It would be so much easier if all questions had yes or no answers. Every time our kids said ‘MUM, can I…’, we could just call out the yes or no answer very loudly and confidently and then go back to whatever else we were doing, without thinking about qualifications and moderations and thousands of shades of grey. Not only would it make school holidays easier but it would also mean I could confidently reply to the people I meet through Missions Interlink. These days I go to quite a few debrief days and training sessions and people ask me things like,
“Will I go crazy if I have to home school in Arnhem Land?”
“Do you think living in Nepal will aggravate my skin condition?”
“Will I clash with other personality types while serving in PNG?”
“Do you think I’m more likely to struggle with depression while I’m living in Africa?”
“Is it irresponsible to take our child with special needs to a developing country?”
Actually, I can’t think of a question I’ve been asked recently that was easy… or that had a yes/no answer… or that I answered without lots of qualifications and thoughtful pauses. And that’s probably good! But lately the hardest questions have been the ones to do with health issues, both physical and mental. I feel like I don’t have the answers and I also carry a weight of responsibility. What if I tell them everything will be fine and then it goes badly wrong!
The good news is that most mission agencies require candidates to undergo physical and psychological examinations before they’re accepted by the mission. The tests are extensive and often not only produce yes/no answers but also recommended preparation before the candidate leaves. Sometimes people need to participate in conflict management courses or work on a healthier height/ weight ratio or access medical resources or operations that aren’t available in their adopted country. For example, in 2002 I needed to have a minor heart operation before we were allowed to return to Nepal. And that turned out to be a very good thing. Friends of ours needed to access certain medications and do short courses. But it’s not always clear. And sometimes the answer is no. The medical condition is deemed to be too great a risk and the person who has a heart for Mozambique and a conviction to pray, is told that the very best place to do that is in Australia.
But then at other times, even the professionals don’t have the answers. They can’t reassure us because they don’t know what’s up ahead. They don’t know what will happen. And that’s when we cry out to God in prayer – who not only hears us, but also knows every answer… to every question we ever had. He already knows the way he’ll enable us during home school and give us grace to deal with the skin irritation and renew our spirits as we hope in him, through each new season, in each new country. And as we pray, we realize again that within God’s sovereignty and saving grace, there’s (staggeringly) no such thing as something going ‘badly wrong’. It might look awful and feel awful and everything in us might scream at the circumstance but even then, somehow, God is allowing what he hates to achieve what he loves. And that’s an answer that I’m going to keep repeating to myself, no matter what country I’m in.
Naomi Reed is a former Interserve Partner. She is also a bestselling author and gifted speaker. Her latest book, The Plum Tree in the Desert shares stories of faith and mission from Interserve Partners over the last 25 years. Naomi is also speaking on the Australia-wide Unfolding Grace tour. For more information, see Unfolding Grace.