Archaeology is my love language

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.

Discovering Central Asia

“By the way, could you please run our staff Professional Development Day?” This request concluded an email from an international school we were soon to visit. That email reinforced my thinking: the need to be VERY flexible during our On Track Discover trips, and the great need in overseas schools for help in all aspects of professional development, curriculum, teaching and staff support.

In Sept – Oct last year, our On Track Discover team visited a beautiful, mountainous country now emerging from its time under Soviet rule. Much has changed since then, yet much remains the same. We were able to observe both scenarios. We offered professional development at an international school and visited NGOs served by mission families at the school. It was truly a privilege to spend time with Interserve Partners, local NGOs and the school staff.

One particular NGO for children with Downs Syndrome had a major impact on all of us. The couple who founded this organisation have a daughter with Downs Syndrome who, they were told, would never speak, walk or interact. They were told to ‘put her away’. This was just eight years ago. In response, they embarked on a program to stimulate and encourage their daughter. They have now started a school and host support groups for parents. Currently, this NGO supports over 200 families. They are living proof that their faith and methods work because their daughter, now nine years old, is a student at an international school and can speak three languages – Russian, English, and the local language. How many can you speak?

Richard has led On Track Discover trips to Central Asia and the Middle East. He has years, and has a keen interest in supporting schools overseas. [Document | On Track Introduction]

A ministry of encouragement

When I first arrived in Central Asia 15 years ago, I vividly remember the Principal of the Theological College telling me, “You’ll be a great encouragement to the women pastors!”

“Most unlikely!” I thought to myself.

I knew no one. I couldn’t speak a word of the language and had very little understanding of the culture. I had years of experience of teaching and pastoral ministry, but in a very different context. In this culture, I was a complete novice.

Now that I have learned the language and gained a greater understanding of the culture, I’ve been privileged to work with and encourage many people; both women and men. The theological college is now locally run and though no expats officially work there, I’m still involved in various ways.

I’ve worked with local teachers with varying success and am always delighted when I hear from students how much they enjoyed and learned from the teaching of friends like Venera, Kostya and Gulya.

A very able young woman, Venera worked with me teaching some Old Testament books. At first, she taught only sections of each lecture and developed into teaching the subjects on her own. She married a young man from a neighbouring country and now only comes back once a year to see her parents and to teach. However, God continues to use her knowledge and skills in preaching and teaching as she serves in a large church in her new home city.

Kostya is a fine young man, who came to know Jesus through a student movement here and worked with this group for ten years. When he had leave to pursue theological studies, I was able to advise him about places to study online and guide him to books and links along the way. He is now engaged in work towards a PhD and I’m happy to be a discussion partner and resource.

Gulya, a pastor in a village nearby, is a friend and colleague with whom I’ve taught. For the past ten years she has been leading the only church in her village. It is known and respected by all. Gulya has been involved with me and others in the Langham Preaching Movement. Her continued involvement in a preaching club is helping her and the church to grow in depth of understanding and love. She says, “I used to pray and pray for inspiration about what to preach. But now I find it so much easier. We go through a book of the Bible and work carefully on the text … and find inspiration. God really speaks through his Word — to me as well as to others.”

Ordering books to expand our library has been just as important. Can you imagine trying to do theological study without books? “How do you know which books to order?” someone asked me recently. Experience over many years has taught me which of the books that have been translated would be useful for students and teachers here. Translating suitable books into the local language – or rather, working with translators to check the translations – has become part of my work, as has seeing them through to publication. Suggesting books to be translated by a publisher in other parts of the former Soviet Union has also borne fruit.

So, fifteen years on, I’m pleased to see how God has used the skills and experience He has given me to be an encouragement to people in a very different culture. God has also provided local friends and colleagues to love, teach and encourage me as I serve with them here. I’m very grateful for the privilege.

Gwen is a long-term Interserve Partner who has been working alongside the church in Central Asia for 15 years.
All names have been changed.

Listening with respect

I see myself more as a Jack-of-all-trades than a specialist. I spent more of my working life raising children than in my profession of medicine, returning to family practice and then counselling as they grew up.

