UMN Earthquake response

Everyone who was in Nepal on 25 April 2015 will remember that feeling – the horror of the solid ground beneath you rolling like surf, cries of fear, buildings crumbling, clouds of choking dust, the shock and the confusion that followed.

For villagers near the epicentre, the experience was even more deadly. In some communities, most of the houses were reduced to rubble, the few possessions of families already very poor buried and destroyed, food stocks and precious animals lost, and in some cases, family members lost too.

The United Mission to Nepal has been working in Dhading, one of the most affected districts, for more than 20 years. We have strong relationships there, competent local partners, and a track record of working with the poorest and most disadvantaged. So it made sense to focus our relief activities there, in three Village Development Committee areas (VDCs) in the south and four in the rugged, mountainous north.

The challenges were many. The northern VDCs have little or no road access at the best of times – just narrow walking trails snaking through the Himalayas, crossing steep gullies via sinuous suspension bridges. Landslides and rockfalls made the trails virtually impassable, and broke or damaged the bridges. Getting relief to the villages in the north meant negotiating access to scarce helicopter transport, or long, dangerous road journeys to drop-off points to which affected families walked, sometimes for days. UMN and its partners managed to distribute comprehensive relief packages to more than 12,000 desperate families.

Now the work of reconstruction is beginning. Over the next two years, UMN will be providing training and assistance to communities so that the new houses built will be more earthquake resistant; we'll be providing temporary buildings for schools, repairing damaged water systems and toilets, restoring livelihoods through seed and tool distributions and replacement livestock, training people in disaster preparedness, and helping deal with the psycho-social impacts through trauma counseling groups.

There are huge challenges ahead. Thank you for your prayers and support – they are much needed, and much appreciated!

Lyn Jackson is Communications Director at UMN.

Learning the Language of Discipleship

It’s an exciting stage of the journey. Interserve has accepted us as Partners, we know where we are going and have some idea of what we might be doing. We have thoughts about how we might meet people in our neighbourhood, build relationships in our community, engage with the local church and, God willing, see lives transformed through encounters with Christ. Then comes the rollercoaster ride of visiting churches, hosting information nights, raising support, packing up our home and, of course, saying goodbyes.

After an exciting, sometimes stressful, extremely emotional deputation period, we finally arrive at Bangkok International Airport with 3 kids and more than 150kg of luggage safely in tow. In the first few days, the excitement of catching up with old friends, eating favourite foods and revisiting favourite parks keeps our spirits high. And then, when the initial excitement has worn off, we find ourselves living out of quite a lot of suitcases with nowhere to hang our wet clothes, sick children and, something I never thought I’d see, my husband desperate for fresh vegetables! The first few weeks of living at a guest house while trying to find a home, a school for the kids, a school for language and a suitable doctor, are difficult but to some degree expected and thankfully, only short term. But often, after this initial and intense phase of setting up home in a foreign country is over, it is easy to believe that life will settle into some sort of routine and we will be able to get on with what we came here to do.

So why are we here? Well, the official reason is to work in the national church’s Office of Child Protection. But we also hope to use our time here to get alongside the local church. To encourage believers and non-believers in their understanding and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and to be one more light, a witness for Christ, in a country where more than 80% of the population is Buddhist and less than 1% is Christian.

Fortunately for us, when we arrived this second time around, we already knew a few locals; we had experienced, long term missionaries to help us out; and quite a lot of the people at our church speak English very well. This initial transition phase was perhaps easier for us than for some, as we had already done a little of the groundwork, building relationships when we came to Thailand as OnTrackers in 2010. So although we initially thought we could hit the ground running, it would appear life has come to a grounding halt or at least moving very slowly – a lot like the Bangkok traffic! And like sitting in a taxi through three changes of lights and not going anywhere, this has been, at times, quite frustrating and sometimes even disheartening. Dan is still doing full time language study, while I am looking after the kids, doing part time language study and helping out at the kids’ school. Perhaps with the exception of natural linguists or extreme extroverts, language learning is slow, hard work. We often feel like we are progressing at the rate of two words forward, one word back. Eight months down the track, we still can’t understand a sermon at our Thai church, I can read the hymns but I can’t read and sing them at the same time, in time with the rest of the congregation. Even on a good day, I often struggle to converse fluently with my Thai friends in their language. And then of course there is the unavoidable embarrassment of language faux pas. Surely they just cause misunderstandings and offense!

