When civil war broke out in Pakistan in 1971, and East Pakistan emerged victorious to form the independent nation of Bangladesh, BMMF was welcomed in by the new government. And after the fall of communism in Mongolia, Interserve helped form the umbrella agency, Joint Christian Services, to work in Mongolia.

In 1987 came one more name change: BMMF became known as the International Service Fellowship, or Interserve. With a proud history of service and sacrifice, the mission formed by intrepid women to serve the women of India has come full circle: Interserve India now has 68 national Partners who serve both in India and in other parts of the Interserve world. Partners of many different nationalities and mother tongues work together within Interserve, reflecting the deep belief that mission is a task of the whole church everywhere, and that we will most fully reflect the church of Jesus Christ as we have the input of all of God’s people worldwide.

Extracted from the books Shadows Fall Apart by JC Pollock, Widening Horizons by Katharine Makower, and People for the Hard Places by Elizabeth Tebbe.


Ian & Elizabeth Kemp

Ian and Elizabeth left for India in 1959, taking their children and 40 boxes of belongings, including a fridge and washing machine. Their destination was the Union Biblical Seminary in Yavatmal.

“It took about a month to travel by ship to Bombay. We were met there by Alan Norrish, and travelled with him by train to Missouri, more than 1000 miles away. And we still had about 1000 miles to go!

“I was amongst the early group of men that joined BMMF, and remember being the only man present at the annual BMMF conference for West India.

“We were in India about 20 years in total. I still have meaningful contact with UBS, and have even taught there during my retirement years. As the years have gone by, my students have come back to me to say, ‘Thank you, Sir’. (Some of them still call me Sir. They used to call me Sahib, but now most of them just call me Uncle.) ‘Thank you, Sir, because what you taught us has made us the men of God that we are.’ I am thankful for that ministry opportunity (2 Tim 2:2).”

Bruce & Kathleen Nicholls Bruce and Kathleen joined ZBMM in October 1954, while they were students at the London School of Theology. They were the first married couple to be accepted, and left for India in 1955, retiring 38 years later in 1992. Now based in NZ, they are both still very involved in ministry.

What was it like to be one of the pioneer couples? “I think some of the women thought I was a real upstart,” Bruce recalled, “because their philosophy was that for the first five years you were to be seen and not heard. But that wasn’t in my nature and I spoke up right from the start, which some of the older ladies disapproved of. But that all changed very quickly, and many of these dear ladies became good friends, and we admired their commitment, stability and stickability over long periods of time.

“We taught at the Union Biblical Seminary in Yavatmal for 18 years, and have had the privilege, along with the Kemps, of helping to train bishops, principals of theological schools and heads of indigenous mission agencies.”

Mrs Mary Kinnaird, co-founder of Interserve, passionately believed that, "If we can give them the power to read, and the Book to read, God will bless His Word."”

From the Director

Date
01 Apr 2010
Publication
GO NZ
Region
South Asia
Profession
Other

EDITORIAL Interserve NZs National Director shares about the profound impact that India had on his life.

India… they say you either love it or you hate it, there’s no middle ground. Maybe it’s because in India everything about life is so intense, so rich, so colourful, so strongly flavoured, and so loud. India gets under your skin!

India has had a profound impact on my own life since, as a young seeker from a disillusioned western background, I first encountered her. I was one of a generation of dropouts, searching for meaning and a different way through life. As I drifted through the subcontinent and took in the incredible intensity, experimented with drugs, poked my nose into temples and mosques and churches, and befriended holy men and ordinary folk alike, something in me changed, and I have never been the same since.

What most deeply changed me, in the midst of this amazingly potent and often toxic mix of culture, religion, and existential struggle, was when Jesus walked into my life with such clarity and authority that I became a sold-out Christ follower. It was a power encounter – a spiritual conquest – and sharing Jesus through mission became my prime pursuit and passion.

India does that to people – it inspires passion. One of the things I love about Indian Christians is that they love Jesus with an abandon and fervour that we in the West find hard to follow. They have an understanding of the powerful nature of God, and can engage in theological or philosophical thought whilst also caring for the needy. Yes, there are other aspects where they – like all of us – fall short and fail. But when walking and living with Indian Christians in close quarters as we did, in intentional community – wow, you need to be madly in love with Jesus or you pack your bags and get out.

This is the country where Interserve was born, and India’s vibrancy and passion still pulses in the veins of our fellowship. Interserve grew of age in India before reaching out beyond her borders, and as a mission fellowship we have now come full circle, sending India’s sons and daughters to share the good news of Christ abroad. And while still financially needy and stretched, India has other resources – like her people, her multicultural context, and passion – that she is rich in, and wants to contribute towards mission.

One of the hallmarks of our Indian inheritance is Interserve’s concern for gender equality. Created to serve the women of the zenanas, Interserve has, from its inception, been a mission that stands against the tide, and stands for equality, justice, and an integrated gospel that brings freedom from any yoke of slavery. Intrepid women from across the world responded to the call of Christ to help bring freedom to India’s girls and women through education, and the opening of schools, colleges and universities.

Then at a time when it was still considered indecent for women to train for a medical career, Interserve pioneered women’s medical missions. This in turn led to Queen Victoria sanctioning the training of women doctors, both in the UK and India, and the provision of medical care and hospitals for Indian girls and women. What an amazing story of God walking with His people (see page 6).

As you read this GO, and the range of articles contributed by Partners from across the Interserve world, may some of that same Indian passion, that vibrancy and life, encourage you in your walk with Jesus.

Finally, we had a great Interserve Day last month, and recently our IS NZ Council met to brainstorm on God’s leading regarding the future of missions. We are interested in hearing what you sense God is saying to the wider body of Christ, and to us as Interserve - please do drop me a line, I would love to hear from you!

Teaching English Showing Jesus

Date
01 Apr 2010
Publication
Go International
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Education

Fresh reflections on how teaching English can be mission.

Fresh thinking on how to show God’s love through teaching English By Damian, an Interserve England and Wales Partner.

All of us are able to remember a favourite teacher, someone who stood out, someone who left a lasting impression on our lives. Would it be fair to say that we often learned as much from who that teacher was than what they actually taught? It is both exciting (and daunting) to ponder how our presence in the classroom interlinks with our spirituality and the way we teach. The way in which we live out our belief system, the Jesus way, has the potential to touch our students as much as the content of our lessons.

That is why teaching English is very precious – to kingdom work, ourselves, and the people around us, the reason being that teaching English should be all about relationship. Every time students are asked to turn to one another and practise an aspect of language, there is interaction, dialogue and exchange. The way we treat our colleagues, local staff and family will be noted by onlookers. The measure of love and concern for our students (even disruptive ones) will be remembered by at least some. When the photocopier is in a bad mood, you can be guaranteed our reaction will be recorded in someone’s memory. People notice kingdom qualities in the everyday events of our lives and relationships. We embody His love, forgiveness, reconciliation and relationship by doing just that – persevering, loving, giving, forgiving, hoping and praying – even when there is no encouragement or apparent response.

It is incredible that an estimated two billion people are learning English in the world’s education systems and as independent adults. We have been given a (limited?) God-given opportunity to meet this huge need for language skills and improve the quality of life for individuals, families and communities. It could be limited because English has become a ‘basic skill’ in many of the world’s education systems and millions are gaining proficiency in the language. As early as 2010, it is predicted that the number of English learners could begin to decrease with demand for teachers accordingly. For now, though, it is enough to know that a third of this world is learning English and there is a harvest that needs diligent and committed teachers for an intense and complex task. Moreover, the demand for English teachers is significantly greater in the least evangelised parts of the world.

It is true that teaching English has allowed legitimate access for my family into a region that has often been hostile towards believers, as well as flexibility and the potential to interact with people from all walks of life – at work and in the community. There is a bewildering mix of children, monks, students, doctors and foreign business people in my class. We see these people around town every day. Being vulnerable has had a profound effect on interdependency. They help us with our electrical problems. We visit their shops and eat in their restaurants. They come round for pot-luck parties. Their children play with our child in the garden. They come to sample English tea. They take a Scripture portion and talk about spirituality. My wife helps them with their homework. Being a teacher in community has profound relationship potential, especially when the role of the non-teaching spouse and children is seen as a precious part of that teaching witness. Why study about English food and not actually try some especially cooked by the teacher’s wife?

Teaching English, however, is so much more than a means to an end, so that one can do a socalled greater spiritual task. Limiting Christian witness to direct and explicit forms of evangelism would be a great loss - for teaching is precious in itself. Rather than being ‘missionaries in disguise’, we should see teaching as part of the evangelistic witness of our whole lives (cf. Rom. 12:1). Moreover, in the midst of difficulties and discouragements, it is good to be reminded that the quality of my teaching is a vital way of sharing God’s love with my students. In meeting their most immediate and pressing need, that is, helping them out with their English, the diligence with which I offer my expertise is a ‘visible and credible’ measure of my concern. The way in which we teach also makes one of the ‘strongest and clearest’ statements of what a Christian is like - and indirectly the One we follow.

Ponder the reflection of this thinker: The work expresses and agrees with our word of testimony; the word explains the witness of our work. Work is not just a means to an end, a necessary activity so that we can love and witness. Work is a part of that witness.

I am convinced that many students think deeply about the reasons behind quality teaching, commitment to the task, a caring attitude, an ‘as for the Lord’ work ethic (cf. Col. 3:22) and clear moral standards.7 All the more so when they realise that many of us are volunteers who have left family and put aside career opportunities back home. This had led quite naturally to some questions and opportunities to share – with discretion. Relying on His power and wisdom, we can only trust that our efforts in and out of the classroom will do more than improve grammar but also have eternal impact in this difficult country. May the reflections continue.

A Place of Smiles

Date
01 Apr 2010
Publication
Go International
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Community Development

Interserve Partners write about their work with disabled children in Thailand in a groundbreaking project set up by local Christians.

David Giles, an Interserve England and Wales Partner, writes about a project which cares for disabled children in Thailand.

People with disabilities are stigmatised in many cultures but in Thailand the outlook can be even worse. In its reincarnational belief system – a mixture of Buddhism and animism – being born with a disability can be considered to be a punishment for misdeeds in a previous life. Parents of disabled children are often ashamed and embarrassed, or simply unable to afford or understand the special care that their child requires. This can result in disabled children being simply handed over to the Thai authorities.

Over 2000 of these children are accommodated in state-run wards in the Pakkred district of Nonthaburi, north of the capital Bangkok. Facilities are basic but slowly improving. However, little is provided except for food, water, a change of nappy and a mattress. That’s it. Nothing for the children to do. No stimulation. No colours. No sounds. No love. No affection.

Nearly 25 years ago, Wasan and Chariya Saenwian, Christians from a Buddhist background, decided that this wasn’t good enough. They founded the Christian Care Foundation for Children with Disabilities (CCD) as a Thai NGO with the objective of providing help to abandoned children and those who have been given into government care by families too poor to support them. Their ministry is inspirational and wholistic and CCD now offers a range of different services.

At three of the government-run homes, CCD runs daycare centres. Here, children can be taken out of the institutional surroundings for a period of learning, fun and stimulation. It’s usually the only time of the week that they will enjoy friendship, love and individual attention. Heading to a CCD daycare session after the stark environment of the wards is a breath of fresh air. The arriving children have expectant, beaming faces, and are immediately welcomed into a music time. They beat drums, rattle shakers and sing along with some Sunday school favourites – CCD makes no secret of their Christian faith. The daycare centres also provide educationally- and developmentally-appropriate activities for each age range and ability, as well as a well-equipped sensory room.

On a separate site, CCD’s Rainbow House cares for up to fifty youngsters on a residential basis. After physical and occupational therapy and special needs education, many Rainbow House residents are successfully integrated into local schools to progress their academic development. For the older ones, Baan Piam Rak (House of Love) is a nearby group home which provides an opportunity for independent living. Residents are given life-skills training, including cooking, shopping and washing.

Reuniting families is another of CCD’s key aims, as founder Wasan Saenwian enthuses: ‘Love is kind, and we aim to rescue the lives of children. One of our goals is to put kids back into a stable family.’ Fifteen have been returned to their natural families so far, but it is often impossible as parents routinely give false details when handing their child over to the authorities. The next-best option, Wasan explains, is adoption: ‘The Bible teaches about the importance of the family – and if we can’t put kids back into their original families, we try to find families who will accept and nurture them.’ He has put his words into action by adopting a son himself, bringing the number of adopted children to 38.

Community-based rehabilitation is a growing aspect of CCD’s work. This involves teaching the parents what disability is and how to care for their disabled child. Through a network of centres in four provinces, CCD helps to share the burden of supporting disabled children through support groups and practical help such as toy libraries and assistance in accessing medical facilities. Training is also provided, to help older children develop essential skills.

The scale of the problem in Thailand is huge. ‘Too much to cope with,’ confesses Wasan. ‘Thinking of the two-thousand-plus is too much to bear but taking each child as an individual – on a one-toone basis – the impact on that child is huge.’

With culturally-entrenched perceptions of disability to overcome, it’s often an uphill struggle. ‘We need to develop a culture of equal rights for disabled people in Thailand,’ continues Wasan, ‘to counter a lack of knowledge about disability to ensure that disabled people have a good quality of life – and to enable them to take their rightful place in mainstream society.’

This is where Interserve England & Wales Partners David and Sarah Giles come in. Working with CCD as International Communications and Development Officers, the couple are involved in activities such as promotion, advocacy and media relations. They are currently fundraising for a plot of land adjacent to Rainbow House which will be used to build a new vocational training centre and apartments for independent living. ‘It’s a fantastic organisation to be working in,’ says David. ‘The work is so varied – we can be helping out on a children’s camp one day and being interviewed on BBC local radio the next.’

‘While it’s relatively easy to talk about disability in the Western media, it’s much harder to achieve positive coverage in the Thai press. In a context where disabled people are still being hidden away, it takes a brave editor to publish inspiring articles about the achievements of CCD’s children. We know that cultural shift doesn’t happen overnight, but ultimately we are trying to make the unlovable lovable – just like Jesus did. That needs sensitivity, creativity and a great deal of prayer.’

Never forgotten

Date
01 Apr 2010
Publication
Go International
Region
South Asia
Profession
Community Development

The terrible reality of sex trafficking in South Asia and how one Christian project is trying to help.

Two children are trafficked for sexual exploitation every minute. Many of them end up in the brothels of Mumbai. Anita writes about the work of Oasis India in tackling this evil trade.

“I woke up in a strange place. I was beaten and kept locked in a room for 2 days… I cried out loud, asking for help and to be returned to my village but nobody paid any attention. For three days I didn’t eat then I was brutally raped in succession by 3 men. My nightmare had begun. I serviced customers every day, sometimes up to 30 customers a day… I did not have a choice, I was their slave!”

Sarita was trafficked as an 18 year old from a village in Karnataka. She was taken overnight in a car to a brothel in Mumbai under the guise of getting a job. Oasis rescued her and she was placed in a government home. The night she was rescued she found out she was pregnant and HIV positive. The Oasis counsellor was able to restore hope in her and she is now in an Oasis vocational training course. Sarita informed Oasis that they were the only ones who gave her any encouragement. “As for my future, I want to stand on my own two feet and help others... I have flashbacks all the time and I feel so much shame. Men have taken everything from me… When I feel low, I pray about it… I know that Jesus is with me.”

Modern-day slavery unfortunately is alive and well. EUROPOL has stated that the profit from human trafficking has become the second highest grossing black market activity in the world.1 Today it is estimated that two children per minute are trafficked for sexual exploitation. However, international recognition of human trafficking is fairly recent and has only now begun to shift from criminalising the victims to supporting them. Unlike the historical slave trade, however, modern day human trafficking is underground and not plainly visible to the developed world.

In the last two years the Oasis anti-human trafficking team has intercepted 28 child trafficking victims who were being brought into the city for forced labour. This particular intervention focuses on transit points and rescues children before they reach the worksite or brothel. The Oasis Anti-Human Trafficking team has also performed several raids to rescue sex-slaves and slave labourers. Since July 2007 Oasis, in cooperation with local law enforcement agencies, has successfully rescued over 187 people.

Soon after a raid the rescued victim is taken to the police station. A case file is opened and reports are collected. The victim is then forced to wait for the caseworker to process their case. This could take anywhere from six months to three years. The whole experience of being enslaved, rescued, and post-rescue, is a traumatic life experience. The victim’s mental, emotional and physical state upon entering the home is often extremely fragile. Furthermore, in its current form the aftercare system is unacceptable. The victims are denied their possessions, they lose all access to the outside world, and have little freedom. Most times the homes are overcrowded, with sub-standard hygiene and sanitation. In addition, their physical and psychological trauma is not addressed. They may receive one government sponsored counselling session. It is not uncommon for traffickers to try to visit and threaten the victims in the government homes. Both non-governmental organizations and the government, along with the rescued victims, want to see a better aftercare system. An official at one government home in Mumbai (who declined to be named) told us, “My dream is to have a programme in place where each rescued victim would want to be there, where they will be able to make choices in their own rehabilitation, and that they will leave the home feeling good about themselves.”

Oasis, while being acutely aware that it can only scratch the surface, has been able to provide some health care and counselling, conduct life skills sessions, literacy classes and small amounts of vocational training in 3 homes. From 2010 in Mumbai Oasis plans to provide a fuller integrated programme in the home for young girls, combining health care and education, life skills and counselling, general skills, cognitive activities and creative activities. If Oasis is going to make a tangible difference we need to model complete aftercare. Potter’s Wheel is a property that was generously given to Oasis and that would be ideal for 24/7 care of rescued girls. Located 21 hours away from Bangalore it is a sprawling 3 acre wooded campus ideal for a safe home. Our dream is to see each survivor have the opportunity to come to terms with their pain and find restoration and healing.

