Speak up for us

Each week I visit refugees who are being detained in the Immigration Detention Centre. Having left their country in fear of their lives, they now live in a country which does not recognise them or give them any legal rights. My fears pale in comparison.

When I visit my friends, I must first register my name and passport details. If we make a mistake on the form, don’t have the correct information about the person we are visiting or wear the wrong clothes, we are not allowed inside. People are banned from visiting, or being visited, for often unexplained reasons. It’s the kind of place where the lower your profile, the better. But visitors are able to bring fresh food, toiletries, clothes and books; and having a visitor means you are allowed to leave your overcrowded cell for an hour, talk to someone from the outside, and perhaps even hear news from your family. A visitor can pray for you. It is a reminder that you have not been forgotten.

One day, I went to visit my friend’s husband who had been detained for more than a year. I had my passport, correctly completed forms and correct clothes, but I was not allowed to visit. He and some others were in the punishment room where (I later found out) he was shackled and beaten. For over a month my visits were denied. Eventually I saw one of his friends who had also been punished. Both he and my friend were now back in their normal cell but, though he was allowed visitors again, my friend was still on the visiting black list.

This continued for a number of months. I had tried, through other avenues, to find out what was going on but the more I learned, the clearer it became that it would be best not to interfere. It sounded like he had been set up, that officials were involved and that interference would only make matters worse.

Then one day, while I was visiting someone else, my friend came to the visiting area! Somehow he had been allowed out. Communicating during a visit is very difficult—it’s a shouting match across two fences, trying to be heard above everyone else’s conversations and pleas for help. But it was very clear that my friend wanted me to ask the chief police commander why he was still on the black list.

I like to say my language is good enough to get me into trouble but not good enough to get me out of trouble. I really did not want to make it worse for my friend. Then I remembered the words of another detainee: “Your visits and food are appreciated, but what we really need is someone to speak up for us, to be our advocate”. Isn’t there a Bible verse or two about speaking up for the rights of the weak and vulnerable? (“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” Proverbs 31:8)

I prayed for courage, that the commander would listen and understand and be kind. God gave me courage but as I approached the commander, I did not really believe my efforts would succeed.

But that day I learnt that God is bigger than my fears and weak language skills, and certainly bigger than my lack of faith. The commander was surprised when he learnt of my friend’s situation. He went straight to the registration desk and removed his name from the black list!

I wonder what other, greater things God could do through us if we had the courage to trust in him more.

Cat is involved with a number of discipleship and outreach ministries. She’s serving with her family long-term in South East Asia.

All names have been changed.

An ongoing creation

One of the best things about living in a tropical climate is its fruit.

When visiting a local school recently, I heard the thud of a mango falling from a tree. Within seconds, a stampede of students came racing around the corner, intent on being first to collect this treasure.

Whether it’s watching children joyfully hunt out mangoes, tasting strange new, odd-looking (and often odd-smelling) local fruit, or gazing longingly at the outrageously priced, imported berries in the supermarket, I am sure that God must have had such fun creating fruits.

It’s no wonder, then, that the word ‘fruit’ in the Bible stirs up images of sweet, wonderful things being produced. I yearn for a fruitful life, where I know my purpose and can see God working through me in tangible ways. The problem is that my life doesn’t exactly look like that at the moment. Right now I don’t ‘do’ very much at all.

I departed Australia nearly a year ago, leaving behind all the ministries and friendships that one might see as ‘fruitful’. Now, while I learn how to live in a different country and culture and to speak a different language, I am not involved in formal ministry. It has been very difficult for me to have everything that gives my life productivity disappear.

Have you experienced something like this too? Maybe you felt God guiding you into something new, but still have no idea what that is. Maybe you feel unfulfilled or disappointed. Where is our fruitfulness when our productivity is low, or even nonexistent? The common response is that fruitfulness comes in seasons. This is very true, but perhaps there is another way of looking at it.

As I pored over theological commentaries to explore what biblical authors said about fruit, one thing in particular stood out. Rather than productivity, it was about personal spiritual development—fruitfulness as the development of the kind of person God is designing me to be. Ministry will then flow out of that.

I love images and metaphors. When I stumbled across a story about a tree that produces 40 different kinds of fruit, this overachieving tree made me feel even more disheartened. As I read more, though, the tree became a wonderful metaphor for what God was trying to show me.