Language learning often seems better at breaking relationships than building them. Dan told a man he had just met to ‘go away’, I told a girl putting on make up that she was ‘bad luck’ and, most embarrassingly, the son of a church elder that he ‘had many breasts’ instead of ‘many turtles’! There are plenty of people in Bangkok that we can witness to in English and Dan could probably get by doing his child protection work in Thinglish. So why put ourselves through the embarrassment, literal pain of fortnightly exams, headaches and sore eyes (Thai script is very intricate!)?

Well for one thing, language learning teaches humility. There is nothing like asking for an extra plate at a street café so that you can share a meal with your daughter and ending up with a whole extra meal to teach you that you are not in control of the situations in your life, even when you think you are. Then there is wounded pride that comes with answering the phone in Thai, and giving what you think are clear directions to your home, only to be told, “I can speak in English”. I am not sure that when Paul exhorted the Christians in Philippi to have the same attitude of humility as Jesus Christ, he had language learning in mind. However, being in a country where you are learning the local language does lower you to the same level (at least communicatively) of a one year old. A fairly humbling place to be! So whilst it is easy to come into a new culture, especially one where the church is either small or still young, thinking you have all the answers and knowledge about the best way to do ministry. Language learning reminds us that we are also learners, mere babes in understanding and in need of help in order to grow. It is also a humbling reminder of Paul’s words to the Corinthians and something the Lord is still teaching me. So often I rely on my own wisdom or my own capabilities to serve the Lord. However, in God’s wisdom, He chooses to work through the foolish and weak things of this world to shame the things of this world. So that our boasts may not be in ourselves but rather in the Lord; so that our faith might not rest on man’s wisdom but on God’s power. (see 1 Corinthians 1:27-2:5)

Secondly, I think language learning demonstrates and often tests the commitment we have to the people we wish to work with and live amongst. As most foreigners living in Bangkok do not bother to learn much of the language, people are often pleasantly surprised to learn that we can converse with them in their own language. I only have to ask a taxi driver how many children he has and how old they are and he usually comments on how well I speak Thai. Unfortunately, at this stage I don’t understand much else of what he says to me, so the temptation to feel proud of my linguistic abilities is short lived. I hope though, that even though I can’t (yet) understand all that the taxi drivers, shop keepers and language instructors are saying to me, that I am demonstrating that I value them and are willing to invest time into learning how to communicate with them in their own language.

I think testing our commitment is also important. As one of the main goals of all this language learning is being able to disciple people and discipleship is not always easy. Like language study, it is often slow, it involves sacrifice of personal time and there are times when results are seldom seen. In times of frustration over the language learning process, when we feel we can’t possibly learn one more exception to the rule, it is easy to doubt and wonder whether it is all worth the effort. It is at these times that we need to look to the cross and the demonstration of God’s love and commitment to us. “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NIV) (If you are not sure how to pray for Partners in language study, perhaps you could pray that we would continue to be compelled by Christ’s love to persevere through what sometimes feels like a testing of our commitment to serve overseas).

Learning the local language also helps with understanding the culture. Apart from all the practice reading exercises about family relationships, religious practices and the news and media, the vocabulary and sentence patterns used in language often gives insights into what a culture values and the way its people think. For example, a common phrase in Thai is “mai bpen rai” which translated into Aussie means “no worries”. This is an attitude I need to develop more of when we invite people over for dinner and they arrive over an hour late because they oversleep then get stuck in Bangkok traffic. Rather than getting annoyed or becoming judgmental, God is teaching me to be more gracious, flexible and understanding of others. This is an important lesson in godliness in any part of the world, but particularly in a culture where relationships are far more important than keeping to a schedule or plan.