Potter’s Wheel is intended to be a safe home and will be a facility where those rescued will feel safe and comfortable. They will have access to physical and psychological care all the time. They will have room to eat, sleep, play, and study without fear. The staff will also have access to them all the time. It will not look like a prison. Instead it will be a place where the girls are given space to grow, learn, and have the chance to live a happy life. Oasis’ job is not to transform but to allow space and insight and share love so God can transform and restore. The girls will be able to go through a tailor-made, wholistic, integrated programme, where gifts and skills are developed and where they are empowered to make positive choices regarding their future. There will be time, space and care so that the girls may be able to begin letting go of the shame from the past and move forward into a new, healthy way to live in community with others.

Tough Love

Date
01 Apr 2010
Publication
Go International
Region
Arab World
Profession
Community Development

A Partner of Interserve Scotland writes about her attempts to reach out in love to those around her even across boundaries of shame and dishonour.

In many of the poorer houses here the walls don’t always reach up to the roof which is shared by several houses. There is often a gap through which sound travels from next door. Or through which, if you stood on something tall – say, a table – you could look.

I was visiting Wendy when I met Amanda in this way. She squeezed up against the top of the wall to peer over at me. I could only see a slice of her face: an eye, part of a smile, a flash of the orange scarf tied around her hair. She greeted me and chatted for a few minutes before disappearing again behind the wall.

In a scandalised whisper, Wendy told me Amanda’s story. Unmarried, she had had a relationship with a local man and become pregnant. Her parents kept her hidden at home ever since. When the baby was born Amanda’s mother strangled him because he was illegitimate and a shame to their family. Amanda is still imprisoned in the house; she has never been out since.

“Do you visit her, Wendy?” I asked. “No, my husband won’t allow it.” “Does anybody visit her? Does she have any friends?” “No, nobody visits her because of what she did.”

We sat in silence for a bit as I chewed over the information. I was horrified that Amanda’s mother – a woman who had once held her own babies in her arms and loved and nurtured them - could have killed her own grandson. I wanted to cry for that little boy that never got to live. And I thought about Amanda, lonely and isolated, forever living out the consequences of her sin. And then I thought about the community. Steering clear. Staying away. Lest they be contaminated by her sin, or incriminated by association; tainted. Neither her family nor her neighbours will forgive Amanda for what she has done. And while her family will deny what has happened, others like Wendy will continue to repeat it in hushed tones. It will be revisited often, as a warning to the young women of the neighbourhood, against the follies of romantic involvement or of doing anything else which might bring shame on their families.

Yet I know that there is forgiveness available for Amanda. There is One who has already redeemed her and who is waiting to take possession of His prize. One who sees that she is precious, though at fault; beautiful though broken.

So this morning, as I write this, I am asking myself again “what would Jesus do?”. And the problem is that I know the answer. I’m just not sure I’m ready to act on it. In a culture where reputation is everything, am I willing to throw mine down, to bring Jesus to this woman? And while the questions crowd in, “what would the neighbours think?” and “would they still want to know me?” or perhaps seemingly more important, “what will it do to my witness?”, I know that these thoughts are foolishness. The truth is that this is incarnational living. The demonstration of God’s forgiveness. The extension of His grace to all. And if it ruffles a few feathers in the neighbourhood, so be it. As John said, “He must become greater; I must become less.”(Jn.3:30) After all, His reputation is my concern; my own is not.

Mission to North Africa

Date
01 Mar 2010
Publication
GO News
Region
Arab World
Profession
Education

The team of missionaries are invited back to North Africa this time to teach share at the second largest university in the country.

Getting there had its surprises and challenges, such as being escorted off our flight in Dubai by two Emirati policemen, but our recent short-term mission trip to a Muslim-majority North African country was very successful.

We had been invited back (after a similar outreach last year) to teach conversational English at a university in the country’s secondlargest city. Three of the team made it into the country without any problems, but when Mitch and I tried to fly out of Dubai, after being assured by the university that our visas were waiting, we hit a snag. The airline wanted to ensure that our visas were in order, so we confidently gave them the university’s contact details, then talked our way onto the plane. And were promptly escorted off again when it was discovered the visas hadn’t yet been issued.

On our first evening there, we went for a walk after dinner through the vegetable market. Grace was enthusiastically taking photos when three policemen demanded her camera. When we refused, we were taken to the police station for questioning. We called the university who contacted the vice-chancellor who rang the Chief of Police, who then released us. Surprisingly, the incident had a positive outcome, as it raised our profile in the community, and we received cheery waves from the police wherever we went.

Over 70 took part in the course we taught, including the faculty from several universities and Masterslevel students. The course, called ‘Understanding, coping with, and implementing change’, was highly participative, and included stories from the Bible, connecting them with the concept of change. The team members established links with their students outside of class, visiting them in their homes or going out on trips or sharing meals with them.

These were opportunities for deeper sharing, talking about personal and spiritual issues. We prayed for some of our students at different times and the scriptures were shared.

In my speech at the closing ceremony, in the presence of the Vice Chancellor and the Dean, I told the students, “Over the past week and a half, we’ve heard stories of change in the lives of the prophets: Adam and Eve, Noah, Joseph, David, and Jesus. What was common in all these stories was the power and grace of God. These are not just historical stories of people who lived long ago – they are just as true for us today because God is alive and working today. It is true that as Christians and Muslims we will understand God’s work differently, but we can also declare that we all seek to serve and worship God as we best understand Him.”

There was a real sense of spiritual openness amongst the people, and it seems that widespread Sufism has softened some of the hard edge of the way Islam is practised. Our prayer is that God will continue to open up doors and hearts in this country.

From Fear to Family

Date
01 Mar 2010
Publication
GO News
Region
Arab World
Profession
Other

Understanding your Muslim neighbour.

“I think I need to be honest,” the evangelist said, looking me straight in the eye. “I know that I am supposed to love the people I’m reaching out to, but when I think of Muslims, I think of terrorism, political posturing, and burqas. That’s why I’m here tonight: I need to learn to see the real people behind the stereotype of Islam.”

‘Here’ was a four-week series of seminars that I was running in Gloucester, UK, entitled Understanding your Muslim Neighbour. Aimed at people from local churches, the seminars were designed to inform and equip the churches, and help them build good relationships with their Muslim neighbours.

This is not the first such course that Urban Vision, Interserve’s cross cultural team in England and Wales, has held. Another course, called Friendship First, was developed by Steve Bell, the England and Wales National Director. About six weeks in length, the Friendship First course aims to bring about a deeper understanding of, and attitude change towards, our Muslim neighbours, and sums up the ethos of Urban Vision: how can we call anyone to Christ unless we first show them that they are loved?

Tim and Rachel Green have also developed an interactive course, which draws on the Friendship First material. It runs over ten weekday evenings, and helps people engage with their Muslim friends, and be able to present Christ to them in a culturally sensitive way. The most recent course (it runs every year in their home town) had nearly 40 participants from a dozen local churches. Now this model is spreading to other towns. The aim is for ordinary Christians to gain the vision, confidence and skills they need to share Christ with ordinary Muslim people. Mission to Muslims is not just a task for specialists!

The 2001 census revealed that about 1.6 million Muslims, from many different cultures and backgrounds, live in the UK. While that’s only 2.7% of the population, because of media coverage (including some Christian media approaches) and a certain strain of politically active Islam, many Britons have an underlying sense of fear and of ‘being taken over’.

Urban Vision is working towards breaking down that media-fed fear, and encouraging Christians to engage with Muslims in long term friendship. And as Christians step out of their comfort zones, lives are being changed and communities transformed - not just amongst Muslims, but also amongst those Christians who are reaching out.

While people from Muslim situations are used to living faith publicly, worshipping communally and praying together frequently, church-goers in the UK are used to praying in private and being slightly embarrassed about faith in public. To be open to the needs of new followers of Jesus from a Muslim background is to be challenged to be public, communal and family in ways that take us beyond our comfort zone, and modify our existing church structures.

And yet, isn’t this the challenge of Jesus Himself? Is this what we’re called to do and have maybe slipped away from?

Jesus calls us all to follow Him, from stereotype to neighbour, from fear to family. In doing so we too are changed and new family members are found and welcomed by the Father.

Colin Edwards is the Team Leader for Urban Vision. Originally from NZ, Colin is coming back on Home Assignment in August.

Shining the light

Date
01 Jan 2010
Publication
GO NZ
Region
Other
Profession
Other

Being public about our faith with Muslims in a way that expresses our love and allows the light of Christ to shine.

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it. There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe ... The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world (John 1:5-9).

As believers, we are called to be a light in the dark places. Unfortunately, though, interactions between Muslims and Christians tend to involve more heat than light. I know people who will happily engage in a debate but who refuse invitations to genuine discussions: they want to win, not to understand.

I have a book containing correspondence between Christians and Muslims, written during the first three centuries of Islam’s development. These letters reveal an amazing lack of understanding of what the other believes. In many ways it can be characterised as:

M: Our prophet is the last and greatest prophet.

C: Oh yeah, well, ours is the light of the world.

M: Oh yeah, well, so is ours. Ours is the light of creation.

C: Well, ours is the word of God.

M: No, he’s a word from God, and to obey the word of our prophet is to obey God himself. So he brings that final word. So there!

C: Well, ours is the Son of God.

M: Oh yuck, that’s a disgusting thought that God would have sex with a woman. Ours is beloved of God from all time.

You get the picture. And, in one form or another, with varying degrees of finesse, this “my prophet is bigger than your prophet” approach to witness has been utilised in much of the dialogue between Muslims and Christians. However, few in each community really know what the other believes. For example, when Christians defend the idea of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to Muslims, they don’t realise that Muslims understand the Trinity to mean “Father, Son and Mary”. And when the tenor of interactions is that of feeling attacked and needing to defend (on both sides), the result is conflict, not relationship.

Many expressions of Islam Persians, Bengalis, Pakistanis, Indonesians: these are all large populations that are mainly Muslim. Indeed in the new Pew Report on Islam in the World we see that most Muslims aren’t Arabs: “More than 60% of the global Muslim population is in Asia and about 20% is in the Middle East and North Africa.”

Each Muslim community has its own flavour and expression of Islam. True, just as going to Catholic Mass or to McDonalds is fairly much the same the world over, Muslims can go to any Mosque in the world and feel at home in the ritual and prayer. But in an unfamiliar community, they may also find outlooks, beliefs and practices that astonish them. In Bangladesh, for example, there are hymns of praise to the prophet Muhammad, which traditionalists in the Middle East are appalled at. And in India there are Muslim holy shrines where people go to pray for children and healing, something which the traditionalists also oppose.

We do ourselves, our message and our Muslim neighbours a disservice when we assume that Islam is a monolithic whole. We need to get to know the individuals and their community, their beliefs, their outlook on the world and who they are in their setting. This will mean asking questions and being willing to listen and learn, and making ourselves available to spend time with them, including sharing meals and attending events together. Don’t be afraid to share the celebration of Christmas, as Muslims honour Jesus and are generally happy to celebrate his birth and share in the Bethlehem story. Similarly, prayer is an expected part of public and private life for Muslims. To offer to pray for your neighbours in their daily experience is usually warmly welcomed. In praying with Muslims we have seen people experiencing healing, peace in difficult times, and provision when it was needed. One man said, “Each time I came here I felt such peace. How could I not respond?”

Called to testify A Christian’s primary role in witness is just that: witness. We testify to what we have seen and heard. We’re not called primarily to argue against someone else’s faith, to counter opposing arguments. We’re called to say what we’ve experienced. We’re called to tell our story.

I have a friend in Bangladesh, whose life was turned around by joining a Sufi group (kind of like a charismatic group headed by saints within Islam); he went from a life of violence and alcohol to one of piety. He discusses Christianity with many people and hasn’t been at all convinced by any arguments.

There is one thing about Christianity, however, that gives him pause for thought: when he asks expatriate Christians, “So, what brought you to Bangladesh?” and they reply, “Because God told me to come”, that rattles his cage!

My friend would dearly love to hear the voice of God. He prays, he practises meditation and follows his saint, but he has never experienced God being with him. And that is the same for many Muslims: although they long to experience God, He is so great and powerful – and distant – that the idea of actually knowing Him, particularly as Father, and hearing from Him, is beyond what they can imagine.

Our witness is our story – are we willing to share it? How did we come to know Jesus? How does He relate to us today? What happens when we pray? Yes, we must know our Bibles, and yes, the more information we have on their faith and ours the better, but the heart of our witness is our story: our experience and our relationship with Jesus.

We are not called to combative oneupmanship; any discussion along the lines of “my prophet is bigger than your prophet” will be fraught with defensiveness and aggression. However, as we build relationships with Muslims, and start to share our story, our testimony, we will be making claims that challenge their beliefs. To say that “I prayed for my neighbour and he was healed” is to say “Jesus heals”. Our Muslim friend will be struck by the idea: “Wait a minute here - Jesus heals. But Muhammad doesn’t.” Similarly, to say “Jesus led me” is to say that Jesus is alive; for a Muslim, Muhammad is dead. We must let these comparisons arise naturally, in the course of our everyday interactions with Muslim friends: if we start to push them, then we will see walls raised very, very quickly. However, with gentle honesty and a simple telling of our ongoing story, we can be public about our faith in a way that expresses our love, and still allows the light of Christ to shine.

Colin Edwards is Team Leader of Interserve’s Urban Vision in the UK. 1http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=450

Grace for the dark side

Date
01 Jan 2010
Publication
GO NZ
Region
Europe
Profession
Other

In July 2005 the dark side of Islam crashed into the daily life of Britain in the form of the London Transport attacks...

Holistic ministry amongst Muslims

Date
01 Jan 2010
Publication
GO NZ
Region
Other
Profession
Other

Christians can do a great deal to break down prejudices and remove barriers to Muslims experiencing Jesus.

“Abdul, have you ever considered becoming a Christian?” I asked a Muslim friend one day.

“Never!” he exclaimed. “But it makes sense to me that you would want to become a Muslim. We believe in one God, while you worship three gods: the Creator, His son and Mary. And our Muslim women behave properly with men, but most Christian women have very loose morals - have you seen Bay Watch, or those images of western women on the internet? I also cannot understand your eating and drinking habits. We abide by the laws that forbid us to eat pork, and we never drink alcohol. Yet I am told Christians love pork and wine, and that you even use wine during your worship services!”

As a Christian involved in holistic mission, I work predominantly in countries with a Muslim majority. I consider that a privilege and, in many ways, easier than working in a Buddhist or Hindu country. After all, Christians and Muslims have much in common. At the same time, working in an Islamic context has its challenges! One of the biggest challenges is the way Muslims perceive me, a Christian. I often feel looked down upon, because Muslims believe we have “doctored” the Gospel beyond recognition. I feel misunderstood when people think I believe in three gods. I get upset when local people think my wife and daughters are immoral because most of the western films they see portray western women in compromising situations.

The importance of holistic mission: Amongst Muslims there is much that pushes them away from Jesus and the Gospel, especially since many hold the misconception that every white person is a Christian, and thus share Abdul’s disdain of what is perceived as Christians’ lack of moral and spiritual values. How can this gap be minimized? Ultimately, only by the Lord Himself, but Christians who are in contact with Muslims can do a great deal to break down prejudices, to rectify misunderstandings and to remove cultural, social and political barriers to Muslims experiencing the reality of the Gospel. Holistic or integral mission combines the practical expression of the Gospel with the verbal proclamation: “Integral mission or holistic transformation is the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. It is not simply that evangelism and social involvement are to be done alongside each other. Rather, in integral mission our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ.”

Holistic mission is Biblical because it reflects all that God has been involved in since the beginning of time. It takes the whole Bible seriously, not just sections of the New Testament. I believe in holistic mission because that is the way the early church grew. There were no mission agencies, no teams, no church planting plans, no radio or TV ministries back then. There were new believers, whose lives had been turned around completely, many of whom were from the lowest social strata: slaves. Often their masters noticed the difference, became interested and believed in Christ themselves.

Also, in many Muslim countries, holistic mission is the only way foreigners can be involved. And it is effective! We see Muslims’ attitudes to Christians change as we work among them, to the extent where those in positions of authority tell us: “We need more people like you, with integrity and a commitment to the poor.” Others that we work alongside become curious: “By example you have taught us a lot about servant-type leadership. But I get the impression there is more to it -- please tell me…” We then have a chance to share our personal story, and to point to our greatest example, the Lord Jesus.

If we want to relate to Muslims effectively, however, we need to try to see the world as they do. Awareness of the context helps us to communicate in ways that are appropriate.

During our first term in Asia we lived in a local village, in a simple bamboo house with no electricity or running water. Just before we left I asked one of our Muslim neighbours why he thought we had left our own country and family and now lived with them. We were taken aback by his response.

“Well, that is quite obvious,” he said. “You could not find a job in your own country, so you came here, and now you earn more than you could ever have earned at home.”

After the initial shock (my wife and I had both given up good jobs, and now lived on a rather low allowance), it did not take long for me to understand where my neighbour was coming from. There was huge unemployment in the country, and many of its citizens lived and worked in the Gulf: my neighbour had just put two and two together. In his mind, noone would leave behind his extended family unless pushed by unemployment and pulled by the prospect of a salary 5 to 10 times more than he could earn at home.

Throughout the Bible we see God speaking to men and women in their own unique context. The way He spoke through the apostle Paul is a good example. When Paul visited Athens, he “was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). However, when he spoke with these ‘idol worshippers’, he didn’t condemn them, but rather sought to communicate with them in a way they could understand.