Sam Van Aken, who grafts these trees, knows a lot about fruit trees but his career is actually in art. These trees are fruitful in the literal sense of the word. But they are really artworks, Van Aken’s ongoing creation.

In the same way, we are first and foremost God’s artwork. God is the artist and gardener who is designing, pruning, shaping and nourishing us to be filled with variety, beauty and fruitfulness. And we should be encouraged knowing that, as we grow in our own personal fruitfulness, others will enjoy and be nourished by our good fruits.

As this new understanding of fruitfulness seeps into my being, my fear at not knowing what it is I am doing here starts to fade. It’s scary to think you are a dead tree. But I am not a dead tree! I am God’s Tree of 40 Fruit—his art project.

So, continue to grow, whether you are sure of your ministries or not. Whether you are in transition, or dormancy, or blossoming, know that you are being nurtured by the greatest gardener and being transformed into a thing of great beauty.

Join me in holding onto that.

Kylie is learning language in South East Asia. She is passionate about using education to empower young people.

Conversations

Beta’s eyes glistened with tears as her face crumpled with disappointment. “He got married”, she told me. Her son had married a girl she disapproved of and Beta had only just heard the news. She didn’t even know where her son was living. We sat together, cradling cups of tea, as she expressed despair over their broken relationship, having lost hope that it could ever be mended. I asked her if I could pray for her and her family and she nodded. I thanked God for this woman whom I admire, asking for reconciliation in her family and that she would know His peace.

Beta said she likes to talk with me because I am a safe space away from her gossiping neighbours. “I often see you praying and reading your holy book”, she said. “I wish my daughter had your spirit.”

I met my new friend Iska for lunch at a local noodle restaurant. We were just getting to know each other, so we shared stories about our families and past experiences. We laughed over her funny anecdotes from teaching foreigners the local language. She nodded her head as I explained why I pray to God: to know Him better and become more like Him. Then, with a too bright smile, Iska revealed her heartache of losing a baby at 20 weeks and her nine-year struggle to bear a child. She described the stigma she experiences in her home village as the barren woman. I could feel her grief as she conveyed her longing for a child.

As we made plans to meet again, Iska told me she enjoys chatting with a person like me as it is refreshing to hear my different stories of life and faith.

Over coffee and fried cassava chips, Dewi had many a tale to tell about her interesting but unconventional life. She recalled her father’s unfaithfulness and how she was able to whisper, “I forgive you” into his ear before he died. She described with dramatic and heartbreaking detail her broken engagement. She questioned me about cultural norms in the West. Thankfully, I was able to dispel many of her false assumptions about Western norms with the truth that, no, not everyone lives like that.

On the way home, Dewi confided that she appreciates I don’t judge her, unlike her local friends. She struggles to find her place in the world and is searching for meaning in her life. I silently asked God for the words to express the Gospel to her in a way she could understand.

Each of my friends has a story to tell. A rich tapestry of experiences, relationships, culture and faith woven together with tales of love and loss. Tales that allow me a glimpse into the longings of their hearts and the brokenness that can lie underneath.

In many ways, I am different to these women. Our cultures, beliefs, identity and opportunities in life do not always easily intersect. But we find connection as women. Over cups of tea or a meal, we can converse for hours. Sharing about our lives, our joys and our disappointments. We laugh and mourn together, both of which can reduce us to tears. But that’s okay. There is understanding in such emotional outpourings.

In our conversations, I learn that there is an art to active listening. There is grace in reserving judgment. There is love in showing concern, acceptance and care. And in each of these friendships there is room for me to reciprocally share about my life. My struggles. My hope. My faith.

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:6

Kathryn has spent two years On Track in South East Asia.

All names have been changed.

Story of a young girl

When I first arrived in South East Asia, this is what I thought underage sex work looked like: a ‘pimp’ visits a poor family struggling to make ends meet. He kindly offers to give the teenage daughter a good job in a city restaurant. When the girl arrives in the big city she is instead taken to a dark, dingy brothel where she is thrown in with other young girls, the door is locked and she is forced to sell herself on a daily basis. There is no freedom and the treatment of the girls is terrible.

This scenario does indeed happen, but in my city it is not so common. I want to share with you another form of sex trafficking, just as prevalent but less known.

