Working for transformation

“What do you do?” he asked, by and by.
“Well, I work”, answered I.
“What as?” he continued, with aplomb.
“I do my job …”
“Yes”, he said, “I see,
that this work is why you are here”.
“Yes, indeed”, with much in store,
waiting for a chance to tell him more,
Sharing with him about how much he is loved.

So, our identity is in our work. Rarely are we asked, “Why do you work?” and “What is your motivation?” Usually, it stops at “What do you do?” and that is enough to satisfy the curiosity of our host country, host organisation, local friends and complete strangers.

But isn’t our identity more than work? We are loved and completely accepted—isn’t that our identity? Hence, we often experience a tension in how we share our identity with those around us. What we do is less important than who we are. It’s easy to say that we work; indeed, it is expected. If not, then suspicions are raised—how can they really live here if they do not work? Or, if we say we are doing one thing but in fact are doing something else, we actually have a major problem with integrity. I define integrity as having just one story about who I am and I share the details of my story in a way my hearer will understand. But, what I say is what I do, because it usually is, in terms of my work.

Of course, work is not everything. Family, rest, sharing in communities … we all know the expression that no-one gets to their deathbed and says, “I wish I had spent more time at work”. The reverse is invariably the case. God rested, and so should we.

But identity is not the only function of work. One major function of work is relationship building. We have many opportunities to spend time with the people we work with. Indeed, I have found it easier and more natural than, for example, becoming friends with my local traffic policeman (as I did in my early language-learning days) and this is because we have more in common. Work relationships seem to last longer. And relationships are often key if we want to see transformation.

Transformation—yes, that is what we long for. Often the transformation, physically and spiritually, is through our work. When I see a community being empowered to take their own actions to address some of their limitations for health or education, then I can see transformation—and all this through work. When I see a social business being able to contribute significantly to a social cause through a business model, then I witness transformation.

What about when I don’t see transformation, though? Is my work less successful, or is it even wasted? How do I handle ‘bad days’ or even bad seasons? At various points in time I have thought about what makes success. Going back to the question of identity … if our identity is based on our success, we are setting ourselves up for a big problem.

Perhaps the end of the matter is to have a healthy attitude towards work. For most of us, that will be ordinary work. Ordinary people doing ordinary things. But we are enabled for our ordinary work to be achieving something quite out of the ordinary in kingdom terms. And, if anyone asks—yes, I am here to work; here to see transformation.

Robert has worked in community development in South East Asia for over 10 years.
Names have been changed.

Working for transformation

“What do you do?” he asked, by and by.
“Well, I work”, answered I.
“What as?” he continued, with aplomb.
“I do my job …”
“Yes”, he said, “I see,
that this work is why you are here”.
“Yes, indeed”, with much in store,
waiting for a chance to tell him more,
Sharing with him about how much he is loved.

So, our identity is in our work. Rarely are we asked, “Why do you work?” and “What is your motivation?” Usually, it stops at “What do you do?” and that is enough to satisfy the curiosity of our host country, host organisation, local friends and complete strangers.

But isn’t our identity more than work? We are loved and completely accepted—isn’t that our identity? Hence, we often experience a tension in how we share our identity with those around us. What we do is less important than who we are. It’s easy to say that we work; indeed, it is expected. If not, then suspicions are raised—how can they really live here if they do not work? Or, if we say we are doing one thing but in fact are doing something else, we actually have a major problem with integrity. I define integrity as having just one story about who I am and I share the details of my story in a way my hearer will understand. But, what I say is what I do, because it usually is, in terms of my work.

Of course, work is not everything. Family, rest, sharing in communities … we all know the expression that no-one gets to their deathbed and says, “I wish I had spent more time at work”. The reverse is invariably the case. God rested, and so should we.

But identity is not the only function of work. One major function of work is relationship building. We have many opportunities to spend time with the people we work with. Indeed, I have found it easier and more natural than, for example, becoming friends with my local traffic policeman (as I did in my early language-learning days) and this is because we have more in common. Work relationships seem to last longer. And relationships are often key if we want to see transformation.