“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you…” (Acts 17:22- 23). He then proceeded to introduce them to the God who made the world and everything in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, and as a result some of them came to faith in Christ.

The challenge of violence Another major challenge that can come with working in a holistic way is the threat of violence. My wife and I currently work in a country that is at war, and that has a reputation for violence. All our expatriate workers have to deal with the possibility that they may be killed while working out their calling to holistic mission, but knowing that our lives are in God’s hands gives us a solid basis to work from, and a real peace of mind.

However, the violence still affects us - living under threat is not easy and our senses are always on high alert. Even on home assignment a fireworks cracker makes us dive to the ground and one time a jet fighter going through the sound barrier had me with my back against the closest wall.

Part of the challenge that violence poses is the choices we have to constantly make. The people in most need of our help are often in areas with the highest level of violence, and we have to decide when to move into areas of real danger, and when to withdraw. If Christians stay on when most foreigners leave, the local people notice, and interpret our presence as a sign of solidarity, a commitment. However, if we stay too long we may become a burden to them, as they often feel responsible for our safety. Most of us end up finding a balance in this matter, but at best it is always an uneasy balance.

In our organisation we do what we can to prepare people to cope, and even thrive, under the threat of violence. Most of us would not mind dying for the Lord, but we would mind dying out of stupidity. Everyone attends a three day workshop on how to avoid being kidnapped, and if they are, how to survive. We try to be wise as we go about our lives and do not take unnecessary risks. We make sure we know the language and culture and have good relationships with local people.

Do things sometimes go wrong? Yes, sadly they do. If colleagues are kidnapped or killed, we suffer with them. Those who need it can have professional and spiritual counselling and debriefing. To make sure nobody is under any undue pressure we have a rule that anyone can leave the country at any time if they feel the threat or the reality of violence is becoming too much to bear, and we will help make all the necessary arrangements, including support when they arrive home.

The ultimate impact Islam and violence both pose their own unique challenges and opportunity to Christians committed to live to God’s honour and glory through holistic mission. I have stopped worrying about the numbers and about the “quality” of those who turn to Him. I read that it may take up to 200 meaningful moments of contact before someone is ready to turn his or her life over to the Lord. So day by day I make sure that I do not miss the opportunities that I have for such contact to lead people closer to Him.

The biggest impact I have personally seen is amongst the local people who have left the violence and poverty of their home country to seek work or asylum in the West. I remember sitting next to an engineer in a plane; he was going home to spend a month with his family, I was returning to work there in his country for another year. It turned out that we had the same academic degree. With tears in his eyes he said: “Here I am, I have left my own people in order to earn lots of money in the Gulf, but you are going to work with my people. I am deeply ashamed!”

The author and his wife have lived and worked in Islamic countries for decades. They have four adult children who were born and raised in those countries.

Welcome to Australia

Date
01 Jan 2010
Publication
GO NZ
Region
Other
Profession
Education

AUSTRALIA God is bringing people from all over the world to Australia so that they can hear His good news.

It was a big gamble, but it got their attention. Fifteen hundred pairs of Muslim eyes focused on me as I walked up to the speaker at the podium, kissed him on both cheeks in the Arab style and said, “Welcome to Australia.”

The speaker, a big bushy-bearded Texan and well-known convert to Islam, had been pillorying Christianity for several hours in these widely-publicised lectures for Muslims at Melbourne University. At the end of his talk he asked for questions, but specified that they could be written only – no verbal questions were allowed. However, when he received the questions – most of them written by us, the small handful of Christians occupying the front row – the Texan simply shuffled the papers and ignored their contents.

Exasperated, we in the front row held up sheets of paper with big letters: Please answer our questions! He took the hint, began to read some of them, then laughed and said, “Funny, these are all in the same handwriting, but I can’t understand them.”

The audience laughed too. That’s when I seized the opportunity, walked up to him and kissed him. “Welcome to Australia. I wrote these questions. Let me help you read them.”

The audience laughed nervously as the big Texan took the initiative back. He leaned over and whispered to me, “If you don’t sit down right now, I’ll have you escorted out.”

Seeing his minders ready to pounce, I announced to the audience: “Well, I tried to help him, didn’t I?”

Some clapped. The Texan turned to his cameras: “Can you make sure that is erased from the final take?” Disappointed, I sat back down. The Texan continued to drone on, ignoring us and our questions. It seemed the gamble had not paid off.

As we filed out of the lecture theatre, a young Muslim man was waiting for me. “Are you a Christian?” he asked. I nodded. “I want to learn about Christianity. Could you teach me?”

Javed hadn’t been in Australia for very long, having recently entered on a student visa. Over the next few months we met regularly, and he began studying the Bible seriously. He seemed very grateful for my time, and didn’t raise any objections to what I was teaching him. But then one day I received a text message from him: “I’m in big trouble. I must see you soon.”

We met at the university and Javed showed me a court order: he’d been in a fight with a flatmate, and was being charged with causing grievous bodily harm. I helped him find a solicitor and a barrister, and at the court case several months later I was a character witness for him.

When Javed pleaded guilty and received a four-month prison sentence, I committed to visiting him regularly. He was grateful.

“I’m reading the Bible every day,” he told me, but then added, “and I’m finding it agrees completely with the Qur’an.”

He became involved with the prison Islamic group, praying regularly with them and even preaching at their weekly services. He had decided that Jesus was just a messenger, like all the other messengers of God - it looked as if he was going nowhere spiritually.

At the completion of his prison sentence, the Department of Immigration decided to deport Javed for not fulfilling the requirements of his student visa.

“I’m too tired to appeal,” he told me when I went to visit him, thinking it might be for the last time. “I’m returning to India soon. You have been a great friend and a teacher. Is there anything you would like to say to me?”

“Yes, there is.” I replied. “Yesterday I was at a mosque in Maidstone, and the speaker was criticising Christianity. Afterwards I went to the front and asked if I could have the chance to respond to his criticisms, and this time they let me. I was there for about four hours, and it became very apparent that Muslims and Christians believe quite different things. Muslims say that Jesus was just a messenger; Christians believe that He is the Son of God. Muslims believe that Jesus did not die; Christians believe that He died for the sins of the whole world. Muslims believe that they will enter paradise by their good works; Christians believe that it is only by the grace of God. Javed, it seems that you think that you can be both a Muslim and a Christian at the same time. But I think that you have to choose between them.”

He went quiet, then he said, “Today I am choosing to follow Jesus and to become a Christian.” I was overjoyed. “But,” he said. “There is the problem of my family. They are strict Muslims. What will I say to them?”

I told him that his faith was a matter between himself and God, and that the right time would come for him to tell them. I told him the stories of other Muslims I knew who had made the same journey, and eventually their families were accepting of their decision, and some members had even joined the Kingdom of God themselves.

The next day, when we met to do some discipleship studies, Javed gave me two bits of news. He had decided to appeal his deportation order, since his prison sentence had prevented him from completing the studies required by his visa. He had also told his parents that he had become a Christian, and was heartbroken by their response.

“We will have nothing to do with you!” were his father’s angry words. “Do not ever come back home again!”

As I write this, Javed is still waiting in the Immigration Detention Centre for the outcome of his appeal. I visit him almost daily and he is growing in his faith in Christ. I am praying that he might become an ardent evangelist for Christ, just as he once preached Islam with passion and conviction.

Paul stated his long-standing ambition as “to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: ‘Those who were not told about Him will see, and those who have not heard will understand’” (Romans 15:20-21).

In past times, such a plan involved a long physical journey by boat or plane. Today, with 100,000 Muslims in Melbourne, and 23% of Australia’s population born overseas, it simply involves a walk across the street or a ride across the town. This is all part of the sovereign work of God who “from one man made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live” (Acts 17:26). The Lord of the entire world is bringing people from all over the world to Australia, so they can hear the good news. May we always cooperate with Him in His work.

Bernie works with CultureConnect, an IS ministry to people of non-English speaking backgrounds in Australia, and is the guest speaker at our NZ Interserve Day on Saturday, 22 May 2010.

The little ones

Date
01 Jan 2010
Publication
GO NZ
Region
South Asia
Profession
Medical / Health

Kelly a paediatric nurse works on a health care project in an isolated area in Central Asia.

This evening ritual is not limited to the herding of turkeys, however. To go out at this time of the evening is to risk being caughtin ‘peak hour traffic’, country style, as cows, goats, sheep and donkeys return from their day of grazing on the hills. Most herds are a mixture of all of these animals, and most come from a number of different homes. Yet, somehow, as several children run along behind, ensuring no stray is left behind, each animal seems to find its way into the correct yard as the herd goes by.

Though this may sound like a story about animals, it’s actually about the children. As a paediatric nurse I hold children’s issues close to my heart. For the past few years I have been working in a project that provides health care in an isolated, geographically challenging area of Central Asia. In that time I have been struck by the high number of children who are brought to us with serious health complaints, often too late for us to make any difference, or with diseases and conditions that would be easily treated or prevented back in New Zealand. I have often become angry about what I considered to be cases of blatant neglect. However, it almost never turned out to be quite that straightforward: what I perceived as neglect was a complicated mix of desperation, ignorance and accepted cultural practices.

Sitara was a beautiful nine-month old girl, just old enough to crawl... and just old enough to fall into the family ‘tandoor’. The tandoor is an in-ground oven, hot enough to cook bread quickly, and when Sitara landed on her elbow, she suffered full thickness burns which exposed the joint. The burn was over a week old and infected when I saw her. Her father had taken her to the local clinic nearest their home, but when informed that the clinic was not equipped to deal with such a severe burn, he had refused to take her to our hospital.

I re-dressed the burn, but explained to the family that, at the very least, Sitara would need skin grafts. Indeed, she probably would require even more radical surgery, which we were not able to do. I referred them to a children’s hospital in the capital city, about 450 kilometres away, but Sitara’s father was reluctant to make the two-day journey, claiming hardship and poverty. I continued to impress on them the severity of Sitara’s situation and the necessity for further help, and they finally agreed to go. When they said they did not have the money, I eventually agreed to help with transport costs.

Although my heart grieved at the inevitable disability little Sitara would have to live with, I was confident that she would receive good care at the children’s hospital in the city. However, as days turned into weeks and we received no word of the family’s arrival in the city, I realised that the family must have decided not to go, and had instead taken their little girl home, most likely to die.

My feelings of helplessness and anger were overwhelming, as I struggled to make sense of the situation. One thing that helped was putting myself in the father’s shoes: what factors influenced his choice to take his seriously ill daughter home instead of to the hospital? I believe there were several: they were an extremely poor family and, even with assistance, it would have been an expensive trip which he had no real way of financing; he had never been to the city before, and the thought of travelling all that way for a treatment that, in his mind at least, would be unlikely to save her life, probably seemed pointless; he understood that losing children was inevitable - he had already seen several of his children die in infancy; he had other
children to provide for, and in his absence there would be no-one to take care of his family and his small piece of land.

For many families the decision about whether or not to seek treatment is complex. It involves the gender of the person - sadly it is still true that often women and girls will have to wait longer before they receive any form of health care; the time of year - spring and early autumn are difficult times of the year due to planting and harvesting crops, winter is difficult due to snow and higher river levels; distance from the health facility; the financial status of the family; the perceived value of the person who is sick; and religious and cultural beliefs.

I have also learnt that the clinic or the hospital is rarely the first stop for a child who is ill. The family will usually take them first to a local ‘healer’ in their own village, then to the nearest mullah (religious leader), who will provide prayers and talismans, depending on how much the family can afford. Finally, if none of that works, they may then take the child to ‘the doctor’. All of these steps are important, culturally and spiritually. There is a habit and a pattern to what is accepted and expected, and if the pattern is not followed and the child remains sick or dies, then the one who made the decision to not first consult the local healer and mullah will be blamed.

Working through it in this manner helped me to better understand the complex situations I was dealing with, but of course did not change the sad reality for little Sitara or the reality for many other children like her. In a country where one in four children will die by the age of five years, it’s easy to get the impression that a child’s life is viewed as of very little worth. But I have seen the agony as a father pleads for some action
to be taken to save his precious son or daughter, and the pain behind the fatalism of parents accepting the loss of yet another precious life. And all I can hold on to in those situations is the hope of a Father who sees when even one sparrow falls, and who will not forget these little ones, or those who mourn them.

Kelly is a Kiwi Partner and a nurse, who has been serving in Central Asia for six years.

Life in a Muslim country

Date
01 Jan 2010
Publication
GO NZ
Region
Arab World
Profession
Other

A day in the life of Sue who has been working in the Arab world since 2004. Plus a fascinating insight into shame and honour.

I get woken up at 4:30 in the morning... was it too much coffee or a bad dream? No, it is my neighbour’s door slamming below my window as he heads out to pray at the mosque nearby. I don’t bother to go back to sleep as he will be back again in just fifteen minutes, and will slam the door again.

Everyone is up and about early, getting off to work before 8 am. The school bus picks up the kids at 7.30 am. We always have a parent on the bus, as we live in a country where there is an ever-present risk of the unexpected.

If I go on the bus, I need to be dressed in very conservative, long clothes, and it is hot. My scarf slips off my head, and I somehow need to keep it readjusted without starting all over again. Thankfully there is no safety belt - that would just cause it to slip off more. But showing a bit of hair is okay, as I want to emphasise I am not a Muslim.

I’m thirsty: the rush of the morning meant I couldn’t wait for my hot coffee to cool. I have a muffin in my bag, and water. But because I am a woman, it would be very shameful for the driver if I was gulping water or nibbling on the muffin as we drive around. So I will wait the half hour or so in the heat until I get to school to drink and eat the rest of my breakfast.

There are many restrictions on women, but after a couple of years you don’t notice your invisibility attempts. The men still seem to shout out at any person walking down the street, though. Reminds me of how workmen used to wolf whistle back in New Zealand.

The kids come home at 1:30pm for lunch - the lunch-time prayer was a good hour before this. Their school day has finished. Everything goes quiet as most people rest or sleep during the hottest part of the day.

You know when the siesta has finished, another loud call of the mosque... who needs a watch? We slowly get busy again, time for visiting the neighbours and catching up with the family news. Again, I will dress conservatively with long sleeves, long skirt or trousers. Really I should be in the black covering because then I can wear what I like underneath. My girlfriends are dressed “to the nines” with makeup and jewellery and brightly coloured clothing. Because I walked to their house I couldn’t wear make-up... I don’t wear the face covering. And my white skin with make-up might give the local guys the idea that I am someone from “Hollywood” (the best and the worst).

My ‘alarm clock’ goes off again at 6pm-ish... the next mosque call. Told you I don’t need a watch. It is dark now and time to go home. I need to feed the kids so they can go off to bed for the early start tomorrow.

But we might get a visit after the last mosque call of the day from a local “believing” family – their kids are hopeful that they will have some playmates for soccer outside in our courtyard. I have to explain regretfully to them why my kids can’t play... they are asleep!

It is lovely to sit down with the family and chat. I kiss the woman on the cheek and hold her hand, and my husband gives a similar kiss to the man, and then shakes his hand. I must quickly go and make a sweet tea with some type of snack. I don’t ask them what they want... I just put it in front of them.

They will leave about 10pm. We will drive them home in our car as all the public transport has stopped. The area around us is silent. The shops closed at 9pm, although we live in a large village of over 500,000 people, but I think this is the way it has been done for centuries.

Living in a Muslim country affects our lives in many different ways. Each of my day’s activities and the way I go about each activity are guided by the surrounding religion and culture. They are so richly intertwined it is hard to know if anything is not touched by Islam’s reach.

From the Director

Date
01 Jan 2010
Publication
GO NZ
Region
Other
Profession
Other

EDITORIAL Interserve NZs National Director shares about the importance of hope-filled and gracious responses to Muslims.

We had planned for this GO to be published in December, but were delayed by building our Interserve NZ website, and then the holiday period. So while we will normally publish two GO magazines a year – plus our new, bi-monthly GO NEWS – there will be three GO magazines in 2010.

A while back now we decided on the topic of ‘Islam’ for this issue. It seems that while the felt impact of the topic gets debated quite widely, and it comes up frequently in the news media, there is still a dismal lack of real engagement. Positive, hope-filled and gracious responses to Muslims are too often drowned out by a cacophony of fearinspiring, divisive and polarising voices. As one of our writers puts it, trying to navigate a truly Christ-like response can feel like standing in no man’s land.

It is a difficult topic, and as we read the thoughtful reflections and stories of our Partners, that comes through loud and clear. Living and working amongst Islamic communities very quickly does away with any romantic notions, and no-one can accuse our writers of naïve or superficial responses. As I write, churches in Malaysia are being firebombed simply because Christians use the word ‘Allah’, as they have done for centuries across the Muslim world. In Iran followers of Christ are incarcerated and threatened, and in Egypt Coptic Christians mourn those shot dead in a mad, communal rampage by their Muslim neighbours. Yes, these situations are real, as they have been through centuries past, and naïveté or political correctness has no place in the face of such tragedy and human suffering.

Yet if we genuinely believe that Jesus Christ is the great reconciler, the only one who saves, the true hope of all ages, the Messiah of God, then we cannot simply continue doing what we have done for far too long, with such poor results. We have avoided real relationship and engagement with our Muslim neighbours, while stereotyping and lumping all Muslims into an easily identifiable, threatening and unwelcome bundle that needs anti-terrorism treatment before we can truly make any effort to share the love of Christ.