Srey Mom* lives in a very poor rural family. Their sole income is a small rice field. Srey Mom has limited education because she had to stay at home to look after her siblings while her parents worked in the field. Her parents have three loans from local money lenders, with extortionate interest rates. Recent droughts have prevented the family from being able to repay these loans.

Suddenly Srey Mom’s mum falls seriously ill and is taken to hospital. The hospital fees are exorbitant and there is no way the family can pay. Desperate, her parents tell her she must go and work in the local KTV bar to pay the bills. Many girls and women working in KTV bars and beer gardens provide sexual services to men. Most of these men are Asian (locals and tourists), but there are Westerners also. Being underage, the pay Srey Mom would get in the sex industry is far higher than other employment. As filial piety is so strong she has no choice but to obey her parents. She also desperately wants to help her mum get better.

So, Srey Mom goes to the big city. She lives in a rented room with a few other girls and earns a monthly salary as a ‘hostess’. Sex work earns her more money, much of which she is allowed to keep and send home. Srey Mom feels glad that she can contribute to her family, and slowly becomes addicted to the party life.

And that’s when we meet her. We offer her a safe and loving place to live and counselling to help with the suppressed trauma. Srey Mom can now study, gain confidence and self-esteem, and learn a useful skill that will enable her to support herself and her family. She is also gently introduced to the love of Christ and the chance for a new life in Him.

It’s very hard to comprehend the scale of the problem. In our western mindset there is no justification for parents asking their daughters to work in the sex industry. However, it is so easy to judge until you start to understand what abject poverty really means. Focussing on helping the poorest families earn a basic living is a necessary part of the solution. During my time here, I have learned that, ultimately, the only infallible answer for these girls is a transformative encounter with Christ. Please pray that we would be rooted in Christ and demonstrate his love for girls like Srey Mom.

The author is spending two years On Track, working against sexual exploitation of children.

*Srey Mom is a fictional character, but her story is based on many of the girls in our care.

Trusting God when it matters most

When we had been in Cambodia about a year and half, our elder daughter, who was six at the time, got into rollerblades in a big way. She didn’t have her own set but would borrow the pair belonging to the neighbour at every opportunity. We watched without real concern – she and her sister had been riding bicycles up and down our little street since we moved in six months earlier. The neighbour had no safety gear, but we insisted she wear her bike helmet and thought, well, that’s probably fine.

One night at bedtime she complained that her hand was bothering her and showed me a little mark on her palm.

“Is it a mosquito bite?” She only shrugged, so I put some bite cream on it and thought nothing more of it.

It was another three days before she finally came back, after a morning of unexplainable tears and tantrums, and said that her hand was sore and itchy.

“Your mosquito bite?” I asked. She held out her hand. The area around what I had thought was a bite was badly inflamed, and she had a track of infection running along the vein from her wrist and half way up her forearm. It turned out the original wound was from falling backwards off the rollerblades and she had hidden it as it grew more and more septic, thinking we would tell her she was not allowed to skate anymore. I generally try to remain calm in the face of medical issues around my children, but I think that day she saw fear in my eyes.

By the time we got her to the hospital she had a fever of 40C, and the process of cleaning the wound and sorting out antibiotics was unpleasant for everyone. However, within 24 hours the infection had retreated to a localised area around the wound, and in a week it was as though it had never happened.

Well, sort of.

Cambodia can be a place of mystery fevers, stomach bugs and unidentifiable illnesses. It’s also home to dengue fever, malaria, chikungunya, and a lot of other serious nasties. And although illness is unpleasant for us as adults (we’ve each spent a couple of weeks in bed since being here with mosquito-borne viruses), it’s much more worrying when it’s our children who are sick. For me, this rollerblading event triggered a lot of questions:

Was God protecting our family?
What might happen to our children, living in this place?
Could the worst occur, and what would that mean?

It was a friend of mine who helped me identify the questions I was really asking in the night-time hours, when I lay awake thinking through the what-ifs and worst-case scenarios:
Is God really trustworthy?
Is God really good?
And what does that mean anyway?

In one sense, they’re not complicated questions. The Bible says that God is love, that he is good, that he will be with us always. On the other hand, it says some less encouraging things as well. In the book of John, Jesus promised his disciples that in this world they would have trouble. He also said he has overcome the world, but what does that mean? Paul said in Romans that we “glory in our sufferings”. The theology of that is interesting, but the implication that we will have sufferings is clear.