Transformation—yes, that is what we long for. Often the transformation, physically and spiritually, is through our work. When I see a community being empowered to take their own actions to address some of their limitations for health or education, then I can see transformation—and all this through work. When I see a social business being able to contribute significantly to a social cause through a business model, then I witness transformation.

What about when I don’t see transformation, though? Is my work less successful, or is it even wasted? How do I handle ‘bad days’ or even bad seasons? At various points in time I have thought about what makes success. Going back to the question of identity … if our identity is based on our success, we are setting ourselves up for a big problem.

Perhaps the end of the matter is to have a healthy attitude towards work. For most of us, that will be ordinary work. Ordinary people doing ordinary things. But we are enabled for our ordinary work to be achieving something quite out of the ordinary in kingdom terms. And, if anyone asks—yes, I am here to work; here to see transformation.

Robert has worked in community development in South East Asia for over 10 years.
Names have been changed.

Working for transformation

“What do you do?” he asked, by and by.
“Well, I work”, answered I.
“What as?” he continued, with aplomb.
“I do my job …”
“Yes”, he said, “I see,
that this work is why you are here”.
“Yes, indeed”, with much in store,
waiting for a chance to tell him more,
Sharing with him about how much he is loved.

So, our identity is in our work. Rarely are we asked, “Why do you work?” and “What is your motivation?” Usually, it stops at “What do you do?” and that is enough to satisfy the curiosity of our host country, host organisation, local friends and complete strangers.

But isn’t our identity more than work? We are loved and completely accepted—isn’t that our identity? Hence, we often experience a tension in how we share our identity with those around us. What we do is less important than who we are. It’s easy to say that we work; indeed, it is expected. If not, then suspicions are raised—how can they really live here if they do not work? Or, if we say we are doing one thing but in fact are doing something else, we actually have a major problem with integrity. I define integrity as having just one story about who I am and I share the details of my story in a way my hearer will understand. But, what I say is what I do, because it usually is, in terms of my work.

Of course, work is not everything. Family, rest, sharing in communities … we all know the expression that no-one gets to their deathbed and says, “I wish I had spent more time at work”. The reverse is invariably the case. God rested, and so should we.

But identity is not the only function of work. One major function of work is relationship building. We have many opportunities to spend time with the people we work with. Indeed, I have found it easier and more natural than, for example, becoming friends with my local traffic policeman (as I did in my early language-learning days) and this is because we have more in common. Work relationships seem to last longer. And relationships are often key if we want to see transformation.

Transformation—yes, that is what we long for. Often the transformation, physically and spiritually, is through our work. When I see a community being empowered to take their own actions to address some of their limitations for health or education, then I can see transformation—and all this through work. When I see a social business being able to contribute significantly to a social cause through a business model, then I witness transformation.

What about when I don’t see transformation, though? Is my work less successful, or is it even wasted? How do I handle ‘bad days’ or even bad seasons? At various points in time I have thought about what makes success. Going back to the question of identity … if our identity is based on our success, we are setting ourselves up for a big problem.

Perhaps the end of the matter is to have a healthy attitude towards work. For most of us, that will be ordinary work. Ordinary people doing ordinary things. But we are enabled for our ordinary work to be achieving something quite out of the ordinary in kingdom terms. And, if anyone asks—yes, I am here to work; here to see transformation.

Robert has worked in community development in South East Asia for over 10 years.
Names have been changed.

Seeing God at work

I sometimes get the feeling that some people think we’re ‘super Christians’ to have lived in a slum for the last 12 years with our family… but to us, it’s just life. We don’t think we’re special. We are just using our lives and the gifts God has given us, to be good friends to our neighbours and respond to those whom God is placing in our midst.

Our first years were all about learning. Learning the culture, the language, how to wash the clothes by hand, how to shop at the market, how to live with 17 people in the house… and how to be parents for the first time. Learning was hard, painful, and disempowering for ourselves, but was the ultimate step in allowing us to serve, empower and champion Cambodians, rather than come in on top of them with our education, power, money and white skin. Here’s what we learned:

nterruptions are not interruptions if we see it as God bringing someone into our lives. So often we book up every minute and never have time for the thoughts, things or people that God places in our midst. We need to shift our posture to allow God the control and space to work. Leaving our door open means anyone is able to come into our home with a need, or share life with us.