Two images come to mind. My home town in Germany, once a staunch bastion of the reformation and evangelicalism, is now home to a growing Islamic community – streets with halal butcheries, Turkish travel agencies, mid-Eastern restaurants and mosques. Forty-odd years after importing the first generation of men as cheap labour to fuel our post-war economic revival, we now have second and third generations who count Germany as home, yet live in a world radically different from their German neighbours just a few houses away. The German church has largely ignored these people, and the command of Christ to go, love, serve, and make disciples, and has, in turn, missed out on the opportunity and the joy of seeing them embrace the love of Christ. Now we wrestle with radicalisation, violence, crime, and an increasingly polarised society that many feel extremely threatened by.

The other image is just a few weeks old, a Christmas celebration at our home here in Auckland. Every December we invite a range of friends, many of them immigrants and international students, to join us for a BBQ and evening to sing, share the Christmas story, and play the ‘gift game’ – a fun event where everyone contributes. We were singing some of the deeply meaningful carols when my eye fell on a dear Muslim friend and her daughter. Earlier we had forgotten to provide halal sausages, so had to pick through the food offerings to ensure there would be no pork on her plate. But here she was, joining in wholeheartedly: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King!”

It actually doesn’t have to be all that difficult, does it? Lord, open our eyes to re-learn the Jesus way.

Are you Married

Date
01 Jan 2010
Publication
Go International
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Other

What a simple question revealed about the shocking way in which some women in Central Asia are treated by their husbands and how he responded.

“Yes!” I replied.

“Do you want another wife?”

“No, thanks. I love my wife. I don’t want another.”

“Don’t you think that our girls are pretty?”

“Yes, they are. But I love my wife, and don’t want another one.”

How many times have I had conversations like this one? More than I care to remember! And any reply I give declining a second wife seems to be met with ridicule. “My wife is my best friend,” was the answer that met with the most ridicule! “Your wife is your friend!!??” Often men here steal their wives... or at least that’s how we translate their action. A better description would be to say that they kidnap and rape young girls that they like the look of. So to them, the idea that their wife might also be a friend is ridiculous. A recent documentary on bride stealing in the country asked a local man why he was getting married: “We need someone to milk the cows.”

Most single expatriates find it hard living here as locals are always trying to marry them off. I know one single lady who created a story about her being a widow with 3 children at university back home in Holland. She used to have great fun creating anecdotes about them to relay to the next taxi driver! When we first came here as a young married couple without children we were always being asked when we were going to have children (or whether we had left them in England...). Now I am here, married, with two children, but still people are not satisfied! “Only one wife! We take two or three! I know of one man who had seven!” “Only two children! I’m one of seventeen!”

I first met Kudaibergen (literally, “Given by God”) 3 years ago. He was working as president of the charity he himself had established for the provision of credit for village farmers. He worked alone with just an accountant in the room next door. I reconnected with him again earlier this year and the staff had increased. The same accountant, Gulia, was still there, but now she was joined by Gulira, Nurbek and Erlan. Kudaibergen, like many people here with a “position,” is quite a proud, authoritative man. His staff have little freedom to use their own initiative. He says “Jump!” and they ask “How high?” He frequently calls his staff into his office to shout at them when they have done something that is not to his satisfaction. I’ve often felt sorry for Gulia. Being a single mum she doesn’t have much opportunity to find alternative work, and this current situation could be better than many others she might find herself in. At least she has a stable income to support herself and her 5 year old son.

5 months ago I thought that Gulia was putting on weight. But, she was actually pregnant! Her second son, Adilet, was born a couple of weeks ago. Well, I must have misunderstood her home situation. I won’t ask questions! It’s not polite! Last week I had to write a letter for Kudaibergen to an English-speaking supporter. I wrote the following text...

“Let me tell you about my family. My wife is called Mirgul. She graduated from the agricultural institute as a vet, but has spent most of her life at home looking after our children. We have 4 boys and 3 girls.

My oldest son is married with one son and one daughter. He lives here and works at an employment office, helping people to find jobs. My second son lives in the capital city and works as a furniture maker. He is married with one son, so I have 3 grandchildren!

My eldest daughter has just finished studying in the capital city and is now working as a beautician. My 3rd son is in year 10 at the Turkish lyceum in town. My 2nd daughter is in year 9. And I also have two younger children who are 5 years and 1 year old.”

Poor woman, I thought! Two more children after all that time? Is that possible? Surely not!

Well, this morning all the pieces of the jigsaw fell into place and I’m still reeling from the shock. Perhaps I should have realised sooner, but if you’re not from a country where this kind of thing happens you don’t expect it and you don’t go looking for it! In yet another “won’t-you-takeanother- wife” conversation Nurbek and Erlan told me that Kudaibergen had a second wife and that I knew who she was. My heart immediately sank. The clues they gave only confirmed my worst thoughts. Gulia is Kudaibergen’s second wife. Adilet, her newly born baby is Kudaibergen’s son. EVERYBODY seems to know about this... and it’s all OK. His first wife knows about his second wife, his second wife knows about the first wife. They live in the same town and frequently see each other. And yet again, I’m the one being laughed at. This time for struggling to cope with the fact that this is all seems to be legitimate when in the country I come from not only is it considered immoral, but it is also illegal.

My heart bleeds for the women of this country.

And just to recap... my wife is my best friend. And yes, I do love my wife. And please feel free to laugh if you want, but I’m proud of it.

Jesus and the Refugees

Date
01 Jan 2010
Publication
Go International
Region
Europe
Profession
Community Development

An Interserve Urban Vision worker writes about his work with refugees and how their lives have been transformed since seeking asylum in the UK.

We first met K, an Afghan man in his early thirties with a gentle smile and a tired look, about three years ago. We lost track of him until a few weeks ago when he suddenly turned up at church. He told us his story: both he and his friend A had become frustrated at the lack of progress in their asylum applications and had fled to Austria. Here they were befriended by evangelists and led to Jesus. Instead of finding asylum they were under even more restrictions in Austria, and ignoring their pastor’s advice they returned back to England.

Determined to come clean and tell the truth, they explained to the authorities they had lied previously and, telling the truth, awaited whatever judgement the Home Office would give. Indeed, they were immediately put in a detention centre and told they would most likely be sent back to Afghanistan. There they read scripture, worshipped in the chapel and witnessed to their Muslim inmates - which prompted a hostile response. Other Afghans said “If we are sent back to Afghanistan on the same, flight, we will kill you before we land at the airport.” This was no idle threat: during a riot in their wing, thirty angry Afghans tried to break into his room and kill him. Even efforts by their solicitors to get them bail before they were attacked again failed until one evening K was told ‘Here are your papers, you are free to go.’ K didn’t want to leave without his friend A, but found himself out on the street with his clothes and a bus ticket! As K talked to us, it was clear his heart was still with his friend A and he asked us to get involved. The next miracle was a crucial moment in the story. A was told one morning to gather his belongings as he was to be deported immediately to Afghanistan. As he boarded the bus, he realised he was going with all the other Afghans who had promised to kill him: he spent the short journey in urgent prayer for his life. As they stopped outside the airplane on the tarmac, each detainee filed past with their prison guards: A was the last to get off. A hand touched his shoulder, it was the last prison guard. “Your prayers have been answered, A. We haven’t got enough staff to go with you so you have to come back with us.” A was the only person in the whole busload to return that day. A few days later, A was released in the same inexplicable way as his friend K. When they were reunited they immediately came to church and now we have Bible studies each week. As we read, the Bible together they are clearly hungry for God and digest the Word of God with an enthusiasm that shows they know what grace is and how close they came to losing their lives for Christ.

Jesus in Jail

Date
01 Jan 2010
Publication
Go International
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Education

Interserve Partner Pam writes about her ministry to inmates in a Cambodian prison.

I look around the classroom and see a group of young men. They smile back at me; cheerful, intelligent, interested. There are 14 of them, aged between 17 and 21. They are in prison, in a young offenders unit, here in Cambodia and some of them have been here a long time.

I am here to teach English. I quickly discover that their range of abilities is wide. One has had 9 years of English teaching. Some have had none. I am quickly teaching English on three levels, absolute beginners, those with some ability, and the one who has excellent English. They work hard and they love to succeed. Our resources are limited and I learn to make the best of each one. We work hard together but we also have some fun and laughter in our class.

Why are they here? At some time they have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to imprisonment. They usually have no family or influential friends to plead their case and they certainly do not have the money for legal representation. Life has been unfair to them. At an age when most young men dream of university, careers and girlfriends, they do not see any good future. Some fear that their sentences will be extended for no apparent reason and that they will spend their lives in prison. Others think that they will not be able to find work when they eventually leave prison.

Prison in Cambodia is not a nice place to be. The food is inadequate and poor quality so I usually take in a snack of some kind for growing young men with big appetites. The living conditions are bad. There is much mental and physical illhealth. Some get family visitors but many do not. They often tell me they feel “sad” - a massive understatement! Soon they will be too old for the young offenders unit and will be moved into a men’s prison with its implied threat of violence and intimidation, and this thought causes them great anxiety.

I am working with Prison Fellowship Cambodia which visits, educates, supports and provides food, clothing and medical care. (You can see their work at www.pfcambodia.org). I am part of a team who work with the high school for young offenders each Tuesday and Thursday. We teach English and Khmer, music and vocational skills. We are signs of kingdom hope to these young men who are locked away from family and friends and excluded from society.

A Time to Die

Date
01 Jan 2010
Publication
Go International
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Community Development

US Partner Danny writes about his work with elderly people who are left to die in squalid retirement homes in Central Asia.

It took six days travelling by bus, train and boat for nine nationals from this Central Asian country to make the journey to Sweden in 1998 to attend a missions conference. By the time they got there they were exhausted, dirty and starving. During the conference they were challenged to begin by doing missionary work in their own community. They prayed, made a list of places they could try to serve and made the journey back home. This type of trip was and still is illegal but triggered a work that has produced countless changed lives.

On the list they wrote the name of a retirement home located about 20 kilometres from where they lived. Nearly 60 people at a time live inside the walls of this old Soviet building that hasn’t received much more than a coat of paint since it was built 40 years ago. The reason this place was put on their hearts is because this is where someone is placed when there is no one to hold their hand as they die or they’ve been rejected from their family and have nowhere else to go. Cement floors and walls, old wooden windows and a small bed with rusted springs is what the residents call home for their last days. They are given an old stained mattress and one blanket. There is no running water inside and they use outside pit latrines all year round. The poorly paid staff barely pay attention to the residents’ needs and even keep food and blankets for themselves. When someone ends up here their head hangs low because for most rejection is worse than death in a culture that values family above all else.

Two out of the group decided to make the journey to the retirement home on their own, beginning what will became the first of many visits. We began by just sitting, listening, and singing going from room to room. We took opportunities to share the gospel and pray for everyone. When we returned to our house church our stories inspired others who began to give us clothes and blankets to take and some even joined in the visits. Soon the residents began eagerly to await their guests.

While visiting, many shared their stories anxious to talk with someone. Rasul shared how he left his home when he was twenty years old and never went back. For forty years he lived without contacting his family. He was very ashamed because as the only son he is required to take care of his parents who eventually died without knowing what happened to him. He lived with many women and spent most of his life living carelessly. As they began to talk with him they encouraged him to try to reconnect with his sisters. His shame was so strong he said he could not but eventually gave them permission to write to his family. His sister travelled from another city and cried as she told them how they had already had a funeral for him several years ago thinking he had died. Rasul received the Lord and several more visits from his sisters till he died a few years later.

Another man always liked to sit close and hold hands while talking because he had become blind. He finally shared how he had used to drink till he would pass out. One day he drank so much that when he came home he couldn’t even unlock his door and passed out in the stairwell. When he woke up he couldn’t see. While we were sitting with him he heard the gospel and said “God has opened my eyes. I was blind but now I can see.” Within a week he passed away.

Sharing the gospel in a Muslim culture always requires wisdom. Most in the retirement home would initially reject what was told to them but eventually after coming again and again they would tell us that not even their family visits them. We were told that the visits gave them enough energy and hope for another week when otherwise it seemed like all hope was lost. The staff began to tell us to come more often because the residents were calmer and friendlier after our visits. Eventually we knew each other by name.

In such rough conditions it becomes obvious when someone is about to die. They receive very little medical care so are quickly taken by sicknesses and also have to survive very cold winters with minimal heat. Even when someone received the Lord we would know inside that they wouldn’t be there when we came the next time. We lost count of how many passed away after we had the chance to pray with them. With each who passed away a new resident came in their place.

After more than ten years trips are still made to the retirement home. We’ve seen many residents come and go. Now each visit begins in a large room where those who can walk gather in a circle along the walls and listen as we sing and tell them stories about those who lived the faith before us. After that rounds are made to those who are confined to their beds. We’ve had days where we had to quickly and quietly leave because of religious opposition. We don’t always know how much impact a few cookies and a brief conversation has but we learned not to underestimate how meaningful a short interaction can be with someone who thinks the world has forgotten them.

Opening Doors in the Arab World

Date
01 Nov 2009
Publication
GO News
Region
Arab World
Profession
Education

The story of how God helped a team of Australians teach English and share their beliefs at a university in a North African country.

It was almost midnight when the knock came at my hotel door. “The political security police are downstairs, wanting to question us,” my colleague informed me, looking very worried.

I was leading a team of eight Aussies, of diverse ages, occupations and ethnicities, and we’d been invited to teach at a university in this North African country. But it looked like we were now in big trouble, and I prayed silently as we walked down the stairs.

The plain-clothes policeman greeted us while his partner looked around. Then he asked (in Arabic), “Why have you come to our country? What are the objectives of your visit?”

My colleague, an Australian citizen who had been born in this country, answered him in Arabic: “We came to teach English at the university.”

“Is that all? What else have you been doing? Where have you been going?” the policeman demanded.

My colleague was very astute: “We’ve been sightseeing, and went out for dinner in your lovely town. Tonight we were the guests of the Dean of Engineering, Professor Ahmad.”

The policeman jerked backwards as though he had been hit. Professor Ahmad was politically powerful in this town, and we were clearly people not to be messed with. His attitude immediately changed. “Of course we are only concerned for your safety: we need to know your movements so we can protect you… we are sorry to inconvenience you.” He excused himself and they departed.

This event typified many aspects of our short-term trip. Every time we hit a dead-end or a crisis threatened, God opened up an unexpected door.

Even before we left Australia, the university that originally invited us pulled out, leaving us in the lurch two months before we were due to depart. A “chance” visit to a friend in another city in Australia landed me in the house of some Muslim friends of his. I mentioned my disappointment about having to cancel our trip. He immediately phoned his brother-in-law, who worked at a university in the country we’d been planning to visit. “They would love to have you,” he informed me, after he’d hung up the phone. A new door had opened.

Our two-week course, aimed at helping the university faculty teach English effectively, was very well received, and on the final day they held a celebration for us, and issued a heartfelt request for us to return. From the first day they knew that we were all followers of Christ, so we had opportunities to talk about our faith, and pray for course participants.

We also attended several churches, and were even able to bring a word of encouragement to some of them; however, it was mostly ourselves who went away encouraged. We visited various projects, including a medical clinic, a home for street kids, and a theological college, and were moved by the faith and courage of the Christians we met, both local and expatriate, who are serving Christ in very challenging and sometimes dangerous situations.

In this part of the Arab world where, as recently as ten years ago, Christians were being crucified in the streets, the church is growing. Christ’s followers are taking advantage of the (relative) political stability to share their faith with those who persecuted them. In places where unspeakable atrocities are taking place, the word of God is taking root, and it is bearing good fruit. Please pray for this country and its people: it faces a very uncertain political future, and desperately needs the peace only Christ can give.

Mission and the Media

Date
01 Oct 2009
Publication
Go International
Region
Europe
Profession
Media

Urban Vision Partner Jenny Taylor writes about her work with Lapido Media a media organisation which aims to portray a more realistic view of the importance of faith in public life.

From Business to Breakfasts

Date
01 Oct 2009
Publication
Go International
Region
South Asia
Profession
Theology / Church

Heather an On Tracker writes about her short-term work with VIA Design in India and how she linked this to her home church in the UK.

We’ve heard of business meetings over breakfast, but this was no ordinary business meeting! 60 women, a lavish breakfast, and lots of enthusiasm… Through this quarterly breakfast meeting at St Nicolas Church Newbury, England, these women have become part of a business story that started in India and is growing worldwide. I began my part in this story through an On Track placement in India last year.

The desire to GO came from an ambition to serve God outside my normal working routine and I took a 6 month sabbatical from Vodafone to put my skills and faith to the test. In the 3 months working with Via Design in India, God led me to meet some wonderful people, broaden my horizons and develop me as a person.

I was introduced to Janet Rogers, founder of Via Design, through a business network. Inspired by the vision and the story so far, I wanted to make a contribution to Via’s marketing strategy utilising the marketing skills I have gained through working at Vodafone. (I hoped they would be more adaptable than the dull-looking clothes in my suitcase which were no match for the bright colours of Indian dress!)

Via partners with producers to provide design skills, business support and links to markets overseas. Profits from the products are invested in business development and in community projects to improve daily life for those employed and their families.

I met women working at the workshops of the producers in rural South India. Their lives had been changed through the opportunity to develop tailoring skills and to earn an income in a safe environment so that they can support their families. There are emotional stories behind many of these women’s faces - hardships, loneliness and courage. It’s a privilege to hear their experiences. Some women have come to a faith in Jesus, and many have found dignity and a status in their society through their work. This speaks of God’s amazing sufficiency to meet all our needs: emotional, physical and spiritual.