And we need only look around.

Ten Christian workers serving in Afghanistan were murdered by the Taliban in 2010 as they travelled between towns providing medical care. Even in our own Cambodian team, in 2013 a family of six, having finished their formal language training, set out from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap to begin their ministry. Part way there, a bus crossed the centre-line and hit their car. The parents and two of the children were killed. One of the children who survived lost her arm. She and her sister had to return to their home country to be cared for by their grandparents. It shocked everyone. It frightened everyone.

Suffering comes, death comes, and being in the place where God has called you does not make you immune. Are there no guarantees? What do we rest on? We don’t have simple answers, though we have spent a lot of time thinking about the questions. But there is this: our children do not, in the final calculation, belong to us. We care for them and love them deeply, but they belong to God. And while it seems it would rip us apart were anything to happen to them, we know that God loves them even more than we do and, no matter what happens, he is holding onto them. I should note that’s not an idea we always enjoy, but it’s one we recognise.

So what does it mean, to say that we trust God with our kids, but we also know that bad things can happen? Right now, it means we trust that, whatever happens – prosperity or suffering – God will be with us, and we cannot be crushed by it. Don’t get me wrong, I still pray for them to be safe, sometimes with something like desperation. But trusting my children to God means trusting my heart to him also, and trusting in the knowledge that, in the end, he has overcome the world – eternity is bigger than Cambodia, bigger than an infected wound, bigger than malaria. Bigger than death.

When we were planning to come to Cambodia, people said to us, “Oh, you’re so brave”. We always rejected that, because we felt called by God to be here. Following God where he leads is not primarily about courage. It’s about a recognition that, ultimately, it is better, richer, greater to walk with him, than to walk away from him. You don’t have to go to Cambodia to risk your heart following God. You don’t have to be in Cambodia to trust him with it.

For her seventh birthday, injury or no injury, our daughter asked for rollerblades. And we bought them for her, because we want her to live a full life, and fear is a lousy reason for saying no. But we pray.

And we make her wear wrist guards now.

Words and photography by Chris Ellinger.

Chris and Stacie Ellinger live and work in Phnom Penh Cambodia in partnership with Connexions Uniting Church and Interserve Australia. They are using their social work and community development skills to work in local Christian NGOs providing technical assistance and discipleship to their co-workers. To find out more about their work, visit www.interserve.org.au/people/chris-stacie

Reaching the scattered

Diaspora missions is fast becoming a buzzword among Christian missions around the world.

While it may sound new to many Christians, “diaspora” is in fact a very old phenomenon since the Old Testament times. This word originates from the Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible, meaning “dispersion or scattering” of the Jews after their captivity in Babylonia in the 5th century BC.

Fast forward to the modern times, the last century has witnessed an unprecedented spike in both international and internal migration largely due to globalization, technological advancement, natural disasters, regional conflicts, civil wars, oppression, and persecution. The effects of the current conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere are even more pronounced, resulting in the human tidal waves of refugees and displaced people flooding across Europe, Africa, Middle East and Asia. As if history is repeating itself, the worst-hit refugee crisis area happens to be the very same area where the ancient Babylonian empire once existed.

Christian mission “fields” are thus being redefined in the process. Missions is no longer confined to going into fields that are abroad or elsewhere to reach the unreached. Thanks to people movements across the globe, many unreached peoples from overseas are now part of the diasporas right at our very doorsteps. Therefore, cross-cultural missions can now be done without going abroad. Missions has become “from everywhere to everywhere!”

Migrants, whether legal or illegal, economic or non-economic, voluntary or involuntary, are mostly made up of expatriate workers (professionals, skilled and unskilled labour), businesspeople, international students, asylum seekers and refugees. Professional expatriate workers, businesspeople, and international students are obviously most welcomed and desired by governments because of their financial contributions to the local economy through their expenditures and student fees. In recent years the number of undocumented migrants (including victims of war and persecution) have also increased, helped by porous borders with neighbouring countries, human trafficking syndicates and corruption.

What does this mean to the Church and the individual Christian? What are the implications? Clearly, it is an issue that cannot be ignored or taken for granted. The mission field is already right here at our very doorsteps!