Life is mission. People don’t drop by at convenient times. It’s usually dinner time! We need to be flexible to respond. People are not ‘work’, because work happens in the 9–5 and people happen in the 24/7… people are life. We do, however, need to take time to rest, or we burn out and are not useful to others.

Living in community has its ups and its downs. We see births, weddings, funerals, parties and sadness… we’re on this life journey together. Khmer culture goes well with Aussie culture, but is also very different. Sometime we get along, sometimes we don’t. It is enriching to our lives to find a way to get along with others, rather than just hanging with those who are similar to us.

Have an empowering mindset. When we worked in an NGO for the first few years, it was a slow process to empower our Cambodian colleagues until they came up with the lightbulb ideas. It can be arduous work for us, but it means Cambodians will own these initiatives. It’s about having an empowering mindset when you see a problem: Can that person bring about their own change? What about their family? Can their community? When those avenues are exhausted, maybe then it’s appropriate for the mission worker to step in. Partnering with the local church is also another way to work with ‘people of peace’ who want to see the gospel spread and change in their community. True help brings about long-term change and empowerment.

Through being present in our community we have been able to see needs and journey with Cambodians who are willing to respond. These include: helping someone navigate the health system, advocating with the village leader to get the drainage fixed, standing in-between a husband who is beating his wife. Homework clubs have started so that kids can pass their exams and speed up their literacy. A local preschool started under someone’s house, so that kids can become ‘school ready’ before they hit grade one. Justees, our fair trade t-shirt printing business, helps young ex-drug users earn a wage to support them through their schooling, and Connect Street Work is responding to direct requests for us to be advocating for users from poor communities in the drug rehab system. The small things make a great difference for the people that society thinks are at the bottom of the heap.

It takes pressure off when we believe that God can do great things! We need to be in a right relationship with him and submit our lives and ideas to him so he can speak, lead and guide. We’re just being us, in this place, looking to see the way he is working… and being part of that.

David and his family have lived in community in Cambodia for 13 years.

God has a mission for people with a disability

“Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” 1 Cor 1:26–29

God uses the foolish things of this world to achieve and succeed where the powerful, wise and strong are ineffective. The ‘foolish’, ‘weak’, lowly and despised have an important role in mission in breaking the strongholds of pride and conceit, which are such a barrier to the gospel impacting people and nations. God loves to reveal his glory through those with disability (John 9). What an imagination God has, bringing in such an upside-down Kingdom!

Disability has a profound impact in mission because it demonstrates how our awesome, powerful God achieves His purpose through vulnerable and struggling bodies. Yet the mission movement has not always realised this—and the impact of missions is blunted and the Body of Christ incomplete when people with disability are excluded.

Thankfully some people with disability do slip through the onerous selection processes and serve in mission. Or, as is more often the case, an existing cross-cultural worker acquires a disability. Serving against significant odds, perhaps even from their home office, they come to realise that God doesn’t work despite their disabilities but, rather, chooses to work through them.

Disability removes an unhealthy power dynamic in the field. Whereas the big, powerful, educated and rich missionary is viewed as living in some sort of castle in the clouds, disability can tear those walls down and put us at the level of our neighbour who is struggling—the woman with debilitating pain, the man with a walking problem, the parents of a child with a learning disability. A friend working in Bangladesh explained that when people see his deformity they suddenly they see him as a real, down-to-earth person and they open up and share about their own circumstances. One woman saw that he had a similar disability to her son and removed her burqa headdress to have a closer look and engage with him and his family!

Disability also prompts people to ask questions about our worldview. I have been asked about my personal experience of disability: How did God let this happen to you? Have you tried [x,y,z] miracle cure? How can you leave your own country, where the services for disability are so great, and serve here? I take the opportunity to share about Jesus and His plan for humanity:
• We are created in the image of God.
• Our weakness reminds us of our dependence on God.
• Jesus loves us in spite of our failings.
• Jesus died for all sinners, disabled or not.
• God created us with a disability for His unique and sovereign purpose.