In my new country, I work in ‘support’. I do not run any projects myself. ‘Support’ for me may mean collating clinical data, making cushions, dolls and straps for disability work, applying for grant funding, updating health training materials, training locals in counselling and offering child development and parenting support. There is no ‘ordinary week’ for me. Some work is fun, some engaging and exciting, some frankly boring but necessary.

There are highs and lows. Here is one low from the start of my work: I was finally going to do something useful and I was excited! After a year of cultural and language learning, I was going to assist a local NGO with health promotion and a women’s shelter. I had carefully prepared my first training presentation and I arrived twenty minutes early, ready to set up and start on time. The room was in use, so I waited. With five minutes to go, I showed my face at the window. When it was time to start, I knocked on the door. A colleague came out. She said that the person before me was still talking. I waited for forty-five minutes. The team then came out and asked me to give my presentation another day, as now they did not have time for my training!

We now live in a relationship-based culture, not a time and task-based culture. I knew ‘flexibility’ was important for living and working here. I just didn’t know how flexible. Your duty is the person in front of you and other commitments go on hold until they leave. I have learned to call the day before I run training, and to schedule sessions at the start of the day so it starts approximately on time. That is, after the mandatory relationship-building cup of tea and chat.

I have continued to work with the same wonderful ladies for the last five years. They sat patiently while I attempted to teach in a new language. It was a relief to all of us when they offered to allow me to train in English, with one of them translating. They always encourage me and tell me how much they value me, which makes it hard to get good feedback for improvement! I think it took three years before my health training took root. I think it also took about that amount of time before they really trusted me.

Here are some of the highs:

I was asked to work as a counsellor in a medical clinic. It is always challenging seeing people in very difficult circumstances when you are unlikely to see them again. What could I really do? I was very humbled when lady after lady shared their experiences of difficulties with husband or children. They entered sad and left smiling. What had I done? There was really no advice I could give them, no change in their circumstances. It was simply important to them that both I and my Christian translator listened and valued them. I encouraged them. So many of these ladies only get abuse and blame. To be listened to with respect and cared for was a new experience for them.

The ladies running the women’s shelter asked for training to help the children who had escaped abusive situations with their mothers. I explained that although the children will probably later need counselling, the first and most important thing is to provide them with a safe and nurturing environment, provide good food and clothing and to cater for their educational needs. I also gave them training on basic child development and parenting skills. They were very grateful and said they found this training helpful even in their own families. They also realised that their work was just as important as what professionals did.

Nothing happens by chance. God uses all our experiences, and I am grateful for everything he is doing through my retirement!

Marian and her husband are doctors, serving long-term in a remote part of Central Asia.

Names have been changed

Village to the city and back again

“You can’t think of teaching as a job. You have to think of it as a vocation.” It was very sage advice that I received in my first year of teaching and it still guides me to this day.

In Australia, my favourite subject to teach was Year 11 Ethics. I loved challenging my students to think for themselves – to reflect on their values and the kinds of people they wanted to be. I loved tapping into their idealism and their belief that we can make a difference in the world.

Four years later, holding tight to the side of the Jeep as it jostled and swayed over the rugged hillsides of Central Asia, I couldn’t help thinking that I was literally half a world away from my bright and cosy classroom. I looked out the window at sun-aged brown hills without another person in sight before we took a turn and suddenly came across shepherds guiding their flocks of black and white sheep and then, a small oasis of green that surrounded mud brick houses. My sense of awe at seeing this part of God’s creation gave way to nerves as we drew closer to the village. In spite of the 43C weather, I put on my socks so as to be culturally appropriate and readjusted my headscarf. My local colleagues and I were about to meet with the Ministry of Education and the Head of School in these parts. We hoped to convince them to allow the high school graduate daughters of the village to join our teacher-training project in the city.