But a business without customers dries up. The constant challenge is to reach more customers and Via is facilitating this through links to retailers in India, and business opportunities in the UK and America. Whilst in India, I helped set out marketing plans, develop designs for an online shop, and increase sales of Via Christmas cards which enabled new business development plans to come to fruition. Thanks to a lot of prayer and teamwork!

In Newbury, the guests attending the Women’s Breakfast made a real difference to these communities in India. We shared exotic fruits, smoked salmon, croissants and coffee, and then I spoke about my experiences in India and Janet Rogers shared the vision and the inspiration behind Via Design and showed pictures of the producers, the natural world that provides the local inspiration, and the products being developed to a quality finish.

There was soon a buzz of enthusiasm around the product stall as my friends appreciated the beautiful gifts and could engage with the Via story first-hand. Silk shawls, jewellery rolls, cards, cushions and a new range of colourful tops were available to purchase. Martha Evatt’s bags, manufactured by the same producers, were also popular.

These sales bring valuable cash into the Indian businesses and into the communities represented and each purchase re-affirms the producers in their work: their handiwork is touching the lives of women in Britain looking for a spark from the Indian world of colour!

A difference is being made by and for all those who participate in this story.


New ways of doing short-term mission

When you think of On Track, Interserve’s shortterm programme, what types of placements come into your mind? Teachers, medical electives, engineers, accountants, physios? Yes, to all these! But there are so many more varied opportunities.... Have you thought of placing someone to be a chef teaching bakery skills to deaf students in Pen Asia? Or someone with circus skills working on a summer camp in Kyrgyzstan? How about using musical gifts in ethnomusicology in Pakistan? Or designing and making puppets in India?

One way of thinking outside the box is Business as Mission (BAM). Why not use your business skills in the Arab World or design websites for businesses in Central Asia? We are keen to find ways that On Track and BAM can work together, providing professional skills for a BAM project or to give a people a taste of Business as Mission.

There is no limit to what skills we can use. We need to have a wider vision and to think outside the box!

Contact Rachel Green (icot@securenym.net) or Craig (ciscan@securenym.net) for more details.

Musicology and Missiology

Date
01 Oct 2009
Publication
Go International
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Theology / Church

A Biblical basis for wholistic mission.

My poor spellchecker. Evidently Bill Gates does not know the word missiology. Type in missiology and up comes a helpful set of alternatives headed by musicology! But then again, what is the relationship between missiology and musicology or for that matter, mission and business, the creative arts, journalism and a hundred other things that ‘normal’ people do for a living?

In Interserve we bring these things together under the term ‘wholistic mission’.

There was a time when Interserve was unusual amongst mission communities in promoting an wholistic vision of mission. Not so today. In fact, all strands of mission are using the buzz words of transformation, integral ministry and wholistic ministry. But what do we mean?

Well, as the song says, ‘Let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start.’

Mission is God’s BIG IDEA! The Bible is all about God’s mission. Mission is God’s initiative from start to finish: the promise to Abraham that through one nation God intends to bless all nations; the Old Testament preparation of a people and culture that would be receptive to God’s work; the fulfillment of that work in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; the ministry of the Holy Spirit, orchestrating all mission that flows from the Christ event and empowering his disciples as God’s mission carriers. God is the real missionary from start to finish. If we want to understand God’s mission we need to understand the whole story of mission presented in the Bible. Instead of a reductionist view of mission that draws on a number of key texts we need to develop a view of mission that draws on the whole message of Scripture.

Our understanding of wholistic mission must begin in the garden and end in the city. “Too often our theology and missiology begins with Genesis 3 and ends with Revelation 20”2 In other words, a missiology that is framed by mankind’s fall and God’s final judgment, with personal salvation filling the sandwich, is a defective missiology. Wholistic missiology must include at least the following:

The beginning: Genesis 1&2 The biblical story begins with a God who is distinct from his creation (transcendent) yet intimately involved (immanent). Creation is not a temporary staging post or a ‘platform’ for the real world to come but the sphere of God’s activity. There is no dichotomy between ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’. Creation is good! Mankind is mandated to care for this world, a mission command that is never rescinded. Indeed, the creation account makes it clear that the ‘image of God’ in which mankind is made relates closely to his vice-regent role as creation’s warden. The revelation of God as creator profoundly shapes our own understanding of work, rest, creativity and ecology. The doctrine of creation shapes a biblical understanding of wholistic mission.

The goal of history: Revelation 21&22 Christians know that there is a goal to history. The end (telos) is not the end of the story but the completion of His story. God is still the creator God, creating a new heaven and new earth. A new Jerusalem descends from heaven. The redeemed do not go up ‘to heaven’ to live but inhabit the new earth where God once more dwells with man. As John’s vision draws to a close the One seated on the throne speaks for the first time in the revelation, saying, “I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5). Here is the fulfillment of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in the heavens.” Yes, the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ! (Rev 11:15) Eschatology shapes a biblical understanding of wholistic mission.

The all-pervasive impact of sin: Genesis 3 At the heart of the gospel message is a call to recognise personal sin and its effect in rupturing our relationship with God. Yet, sin distorts and damages all relationships: interpersonal, with God and with the created order. Because of sin the man and woman are excluded from the garden, that place of harmony and wholeness in all relationships. A whole view of the fall and the multi-level impact of sin shapes a biblical understanding of wholistic mission.

The all-inclusive scope of the cross and resurrection: God’s solution for sin is as far reaching as the tentacles of sin itself. Not only is God out to restore his relationship with humankind, he is out to restore all things.

The cross and resurrection provide the solution for all of creation: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross” Col 1:19-20

God is in the business of reconciling to himself individuals, society and indeed the whole of creation3. God loved ‘the world’ (cosmos) so much that he gave his one and only son’. Wholistic mission refuses to reduce God’s cosmic act of reconciliation to a single dimension, individual human beings, however central that dimension may be in his mission plan. A cosmic view of salvation shapes a biblical understanding of wholistic mission.

Wholistic mission derives from God’s mission, Missio Dei. God is the good creator who is in the business of making new his good but broken creation. God has purposed to bring reconciliation and transformation to the whole created order. In wholistic mission we are called to join God in his purpose. This is where mission and music, business, journalism, art and drama and everything else fits in. These are not simply platforms for proclamation. They are places to be reclaimed for Christ, filled with his presence and presented to him for his glory. As we do that we call others to join us in our acts of worship. Mission becomes proclamation to the world in the call to repentance and reconciliation, the heavenlies in the declaration of the victory of Christ and to God himself in our song of praise.

Since the beginning of time God has been going about his mission and one day he will complete it. Wholistic mission requires that we never lose sight of the end, not settle for a reduced view of what God has in store for his creation. We live in communities filled with sadness, injustice, corruption, violence and greed. God is not simply bent on rescuing a few, destroying the rest and starting again. By faith we affirm that the One who sits on the throne is making all things new.

Jesus models the reality of a new world order, God’s kingdom come. He demonstrates the kingdom of God by offering the love and goodness of the Father unconditionally. This offer of life can only be made through incarnation and vulnerability. It cost Jesus his life.

We, his disciples, are called to bear witness to the suffering and victory of God in Christ. We now bring the Kingdom in the same way that Jesus did: unconditionally, incarnationally and vulnerably. Through our speaking, doing and being, we invite people to become part of that new world order. As they are discipled and put into practice all that Jesus commanded, so they and their communities are transformed. One day that process will be complete, for we shall see him and be like him. God invites us to join him in mission, wholistic mission.

Singing a New Song

Date
01 Oct 2009
Publication
Go International
Region
South Asia
Profession
Community Development

Jonathan a musicologist working in Bangladesh writes about his groundbreaking work with local believers.

Ethnomusicology within the context of missions-How does this help bring God’s love to people? What is this work about anyway? Do ethnomusicologists write songs for people? Do they contextualize their own songs into local forms? Do they translate hymns?

I have been working for six years doing ethnomusicology work in South Asia and at times I still find it difficult to explain what I do. People still ask me the questions above. Perhaps I can help you step back a bit so that you may gain a fresh picture of some of the main things involved in this work.

1. Ethnomusicology, in the context of missions, is first about the worship of God. We want people of any language and culture to be free to worship God deeply and meaningfully. I often work in places where there are few believers and few Christian songs and worship materials available. Sometimes the foreigners who were working with these people thought that local songs lacked variety. Sometimes they assumed that all people should love the Western hymns and choruses they love. As a result of this, they often proceeded to translate their own choruses or favorite hymns into the language of the local people. Sometimes they bring their guitars and keyboards as well. This, of course, often leads to a shallow and superficial worship of God. It also can communicate that Christianity is something foreign, or that local music is not good enough for the worship of God.

I work with believers, often through workshops, to help them explore what is already theirs - a rich heritage of songs and cultural expressions, to help them build a biblical foundation for new Christian songs, and then help spark creativity so that they may make new songs, dramas, dances, poems, or stories that are relevant to church and community needs.

Several months ago I led a workshop in India with four language groups. A young man from one of the language groups said their group had always used songs from a related language group but had no Christian songs in their own language and in their own song styles. He said that unbelievers derided the believers for singing the songs of “outsiders” or of the related language group. During the workshop a few of the believers from this group made about 8 to 10 new songs. They were very encouraged at these first new Christian songs. A few months later I received an e-mail saying that people in this group had now written around 100 new Christian songs and were ready for their own first Christian song book.

2. Ethnomusicology is also about valuing people at a deeper level. It is about building relationships. Learning a local language is the best ways to communicate value to the local people, but learning their songs, their instruments, and helping them record or develop these, can communicate love and concern for them at an even deeper level. Doing this also brings openness in the community to the gospel. As you probably know, many people may be unwilling to listen to the gospel if it is spoken to them, but they may be willing to listen to the same message if it is sung in a local song style.

3. Ethnomusicology is about meeting community needs through local artistic expressions. I lead workshops in different communities for the creation of songs and dramas which deal with physical and spiritual concerns in the community. In one workshop, people from Muslim, Christian, and Hindu villages came together to discuss significant problems or issues they faced in their communities. They then began to work on songs or dramas that would help deal with these needs.

4. Ethnomusicology is about communicating God’s word in relevant local forms. There are still many in my area who cannot read or cannot read very well. Believers need more than written forms to learn scripture truth, and unbelievers need these forms in order to hear the truth. Though nowadays many are involved in getting the scripture into stories in local languages, ethnomusicology enables an outsider to research local song or story forms at a deeper, more rigorous level. This can help an outsider give better insight and thoughtful encouragement to local people as they create songs, stories, or dramas which are in relevant local forms.

Some of you may still ask me if I write songs for people. Let me stress that I do not write these songs myself. Good poets and song writers, people who have a deep grasp of the nuances of their own language, poetic forms, and melodies are hard to come by. It would be much harder still for an outsider to attempt to do such a thing.

In the end it’s not so much about music but about cultural artistic expression. It’s not about contextualizing foreign forms, but helping people explore and use the forms which are already theirs. Its not about focusing on music or the art, but encouraging believers to focus on God and the knowledge of Christ so that, as it says in Colossians 3:16, their songs and local expressions would flow out of this.

Suffering and redemption

Date
01 Jul 2009
Publication
Go International
Region
South Asia
Profession
Community Development

A US Partner writes about her work with children with HIV in India.

Risky Living

Date
01 Jul 2009
Publication
Go International
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Education

Canadian Partners with long experience of working in Central Asia give their thoughts on the challenges and joys of mission to the hard places.

“We are targets. We ARE targets.” That phrase kept repeating itself in my mind after a terrorist attack that interrupted our lives for many months. The period of post traumatic stress that followed was an enriching time of processing our theology of suffering and risk.

My husband and I serve in a creative-access country where traditional mission work is not acceptable. We work with an international non-governmental organization in an English language teaching project. We minister wholistically through our lives and project work as we interact with the local population in class, in the market, and in our daily lives.

There are various reasons why our country is not an easy place. However, the harshness of our location does not take away from the effectiveness of witness. Rather, it seems to enhance it, in God’s mysterious and unexplainable way of working.

Our location is tough emotionally because of the security issues and the real physical danger we face. Explosions, fighting, kidnappings, murders, and robberies are part of life. We have security guards, security training, and security updates. Obviously safety is not the main motivating factor in our lives. We live and work among people whom God loves and who are lost and needy.

They also have security to worry about, and where do they go when they want to find safety and a refuge?

Secondly, we are in a spiritually hard place. We are in enemy territory. The majority religion has a strong hold on people, and there is little response to the good news. If there is some positive response, the enemy of our souls attacks. There can be threats to the Christian worker, with implications for his or her project and company. There can be threats against the local person who has made a profession. A local brother’s decision to change his faith might be with mixed motives of wanting help to leave the country or to have a better life. It can seem that all our work has no fruit, and discouragement and darkness prevail.

Living here is physically hard. It is a harsh environment. Our country is beautiful with breath-taking views of snowy mountains and vast barren deserts, yet the challenges of travelling and living in a developing country that lacks the facilities and infrastructure for convenient living are not in place. We would appreciate reliable electricity, clean drinking water, paved roads, responsible government, and dependable transportation. Many little things can go wrong in our daily lives and lots of energy is used in the effort it takes to live here.

It is also socially challenging because of the transience of colleagues with whom we serve and share fellowship. Many do not stay for long. When their aid or development projects are done, they leave. It can be wearing to keep saying hello and goodbye so often. Relationships and friendships can become superficial, and deep fellowship and the resulting edification of each other is hard to find.

All of these added together constitute for a life of unrelenting bombardment of feeling overwhelmed. Why stay in this place?

Yet for some reason there are many workers here who find it difficult to leave, especially if they have been here longer. Why? I think one reason is precisely because it is a hard place! It is a challenge to be here, and yet seeing how God undertakes and sustains and pours out His grace is an incredible joy. There is encouragement from the visible evidence of how our efforts in aid and in developing the country and people, helping bring them some hope in a bleak place. Things can improve, even if it is on a small scale.

Though there are seemingly unending challenges in a hard place, there are also many open doors. We serve to meet needs in a wholistic manner – physically, emotionally, spiritually and socially. At one Easter party we had for our English students, we were discussing how Easter is celebrated and why. In response to some students’ question, one of the students mentioned the Christian website in their language where they could find more information!

People are curious about foreigners and will ask questions. So we often pray for divine appointments, and God provides them. Peoples’ needs give us opportunities to listen to them and pray with them. We can share our message discreetly, in small steps, learning to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. There are many times and places we can share about what God has done for us. Our testimony of “God moments” in our daily life (rather than comparing and contrasting our religious systems, like fasting or worship or sacred books) is easy to talk about with our local friends and neighbours. In our conversations we can give examples of how God has provided answers to prayer, how we are not afraid to live here, and how we keep learning about the local language and culture. These are simple things they can relate to in their life as well.

So we are targets but not like we think. We are noticed like salt and light. An example is our watchman asking us one day if in our culture husbands don’t beat their wives. Wife-beating is not uncommon in our host culture. Our character and lifestyle send a message.

It is a privilege to be unworthy servants in a hard place. We are nothing more than weak vessels with a message we are ready to share when the opportunity arises.”

Got to Go

Date
01 Jul 2009
Publication
Go International
Region
Europe
Profession
Theology / Church

Simon Guillebaud the founder of Great Lakes Outreach gives a radical wake-up call to get the church more involved in mission.

God is working in Central Asia

Date
01 Apr 2009
Publication
GO NZ
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Other

In the midst of widespread hopelessness caused by poverty and corruption some locals are finding hope through Jesus Christ.

Lives are being changed in the Central Asian Republics through the power of the Good News. This intriguing part of the former Soviet Union is made up of five countries - Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan - all of which gained independence in the early 1990s.

Since that time, in two or three of the “Stans”, there has been a relatively open door to aid and input from the West. While the majority religion is Islam and the Russian Orthodox Church has a strong presence, there has been a dramatic growth in the evangelical or Protestant church, even though many of the new believers face persecution from their families and villages.

In the last few years, in the country we know best, this growth has levelled off, or even decreased. And the door is less open now - new laws threaten to limit the work of NGOs and already restrict the activities of Christian believers, both national and expatriate. But local pastors rebuke the fears of foreign workers by saying: “Where is your faith? God will be glorified!”

Big issues like corruption, poverty, unemployment, rampant inflation, political instability and economic turmoil lead to a widespread sense of hopelessness among the common people. Here and there, though, people are finding hope and faith and lives are being transformed.

Some are ready… On one of those public holidays when businesses and schools were closed but our small, inter-church theological college was working, a woman came in asking to see the principal. Tania said she had come to offer her help – in translating, or in any other way – as she wanted to be of service to “Americans”. As she spoke, tears started flowing, and we took her off to a private office. There she poured out years of hurt and misunderstanding and her longing to be involved with foreigners because with them she sensed more acceptance. We had no answers except to point her to the One who could meet her needs. And there and then she prayed to receive the Lord into her heart.

Tania loves speaking English and she attends the International Fellowship. She bought an English Bible, preferring that, but providentially found a Russian Bible in her workplace. She reads some of this each day and is making progress in understanding.

Some take time… Chinara is a poorly-paid doctor who came to an English Club. Having three children already she was distressed to find she was pregnant again. With her surgeon husband’s encouragement she was going to have an abortion, a very common way out in this part of the world. After our lesson one day she mentioned her predicament to Gulnara, another member of the group.

Gulnara has been a keen and dedicated believer, involved in ministry for more than ten years. She was harshly persecuted by her family in the early days but from the beginning forgave them - and some believed. Divorced, with three young children, she lives hand to mouth, but continues to work joyfully, largely unpaid, in her church, evangelising, teaching the youth, caring for the poor, and leading Bible studies. Every new arrival in the English Club called forth Gulnara’s loving care and evangelistic effort. Sometimes I had to urge her to take it easy in class, when her bold forthrightness upset some! Often after the lesson she would spend an hour or two talking with one or another in the courtyard, interested in them, sharing in their problems. She followed them up with invitations to her home, in time to her church, and built friendships with them.