I would argue that a Christian worldview is totally revolutionary for disability in the countries in which we work. In my experience in South Asia, responding to disability and overcoming unhealthy karmic beliefs is near impossible without the transformation and alternative worldview that the Christian Gospel brings.

The challenge for the mission movement is to work to help those with disability to serve and remain serving in missions. Alternative models of mission may provide conducive environments for people with disability: working in a country that offers excellent health care, regularly traveling home for ongoing care, or serving remotely via communication technology. Disability is no barrier in God’s Kingdom.

Dr Nathan is a public health expert, working alongside development organisations and the South Asian church to empower those with disability.

Realising you are the problem

Realising you are the problem:
A necessary, rewarding (somewhat embarrassing) process.

I work for a local Christian NGO that provides ongoing extended-family and foster care for Cambodian kids. One of our most helpful tools is the case management and record-keeping software package we’ve developed and nicknamed OSCaR. The initial concept for OSCaR was simple but ambitious: create a system that would facilitate strong case management and case-noting, reinforce those processes for our staff, and store client information naturally in an easy-to-use database for program revision and reporting. All this was to be done in English and Khmer.

Having worked on the original design of OSCaR, I had grown increasingly protective of it—not out of some misplaced sense of ego (at least, not entirely!), but out of a desire to make it as successful as possible. I wasn't really aware, though, that I was holding too tightly onto the project and preventing others from contributing as much as they could. This was especially a problem for the newest member of our team.

Sokly came on board the OSCaR team at Children in Families (CIF) about a year ago as our Technical Liaison, that is, the person who was to help with our communications with our software development company.

Like all new employees, it took Sokly a little while to figure out her place with CIF—where she could fit, how she could contribute to the team. Once she did, however, she began making suggestions and recommendations. Like many people in Cambodia, though, she was held back by something that she had very little control over: the influential foreigner she had to share office space with. Yes, that would be me. She hadn't really had a chance to prove herself, but with me hanging on to things so tightly, how could she?

Just recently, Sokly asked me directly to help her integrate more with our development team by advocating for her to spend more time with the developer. Culturally, as a woman speaking to a man, as a Khmer person speaking to a foreigner, as an employee speaking to a supervisor, that was incredibly challenging for her. Fortunately, I did what she asked, and she has started communicating with the software developers directly every week. She coordinates our team to work out our priorities for development, then gives that information to the developers.

That took a job away from me, which was a blessing since I was feeling pretty over-stretched with everything on my plate. I didn't anticipate, however, how much our work process would improve as well. Our developer is now more efficient and new features are being completed more quickly and accurately. Even our software project manager is much clearer about their work priorities now that they have such a definite model to follow.

Everyone has been really nice about it, of course; no-one has said, “Wow Chris, things are going much better now that you’re not constantly managing every little element of this project”. My team are gracious people, not just competent ones!

Still, it was initially painful to realise that many of my stresses over the past six months were due not just to being busy but also to my unwillingness to trust people, and my insistence on doing tasks that I'm just not that good at. But I'm glad to now be working with someone who stepped outside her cultural norms to push me to do what needed to be done. Our team is stronger as a result. Our project is going stronger as a result. And I'm a whole lot less stressed!

It’s been a privilege to contribute here, but even better to see Sokly step up and make her own important contribution.

Chris and Stacie, long-term Interserve workers, advocate for family-based care for children. Their family lives in Cambodia.

Heart in colours

We are a small group. Women whose hearts dream in different languages, trying our best to communicate with gestures and borrowed words. Some wear colourful headscarves. Some have immaculate makeup and stylish haircuts. Some bring children. One brings homemade snacks. There is a warmth here which seems, for a time, to soothe their loneliness and grief. We greet each other with kisses, pour tea, sit down and get out the art supplies.

Our table is in a creaking upper room of the refugee centre. We can see the sky and sunlight through the wood-framed windows—the light and openness seem to mirror our purpose for being here. We create art together and, in doing so, I hope these refugee women will feel a lightness in their weighed-down spirits and have a safe space to bring their pain-filled stories into the light. I long for them to experience the love of the one who called himself “Light of the World”.