The Church has a responsibility to love her neighbours as herself and proclaim the Good News in fulfilment of the Missio Dei. We are called to be compassionate and care for the “aliens” who are in our midst, especially the less fortunate. We are also called not to harbour any racial discrimination or religious prejudices that prevent us from demonstrating God’s love to them regardless of their status. Many are refugees, international students and migrant workers who could be struggling with loneliness, homesickness, financial woes, hopelessness, fears, trauma and uncertainties about their future. They probably just need a friend to talk to and someone who cares about them.

We truly want to see them gathered into the Kingdom of God. So we want to challenge you – will you pray for us and partner with us in our mission to share God’s message of love and salvation to them? Will you be Christ’s ambassador to them so that they will meet and encounter Christ through you?

Perhaps you would like to encounter Jesus Christ by personally meeting and serving these people. After all, Jesus himself was once a refugee too! He said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:40).

Philip Chang is the Chair of Interserve Malaysia.

God shaped me for this

The plane took off and, full of nervous energy, trepidation and excitement, I felt like I was flying to Neverland. For the first time in my life I was headed somewhere totally foreign. Four weeks before, I hadn’t even heard of this country, tucked deep in Central Asia. But that’s how God works sometimes – He brings surprises, a turn of events, the intercession of His children, to break our focus on the earthly, refocus on the eternal and point the way to something unknown. When the seatbelt light turned off, it signified a break from the safety of my culture and my lifestyle.

An email telling me of an American couple’s prayer for a music therapist to train their orphanage employees had instigated this departure from the norm. What’s a music therapist, you might be thinking. Exactly. Not many people know it’s a real job. The prayer of this couple was so specific that, when I heard of it, my interest was immediately sparked. I’m a music therapist, I thought. I work with kids with disabilities. I can do that.

But the greater reason for my going was that God had shaped me for this. In Ephesians 2:10 we read: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”. It was God who created me and moulded my life to be on such a search – He built in me a deep-seated compassion for those in need, an interest in learning about other cultures, and a desire to use my skills and experience to be a blessing to others and a witness of God’s grace and mercy. I had been inspired and challenged by the stories of many other Christians who had served cross-culturally, and I wanted to see if this could be for me too.

On my connecting flight to Central Asia, I knew I was in foreign territory when, as soon as the “fasten seat belts” sign turned off, the duty free vodka started flowing freely. I felt as if I had gate-crashed a family reunion. We landed in freezing conditions and my senses were assaulted – there was nothing familiar to grab on to. Already, my trust in God was rising exponentially; I prayed and prayed! When I finally passed through Immigration and Tom and Kara*, the American couple I had been expecting, were there waiting, I sighed with relief, ready to follow them, to listen and to learn.

During the next three weeks I participated in Tom and Kara’s everyday life. I encountered many stories of how God was using them to change the orphanage from a place of hopelessness to one of life, with love and mercy penetrating its hard walls. In all they said and did, they beautifully intertwined word and deed as they played their role in God’s great story of salvation. I also met people like Zara*, a local believer who lost her husband in a terrible “hack job” surgical operation. She worked for Tom and Kara and exemplified compassion, gentleness and faith. And while I was able to share some of my knowledge and experience, I’m sure I took away the greater share.

So it was that in that country God fanned a spark of interest into a greater desire to explore cross-cultural service. It was those experiences that would influence my future decisions and where I am today, serving God with my husband and young children in South East Asia. Through all this I can see God’s hand, His call to “Follow Me”.

Amy* is a music therapist serving in South East Asia.

*Names have been changed.

Called to Connect

CultureConnect was established by Interserve Australia in 2007 to partner with local churches in mobilising Australian Christians to reach out with love and the good news of Jesus to their neighbours from Asia and the Arab world. No longer is cross-cultural mission exclusively the domain of theologically trained workers with overseas ministry aspirations. It is accessible to ordinary Christians doing everyday life with those around them. As we extend the hand of friendship to these neighbours, our prayer is that they will encounter the Lord Jesus and grow as His disciples.

So what does a CultureConnect team member look like?

Our paths are many and varied. I began this journey after years of working among migrants in factories in Sydney and seeing how open many of them were to discussing spiritual matters. I was born in Australia. I speak only English. I know nothing of lives endured in countries I’ve never even visited, and yet God opened my eyes to how he could use me to share Jesus with these people whom He loves. I joined CultureConnect in 2011 as a self-supported team member and began reaching out to migrants in south-west Sydney through church-based English as a Second Language (ESL) ministry.

