The ordinary work of life

We see them on Facebook and Instagram in all their colour and energy. The biography shelf at our local bookstore regales us with their tales. You know the stories I mean. The ones that we wish were ours, but are quietly terrified of at the same time. The stories of lives that are full and exciting, and overflowing with blessing and fruitful ministry, drama, joy and … life!

We read these stories and are filled with awe, and sometimes more than a little jealousy. We look at our own ordinary lives and wonder, is this it? Am I missing something? In contrast to these exciting stories, the lives of us ordinary humans, doing the ordinary work of life, can seem incredibly boring.

Then, there are those of us who appear, to others, to have the exciting lives. We have left our passport countries to make our home in new places with interesting cultures, exotic foods and tale-worthy challenges. We may have thought that we were finally getting to live those stories we had once listened to with rapt attention.

But then comes the reality. The new place loses its wonder. The challenges become mundane and ordinary, or a never-ceasing frustration. We fill our lives with language classes or sit at a computer most days. To all appearances we’re not changing the world; we’re just changing nappies. It may look like we’re not spreading the Gospel; we’re just spreading peanut butter sandwiches. We are not seeing hundreds healed and coming to faith every other week; we are just sitting with our friends, trying to navigate relationships. We’re not seeing breakthroughs; sometimes we’re just experiencing breakdowns. Our once-exciting lives once again seem very ordinary.

So, are we just missing something, or are we instead missing the point? Maybe our human need for glory and recognition has blinded us to the fact that God never said “Go out and make a name for yourself”. There is no great commission to Facebook or newsletter glory. Jesus did, however, tell us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Matt 22:37–39). We are also reminded by Paul that “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).

Whatever you do. Yes, this might include miraculous healings or being involved in exciting conversions. But it also means the ordinary, day-to-day work of life too. It means loving those around you well, and meeting the sometimes very ordinary needs you see, with the skills and experience God has gifted you with. The main thing has always been about the heart. It’s about anchoring yourself in God, and living out that relationship.

For me, this anchoring, through prayer and rest, is perhaps the hardest part of the ordinary work of life. But right now I’m discovering its importance. I’m diving deep into discovering the biblical-ness and beauty of the rich wisdom of our spiritual mothers and fathers in the contemplative traditions. I am realising how necessary it is for us to just be with God, being exactly who we are. In that place we can hear who God is saying that we are, and discover joy in all the extraordinarily ordinary work God has prepared us to do.

So, I pray that you let God open your eyes to the beauty of the ordinary work of life, wherever and whatever that looks like for you. Because whatever ‘ordinary’ is for you, when it’s done with God at the centre, it is always extraordinary.

Kylie is a Partner living in South East Asia. She serves a community development organisation.

Tribute to John Howard Barclay AM

On Sunday 10 February 2019, an Interserve statesman and a great man of God finished his earthly work and passed into the presence of the God he loved and served. Howard Barclay – missionary, leader, encourager, pray-er and family man – faithfully and graciously served with his wife Betty the people of India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Australia and New Zealand during a lifetime commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Howard grew up with a family heritage of prayer and concern for Nepal. His father co-founded the Palmer Street Mission, which had a focus on prayer for Nepal from the outset and his mother prayed for Nepal for nearly 80 years until she died at the age of 97. He attended Melbourne Bible Institute (now Melbourne School of Theology) and went on to attain a diploma in teaching.

In December 1950, Howard met Betty Cane, who was about to leave for India in February 1951. Following Betty to north India in January 1952, he brought with him an engagement ring, which was presented at the first opportunity – waiting for their tickets at Lucknow Railway Station. According to mission regulations, single missionaries could not get married until they had passed their first year Hindi exam, so Howard married Betty the day after, in Motihari, near the Nepal border. This began a loving and supportive partnership of 64+ years which included four children: John, Ruth and Heather, born in India, and Margie, born in the hills of Nepal.

The move from their base on the Indian border into Nepal in 1960 entailed a five-day trek with the family from Kathmandu to the remote village of Amp Pipal. Howard was the Project Director of a United Mission to Nepal (UMN) effort to open schools to help address Nepal’s literacy rate of about 2%. Howard trained teachers and spent much of his time trekking to schools around the district, providing teaching resources and supporting fledgling teachers. Within five years, he had established nine primary schools including the nationally–renowned Luitel High School and founding the prestigious Gandaki Boarding School.

Howard held many walking records! A two-day, 98km trek from Pokhara to Amp Pipal with Bishop John Reid in the monsoon of 1966 involved crossing flooded rivers, climbing steep ridges and surviving on sardines, biscuits and chai. John Reid said of these arduous journeys, “They were great experiences, because ultimately when you got to the Barclays’ home, that was like this eagle’s nest on the ridge of the mountain, there you saw two people pouring out their lives for the boys and girls, men and women of Nepal and seeking to show them the way of Jesus – it was worth doing.”

In 1972, Howard became Interserve Director for Australia and New Zealand, serving in that role for seven years. He was a convincing preacher and speaker, spending time in churches, universities and professional groups every week. He listened and he encouraged many to deeper commitment to Jesus and to serve Him full-time – where appropriate, cross-culturally.

In 1980, Howard and Betty returned to Nepal, serving as Personnel Counsellors in UMN before Howard was appointed the Executive Director in 1984. At this time, UMN was involved in healthcare, education, rural and industrial development. UMN was a complex organisation with over 400 expatriate mission personnel, and employing more than 2500 Nepalis. He had a wonderful relationship with the Nepali church leaders whom he mentored and encouraged. Howard had a role in seeing the church grow from just a handful of believers to many thousands in his lifetime.