We knew we had our work cut out for us because what we were asking of them is so counter-cultural. For a young unmarried woman to not be under her father’s or brother’s roof overnight can bring a great deal of gossip, if not shame to the family. Yet work was urgently needed to help village girls to go to school and stay at school as long as possible, in order to curb one of the world’s lowest literacy rates for women. One factor for why girls in villages do not go to school is because there aren’t any female teachers. We hoped to change this.

Negotiations with the Ministry and Head of School ended, and we made our way to one of the girls’ mud brick home. Huddled in one of their two rooms and surrounded by family member of all ages, we sipped our tea and listened to the parents’ fears: of gossip; of damage to the family name; of family opposition; of letting their daughters study for a couple of years only to see people from the city with money and power get the jobs and then never turn up in the village to teach; of how the families will put food on the table because at least now their daughters can sell some craft pieces to make ends meet. A family allowing their daughter to move to the city is an act of tremendous courage. The back and forth conversation quietened as a meal was spread before us in the true spirit of hospitality in Central Asia. Overwhelmed by both their struggles and their generosity, I ate quietly, smiling at the girls, acknowledging the hope in their eyes.

Fast forward again, to the beginning of our teacher training program in the city. In my classroom and in their spare time, the young women from the village work so incredibly hard, determined to shape their own futures. We will learn about classroom management, and social and emotional intelligence, and critical thinking, and how to actively engage students in their own learning instead of using the traditional method of rote and repetition. God willing, after two years I will visit them in their classrooms in their home villages and mentor them. But mostly, I pray in hope for these precious young women, that after everything they have overcome to be here, they will return to their villages with their heads held high, they will teach with love and integrity, and they will shine the torch on the capabilities and dignity of women and be a role model for the next generation of girls in their villages.

Jodi is a teacher-trainer, serving the girls and women of Central Asia.

Names have been changed.

Patience and professionalism

We came to this country later in our careers. Over the last five years our focus has been on childhood disability, and now our clinical work, teaching and research and our learning from these areas help provide input into national health policy.

We’re still asking the same questions we were at the outset. Is our work relevant and appropriate to the people we’re serving? Is it building up the existing local services? How do we judge the outcomes and what work is most effective?

As an indication of the value placed on our work, the government has given us several awards this past year. We are now being invited to assist with training at government hospitals and rehab establishments with the blessing of the health minister and other key paediatric health professionals.

How did we get to this point? By growing relationships, building credibility, being consistent in our work and generous with our time. Part of the journey has been accepting payment, which is culturally important as work that is paid is valued.

Our data collection has found that severe neonatal jaundice has a significant impact. By improving this area alone, a particular type of disability in children could be reduced by as much as a third (more than 500 children each year!). I realised that although local people could have collected this data, they do not yet have the training to interpret it. Wisdom is needed to avoid shaming anyone as we present these findings at national forums and to local health professionals. Instead we highlight ways local professionals can reduce disability and improve longer term outcomes for those with a disability. One leading doctor said I presented difficult information, but in a nice way. Another doctor was shocked to learn this information, but it motivated him and others to work within their systems to bring about change.

I was invited to write national guidelines on disability management for people with this condition. Patience has been important. The passage of the document through all stages to approval took more than a year and involved addressing sensitivities about some local treatments. This process has resulted in deeper understandings of the importance of evidence-based medicine and the guidelines are now a Health Ministry document. The head paediatric neurologist endorses all the work I am willing to do and has asked me to assist in training his junior medical staff.

There have been some key issues in bringing about change that will have long-term impact on this country. Fostering key relationships has been crucial. Linking with existing government agencies and other NGOs has allowed many local professionals and key people to be rewarded for our work with them. Patience and respect has helped them to accept change because we have had to challenge their local thinking on therapies that are not evidence based.

We recently spent two weeks at a camp for children with disabilities. The journey took several stages: first, six hours by road to the capital, then an extended 13–hour trip in a loaded minibus over three mountain passes to our final destination. We did clinical consultations with over 100 children, their families and local medical professionals. I was able to reassure an anxious mother that her son’s condition would not deteriorate. She could give up her vigilance and let the boy be as active as she liked.

