In some ways, touring around Australia for the Unfolding Grace tour has been similar to touring around Asia and the Arab World, collecting the stories for The Plum Tree in the Desert! Except, of course, that in Australia, I didn’t have to check for cobras in the bed, or translate ‘mushrooms’ into Kyrgyz, or dance with Tibetans in western China.
At the end of 2012, Paul Bendor-Samuel (previous International Director) asked me if I would like to write a book for Interserve, telling stories of faith and mission through the eyes of Interserve Partners. I said yes, fairly quickly, because I knew that it was a privilege (and it included all my favourite things – people, places, stories, mission). But I also said yes because it was good timing for me. Darren and I had been feeling empty for some months following the loss of our friend and former Interserve Partner Peter Lack. I knew I needed to hear again the stories of God’s grace and enabling, especially from people who had been through struggles. And that was certainly the case with Interserve Partners.
During my visits with them, the Partners described living through bombings, health epidemics, near rapes, rocket attacks, being held at gunpoint, seeing death in the raw, being forced to leave the country, and more. But more than that, they talked to me about the grace and mercy of God. They said that it’s God who keeps them going, even when the men are barging through the door. Even then, they said, God is still God and we can trust him… and we’re all sinners and hopeless, and we’re hopelessly loved.
Collecting the stories was a privilege. But so was the book tour. I loved meeting people in Sydney, Canberra, Perth, Brisbane, Launceston, Melbourne and Adelaide! It was a reminder to me that wherever we are, we’re struggling. It might not be rocket attacks here in Australia, but that doesn’t mean we’re not weighed down by depression, or serious illness, or fraught relationships, or financial stress, or something much worse. Here in Australia, we also put our trust in the same grace and mercy of God.
I met a man in Melbourne who spent 30 years teaching accounting at university and then he had a debilitating stroke and felt useless. He couldn’t do what he’d been trained to do. But today, he said, he doesn’t give up because God enables him to keep going, Then there was a 90-year-old lady in Sydney who said she’d been to every Interserve conference for as long as she could remember, praying for the Partners… and she doesn’t want to stop now. Then there was a couple in Perth who were originally from Sri Lanka. They lived through the race riots of 1985 and lost everything. They managed to come to Australia and their daughter studied medicine. She went back to Asia, serving with Interserve, and the couple became involved in the only Tamil-speaking church in WA. Perhaps ‘everything’ wasn’t actually everything, after all. Then there was a man in Singapore, who said thank you. He said that wherever we are, we need to hear again the stories of God at work. He said, there’s a danger if we stay in one small place or one small church, we can start to think that our God is very small. And he isn’t.
That’s true! I want to thank everyone who was a part of the Unfolding Grace tour. It reminded me that we are part of a rich community of believers who love Jesus, and together we are responding to his grace in a thousand different ways. Sometimes it might feel like we’re alone, in a small home end office, or a church that doesn’t fully support cross-cultural mission, or maybe a secular work place, where challenges are ongoing and daily. But be encouraged! In the middle of our hard times, we can catch each other’s eye, and nod, and keep going, because we put our trust in the One who has loved us more than we can ever imagine and who has begun a good work in us. It’s him who will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ.
“So we’re not giving up! How could we? Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.” (2 Corinthians 4:16, MSG)
With love from Naomi