Vivien* was born in South East Asia. She came to Australia for education and trained in health sciences. She first became involved with Interserve as an On Tracker and worked in Nepal for three months. In 2013 she joined CultureConnect and reached out to Hindus in Melbourne. As she still works full-time as physiotherapist, Vivien focuses her involvement on one Indian family that she regularly visits.

Evelyn* worked as a school teacher in NSW before first going to East Asia over 20 years ago. A long-term Interserve partner who is fluent in the local language, Evelyn moved back to Australia in 2015 and is studying Tibetan Buddhism. She is involved in training local Christians and making contacts in her home city’s Buddhist community.

All of us want to see the local church envisioned and equipped to reach out to our Asian and Arab neighbours. All of us want to see these neighbours’ lives transformed through an encounter with Jesus Christ. How might God use these people as their lives are forever changed by him?

My Nepali friends Larry and Simone* and their two children were baptised in Sydney in 2013; the baptismal service was skyped into villages of Nepal. The local church then decided to send a mission team to Nepal. They prayed. They raised money for smokeless stoves. And then they sent Larry and his family back to Nepal where he preached the gospel in his own language, in the villages he and his wife came from. People heard the good news of the Lord Jesus for the very first time, repented and believed.

This is global mission and, as followers of our Lord Jesus, this is what we are called to.

The life of faith is a life of living out our calling – the calling to follow Christ. How will I serve Christ? Who is he calling me to serve? These are questions for every believer.

“Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.” Ephesians 4:1

Lisa Bateup is the new CultureConnect Director

*Names have been changed.

The lost song

The lost song

Restless and sweating, we woke to the screeching cry of our local cow man as he took his turn ‘calling’ from the mosque situated just 50 metres from our house. It was the day of the annual feast of sacrifice and, although we had no electricity, the generator at the mosque was obviously in fine form. It was going to be a big day of celebration in our 99% Muslim city, so we were up and awake before first light, as were most of the people in our city.

Many people who live in Muslim countries have told us that they enjoy hearing the calls to prayer and we can also occasionally listen without distress to music or plaintive, earnest calls to prayer. However, over the past two years our mosque had changed, as had many in the city. ‘Plaintive’ had insidiously turned to screeching and often the cries were angry and hostile. On occasions we (foreign women) were also ordered out of our beds at 3.30am to cook breakfast for our husbands during the fasting month. This is normal for Muslim women but is totally not normal for foreign non-Muslim women and, in fact, was a breach of local Sharia law.

Eventually this exposure to noise of up to 80–85 decibels (the levels of a hairdryer and sometimes a jackhammer) took its toll. Two months before home leave, we and one of our neighbours ‘hit a wall’, finding it difficult to concentrate and suffering sleep deprivation.

For months I had been living two lives. Three months earlier my father, who was normally active and well, was diagnosed with acute myeloblastic disorder (leukaemia) and his life expectancy was weeks rather than months. I flew back to Australia and had three weeks with my dad before he suddenly developed pneumonia and septicaemia and died just five days later. My husband joined me at short notice. We had just seven days to help organise the funeral and pack up my dad’s property, situated on 3.5 hectares of land, prepare it for sale and place it on the market.

When we returned to the field, our reliable internet access, which we loved, became a source of great stress as the journey of problem solving from overseas for the sale of my dad’s house by auction began. At this time activities in our field role were at peak level with impending annual leaders’ retreats and visiting teams coming from three countries for various events. Between managing local logistics in our host country and organising survey reports and dealing with solicitors, agents and estate matters in Australia, my emotional and physical health began to suffer. A younger brother was slowly dying from cancer in Australia; he had been a recluse for decades, but he had finally let me close. Bridging both worlds, I was contacting him weekly to walk alongside him in this difficult journey.

Somewhere, in all of this, I had ‘lost my song’. While not a good singer (I sometimes declare I can sing in one key only), it had been common for many years for me to sing – whether preparing food, driving in the car or reflecting. Singing came readily from a heart of worship, but somewhere, somehow I had stopped singing and I knew that a great healing needed to take place to restore my soul.

Can you believe that during the time mentioned at the beginning of this story, with no electricity and in the midst of loud, screeching noise from the mosque, I found myself singing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord’? Tears came to my eyes as I realised that my ‘lost song’ had been restored, and this had happened in the most unlikely of situations. How often such surprises of joy come to us when we make choices, such as to praise when everything is uncomfortable or distressing. This was my choice that early morning and God’s Spirit began to restore my soul. This healing has continued, despite the death in July of my brother and also a close member of my husband’s family.