Bringing real change to this nation is what our Father is about, and we are part of that process. Matthew 5:48 (NEB) says, “There must be no limit to your goodness as your heavenly Father’s goodness knows no bounds”. Openly sharing faith is banned but bringing goodness is not and many conversations are occurring about who we are and why we are here. We like it: it is challenging but it is good.

Greg and Marian are doctors serving in a remote part of Asia.

Names have been changed.

Still needed and wanted

Imagine a country dominated by communist atheism for 70 years! For people to know God’s love, missionaries were certainly needed after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. One elderly woman told me how, after growing up believing there was no God, it was wonderful to learn that there was a God who loved her. Her life and the lives of many others were transformed in those early days. With the help of the early missionaries to Central Asia, churches were established, local leaders put in place and initiatives begun to reach out to others with the news of God’s love in Jesus.

But more than 20 years later, are mission workers still needed in Central Asia? My local colleagues will answer a resounding “yes!” … if the workers are willing to work in partnership with local believers, supporting and strengthening them as they reach out to others and help people grow in faith and understanding.

I enjoy the great privilege of working with teachers in a theological college as we help students to understand the Bible and the Christian faith more deeply, so they can communicate well to others. Our teachers have only been Christians for 20 years or less. Therefore, they value partnership with others from the wider church with broader experience. They appreciate help with such things as understanding material, planning courses, finding helpful books, teaching and preaching.

A foreigner with wider knowledge often knows where to access financial and other resources. We’ve been able to access funds to computerise our library and, thanks to the assistance of a librarian friend from Australia, for our librarian to learn how to use the system. Outside assistance has allowed us to buy more books in the local languages and to translate some helpful commentaries.

When mentioning retirement in a few years’ time, I am met with responses such as “Where did that idea come from?”, “If you are going to leave us, you need to find someone else to come and help us!”, “We want you to work with more teachers to teach more subjects”, “You need to make sure we can do this or that before you leave!”

Of course, I’ve had a lot to learn over the years and I keep learning, not only the language but much more about life and relationships here. I’ve made mistakes and been helped by my local colleagues to understand how to do things better and differently. We have disagreements and patiently work things out together. I’m sometimes told that “We have a different mentality” and I try to see things from a different cultural point of view. And I’m humbled by the love and appreciation I receive.

Other Partners here are greatly valued as they serve alongside local people, showing the love of Jesus in their lives and work. They teach English or Korean or Mandarin, serve with a local team in a shelter for homeless people, do further training for medical personnel, set up businesses and NGOs which employ local workers, serve and support local church leaders, and teach in a school for international children so their parents can serve here. Such people are still needed and wanted, and opportunities abound.

I’ve never heard anyone here say, “We don’t need missionaries!” I have heard people speak negatively about missionaries who want to control, who try to “buy” them, who “just live here” and don’t do much, who “feed their dogs with meat we can’t afford to eat”, who try to impose another culture onto them. They want mission workers who will work with them, under them, alongside them, as they seek to bring the love of God to their own people.

Gwen is a Partner who has been working alongside the church in Central Asia for the past 14 years.
Names have been changed.

Excerpts of a journey

“Your parents have sacrificed everything to bring you to Australia and given you every opportunity for peace, freedom and success. Why are you throwing that all away? Don’t you care about what they have done for you? There are people in this country who need help too, including your parents. They’re not getting any younger! God can use your gifts in this country too.”

UNICEF data: Only one-third of the population is literate. Fewer than half of the men can read. Fewer than one in five women can read.

Firstly, I’d like to thank you for the many opportunities you have afforded me over the past 7 ½ years that I have worked here. I have loved being a Secondary School Teacher and later a Head of Faculty. There is a sense of camaraderie and community at this school that I will both treasure and miss. My passion for education, however, and a recognition of the desperate need in other parts of the world for change through education compels me to tender my resignation.

For the second year in a row, this country in Central Asia was in the top five countries for the highest number of attacks on aid workers …

Armed terrorists broke into an NGO office which also served as the home of an expatriate family. Everyone inside was killed before the building was burnt to the ground.

“Dear God, is that really the place you are calling me to?”