Finally, time spent in language study also gives us time to build relationships. While there is a desk and plenty of work waiting for Dan in the Child Protection Office, going to language school and meeting up with the team for lunch most days, has allowed him invaluable time getting to know them before he has to work with them and help manage team projects. It has also allowed him time as an ‘outsider’, to see and understand a bit better how the politics of the church denomination work (sadly even here there are church politics). For me, practising language is an excellent excuse to meet up with a Thai friend for coffee, chat to taxi drivers or sit down and talk with the lady who comes to look after Lilla while I teach. It is only after relationships are built that discipleship can effectively take place. Just as Dan will, God willing, be able to do a better job as project manager knowing how the team works and what they value and prioritize. Hopefully, they will respect his opinions more knowing who he is and what his values are. I believe the same is true for discipleship. I think it goes without saying that we value advice more from people we know and respect. Likewise, we are better able to encourage and advise those that we know well.

Humility, commitment and understanding are all characteristics that are refined in us through the process of language study and are essential for effective discipleship, mutual encouragement and the building up of God’s church, in which we are all equal members, still in need of purifying through God’s grace. And of course, none of this can happen outside the context of relationship. So, during those times when we despair at the seemingly countless number of rules required to determine whether the word we are reading is said in a high or low tone, it is helpful to remember that we are not just learning to speak another language. We are building relationships, practising humility, demonstrating commitment and gaining a better understanding of our new culture. So that we ourselves will be better disciples of Jesus and better able to disciple others as followers of Christ.

Rachel and Dan are Interserve Partners in Thailand.

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:27-2:5

From Fatalism to Hope

When I first met Basma six years ago, I was immediately drawn to her sense of humour and positive outlook. Like many other women in this small Muslim nation, Basma married young and soon had six children to provide for.

Basma made a small income through sewing simple dresses for her neighbours but when her husband, Ahmad, lost his job, they struggled to make ends meet. Although unhappy, they resigned themselves to the life they had been given, with the fatalism typical of Islam. They also both chewed qat (an addictive narcotic leaf) regularly, an addiction which contributed to their financial hardship.

Finding the best way to help About four years ago Basma needed to have some urgent dental work done. When she approached me for money, it was awkward: I could see that my friend was in pain but I didn’t want to just start handing over money, as it inevitably leads to dependency and loss of dignity. So I gave Basma some paracetamol to help with her immediate pain, then made her a proposal – she had already been making bags out of local embroidered cloth for a friend, so I told her I would pay her costs, plus give her a fair hourly rate, if she could make some bags for me to sell to other foreigners.

Basma borrowed money from relatives to fix her teeth, but made enough money from her first production of bags to start paying them back. The opportunity to earn her own money not only helped Basma through an embarrassing and desperate situation but also provided her with more independence.

A dream comes true Basma had once had a dream that we would end up in business together. Even though great importance is given to dreams in Islam, I thought little of it when Basma told me about her dream… yet within a year, our micro-enterprise had begun.

An expat colleague had already started a little craft business with her local friends using traditional embroidery, so we teamed up together. We had no formal business experience but it seemed an enjoyable and helpful way to generate regular income for our local friends. We decided to name our little business ‘Patience’ in the local language… and we certainly needed lots of it to get the product ‘just right’. Because work is seen as a curse, there is often no pride in finishing things here, and we have returned products multiple times for reworking to make them suitable for selling.

Our business sells three types of products. The first is qamariya, small, decorative halfmoon windows that are made out of plaster, cement and coloured glass. The second group includes embroidered pillowcases, mobilephone bags and pencil cases. One woman cuts the fabric and coordinates the colours, gives the pieces to six other women to embroider, and then the products are sewn by two other women. The third is what grew out of my response to Basma. Her three daughters help her sew the bags, and this gives them some money for clothing, schoolbooks, the bus, and social events.