Gulnara poured time and love into Chinara, and after a week or two she let me know with delight and praise that Chinara had decided to go ahead with the pregnancy. Gulnara’s family and Chinara’s family became close, and Chinara’s children started going to Sunday School. After a while Chinara began going to church occasionally. It took time, but at last Chinara was ready to enter the Kingdom.

Some are ‘not yet’… For several years I ran an English Bible Study group. For believers like Gulnara, it both helped their English and increased their understanding of the Word. But it wasn’t only believers who came along. Two young women who were at least nominally of the majority faith were the most regular attendees. They loved singing songs of praise at Easter and Christmas and they showed a real perception of some of the truths that were being discovered. But although they intellectually agreed with and believed what they were reading, they were not ready or able to take the step of faith into a new life. The seeds have been sown… pray for fruit to develop.

Some are captive… A band of our workers regularly visits a women’s remand centre, at the invitation of the prison director (“I want to keep the women, women,” he said) and with official permission. The visitors take in necessities like soap and shampoo, toilet paper and candles, and when they have the funds, more expensive things like metal buckets for the cells and seed for the vegetable garden; they also have a message to share. There are times of discouragement, when no one seems very interested, but there are other times when women ask for prayer and teaching. “We’re all hard-core criminals,” said one. “Tell us what God’s Word says!” On a recent visit, the visitors found that one woman had come to the Lord a few days before.

Another woman in her cell had shared the gospel with her and all the women in this cell were now reading the Word and praying together. Our friend wrote: “Indeed it is God who causes the growth! How can we not continue to go out there while the doors are open?”

Some are moving ahead… In the theological college we had the privilege of getting to know and training some of the most committed of the Lord’s servants. One older lady, retired and widowed, wanted new direction for her life, and persisted through physical and mental struggles to prepare herself to be more useful in her church. Two fine young men, already pastoring growing churches out of town, committed themselves to two years’ study. Burning the candle at both ends they found little time for doing homework. When I ignorantly suggested doing some study on the hour-long bus journey morning and evening, Esen sheepishly told me he usually slept en route. How encouraged we were when we attended the official opening of his church in a freshly-painted, converted village house and witnessed the joy and zeal of his little flock.

One thirty-ish man was sent, a little reluctantly, by his large Pentecostal church. He was a rather unusual fellow, a bit gauche, and not particularly academic. Those interviewing him wondered whether to accept him as a student. But they did, and through three years of study, with a few hiccups along the way, Talantbek progressed and matured and developed into a trustworthy and sound pastoral candidate. He even married one of the most promising girl students. The senior pastor at his church was so taken by the changes evident in Talantbek’s life that he sent seven more students to the college the next year.

Some are moving out… Ainura is a young woman with a heart for missions. For several years now she has drawn around her a mission prayer movement. Prayer and training conferences have been held, resources prepared, and a “foreign missions society” established. Participants are taught that when sent out they should expect to hold a job in order to support themselves and their families. Ainura provided a model at home base when she took a part-time job in an NGO and devoted the remainder of her time to promoting prayer, oversight and training. It’s all very new, but already one couple has crossed the border into a foreign land and another is to follow. Others are heading in other directions. The evangelical church in Central Asia is young, it suffers hardship and persecution, and yet it is sending out workers into the harvest field.

While some activities and involvement may need to be curtailed because of the restrictive new laws, there is no doubt that the Father will continue to work and to draw people to Himself in Central Asia. He is building His church, and it is our privilege to partner with Him and His local children in that process of transformation.

The author is an English teacher from New Zealand. She and her husband served in Central Asia for 10 years.

A Muslim wedding

Date
01 Apr 2009
Publication
GO NZ
Region
Arab World
Profession
Other

As a guest at a Muslim wedding Susan is reminded of Jesus parable in Matthew 10 about waiting for the bridegroom.

The women bent over my hands and feet as I reclined on cushions on their visiting room floor. They made elaborate designs in henna, wanting me to look beautiful as I attended my first wedding in their country. They talked and laughed, anticipating the celebration that would take place in two days as their neighbour became a bride.

The preparations reminded me of Jesus’ story about being ready for a wedding: Once there were ten young women who took their oil lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.

The next day, the feeling at the house of my new friends is one of expectation - today is the big day! The anticipation intensifies as we spend several hours dressing and perfuming our clothing and hair with incense. Finally we are ready!

As my friends and I arrive at the wedding hall, I discover that in spite of their efforts, I am underdressed.

My best dress is nothing compared to those around me! Women who normally look like black ghosts are now wearing dresses of every colour imaginable. Sequins and jewellery glitter everywhere. How beautiful the women are! Their laughing faces reflect their inner strength. Their lives are so difficult, yet they find such pleasure in dressing up and even more, in simply being together.

I happily join my friends on cushions on the floor. Music, provided by a band in another room, blares from loudspeakers. Women dance, as their mothers and grandmothers did before them. Finally an announcement is made and the bride arrives, with much fanfare! She wears a western style gown with a hoop skirt at least three feet wide; every inch is covered with sequins. She proceeds slowly up the aisle in the middle of the hall, surrounded by young women who chant blessings and hopes for many sons. Once in front of the hall, the bride sits on an ornate, throne-like chair. And the sense of anticipation grows. The climax is yet to come. The music, dancing and visiting isn’t our reason for being here. We’re waiting for the groom to come! I think again of Jesus’ story. He told the story of the wise and foolish virgins because he wanted his followers to be ready. These women (and I!) have spent days getting ready for this wedding, but they don’t even know about the one to come. How can they possibly be ready when they have no way of knowing the Bridegroom?

The hours stretch on. The conversations grow increasingly desultory and fewer and fewer women dance. My head pounds from the loud music. Four hours have passed and still we wait! In Jesus’ story, the waiting women fell asleep. They must have booked a different band, because surely no one could sleep surrounded by music at this decibel level!

Suddenly, the music stops. My ears ring in the silence, and then, over the loudspeakers a voice announces, “The groom is coming!” All around me is a whirlwind of activity. Reclining women suddenly leap to their feet and fly into their overcoats and veils, changing back into black ghosts. Here is the groom! Finally, the days of preparation and waiting are finished!

In the middle of all the rejoicing, my heart is heavy. My friends here are not ready for the wedding that’s to come. They’ve never met the Bridegroom. Seeing them with covered faces reminds me again of how it veils their hearts and makes it impossible for them to see God clearly. They cannot understand how He loves them and longs for a relationship with them. I look forward to a wedding feast with Someone who calls me His beloved. All they have is a set of rules to try to keep, and a faint hope that a capricious judge will be kind.

In spite of the stranglehold of Islam in the country, I have hope that God is working here and that my friends will be part of the final marriage celebration. Please join the work here by praying that hearts will be open to the wooing of the Bridegroom.

Susan is an IS Partner from the USA, currently serving in the Arab World.

Immeasurably more

Date
01 Apr 2009
Publication
GO NZ
Region
South Asia
Profession
Community Development

Sita was only 15 when an accident left her paralysed. Today she lives a rich and full life encouraging others with long-term disabilities.

Today Sita’s face radiates with joy and her smile brightens any room, but it hasn’t always been that way. When she was fifteen years old, Sita fell from a tree while collecting firewood, and suffered a spinal cord injury which left her completely paralysed from the waist down. For almost two years she was treated for complications in four different hospitals in Kathmandu, and her life often hung in the balance.

In one of these, Patan Hospital, she experienced God’s love through caring Christian staff. Sita remembers one missionary in particular who used to visit the children’s ward to share toys and Christian literature. When Sita was critically ill, this woman donated her blood, and Sita never forgot this. At the age of 17, she was admitted to the Ryder Cheshire Home in Kathmandu for a 10 month tailoring program, intended to equip disabled adults with skills to earn their own living. By this time her heart was open and sensitive to spiritual things.

I was serving with the United Mission to Nepal (UMN) at that time, and was working as a physiotherapist one day a week at the Ryder Cheshire Home, training a Nepali physio assistant. Although the Nepali staff were Hindus, they were aware that the UMN volunteers were Christians, and even allowed us to share the true meaning of Christmas with the patients at Christmas time. When Sita and another resident heard that I was attending special women’s meetings at Patan church, they asked if they could join me. This was Sita’s first experience in church and her heart was touched, and over the following months our friendship continued to grow.

After completing her training, Sita and three others set up a tailoring shop in Kathmandu, with the hope of becoming financially selfsupporting. But their dreams were dashed when one morning, upon opening up their shop, they discovered they had been robbed of their sewing machines and all the fabric and saris their customers had entrusted to them. After that, Sita had no choice but to return home to her village, to live with her father and stepmother.

Traditionally in Nepal people with disabilities were hidden away at home, and often deprived of medical care, as there was such low value placed on their lives. However, since we first moved to Nepal in 1984 I have noticed a significant change in attitude towards the disabled. There are more resources available now (like wheelchairs) so the disabled community is far more visible on the streets. People’s attitudes are also much more accepting. Unfortunately, though, things have been slower to change in the villages.

After the robbery, Sita lived in the village for about three years, but found it increasingly frustrating. Life was a struggle, not only physically but financially as well, despite her skill at tailoring and handicrafts. She felt very confined, as the rocky roads made it difficult to get around by wheelchair, and even the simplest action such as toileting was a problem, since Nepali homes have squat toilets, which paraplegics cannot use. She disliked being so dependent on others, and feeling she was a burden to them.

While living in the village, Sita would join in with the Hindu festivals to please her family, but was secretly praying and reading her Bible. Then in 2000, after being admitted to INF’s Green Pastures Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre for physio treatment and further training, Sita made a commitment to follow Christ. Surprisingly her family did not oppose her decision, as her father had always maintained that it was the prayers of Christians that saved her life in the early months after her injury.

It was during her 15 months at Green Pastures that Sita caught a vision for encouraging and coming alongside others with disabilities. By then I was back in Canada – our family had left Nepal in 1999 – but I kept in touch with Sita by the occasional letter or email. Her letters were full of joy, and she was so thankful to God for what He was doing in her life. She moved to Pokhara and became active in a local church, and was even baptised in a tank that had been specially designed for her.

The last letter I received from Sita was in 2004, and in it she shared her heart’s desire to become a Christian counsellor, so that she could be an encouragement to others with long-term disabilities. But it seemed an impossible goal: not only was she confined to a wheelchair, but she only had a Year 8 education.

In 2007, my husband and I returned to Nepal, this time with the International Nepal Fellowship (INF). I brought Sita’s last letter with me, hoping to somehow make contact with her. Then, amazingly, several days before our first trip to Pokhara we received an email update from the Medical Superintendent at Green Pastures Hospital, announcing the appointment of a new peer counsellor: it was Sita! It was with great delight that we were reunited later that week at Green Pastures, and we both found ourselves giving thanks to the God who is able “to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). Neither of us had ever imagined that one day we would be working together in the same Christian organisation.

Sita then shared with me amazing stories of how God had provided for her in recent years, and how He’d taken her from being a patient at Green Pastures to working fulltime for INF. It had begun with informal opportunities to counsel others while she was still a patient, then continued for the two years she was employed by a spinal cord injury association where she helped with tailoring training. After that Green Pastures invited her to be a volunteer counsellor one day a week.

God had also provided a secure, suitable living arrangement for her. Disabled people in Nepal often struggle to find appropriate wheelchair-accessible housing with toilet and shower facilities, but Sita, along with one or two other disabled adults, lived in a house provided by an elderly Japanese friend. Wheelchair-accessible, and with a Western-style toilet (as opposed to the squat style), this home has been a haven for Sita and her friends, and is a source of blessing to many who visit.

In addition, this Japanese friend enabled Sita to attend a six-week peer counsellor training in Japan, and, after three years of volunteer counselling at Green Pastures, Sita applied for the full-time paid position as peer counsellor.

It has been a privilege for me to watch Sita interacting with patients on the wards and the rehab department at Green Pastures Hospital. As she wheels alongside a hospital bed, her head is just about level with the patient’s head on the pillow. When a patient shares their sorrow with her, she is able to say, “I understand,” in a way that able-bodied staff cannot. Honest sharing of her own company said it would be too dangerous, but one of the pilots was willing to take me. I was nervous at first, but I thought ‘If I don’t try, others won’t try’, and then I discovered it was easy and very enjoyable. It gave me a wonderful sense of freedom floating through the air. And I thought that if I am successful, it will mean success for other people with disabilities.” And indeed, it was a huge encouragement to many disabled people, and was widely covered in the media.

Does Sita feel she has a rich and full life? Yes, very much so. “Sometimes I wonder if I am living a real life or only dreaming. I am so thankful to God for the opportunities He has given me to fulfill my vision of encouraging struggles brings hope and comfort to patients and their families as they observe that it is possible to live a rich and full life from a wheelchair.

Last year Sita proved that she had plenty of surprises left up her sleeve, when a photo of her made it on to the front page of one of the large Nepali newspapers, boldly captioned with “Paraplegic takes to Paragliding”. And sure enough, there was a photo of Sita landing at the lakeshore in Pokhara, having just become the first Nepali person with a disability to go paragliding. Once again she had demonstrated her desire to live life to the full and to encourage others to do the same.

“When I saw others paragliding, I wished I could try,” she told me. “The paragliding others with disabilities. He has opened so many doors for me. This is not of my own doing. I have a deep love for people with disabilities and I’m able to understand their problems. I experience God’s grace in every moment of my life. I know my soul is safe and He gives me physical health as well.”

Sita continues to marvel at all that God has done in her life and waits expectantly to see what ‘immeasurably more’ plans He has for her future.

Carol Stevens and her husband David are Canadian Interserve partners, who have served in Nepal for almost 18 years. Photos: INF (www.inf.org).

Serving in Thailand

Date
01 Apr 2009
Publication
GO NZ
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Theology / Church

A NZ couple share about their lives as associate pastors of an international church in a devoutly Buddhist country.

The Kingdom of Thailand is well known for its sunny beaches, jungle hideouts, elephants and smiling faces. At the heart and crossroads of Southeast Asia, it is a relatively prosperous nation with a population of about 63 million.

Considered to be one of the most beautiful and diverse countries in Asia, it is a kingdom of vibrant culture and commercial activity, of potential and challenge, of variety, contrast, colour and light. Yet under that veneer many needs draw followers of Christ to serve here, seeking out opportunities to bring His hope and compassion to the diverse peoples of this land.

At the beginning of 2008 my husband, Peter, and I moved from Hamilton, New Zealand, to take on the role of Associate Pastors at Chiang Mai Community Church in northern Thailand. Chiang Mai is located more than 700km northwest of Bangkok, and is surprisingly small and pleasant by Asian standards, not at all an urban megalopolis. Dynamic and multicultural – many tourists and expats from Asia and the West base themselves here – Chiang Mai has successfully managed to combine its rich cultural history and traditions with its progressively more modern character. However, as a result of this rapid development, a huge increase in traffic and pollution makes going outside from February to April very unpleasant and unhealthy.

Chiang Mai Community Church has been serving the international community here for more than 40 years. Although Thailand is one of the most devoutly Buddhist countries in the world (more than 95% of all Thais are practising Buddhists), the law provides for freedom of religion. There has historically been an openness to the good news of Jesus among the hill tribe people, though not so much among mainstream Thais. The evangelical churches here are committed to working together in reaching out to the unreached.

While Peter was serving as a pastor in New Zealand before we left, I was working as a family doctor. I have discovered, however, that the skills required in a general medical practice, such as listening and problem solving, are central to my new life here, and that life as a pastor is varied, interesting, challenging and unpredictable!

Our church community is ethnically and culturally very mixed, and because many attend Thai or tribal group churches in the morning, we meet in the late afternoon – a great time for church, in our opinion! Although some have been with the church from its inception, on the whole the church ‘boundaries’ are fairly fluid, with many comings and goings. Chiang Mai is a resource centre for physical, emotional and spiritual renewal, and mission workers from near and far come here for medical and dental care, to have their babies, for rest and respite, and for member care. Others visit from physically isolated workplaces in order to enjoy some Christian community and church life. Many of those who live here also have responsibilities in neighbouring countries, which require them to travel frequently.

In our church we have a good number of young adults: some are with us for only a short time, while others are based in Thailand long-term. They come and go from many countries. We host a young adults’ group on Sunday evenings, and very much enjoy listening to their stories and challenges, and seeing them connecting with each other and building friendships. They are involved in a wide variety of ministries, such as teaching, media and journalism, mission through sport, and working in orphanages. Some work in relief agencies and with immigrants and refugees -- approximately 130,000 Burmese refugees live in Thailand, having entered through the long, mountainous border Thailand shares with Myanmar. Others minister to women and children who have HIV. Although prostitution is illegal in Thailand, since the Vietnam War the country has gained international notoriety as a sex tourism destination, and this has led to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, especially among sex workers.

Short-term mission teams also frequently come through Chiang Mai, and we recently had the privilege of hosting a medical team which included our youngest son, Tim. He and seven third-year medical student friends, from Auckland University Medical School, were inspired by their involvement with the Christian Medical Fellowship to gain some experience of medical needs outside of NZ. They were a great group of high quality young Kiwis, and we had such fun interacting with them, experiencing their energy, seeing their potential for the future and their heart for God and mission.

