We sat near a window, looking out on a bustling East Asian street. Cars honked outside. A wok sizzled in the kitchen of the breakfast place in which we met, the fragrance of cooked garlic permeating the air. I was with a leader of the indigenous missions movement (IMM) in the country where I lived at the time. I had a burning question.
“Is there still a role for people like me in this country?” I asked.
God had put a particular ethnic group on my heart, but it was hard for me to actually live where they lived. My visa was tied to my job, and as an English teacher, my job was usually in big cities where higher education was provided.
What’s more, we ‘outsiders’ are ‘high maintenance’, while insiders seem to just throw a few necessities into a small bag, hop on a bus, then set up life in a new area with a minimum of fuss. The church in that country was thriving and the missions movement growing. There are still very few if any Christians amongst certain ethnic minorities there—but why send outsiders from afar when there is a local church nearby?
The IMM leader leant forward and slapped his hand on the table, causing our drinks to slop. “Yes,” he said energetically. “There is plenty you can do! But your role will be different to those of the past. If you can get a job in a regional centre, I will connect you with Asian intercultural workers to mentor. Your people have a long heritage of missions, while we are just finding our way.”
A few months after that meeting, I returned to Australia. I had intended to come and go as a regular visitor, and did so for a few years. I wanted to pursue more education, particularly in the area of the religion of that minority group. Health issues demanded my attention. And teaching positions for foreigners which provide a visa, let alone in the isolated areas of that ethnic minority, were few and far between. Then, of course, the pandemic struck. And borders to that country remain closed to all but residents still.
Nevertheless, God has granted me rich involvement with people from that part of the world, even though I remain based in Australia. In our interconnected world, terms such as ‘here’ and ‘there’, ‘us’ and ‘them’, are less and less useful. I am free to pour most of my time and energy into God’s kingdom work, thanks to the support of his people here.
Oh yes, I would have been glad were God to have opened the door to a teaching position in a mountain town over there. But it was not to be.
Yet he has opened the door to many other ways in which I may serve him here: supporting an Asian sister through a simple English Bible study; learning a significant language of the people group on my heart, as a way of meeting people both in Australia and online in Asia; receiving more education in the religion of that area; training others, plenty of networking and more. It’s not what I had in mind when I first embarked on my cross-cultural career years back, but it is good.
Now I sit in a cafe in Australia. An aroma of coffee fills the air. Mothers chat and children play. I look out onto an expanse of green lawn, trees and open sky.
In front of me is an article recently written by the same IMM leader with whom I sat over breakfast eight years ago now. He calls for the church in that country to “expand its global partnerships” and for organisations with a long history of missions to support the indigenous missions movement there through our “missions experience, mobilisation strategies, anthropological knowledge and training resources.”
Yes, there is still a role for people like me to play in God’s work among people from that nation. The role isn’t like those of decades past, but it is appropriate to our present time. What a privilege we have to participate in what God is doing through his people there and beyond.
The author is a long-term worker, serving in East Asia and Australia.