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.
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.