We spread out paper and simple art supplies. Nothing is complicated or technical, but to these women whose daily lives are shaped by displacement and feelings of helplessness, gentle guidance is necessary as we begin to transform blank pages with colour and form. We talk briefly about an idea around which we build our art-making activity: identity, happiness, home, hope, fear. We gently shape a space where sharing is allowed and start with a reminder that whatever we create or say will be met with kindness, not criticism.

This is not a class, I find myself repeating. The beauty and benefit of our shared art making is in the process of creating together, not in the product. This is a new idea for many of them. One young woman softly confides that she loved to draw as a young girl but her stern father discouraged such childish activities and forced her to marry at fifteen. Now, as she holds her breastfeeding daughter in one arm and watches over her three-year-old son, she sketches and tells me there is no time in everyday life for drawing. I can tell, though, by the way she carefully moves her pencil over the page, and the tired, wistful look on her face, that she would sit here with these pencils all day if she could. I know that tugging feeling in my own creative spirit as a mother of small children and my heart goes out to her.

I pour more tea (our intercultural love language) and watch as the women depict their hearts in images and colours. I see a lot of black and red—symbols of death and destruction, of lost homes and difficult journeys. There are also usually green or yellowish glimmers of tenacious hope, simple joys or love. Some talk about finding joy in the sunshine or trees, things that not even war or murder or displacement could take from them. Some speak of hope in heavenly paradise for a lost child, hope for a home in a new country where they can tend a garden or continue their education without fear. And I share simply why I drew my symbol of hope as an empty tomb in the middle of a rising sun.

So our time comes to an end. Kisses, hugs, “Inshallah* we shall meet again next week”. I marvel at the gift of God in art making as a way of bringing healing and building community. Beauty from pain, creation from destruction, community from isolation. Isn’t this the stunningly paradoxical way our redeemer God works?

The author is serving long-term in West Asia. She is passionate about melding art and loving community for therapeutic and kingdom-building purposes.

*If God wills.

When Mum and Dad migrate without you

Recently I travelled to Isaan in north-eastern Thailand to see for myself the effects of urbanisation. By far the largest province in Thailand, Isaan is also easily the poorest part of this kingdom. Homes outside the major centres are simple and rice farming is still the major source of income for most people.

As we drove, the landscape reminded me of rural Australia. The lush tropical green of central and southern Thailand was left behind. This is a more arid part of the country. It is said that the people of Isaan are built tough because they endure hardship.

In recent times this hardship has seen an increase of men and women leaving the region, seeking work in large urban centres. Traditionally such people have been the blue-collar workforce of Bangkok. Leaving home jam-packed into the back of vans, they are the construction workers, cleaners, truck drivers and cooks who run the city. Men drive taxis and women work as hosts in karaoke bars. They work long hours, live in basic conditions and send money home to support their families while their children remain in the care of relatives or western-run children's homes.1

The scale of this migration is extraordinary. UNICEF recently reported that “about 21 per cent of children or more than three million children in Thailand do not live with either of their parents due to internal migration”.1 In the north-eastern region that I visited, this is more severe. Here, up to one third of children are separated from their mum and dad.1 This is many times more than the scale of internal migration in surrounding countries, and is a significant cause for concern because of the long-term impacts on children’s development and wellbeing.

In about 90% of cases grandparents become the new primary carers of children, but are not always able to provide the care children need. Many local and western individuals and NGOs have tried to help by setting up residential care facilities for children. However, such facilities add to the problem because parents perceive that they will provide better education and life for their children. Many parents don’t know that long-term residential care tends to have negative impact on a young child’s development and can result in a child losing their connection to family and community. In fact, simply being separated from their parents for an extended period puts young children at greater risk of developmental and language delays. This disadvantage continues to impact them into adulthood.2

Our aim is to take a proactive approach to scaling down the use of residential care and assisting children within the context of their families. Programs such as Safe and Informed Migration and Keeping Families Together are working in partnership with local community leaders, the local church, the Thai government and UNHCR. Our work with Keeping Families Together mobilises the local church and community to support families affected by economic migration through holistic development trainings, income generation assistance, educational opportunities, psychosocial support, health care, and spiritual transformation. The local church’s engagement demonstrates the love of God in action and bears witness to an eternal Kingdom where every child matters.