May I encourage you also, as the Scriptures say, to know that sorrow endures for a night (or a season) but joy will come in the morning for those who are faithful. If we have learned one thing from the past decade of our lives, it is this: that a full life consists not of an abundance of possessions but of a God-directed mix of heartache and sorrow and indescribable joy and compassion, expressed to us and through us as we live as ambassadors of the Kingdom.

The author is a Partner in Asia

Abis story

“Jesus, help me! Jesus, help me!” The words came from the small six-year-old girl who had already been sick for four days. What became devastatingly clear was that Abi had dengue haemorrhagic fever, and had now gone into shock. Her parents had been watching her deteriorate but, like so many of their friends and neighbours, they had no familiarity with the early signs of the disease. Knowledge of these symptoms would have told them that this was not the ‘normal fever’ so commonly experienced in this tropical land. Knowing this information can mean the difference between life and death.

Celebrating a rare ‘day off’, my Saturday was interrupted by a desperate call for blood donors for “a six-year-old girl who was dying from dengue”. The phone calls and emails started and donors began giving blood. Others were on standby. Prayer calls went out – to the local community and further afield – as Abi’s condition remained critical.

Who is this little girl? Abi’s family are Christians who moved to our strict Muslim area just two years ago. Her father worked for a car sales company,who tried to get him to do dishonest things. Instead he resigned, and just a month ago he and his wife started a business here in our city. They had limited contact with the broader Christian community in this city governed by sharia law and felt very alone at this terrible time. Far from extended family and familiar home surroundings, they stood watching their little girl slipping away from them.

Friends of the family kicked into action and Abi’s parents were astonished as strangers came and went from the hospital, donating blood to a little girl they hadn’t met. They heard of people they didn’t know who were praying for them and their local friends surrounded them and kept vigil with them, coordinating donors and updating information.

On Sunday evening, the fifth day, Abi went into a coma. Her parents asked for her to be transferred to the large provincial hospital where there were more facilities in the Intensive Care Unit. Such a transfer in itself would take a toll on Abi’s failing body and more prayer calls went out to more people unknown to the family. Pray for a safe transfer … pray Abi can make the trip … pray the doctors at her hospital will agree to transfer her … and so it went.

As an acute care nurse, I knew that Abi’s chance of surviving medically were about zero. From information received it seemed she had septicaemia, was in shock and her vital organs were failing. From my experience her chance of surviving would indeed require a miracle.
Well, the miracle happened! I cried as I translated the message on my phone that came through the next morning. Expecting that I would hear Abi was now with Jesus, instead I was reading: “Praise God last night Abi was successfully transferred to [the main provincial] hospital. The transfer went well and her condition has begun to improve. She has been calling for her mother and requested food. This morning there will be a result from an X-ray of her lungs and it is hoped that today she can leave the ICU area”.

My husband and I, with our director, were privileged to visit Abi a few days later and hear in more detail the horror and relief of this family’s journey over the past week. Abi’s mother wept as she explained the depth of their agony, the two times Abi was misdiagnosed and how it was not until she felt Abi’s icy body one morning that she knew her child was dying and the health providers finally realised what was happening and began resuscitation.

Abi herself was awake when we visited but had not walked for 10 days. She was discharged to bed rest at home a week later and finally after three weeks of illness was able to walk and return to school.

Abi remembers our hospital visit and still talks about it, and the family has just recently returned to their home city due to work circumstances. The evening before they left they came to our house to share a meal and to say goodbye and once again to say “thank you”. This whole experience has been a blessing to Abi and her family through her recovery and the sense of belonging to a large community of faith that exists in this city where our faith is actively opposed and believers are often discriminated against and persecuted.

It has also been a joy and blessing to those of us who walk alongside the local church in its varied forms of expression here. Thank you to those of you who prayed for Abi and her family, and for the calls to prayer that we send out from this land. Please be encouraged that your prayers are so often answered, even though you may not always hear the results.

We especially say “thank you” to the One who lovingly gave healing to Abi and who has given us the honour to serve in this amazing place with all its joys and challenges.

The author is an Interserve Partner in South East Asia