From short-term teams to those who have formed the core of this church for 40 years now, from visitors coming through to those working in remote locations or neighbouring nations sharing their faith in word and deed, the people we are privileged to serve in our role as pastors here have many, many interesting stories of life and challenge, heartache and joy, reflecting the grace and mercy of our God. Our call as we listen and teach, counsel and support is to encourage each one on their way, pointing them to the never-changing truth that will undergird each of their journeys. Our investment is into those who make a difference, often amongst the most vulnerable, and in the hard places, bringing the Kingdom of God into the midst of the Kingdom of Thailand – to Him be the glory!

Annette, and her husband Peter, are Kiwi partners. They have three adult children, located in Japan, Australia and NZ, and are very grateful for Skype and webcams.

Life in Arabia

Date
01 Apr 2009
Publication
GO NZ
Region
Arab World
Profession
Other

A Kiwi family living in a Muslim land discover that their differences open up opportunities to share about God and His love.

Arabia. The name invokes memories of fables about a mystical land of sweeping, soaring sand dunes, desert date-palmed oases, Ali Baba, Aladdin and flying carpets. My husband and I have lived in this far-away, beautiful part of the world for many years, among people who are so very different from us, and yet not so different at all.

While the dominant religion is Islam, there are many here who do own Jesus as their Lord. However, they must do so in secret, as apostasy (conversion from Islam to another religion) carries serious social and legal consequences: the annulment of marriage, the removal of children, and the loss of all property and inheritance rights. Apostasy is also punishable by death.

One day a Western friend, who is married to a local Muslim, shared with me that her husband was suspicious of their eldest daughter. The daughter did not pray five times a day nor did she want to go on the Hajj, the traditional pilgrimage to Mecca. The husband suspected her of following his wife, and believing as she did. But when the questioning got a little out of hand, in anger and frustration he put his open hand in my friend’s face, and said, “Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know!” He did not want to fulfil the duties and obligations required of him if his daughter was bringing dishonour to the family. My friend and I cried and prayed together over her situation: how does a woman be a wife to a man who she knows would kill their daughter if he knew the truth?

We had been in the country for less than a year when I realised just how closely our family was being observed by our neighbours and our community. I was approached by a neighbour, covered in black from her head to her toes, shaking her finger at me as she insisted that I come to her home: she had been watching us and she wanted to know why we were so different.

I was asked about my children, and why my sons treated their sisters the way they did. The women could not understand why my sons were considerate, loving and protective toward their sisters, because within a Muslim family, regardless of age, a daughter is there to serve her brother. It was a great opportunity to explain that as we were Christians, our family relationships were based on love for each other. And that men and women, sons and daughters, are equal in God’s eyes. As parents we were equally proud of both our sons and our daughters: they were not worth more (or less) because of their gender.

While I was talking with these mothers I was watching their children playing outside in the courtyard. The boys were kicking a soccer ball around, and when it hit one of the girls in the stomach, she doubled up in pain. But the boys did not show the least concern for their sister, and she received a severe rebuke from her mother for interrupting the game.

In this Muslim land we are watched because we’re different, and that works to our advantage because it opens up all sorts of opportunities to share about God and His love. A group of married women from my work once asked me to explain my ‘love story’. They had been watching my husband and me for many months. They saw the consideration my husband gave me in the simplest of things, like opening the car door for me (an Arab man would never do this for his wife, as it would be considered demeaning), and walking beside me when we were out at the Mall, instead of requiring me to walk behind him. So the next day I brought my wedding album into work, and explained how our marriage was based on the fact that we loved each other, and wanted to spend our lives together. I showed them photos of the church and the ceremony, and explained that the vows we made were a sacred promise before God and the community: my husband promised to love, honour and cherish me for as long as he lived, and I promised to love, honour and obey him.

Women in this country do not marry for love. They do not even get to choose their own husbands. While they are still very young, their parents choose their groom for them, from amongst their first cousins (which later often leads to major health issues in their children). In Arabia, the legal marriage age is 14, but I know women who were married and mothers by the time they were 11 years old. The formalities are completed at the courts by the fathers, and then at a later date set by the couple themselves they have the celebration.

There are actually two separate wedding celebrations: one for the groom and one for the bride. At the celebrations they dance and party until at least midnight, then the groom and his wedding party go across town to the bride’s celebration, to claim her and take her to his home. When he and his wedding party enter the wedding hall of the bride, within the twinkling of an eye the room becomes a sea of black, in stark contrast to the music and dancing, eating and laughing, gossiping and talking that the bride and her guests had been enjoying up to that point. This is a very sad analogy of how marriage is viewed. The bride should not have to hide herself from the bridegroom, but these brides are not loved, and they know that.

I remember being shocked when a young local woman told me that it was not right to seek love from her husband, that the object of life was to become wise so that Allah would accept them into Paradise. To believe it is unacceptable to seek love within marriage, when it is the one thing they desire above all else, leaves both men and women empty, angry and deeply lonely.

My husband was approached in the supermarket one day by a stranger, who hesitantly asked him, “Do you love your wife?” My husband arranged to meet him later for coffee in a more private setting, at which time the man explained he was deeply troubled because he was being forced into a marriage he didn’t want. My husband was then able to share with him that God’s plan for marriage includes love, and that He instructs men to honour and cherish their wives, and even be willing to lay down their lives for them, as Christ did for us. We have no idea why he approached my husband except that God obviously wanted him to speak with a follower of Christ and learn a little of what he himself knew was very different from his culture and religion.

Although many are hungry to learn more of this God who is so different from the harsh taskmaster of Islam, it is almost impossible for them to understand His love because of their cultural background. Because they do not understand love, they cannot accept God’s love, and they sincerely struggle to understand why He would do such a thing as allow His Son to die for them. Only the working of the Holy Spirit within the hearts of these people will make them truly believe that God loves them unconditionally, and give them the courage to become seekers of the Truth. Please pray for the land and people of Arabia. We come from two different worlds, two different theological frameworks, but we share the same longings: to be accepted and to be loved.

The author and her husband are Kiwi partners, serving within their professions in Arabia. They have five children, who are now all adults.

God allows it...

Date
01 Apr 2009
Publication
GO NZ
Region
Central Asia
Profession
Other

A relection on the countrys history cultural heritage awesome natural beauty and its great potential.

“They have painted the stone foundation orange,” Johan reported to me after checking on the house renovations. “And they painted the mortar between the stones black.”

“At least the house is not purple,” I replied. “We have friends in India who went on holiday only to come back and find out that their landlord had painted their house purple while they were gone.”

Needless to say, western and Asian colour preferences can vary widely. We had been supervising the work on our new house in Faizabad. Lois and I had asked for our new bungalow to be painted white, but the landlord had gone ahead with canary yellow. We stopped the painter halfway through his work and requested again that the house be painted white. The landlord consented, but he actually got the last word on the foundation stones.

However, the colour was not the only surprise awaiting our inspection. The painter had written “mash-Allah” across one of the foundation stones. When we saw it, we knew we could never consider painting over it. Such an act would be a great insult, maybe even considered blasphemy.

Mash-Allah loosely translated means ‘God allows it’. Such a statement is often found on new houses. It serves several purposes. First of all it acknowledges God as the source of blessings, and rightly so. By so doing, such a phrase causes us to remember God as the giver of good gifts.

At the same time ‘mash-Allah’ can deflect a judgemental attitude in a guest. If I were to question the appropriateness of something extravagant in my neighbour’s possession, the fact that God allowed him to have such a thing, like a satellite dish, or luxury car, or maybe even orange foundation stones, should soften any criticism... and envy.

It is this guard against envy that may be the greatest motivation for writing these words on your house. A felt need here amongst a number of people is the need to ward off the evil eye. Mash-Allah can do just that. It can protect the possessors of a new house like ours from a potential disaster. If someone is jealous of our good fortune, then they may wish us ill. However, mash-Allah written on our house should protect us from such a curse.

I’m not sure how such a concept translates into our experience in the West. But I find that when I buy something nice, if I paid a really low price for it, that somehow deflects a potential negative judgement. I mean, who can resist a bargain? It’s kind of our way of saying mash-Allah without being too religious.

I’ve noticed here that if I let myself focus on the differences between the local culture and mine, I really feel like the foreigner I am. But if I look beneath the surface to universal motivations in what the local culture cherishes, I can find my own reflection in what I see.

For instance, I was speaking with our housemates the other day about how it doesn’t matter how much you pay for anything here, when you tell an Afghan what you’ve paid, they’ll say, “That’s way too much. That’s because you’re a foreigner. Next time let me buy it for you.”

Now, if that happened once or twice it might be bearable. But this happens every time you buy something. I can be walking down the street with a new item under my arm and a total stranger will want to know what it cost. I tell you this redefines buyer’s remorse.

But then this housemate said, “We do the same thing back home with travelling times: the virtue goes to the person who arrives first. And if you say, ‘I went such-and-such a way,’ your friend will reply, ‘That way is too long. I go such-and-such a way and save ten minutes.’”

I guess you could say that we value the saving of a few precious minutes in our culture, and Afghans value saving a few precious coins. For all the weird and wonderful ways things are done in this place, I think our common humanity awaits discovery beneath the thin veneer of colour preferences and how we express a competitive spirit.

I am working on career guidance with a group of high school boys. This is being conducted in an English language course run by a like-minded organisation. Yesterday when I asked why so many Afghans want to become engineers, one student offered this response.

“My country is back and needs many engineers to progress in its development.”

“Backward!” another student corrected him.

I always have a hard time when people talk about themselves, or about others, as backward. Yes, the city I live in is isolated from the rest of the world. But as I walk to work each day, the romantic in me gazes on the hills around and thinks of how I walk in the very path Marco Polo took to China. I think of the rich traditions and highly developed culture of the people who inhabit the Pamir Mountains around me, and that within a day’s drive are some of the world’s highest unconquered peaks.

When I reflect on the history, the cultural heritage, and the awesome natural beauty of Afghanistan, the word ‘backward’ has a hollow ring to it, almost as if the speaker is somehow backward for saying such a thing.

I tried to turn the conversation away from what Afghanistan does not have to what it does have.

“There is great potential here in Afghanistan,” I said, challenging the student.

“What does potential mean?” one boy asked.

“Write it on the whiteboard,” said another.

With potential written out in bold black letters, I then began to describe what it meant. Various ones in the room began to express what they thought the Persian word would be, while I looked upon eighteen pairs of bright eyes brimming with potential.

Walking home yesterday I was joined by a boy in the 8th class. Rightly taking me for a foreigner, he began to ask me questions in English, keen to practise on his way to a private course in English, not unlike the one I was coming from. Evidently my teaching for the day was not over.

“My brother says that I must practise speaking English. Some students can read and write but do not know how to speak English. I want to go to America one day, or England, or Australia.”

I said to him, “I’m sure you will go many places in life.”

And I knew he would. When I asked him what class he was in, he baited me: “You did not ask me what my place was in the class.”

“Okay,” I replied. “What place are you in your class?”

“I am first in my class,” was the not unexpected answer.

Halfway across the sports field we took divergent paths. “Goodbye,” my young companion said in parting. “I will see you again.”

“If God allows,” I thought.

Jim and his wife Lois have been serving in Asia with Interserve since 1983.

Terror in the Jungle

Date
01 Apr 2009
Publication
Go International
Region
South East Asia
Profession
Community Development

An insight into the suffering of people in Burma.

If they get warning in time, children, cooking pots, clothes and other essentials are swept into bamboo baskets as villagers make their way to relative safety. At least half a million people in Burma have lost their homes in this way and finding food is a daily challenge, especially once the hidden rice supplies, if there are any, run out. It is also almost impossible to get medicine to treat basic illnesses such as skin diseases or malaria and they are often in fear of new attacks.

The Free Burma Rangers was set up ten years ago to try and help such people. There are currently 48 teams across Burma, with a mission of bringing hope, help and love to a people who often believe their suffering is ignored by the rest of the world. FBR trains four or five person teams in medicine, documenting human rights abuses, navigating and communicating with their headquarters. The teams, from the Arakan, Lahu, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Pa’O, Shan and Karenni people groups, often meet villagers in desperate need.

In January this year, two sisters Naw Moo Eh and Naw Rosemary in Karen State, Eastern Burma had a miraculous answer to their suffering. They said: “The Burma Army continued their attacks and we had to keep fleeing. The teams helped us and our organization helped us, but eventually we had to leave to another district. We always were yearning to come back home, and praying to be able to return. We didn’t want to go to a refugee camp, and there was nowhere we could stay and work the fields. Everyone was suffering, and some could share their food with us and some could not. The Burma Army continued to attack and shell the villages and fields in our district, and we kept praying. Some friends were killed and some were wounded. We were tired, hungry, and afraid. We continued to pray, and we cried out to God: ‘Please let us stay in our home.’ Finally after praying, we all felt we should try to go home. We heard the attacks had subsided, and even though there were new Burma Army camps in the area, we wanted to try. So we prayed and went in faith. We had no food, but we trusted God would provide something for us. We felt very sure He was helping us to come back. As we moved back to our old area, we realized we could not go back to our old village and farms, as they were now directly under a new Burma Army camp, so we climbed over a ridge and down into another valley, and to our amazement came to a field full of rice that had not yet been harvested. We found out that the owners of the field had fled before they could harvest, and would not be coming back, and that the farm was now abandoned. We began to harvest the rice and thanked God that we could now eat. Since then we have been back here, and we thank God and we thank you all. We have rebuilt our village. This is our home. Thank you so much for coming and for your help”.

Their prayers were answered and sometimes God does intervene like this, responding to the faith these people had put in him. Other times he provides through other people who respond to a need they hear. On other occasions however, there is no such happy ending in this life. There seems to be little redemptive or purposeful reason to what happened to Saw Ko Nu.

In 2002 he lost his wife and three of his children in a massacre by the Burma Army in Dooplaya, Karen State, Eastern Burma. Ko Nu’s son Wilbur Htoo survived by hiding under the dead body of his grandmother. He too had been shot, but Free Burma Ranger medics removed the bullet and he survived. But on Christmas Day 2007, Ko Nu suffered yet another devastating blow.

The Burma Army arrived in his village, opening fire on Ko Nu. They tortured to death his son, 13, and nephew, 25. An FBR team met Ko Nu last year and went with him to where his son and nephew are buried. When he got to the graveside, he said: “Oh my son, my son, I tried my best for you. I planned many good things for you, but now you have no chance to enjoy them. Oh, my son, my son. Oh God. Oh, my son, my son, you go ahead and wait for me.” Then he stood up and said: “Oh God, Oh God, if you don’t help me, I can’t continue on.”

The FBR team held a memorial service for the two young men. They prayed and sang together and Ko Nu stood with them in silence. But when they sang “ Hear Our Prayer, Lord”, he sang with them. The team asked for the justice of God and that God would bless the ground where the bodies were laid.

The seeds of hope are carried in this story of overwhelming tragedy. The father expresses a hope that one day he will meet his son again. He calls out to God for help. Those who are with him pray prayers he cannot voice in his despair. They cry to God for justice.

We come across a similar pattern for those who suffer in the Bible. Lazarus’ two sisters confront Jesus with their pain when they see him. They cannot see the purposes behind Jesus apparently letting Lazarus die. There seems to be a connection though between their faith in Jesus holding the power over life and death and his ability to act. Somehow, praying to God about our suffering with faith that He cares and can help, makes a massive difference. Jesus tells them whoever lives and believes in him shall never die. This is the perspective we find so hard to grasp. So often as we hear the desperate cries of the suffering in this world, we only see life from this side of eternity and forget we are eternal beings who worship a God of love and justice. In the face of the desperate suffering of hundreds of thousands of people in Burma, the Free Burma Rangers try to be a part of God’s answer to their cries.

Blood on the Streets

Date
01 Apr 2009
Publication
Go International
Region
South Asia
Profession
Community Development

When terrorism came to Mumbai.

We’ve all had those moments - when you remember exactly where you were when you heard the news of a life-shattering tragedy. That image is frozen in your mind. For most Americans, they can recall where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news about September 11th, 2001. For me, November 26th, 2008 had the same effect.

Mumbai almost “knew” that it was the next target. I remember reading various articles in The Times of India with titles along the lines of “When is Mumbai’s turn?” In 2008, many Indian mega-cities were targeted: New Delhi on September 13th, Ahmadabad (Gujarat) on July 26th, Bangalore on July 25th, Jaipur on May 13th However, the intensity and duration of the actual attacks horrified everyone.

On November 27th, I was jolted awake at 3 am by my phone ringing. I was worried when I saw an American number on my cell phone. The call was from my friends from my church in Connecticut. In a panicky voice, Jen said: “Mindy, where are you? We are worried about you!” I, of course, had no idea what had happened. I had gone to bed a little early on the 26th, around 10:30 pm (The first attack began at 9:20 pm). Also, I do not have a television. I live in Thane, which is about 1 hour from the site of the attacks. On the morning of the 27th, I was on the phone constantly. I also received about 100 e-mails! Indian friends called me and told me not to go outside (after I had already arrived in my office later than normal). Rumours were flying! The local mobile shop owner told me that the terrorists had bombed another train station in Navi Mumbai (New Bombay). Friends told me to wear long-sleeved salwar kameez and put my hair in a braid/plat to look more Indian (since the terrorists were targeting foreigners). I was actually fine in Thane, since all of the attackers had been contained in the area around Nariman Point and The Gateway of India (South Mumbai). The next day, I was on a train to Pune, and grabbed a newspaper. The entire paper was filled with reports of the attacks. Many personal accounts and stories were listed. Heartwrenching accounts of the loss of life: a young man who was to marry his college sweetheart in a few days; a young man who was to leave for Australia to pursue a wonderful new job; the Taj Hotel manager who lost his wife and all of his children due to smoke inhalation in their room as he rescued and escorted guests to safety; a man who was parking his taxi after dropping off his entire family and extended family at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, only to find that all of them had been killed before he could enter the station to join them. The suffering and loss was massive.

