Our business brings together people from marginalised backgrounds and provides a safe space for training and discipleship.
We live in a 4,000 year old city, along with 25 million others. Pollution fills the air like a grey soup and the economy is in a permanent struggle to keep ahead of population growth. Yet the noise and chaos brings a captivating vibrancy to the place we call home. Hanging over this society are deep divisions between rich and poor, women and men, and between Christians and Muslims resulting in brokenness, mistrust and violence. As a minority, Christians often focus on self-preservation and separate themselves from the majority Muslims.
Eight years ago, corruption, injustice, poverty and lost opportunity drove the Middle East into revolution. In the midst of this, my family was seeking God and felt called to business for transformation. We were convinced that business has the potential to impact the financial, social and spiritual aspects of people’s lives. We soon found ourselves wearing aprons, serving coffees and baking cakes for our new, tiny coffee business!
Since then, it’s been a journey of hard work, stress, miracles and joy! Our business brings together people from marginalised backgrounds and provides a safe space for training and discipleship. We are now a community where we work, learn, laugh, eat and pray together. Sounds nice? Maybe, but the journey doesn’t always feel nice. In fact, it’s REALLY HARD.
One of our team, Ash, joined us from a slum area with dreams of being an accountant. I recall his extreme discomfort when I took him for his first visit to a bank! He was brought up in an environment where violence was normal. His father beat his mother and his brother followed in his footsteps. Ash would have made a perfect drug lord. He was angry most of the time and was always ready for a fight. There would have been many fist fights with other team members if I hadn’t physically held him back.
We strive to model and operate by Godly principles including love, grace and forgiveness. This was difficult for Ash’s colleagues whom he often offended and frightened. Yet today, Ash is part of the management team of two men and two women, after insisting for a long while that business is only for men. He is now dependable and supportive of all of his colleagues. His faith has grown and it’s become normal for him to discuss matters of faith with both Christians and Muslims.
Mary is another team member from a slum area who battled with her family to get a basic education and find work against her parents’ wishes that she only prepare for marriage and children. Mary is an evangelical Christian which is unusual here and we were excited by the potential of her working with us. However, Mary’s behaviour towards her colleagues was far from salt and light. Her deep insecurities and fears poured out on her colleagues in the form of verbal abuse, bitterness and unforgiveness while showing a completely different side in our Bible studies. I was frustrated!
We came to a moment of confrontation when I was prepared to fire her. However, that same morning my wonderful wife and business partner told me that God had been speaking to her about how we should be growing in love for our team. Ouch! Love is an interesting concept. 1 John 3:16 talks about giving up our lives for our brothers and sisters. Who is our brother and sister? What does giving up our lives mean? 1 John 4:18 also tells us that there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
I suddenly realised that fear was in the way of God’s love. I was challenged to allow God’s love to remove my own fear. Only then could I really show love to Mary. Only then can I help Mary start to overcome her fears and the destructive force they were having on colleagues. It starts with me!
Striving to constantly grow in God and demonstrating His love is hard work. But we have seen enormous joy and fulfilment in seeing God’s transforming love impact lives through our business.
Jacob and his family live in the Middle East, working in business for transformation.
All names have been changed.
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.
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.