When we think about how God’s love motivates us to love others, it can sometimes be hard to imagine how we can do this. How do we love our neighbours? Even harder: how can we love people scattered across the world? For me, doing my job as an archaeologist is a way to love Central Asians – by helping them understand the story of Christianity in their own countries.
Why does history matter?
The Bible is a history of the people of God. God is always reminding Israel of where they came from and where they are going. It reminds them of who they are:
Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we travelled. And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.” (Joshua 24:16-18)
The history of God’s love and salvation for Israel is what makes them want to serve him. And for Christians, the story of how God loved and saved us through Jesus is what gives us our new identity in Him! This history of faith is central to our knowledge of who are.
History is our story too
History is often only seen as the stories of important people or events. But archaeology and history also have the potential to uncover the stories of the everyday lives of ordinary people. We already know the power of personal stories: we share the testimonies of God at work in our lives and the stories of others who have gone before us. For the Christians of Central Asia, archaeological research on the church in this region helps them appreciate the history they can own for themselves. Making a decision to follow Christ is usually seen as a betrayal of family and heritage. Yet archaeology has the power to show that Christians have been there for hundreds of years and Christianity has a legitimate place in contemporary society as it has had in the past. Being a Christian does not conflict with being Central Asian.
Archaeology sounds romantic and full of adventure. In reality, it is hard outdoor work, long research hours, and getting very sunburnt! If that stills sounds fun to you, a career change could be in order! Each day I begin excavating around 5am. We set up to shelter ourselves from the sun and throughout the day we shift our shelters to make sure we keep enough shade to protect us. I spend most of the day hunched over a grave site, carefully and slowly excavating the soil. I work in dust, dirt and mud, and the sun blares over us as the day goes on. The afternoon is spent processing artefacts and getting enough rest before the next day.
We go through this hard work because we know it is worth it, not just because we love it. We love others because God loved us. We want to unearth stories of the God of love at work in people who have gone before. We want to demonstrate the continuity of a community of faithful Christians in this region reaching back into history. This can also show people of other religions that they are loved by God. Archaeology is one way to love others so, well, hand me my trowel!
Victoria served her short-term placement at an archaeological dig in Central Asia.
Names have been changed.