Emmanuel and Marie Clare are Partners working in Thailand with Step Ahead (Keeping Families Together). They have recently completed language study and are now using their skills in education and health to support Thai families alongside the local church.

Footnotes:

1 See “More than 3 million children in Thailand do not live with their parents” (24 June 2014) at www.unicef.org

2 See The Impact of Internal Migration on Early Childhood Well-Being and Development by Mahidol University and UNICEF (April 2016) at www.ipsr.mahidol.ac.th/ipsrbeta/en/BookReport.aspx

Taking a back seat

Stumbling out of the train in pitch darkness, I’m bundled unceremoniously into a rickshaw. “Don’t show your face. Don’t speak. Keep your head down.” My companions and our luggage on board, the rickshaw jolts off through the night. Arriving at our destination, I’m rushed inside. Three days later, still inside, I have full-on cabin fever. Frequent requests for a walk are politely declined: “It’s not safe.”

Eventually I protest: “Why is it unsafe? What’s so dangerous?” The answer follows a long pause: “To be honest, it’s not your safety that
worries us. Our concern is for ourselves and our work. People here know we are Christian. They tolerate us as long as we are thoroughly Indian Christians. This was a colonised country. In some ways it still is. Please understand, it would not go well for us if people saw you here… You are our guest, if you insist on walking we won’t stop you.”

Fast forward and cross the map to another country, never successfully colonised, that has endured decades of military occupation and the cultural, economic and political domination that accompanies it. The world leaders who initiated the international intervention self-identified as Christian. One described the country as a “Godforsaken hell-hole of a place.” All proclaimed a salvific gospel (liberation for women; education, prosperity and democracy for all) interspersed with oracles of retribution and pre-emptive strike.

In this country, local Christians are not tolerated and never have been. Now, after decades of occupation, associating with foreigners puts local people of all persuasions under suspicion and exposes their communities to danger. Experience shows that well-intended attempts
to contact local believers and work alongside the local church often alienate the church from its community and are as likely to prevent
transformation as to promote it.

Anthropologist James C Scott explains that we cannot begin to gauge the depth of a people’s anger until we understand the cultural shape
of their humiliation.1 Only then will we begin to realise that our sincere attempts to serve with love and compassion risk stripping those we
would serve of their last vestiges of dignity and pride. Only then will we begin to sense how difficult it is for good news to be heard when spoken by those associated with forces of domination and oppression.

Vinoth Ramendchandra warns us not to assume that nothing is happening unless we or our team engage in all dimensions of integral mission.2 The challenge is not to balance our activities (words, mercy, social action) but to refuse to draw unbiblical distinctions between different aspects of mission. It is God’s mission, not ours! We are not the only people involved. Anyone and anything that serves God’s purposes
contributes. Putting aside our strong desire for personal connection and
us to step back from front-line tasks confident that local folk are quietly going about Kingdom business even though we don’t – and shouldn’t!
– know what is going on, where and how.

So what roles are appropriate for Interserve Partners in contexts like these?

1. We may counter the violent ‘Christianity’ visited upon subjugated nations by living as locally visible foreign Christian communities that refuse to serve worldly power, renounce violence and coercion, and respect all people.

2. We may create a somewhat safer space for local believers by working alongside but not with the local church, praying for them without associating with or otherwise drawing attention to them.

3. We may celebrate the many things Muslims and Christians share (our fundamental conviction that God is good, just, merciful and compassionate; our confidence that God created the world and loves all people; our recognition that all have sinned and need salvation) rather than reinforcing walls of distrust and suspicion.

4. We can partner with and work alongside local people of faith and action from the majority religion.

Authentic partnership becomes possible when we invite other-faith friends and colleagues to teach us about their faith experiences rather
than assuming that we know what their faith entails. Such partnerships
Christendom mindsets. Many questions arise.