“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 2 Timothy 1:6–10

After two years of working and sharing and preparation and raising support, I’m finally on the plane heading to my destination. I’ve said my goodbyes.

The plane is quiet. Most people are sleeping. All I can see out of the plane window is darkness.

Teacher: I have to admit that I did not want to come on this training during our school holidays. None of the teachers did. But now, we are so excited to come back.

Teacher 1: But this is not our culture – to talk about emotions. It is our custom to keep these things inside. Why should we teach our children something that is against our custom?

Teacher 2: But isn’t that the problem with our society? How many women do you know who have kept all their pain inside and never shared it with anyone or had a chance to relieve themselves of the pain? They are wasting away. This way, we can help them to find some comfort.

Teacher 3: Yes, and if we can teach the children how to do this from when they are young, imagine how much better our society will become – if people can express their emotions and themselves in a healthy way rather than resorting to violence.

Teacher 4: Yes, there is so much trauma in our country. We need to be able to teach our children and ourselves how to better cope with it.

During the six-week teacher training program, the teachers were notably stunned at the prospect that mathematics could be taught in such a way that students understand mathematical concepts and reasoning rather than just learning by rote and repetition. It was encouraging today to see the teachers using coloured sticks, blocks and even kidney beans in their classrooms to help students understand more deeply and to think for themselves. It was encouraging, too, to see the children engaged in the classroom and working co-operatively – another practice that is new in a system that promotes competition above all else.

A peaceful demonstration was attacked today. The high number of injuries and deaths overwhelmed the emergency system.

It was International Teachers’ Day last week. You’d think that that would have been a clue but I remained oblivious until I walked into the room. The teachers were all sitting around the table which was laden with all kinds of delightful food. They started to clap. I was still a little oblivious … “Teacher this is for you. We have all cooked this morning before work and have prepared a lunch for you to thank you for being our teacher”.

We have received credible intelligence that a criminal network is operating in the area. They are seeking to kidnap foreign workers. Foreign nationals are urged to practise extreme caution.

Me: It has been so wonderful to see your progress over these past months. At the beginning you didn’t seem so interested in bringing about change, but now you are such an inspirational practitioner of active-participatory teaching. What brought about the change?

Teacher: You encouraged me. No-one has ever encouraged me before.

I didn’t really believe in this program before but now I see children actually reading. I hadn’t even realised that before they were just repeating what they had learnt by rote but now they are actually learning to read and even the parents have commented to us that they are really happy.

We have noticed that the teachers are much more kind to us and that we do lots of different activities, including group work.

Dear teachers, I wanted to thank you for all your hard work. We can all see how hard you work and how much you care for our children. We have never seen any other school like this. Our children are happy and are learning. We thought we had to leave the country so that we could provide good education for our children. We are so happy that this is in our country.

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Jodi is a teacher-trainer. She is serving long-term in Central Asia.

Serving as a single

I have been blessed with fruitful and rewarding work in theological education, which is very much needed in a church only founded after the fall of the Soviet Union. I often thank God for sending me to Central Asia. I came here as a single woman. It is quite a different challenge to move continents and serve across cultures as a single than as a family, but it also presents different opportunities. I’d like to share some of these.

The opportunities

Being single allows me to fit in easily in relationships with local families. It is often easier to host and relate to one person than a whole family.

A single woman can be a great encouragement to local believers. When I first arrived someone said, “You will be a great encouragement to the women pastors”. I had my doubts as I could not even speak the language. But now, praise God, it seems to be true, and local friends and colleagues, male and female, single and married, younger and older, are an encouragement to me as well.

A single woman can provide an example of a contented and worthwhile life in a culture where single women are often denigrated. They face pressure to be married, yet have difficulty finding a suitable Christian husband. Many women are divorced after unsuitable marriages (sometimes being “bride kidnapped”)¹. People think it is better to have been married and to have a child than to be single. Many young women have found a man to give them a child with no thought of marriage. Christian women have had to learn that this practice is not for them.