Now, more than 2 months after the attacks, there are still reminders of the attacks around Mumbai. I recently saw a billboard in Mumbai that read:

Recession

Terror attacks

What’s next?


The billboard was advertising life insurance. But, what is next for Mumbai? How do we try to make sense of the whole situation?

Suffering is defined as “enduring hardship or experiencing loss”. On Dictionary.com: “To feel pain or distress; sustain loss, injury, harm, or punishment; To tolerate or endure evil, injury, pain, or death”. In Mumbai, people have responded to overwhelming suffering caused by the terror attacks by uniting together. Peaceful, silent candlelight memorials have occurred. Hindus, Muslims, and Christians have come together as one to unite for peace as they endure suffering and loss.

As I try to grapple with the suffering caused by the terror attacks on November 26th – 29th, as well as the hardship that many people endure on a daily basis in Mumbai, I am reminded that Jesus was “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus suffered many things (Mark 8:31). However, his suffering was part of God’s plan for restoration. Acts 3:21 brings us comfort in suffering: “Jesus must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as He promised long ago through His holy prophets.” As Christians, we have hope that in the future, God will restore everything: you, me, Mumbai. As Peter wrote, “And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10).

Thank you Father God, that you are familiar with our suffering, that it will only last a little while, and that you intend to use it for good and restore us and the world!


From local eye-witnesses “The 26/11 day was the blackest day in the history of Bombay. The aftermath of it was too bad. I remember reading about some schools in South Bombay. The South Bombay is a place where the elite of the city live. Many of the children in a particular school of South Bombay have been orphaned, their parents were caught in the Taj, Oberoi and Trident hotels. Its so disheartening to think that how would these children survive now. May be some relatives, near and dear ones could take care of them but what if they had no one to take care of them.

This then reminds me of the commotion at Nariman House where the Jewish Rabbi and his wife were killed mercilessly. It was revealed afterwards that the terrorists abused the women folk. The Rabbi’s wife was pregnant too. I can’t think of the ordeal she must have gone through. Finally Moshe their son was left without his parents and his cry for his parents was reducing everybody to tears.

The NSG Commando Major Unnikrishnan who lost his life in the operation was a brave man but unfortunately the only son of his parents. The trauma his parents are going through is indescribable.

The top cream of the Mumbai Police force ie Hemant Karkare, Vijay Salaskar and Kamte falling an easy prey into the hands of the terrorists just was heartbreaking.

The plight of all those who died at the CST Station mercilessly was terrible. There was a mountain of slippers / sandals of the deceased / injured and many people could identify the dead through sandals / slippers.

We travel through CST and traverse along the same spots where there was bloodshed and mayhem. We too could have fallen victims to the bullets of the terrorists.”

The Unwilling Diaspora

Date
01 Apr 2009
Publication
Go International
Region
Arab World
Profession
Community Development

An insight into the valuable work done with refugees in North Africa.

Refugee. The word itself conjures up a variety of impressions and interpretations. The legal definition used by countries for over 50 years comes from the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees which states, “A refugee is a person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country...”. 1 However, there are many unprotected people in our world today who do not exactly fit this legal definition yet have had to move from their homes in fear. To that end, related terms such as asylum-seekers, forced migrants, internally displaced and stateless people have arisen.

The largest city in North Africa with a population of roughly 20 million people is home to one of the world’s largest populations of urban ‘refugees’ in the world today. This area has a long history of hosting refugees. Two thousand years ago Joseph, Mary and the Christ child fled to escape persecution in Israel. In the last century, 1 The 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. thousands of Armenians and Palestinians sought refuge when war broke out in their homelands. Since the early 1980s, African refugees, the majority from the Horn of Africa and Sudan, and most recently Iraqis, are refugees in this region. According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the international body for determining refugee status and protecting refugees, at the end of 2007 there were over 100,000 individuals considered refugees here. However there may be hundreds of thousands more here who do not fit the official definition.

While working with refugees, I see and hear how they are suffering. For some, what they left behind is traumatic and has caused great pain, and yet it is with sadness they leave what they know as familiar and ‘home’. The past is often bittersweet. The present situation for them in this city can also be a source of daily pain and suffering. Camps are not allowed so these urban refugees try to find their way along with millions of locals who are also just getting by. Refugees however are on the fringe, limited by language and cultural differences, unequal access to social and health services, education and few job opportunities. They often find the new environment unwelcoming and complex, causing frustration and distress.

According to a UNHCR report from 2002, “eking out a livelihood in a teeming city is vastly different from the life in a refugee camp, where services are freely provided by relief agencies. In this city, families are evicted from their homes because they cannot afford rent, children are denied an education because they cannot afford school fees, and the general health situation of refugees is deteriorating due to their often poor nutrition and lack of adequate living conditions.”

The refugee diaspora is extensive; families are often spread out over different countries, some have stayed behind in the home country and others have made it to North America, Europe or Australia. One of my colleagues lives with his uncle here while his mother is in Kenya, his father in Sudan and a brother now in Israel. Some of the refugees are eager to go back and help to rebuild their country. They embrace the perspective of having a goal for their lives, something to live for. But the situation for example in South Sudan has not improved much since the first step towards independence, neither in opportunities for work nor in safety. Many places are still ruled by bands of thugs who fight each other and rob travellers. Others here dream of going to a Western country although many hardly know what to expect besides what they see on TV or hear from friends or relatives. Often the stories of refugees who travelled are like fairy tales. They are too ashamed to admit that life on the other side of the ocean is not all they expected and even more strange than being here.

Refugees are also anxious about their future. Joseph was told in a dream that it was safe to return with Mary and Jesus to his homeland. Most refugees do not have such clarity or guidance about their futures. For example, before the long awaited peace agreement between north and south, Sudanese refugees could apply to the UNHCR here for refugee status with the prospect of being resettled to a Western country but since the agreement this is now almost impossible. Repatriation, or returning to one’s home country, is still not a viable option since most of their home countries are still unsettled. Refugees say they feel ‘stuck’ here. One program aims to reach out to refugees, offering opportunity and hope amidst the challenges of life in this city. This refugee ministry opened its doors almost 20 years ago under the Episcopal Church. The program now offers a variety of services to refugees in their first few years in the city, including health care, emergency assistance, self-reliance programs, education opportunities and spiritual encouragement. The majority of the staff are refugees themselves, who work alongside other national staff and a variety of international volunteers.

At present, some 30,000 refugees use the services of this program, a significant number being of the majority faith in this region. On any given day in the main city centre premises, there may be groups of ladies waiting for their antenatal appointment, children playing during their school break, youth waiting for their English class to start and young men and women enrolling in a vocational training course. There are so many refugees that need a safe place to come to; a place that listens to their concerns and tries to help. Of course there are frustrations and challenging situations each day. But as one colleague tells me, after graduating from a Christian counselling course offered by the church, “I learned how to deal with people and understand how I can diffuse anger and tension, when people become highly agitated. We seek to treat refugees in a manner of dignity and respect so they can feel what it means to be valued…”. It is our hope that we can offer a helping hand, to do it in love as Christ would, and share some of the hope we know about our certain, future home with our Lord.

The Forgotten Brides

Date
01 Apr 2009
Publication
Go International
Region
Europe
Profession
Community Development

A look at the difficulties faced by some Asian women living in the UK.

Water for the thirsty

Date
01 Jan 2009
Publication
GO NZ
Region
South Asia
Profession
Community Development

The WASH Project offers life to communities suffering from disease and death caused by poor access to safe drinking water.

The WASH Project, an initiative of Kachhwa Christian Hospital, offers life to thirsty communities which suffer from poor sanitation and hygiene.

Clean water is necessary for good health, but 90% of villages in the North Indian region of Uttar Pradesh have poor access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation. And the cost is heavy. Diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, malaria and typhoid are commonplace and mortality rates are high. WASH works with churches and other Christian groups to build community health through the provision of clean water, and has already helped install pumps in over 60 villages.

Ramnarish is six years old and is one of seven children in his family. He lives in a small town in a very deprived part of Uttar Pradesh, and belongs to the Mussahar caste, one of the very lowest. Isolated from society, these people live a hand-to-mouth existence, eating leftover grain and rats.

Five years ago Ballu Singh and his wife Snigdha moved into the area to begin a community health programme from their base at Kachhwa Christian Hospital. They helped with basic health care, encouraged micro-finance projects, and started a school: Ramnarish is now enrolled there, the only child from his family. They also introduced the WASH project, to help build good health into everyday life through Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.

The shortage of clean water for drinking, let alone for washing, meant that diarrhoea was a common child-killer in this community. So WASH built a well next to the school, with a simple hand pump, giving Ramnarish and others from his caste access to clean drinking and washing water for the first time; they had been prohibited from using the main village well because of their low caste.

The WASH team built three more wells in the community. Building them was easy – teaching sanitation and hygiene was much harder, so the team employed culturally appropriate games, visual aids and constant practice until the new habits became part of life.

The government had built toilets but no one used them, preferring instead to go to the nearest open space. After Ballu and the WASH team spent time explaining why toilets were important, one man asked them to build him one and offered to pay. He was very proud when it was opened. Others followed and now there are five.

It hasn’t been easy persuading the community members to become involved in bringing change into their apparently hopeless situation – that’s where trust, built through relationship, is vital. But change is happening, and Ramnarish’s future will be the better for it.

Robin Thomson is a partner with IS England & Wales, and works with South Asian Concern, who partner with Kachhwa Christian Hospital.

Healthcare for the poorest of the poor

Date
01 Jan 2009
Publication
GO NZ
Region
South Asia
Profession
Medical / Health

Poor people cant usually access skilled medical care but this Health and Development NGO is committed to challenging the norm.

Poor people cannot usually afford to pay for skilled medical care, but a Health and Development NGO in South Asia is challenging that norm by finding ways to make healthcare accessible even to the poorest of the poor.

From humble beginnings as a TB clinic over 30 years ago, it has grown to include a 150-bed hospital and 23 community health care centres, and directly impacts over three quarters of a million people within its community. Despite its impressive growth, the organisation still retains its original mission to serve God through serving the poor and underprivileged, particularly women and children.

The hospital receives people sent from its organisation’s community target areas as well as those who arrive off the street. In the target areas, trained paramedical staff provide basic medical care from community health care centres, and refer patients with more complicated conditions to the hospital. Volunteer village health workers give preventive health education, pregnancy care, supply simple medications and report back basic statistics.

Patients admitted to hospital are expected to pay what they can afford, but if they are unable to cover the full bill they are assessed by a team, which decides on a reasonable payment. Approximately two-thirds of all patients receive assistance in this manner. However, for those patients who have no resources at all (about one in every five people), the bill is completely cancelled. All patients receive the same high standard of care, regardless of their financial situation.

Common medical problems in adults include infectious diseases (including TB and tropical diseases), surgical problems, chronic conditions (such as diabetes), and pregnancy and childbirth complications. As in similar countries, children are mainly ill with gastroenteritis, pneumonia and/ or malnutrition. Most babies are born at home, without trained help, and otherwise well newborns die of cold or infection. Many women die in labour, and others suffer medical problems as a result of prolonged obstructed labour.

Pregnancy advice and care is provided by the community health care centres, many of which are set up to enable expectant mothers to give birth in a safe environment: in 2007 alone, 1320 births were recorded at the health care centres. Over the 25 years that the hospital and community arms have worked together, pregnancy-related and childhood deaths have decreased in the community areas, compared both with when they started, and with surrounding areas not served by the NGO.

While the NGO strives to be sensitive to the cultures and religious beliefs of the various ethnic groups in their area, their vision is to see people living as God intended, in spiritually, physically, socioeconomically and emotionally healthy communities. Even though about 50% of the staff and 90% of the patients are not yet followers of Jesus, all are encouraged to care for the people in their community on the basis of scriptural values and the example of Jesus Christ, who came so that all – even the poorest of the poor – might have abundant life.

The author is a doctor from NZ, and has been based in South Asia since 1998.


Roshida married when she was about 12 years old, and her first pregnancy followed fairly quickly. The baby was lying across her womb rather than head down, and when she went into labour the baby’s arm came out first, and the baby died. When her second baby also died in childbirth, the prolonged labour caused an obstetric fistula – she became constantly wet and smelly and people could not bear to be close to her. She was also regarded as spiritually unclean, so was unable to pray or participate in worship.

When her husband divorced her Roshida returned to live with her parents, but they could not cope with the constant smell. She had to move into a separate hut, similar to a cow shed, and was unable to work in any job that required proximity to other people.

After suffering for about eight years, she came to our organisation for help. Her fistula was easily repaired, and 14 days later she was dry. Her condition had brought deep shame to her, so before she left the hospital, our chaplains prayed with her, for Jesus to cover her shame and make her whole again.

Three months later she returned to the clinic a different woman. She was now earning money and playing an active role in her family and community. When we asked her if she’d be willing to speak at the opening ceremony for the hospital fistula unit, her response was, “Why not? People need to know!” And so the woman who had been too embarrassed to show her face on the ward told her story in front of 100 people, including local dignitaries and journalists. Not only had she regained her physical health but her self-esteem had blossomed – she was healed in the full sense of the word.

Noor Jahan was in labour for four days with her second child before suffering a double tragedy – not only was the baby stillborn, but the prolonged labour had caused an obstetric fistula.

“Nobody liked me after that,” explained Noor Jahan, “not even my mother or my husband. I was very neglected. My husband married again and separated from me without divorcing me.”

She was discovered by one of the village health workers who had been to a seminar on fistulas. When initially approached about coming to the hospital for surgery she refused: “I would rather die than have other people know.” But after she and her husband (who had already spent a lot of money on previous failed attempts at treatment) had further discussions with hospital staff, she decided to have the surgery.

“After being cured I got a new life. Now I am with my family and my husband. My husband loves me very much after my successful operation. Now my neighbours and the villagers like me very much. I am grateful to God and to the hospital.”

She now tells all her neighbours about the dangers of early marriage, and encourages all the pregnant mothers in the village to go for antenatal care. She has become an advocate for women in her own community.

A partner with IS England & Wales (but with a strong Kiwi connection), the author is a doctor who spent 16 years serving in South Asia.

Daily bread and a wee bit of jam

Date
01 Jan 2009
Publication
GO NZ
Region
South Asia
Profession
Agriculture

Roydon is a food technologist in Nepal where hes part of a team helping provide poor and marginalised communities with their daily bread.

“Are we really reaching the poorest of the poor?” I asked my co-worker, Badri.

The year was 1994, and we were sitting in a teashop in Galyang, Nepal, discussing whether or not our programme was having the desired impact on the poor people in the community we worked in. At the time we were involved in enterprise development, helping local entrepreneurs develop industries that would then, we hoped, result in job opportunities for the poor.

Our conclusion was, “Actually – no, we’re not,” but just at that moment our order of chow mein arrived, so we never got to explore why we weren’t really reaching the poor. Instead, in his unobtrusively inquisitive way, Badri asked Tilak, the proprietor, how his business was doing. When Tilak responded that he wasn’t happy with the quality of the noodles he was buying, Badri asked, “Why don’t you make your own?” Six months later Tilak’s noodle factory was up and running, employing five poor people, and within two years it was supplying three districts with good quality noodles.

A survey conducted in 2004 revealed that as a result of our programme, a total of 75 people were employed in 11 industries. Our programme was working! But I still had these nagging questions in the back of my mind: Was I really helping people to get their “daily bread”? Were we really reaching the poorest of the poor? When I voiced them to my Nepali colleagues their response was, “Of course you are helping the poor. Everybody in Nepal is poor.”

I still wasn’t satisfied, though, that providing income was all that was needed to feed hungry people. Statistics tell us what we want them to, so I usually accept them with salt-flavoured cynicism, but one statistic stuck in my mind: even when income is increased, only 10% of that increase is spent on food.

Another flaw in focusing solely on income creation was exposed in Mugu, where even though the people were reasonably wealthy, they were malnourished and food insecure. They were selling the nutritious food they produced, and using the money to buy food for their own consumption, but the problem was that the food they bought was of lower nutritional value than the food they sold. One farmer, for example, would sell his litre of milk for five rupees at the local market, then promptly spend those five rupees on a cup of tea at the teashop, and return home satisfied with his day’s transactions. Because his end goal was income, it didn’t occur to him to drink a cup of that milk instead and share the rest with his family so that they could all benefit.

I like to think that my job description comes from the Lord’s prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread… and may I have a wee bit of jam, please?” As a food technologist, one of my contributions to food development in Nepal has been the utilisation of appropriate technology to process surplus food in order to give it a higher market value. Though limited by the lack of electricity, roads, transport, telephones, water and heating fuels, we still managed to produce dried foods such as vegetables, fruits, fruit leather, spices and spice mixes, as well as fruit juices, bakery products and pickles (no jam, sadly – sugar and cooking fuels cost too much). We discovered, however, that there wasn’t much of a market for the processed foods, and we eventually came to the conclusion that what Nepal needs most is good quality, readily available, low-priced fresh food.

A change in mission focus has brought us into the field of food security, which is all about having a secure supply of food with a focus on availability, access and usage. It includes the whole chain of events from ploughing and putting a seed in the ground to putting food into one’s mouth. It recognises that income, marketing and nutrition are also important for having a good food supply – having a secure income means having a secure food supply.

The 21st century buzz word is food sovereignty, which considers the whole environment in which food security and the food chain take place. It looks at rights to land for owning or renting, rights to water for irrigation and drinking, ac