Missiological certainties fade in the light of individual stories and actual experience. When expatriates working with our agency spent a week together, we shared stories: stories of disappointment and failure, stories of bewilderment and confusion, and stories of discovery and joy. Some of us confessed to being humbled by the courage, dignity and
wisdom of local neighbours and colleagues. Others were sceptical. Some recalled conversations through which they glimpsed a Muslim brother or sister’s intimate relationship with God. Others doubted this was even possible. Some shared their admiration for Muslim colleagues, people of faith and action, who lived out their vocations to bring healing,
alleviate poverty and seek justice, sometimes at great personal cost. Others questioned how people who did not themselves know Jesus could possibly facilitate transformation. Personally, I’m amazed at how God’s Spirit works through cross-faith partnerships to transform communities and individual lives – including our own.

Judith* has lived and worked in the hard places since 1992.

*Names have been changed.

1 Scott, J. C. (1990). Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. New Haven: Yale University Press.

2 Ramenchandra, V. (2006). What Is Integral Mission? In: Micah Network Triennial Consultation on Integral Mission and Violent Conflict. [online] Thailand: Micah Network. Available at: www.micahnetwork.org

Towards an Unshakeable Kingdom

Towards an Unshakable Kingdom

I am lightly jolted as I kneel at the cupboard in my office in Kathmandu and the earthquake alarm dings briefly. I ignore the aftershock as it is so small but a Nepali colleague starts to yell loudly and rushes outside where she gets on her motor scooter and rides off to her small sons’ school to make sure they are safe. From a nearby college there is a great hubbub as students move outside in response to the slight quake.

It is months since the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated large areas of Nepal on 25 April, and for most people life has now taken on normality, albeit an altered one. However, the emotional scars have not yet healed and some people react badly to even the smallest of the continuing aftershocks, which trigger memories of frightening experiences.

Recently a Nepali man recognised me in the street in Kathmandu and called out. He was someone I had worked with in the hills at Okhaldunga Hospital in 2004. He told me his wife and two daughters had been killed in the earthquake and his 19-year-old son had had both his forearms amputated because of a crush injury. I asked about another man I had worked with at the hospital and whose daughter’s wedding I had attended – he was killed in the earthquake my friend replied. All quite shocking for me.

I work for International Nepal Fellowship (INF) and, although it is not a relief organisation, immediately after the earthquake it quickly formed a disaster response group that organised relief supplies and utilised government and other community contacts to offer medical aid and make distributions of emergency food and shelter to some of the worst hit areas. INF liaised with the Pokhara Christian Community (PCC) and its social welfare arm, Asal Chimekee (meaning ‘good neighbours’). As well as PCC supplying and distributing much aid, it also provided volunteers, mostly from youth groups, who worked tirelessly with INF, packing goods, loading trucks and distributing the relief items. Many local church and para-church organisations were also involved in relief work.

At a feedback meeting in one village, the people told the Asal Chimekee team that they were happy with the quality of food, materials and training that had been given to them. One leader asked if the team were there to convert people to Christianity. The team took the opportunity to explain why they, as Christians, were doing disaster relief and explained how many people around the world loved the villagers and had contributed generously. These misconceptions are not uncommon and it is also frequently assumed that Christian organisations will only help Christians. The media often does not report on what is being achieved by Christian organisations but this does not deter the ongoing work.

The initial relief efforts are over but many in the hilly regions where destruction was worse than in Kathmandu are still suffering badly as whole villages were shattered and the roads needed to bring help are impassable due to landslides and the monsoon rains. A new phase has begun now, one of rebuilding. INF has been allocated an area in Ghorka District by the government to work in; its immediate focus has been the provision of materials for emergency shelters and the building of Temporary Learning Centres to replace the many destroyed schools, as over one million students have not been able to attend school since the earthquake. INF is also working with local churches to respond to community needs.

Likewise, Asal Chimekee is continuing its work and practically providing for people with such things as seed distribution, constructing health posts, schools and toilets and running children’s health camps. It stepped out in faith with $7,000 and God provided one hundred times that in the weeks that followed but future plans require that much again. Please remember the people of Nepal and organisations like INF and Asal Chimekee that are showing Christ’s love under adverse conditions.

Rowan Butler is an Interserve Partner serving with INF's Communications team.