Howard and Betty returned to Melbourne in 1990 and served in post-retirement interim executive roles in Kabul, Kathmandu and Mongolia. He received a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) award from the Australian Government in June 1994 for “service to international relations in the Asian region, particularly through the provision of humanitarian aid to Nepal”. Betty passed away in October 2017.

Howard inspired, mentored and encouraged countless Partners and remained a key member of Interserve’s prayer community right to the end. God has deeply blessed Interserve through his work and we mourn the loss to his family and our fellowship.

With thanks to members of the Barclay family, Berys Nixon (former Interserve Personnel Director) and Dr Graham Toohill (former Interserve Partner) for sharing their memories and photos.

On the far side of the sea

As we stopped over in Singapore on our way to live in a land we’d never seen before, I wrote in my journal a verse God had given me: “You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you … Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” 2 Chronicles 20:17.

Heading to the Middle East with four kids under seven, including a baby on my hip and a toddler at my knee, there was not a lot of fighting I could do. I did, however, need to do a lot of trusting.

I remember when our six-month-old baby had a temperature of 39 degrees. We had only been there a few weeks and I had no idea who to call if the Panadol didn’t start working soon. I could barely say ‘hospital’ in Arabic. The next morning he was okay.

Three years later, however, when he needed emergency surgery to remove the coin lodged in his oesophagus, he was less than okay (and I wasn’t too crash hot either!). Thankfully, by then I knew exactly who to call. I had also become quite good at pronouncing ‘hospital’.

Another afternoon our children were playing in our friends’ yard when a protest passed the front gate. We ignored the usual shouting and drumming … until the shooting began. I bolted down the stairs roaring at our kids, “GET INSIDE NOW!” They ran inside, probably more frightened of me yelling than any gun.

Like any mother, my biggest fears always circle around my children. And I am certainly no spiritual champion when it comes to worrying! But God taught me lesson upon lesson about trusting him on that far side of the sea.

When the Arab Spring turned the Middle East upside down, God sent our family through a learning-to-trust-him intensive. Day by day we prayed and waited on Him. During that time of protests, curfews and army tanks, the peace He gave us truly did pass understanding.

There was the day a bomb went off in front of the building next door to my children’s school. But God, in his perfect timing, had kept all of our kids far away from that building on a planned pupil-free holiday. This non-coincidence was a clear reminder to me of how very in control God was.

There were many more non-coincidences like these. The first time the funding for our ministry drew very close to zero, we were anxious. We relied on donations alone; how would we get thousands of dollars to keep the refugee school going by next week? Then, suddenly, a $10,000 cheque came in. A year later when the bank balance was again near zero, we prayed and received another miracle of even greater proportions. The third time, we prayed in expectant faith. And, like God promised, we saw his deliverance; the funding came in, ensuring hundreds of underprivileged children could still go to school.

This did not mean bad things never happened in our six years in the Middle East: there were health problems, accidents, broken nights, our kids’ grief at every goodbye, and everyday stresses of life in a foreign land. But through each of these we could face the future knowing the Lord was with us, standing in his strength.

Fear not and see the deliverance of the Lord?

That day in Singapore when God gave me this verse, I didn’t know what to expect. I did not dream of a future with revolutions or bombs or emergency surgery. But looking back over the challenges and the blessings of our time in the Middle East, I know that my Lord has kept his promises in more ways than I could ever imagine.

Chelsea served with her family in the Middle East for six years.

Names have been changed.

Risk Suffering

See attached PDF

Extending Gods Kingdom

Interserve is pleased to announce a new On Track initiative, Consultants in Mission (CiM).

It is designed to bring together the professional skills of the consultant with the missional goals of Interserve. A small number of consultants have already served through Interserve’s short-term programme, but CiM On Track will allow Interserve to channel consultants in a more focused way.

The process is simple. Once approved for CiM On Track, the consultant’s name, area of expertise and availability will be posted on Interserve’s secure website. Field based teams can then look through the list of possible consultants, select any that fit their needs, and approach them for help.

It is a brilliant opportunity for those people who, although they want to serve God in mission, are unable to move lock, stock and barrel to the mission field. This way they can still contribute their skills and experience while being based primarily at home.

My consultancy work in South East Asia and the Middle East provides amazing opportunities to share about God. I operate on the pattern that the Apostle Paul modelled – one’s job is one’s ministry, and one’s ministry is one’s job – and every morning when I wake up I pray, “Who will You connect me with today, Lord? Provide me with conversations where I can mirror something of the gospel truth.”

I recently spent three weeks in a country that is officially closed to the Gospel. My purpose for being there was purely professional – I had a task to complete – but the connections I made with local people, and their willingness to engage in conversations over food night after night, made the whole assignment exciting.

One such conversation began with a comment about an aspect of God’s creation, and His skill in making it. This simple comment opened the door for a longer exchange that allowed sharing of ideas about New Zealand, the host country, politics, sports, education and employment… and how Jesus fits into the jigsaw.

This scenario repeated itself several times: different people, different places, but the same pattern of conversation, and the same openness to engage and listen. The most memorable was one that broke all the cultural protocols: a women and her daughter (both fully covered, I could only see their eyes) invited me to join them at their table. We began by discussing countries, universities, jobs and politics but in the end the conversation came back to Jesus: who He is, and how an understanding of Him adds to one’s understanding of, and relationship to, God.

As I boarded the plane to leave that nation, I prayed for the Holy Spirit to keep moving in the hearts of every person that I had talked with. Consultancy in Mission is real and effective, and the opportunities are endless. To learn more about extending God’s kingdom through CiM, and how you can become involved, please contact the Interserve office.

The author has a long track record in consulting, the educational business sector and missions.