I have been blessed here with rich relationships with friends, younger and older, from many nationalities in our international fellowship. Children here, away from close family members, also benefit from a surrogate aunt or grandmother.

When you are single you have opportunity to rely on the Lord, perhaps in a different way to those who have the support of a spouse. Finding space for time with the Lord each morning is not always easy for women with children.

The challenges

You are not superwoman! Sometimes it is assumed that a single person has more time for ministry than married partners. So, we need to set boundaries. There is only one person (not two) to do what needs to be done, and many things take longer and are more complicated here. The danger that work can become all-consuming is not confined to single people. Rest and relaxation are important.

Living arrangements can be a problem. Many single people share happily together. I’m busy during the week and, being an introvert, I need time to recharge so I prefer to live alone. But I have a spare room for guests and I have a study where I often work with local colleagues. It was once suggested that single people only needed a one-bedroom apartment. Thankfully Interserve Australia supported me in my living arrangements, which are important for what I am doing here.

Loneliness can be more acute on arrival and Interserve has a great “buddy” system. I am glad to offer hospitality to new arrivals as I know how much help I needed. Although it takes time and energy, it can be mutually enriching.

Close friends leaving is always a loss and nourishing new friendships need to be developed. Sometimes people are tempted not to become involved with newcomers because you put time and energy into friendships and then people leave. Friendships are important to all of us, whether we are single or married.

Serving as a single woman presents many challenges and opportunities and I thank God for the privilege He has given me here.

Gwen has been working alongside the church in Central Asia for the past 13 years.

Names have been changed.

¹“Bride kidnapping” refers to a practice in which a man abducts the woman he wishes to marry. Though it is illegal, law enforcement remains lax in parts of Central Asia.

Seeing the invisible

When I first arrived in the city that I live in, one of the things that struck me was that I did not see many women. As I walked along the main road outside my house, I saw children going to school, some of them carrying their own little plastic chairs for school over their heads; I saw men greeting each other with warm handshakes and long embraces; I saw shopkeepers (men) sitting in their shops waiting for customers; I saw bakers (also men) baking bread in ovens that were set in walls—but hardly any women.

In preparing to come to Central Asia, I had read many books about the country and its culture. Again and again, I read that its women were oppressed, victims of domestic violence and systemic abuse. My first impressions of this country seemed to prove these notions right. Women are hidden behind the walls that surround their homes, and when in public many are “invisible” as they are covered by veils their husbands or fathers force them to wear.

Or are they?

First impressions can be deceiving. As I started to get to know the women here, I began to understand that they are only “invisible” if we do not take the time to see them. I have met women who are juggling full-time jobs and raising a family; women who are furthering their education by studying at university after a full day’s work; still others who are working hard at home raising their children, caring for their families, and making life decisions for their family members such as who their sons can or cannot marry. These women are by no means invisible to their families or communities. It was not until I lived life alongside these women that I was able to see them … their hopes, dreams, joys and sorrows.

Interserve’s approach to ministry through wholistic mission resonates strongly with me. As I learn more about wholistic mission, I am beginning to understand that it’s not just about how we can use our professional skills in ministry, but rather how we can use our whole life for ministry. If that’s the case then, as I grapple with what wholistic mission looks like in my life here, I should not just be asking myself how I can use my professional skills for Kingdom work, but also how I can use my roles as wife, mother and woman to connect with other women.

So I do what only a woman can do in this culture. I spend time in the kitchen with friends who want to learn how to bake cakes and share stories as we eat together. I attend women-only parties to celebrate an engagement or a birth and eat, laugh and dance with them. I sit with a lady who has lost her child and cry with her and pray for God’s comfort to be upon her. I listen to a woman whose husband is sick and has lost his job and pray with her as she worries about her family’s future. I sit around with the girls in my neighbour’s house and in my conversation with them I tell them a gospel story.

In short, I share life with the women around me and, as I do, the veil of invisibility quickly falls away as we connect as people. The women of Central Asia are not invisible but, in a gender-segregated society, it takes a woman to truly see them and then to point them to One who sees them fully.

The author is a psychologist serving long-term in Central Asia.