Encouraging giving Even though our business is very small, it helps local craftspeople generate income to support their families. The women in particular have benefited, as it enables them to earn an aboveaverage income in a country where opportunities for employment outside the home are not common.

We display the products in our guesthouse, a guesthouse in the capital city, and in a café. We also encourage other Christians to take the products at cost to sell to their own friends or through stalls at meeting places or markets. We have even set up a website, but postage in and out of our country is a problem so most goods are carried by hand, which places a big limitation on the development of the business.

Our customers appreciate being able to easily buy genuine gifts from the region, and feel good about the fact they are helping families directly with every purchase. Also, the products are portable, making them a very convenient gift to take to families, friends and supporters to help them remember our country in prayer. Any extra money generated is used for product development and for giving non-monetary bonuses to the craftspeople involved, from schoolbooks up to computers.

Growing hope and confidence Life is harder now in the city than it was six years ago. However, the perseverance of Basma and her family has paid off. Her husband now has regular work as a security guard, two of their daughters are in higher education – and are being encouraged by their father to finish before getting married – and the other four children are doing well in school. Basma and Ahmad have even stopped chewing qat, after realizing that every leaf was money that could be used for education instead.

I have grown to love Basma and her family. Although it is against the law to share Jesus openly here, and conversion from Islam can mean the death penalty, we have had many “God” conversations that have all come through developing a business together. Basma’s sewing continues to improve – last year she even taught herself the traditional embroidery and within two weeks was doing a professional job – and she now has a hope and a confidence that I believe comes from God. Although she has not confessed, she now knows life can be greatly different from what Islamic fatalism expects. Pray for her to be brave and to start reading the Bible. Pray for all her family to read it also, and together make a decision for Him.

Sue and her family have been serving in the Arab world since 2004.

Security Risk

Paul Bendor Samuel, the Interserve International Director, looks at the changing face of suffering in mission.

I recently heard from a friend working with a mission in Africa. An Ethiopian missionary friend of his recently died from cerebral malaria. He and his wife had fled their work three times due to warfare and constant attacks, but always felt called to return.

It is humbling to see the sacrifice of people working with these young national mission movements. They ask us difficult questions: What is our view of risk? How do we assess it? How do we decide when to go, or not go; to stay or to leave?

Cross-cultural mission has always involved elevated risks. Here are a few:

Health and personal security: occasionally leading to death, generally the risks are greater for our national brothers and sisters.

Impact on our children: yes, children are resilient but they are vulnerable to emotional traumas at various stages of the mission life cycle.

Ministry cut short through forced exit: the destabilising effect of not knowing when you will be asked to leave, sometimes at such short notice there is no time for proper closure.

Professional deskilling: This is a particular risk in today’s fast moving world. Nor is there guarantee of getting suitable employment on return to the passport country.

Financial insecurity in older age: long term service will likely mean little savings and limited pension.

In recent years mission agencies have had to grapple with the realities of risk and suffering in a fresh way. At least two factors have brought this about.

Firstly, mission is being done in a context of increased hostility. For most of the twentieth century, western missions operated in a relatively protected context. Colonial governments provided security. Emerging nationalism was as yet not generally allied to religious ideology. The past twenty years have seen that change. The search for identity in a globalised world has fed the rise of fundamentalist expressions of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, matching the totalitarianism of communism. This change has come largely as a surprise to the Western mission movement, used to ministry from the privileged position of power.

This leads to the second reason why mission agencies are thinking about risk and suffering. Increased risk in mission come as a stark contrast to the prevailing church culture: ease, comfort and security. This culture is not simply a western church phenomenon. It dominates wherever the church is experiencing the affluence generated by capitalism. Present in many parts of the world, it is the dominant culture in the church in the West. Attitudes to life expectancy are a reflection of this. Today, life expectancy in richer nations is around 80 years. Long life is the expected norm in those countries that have provided most of the mission work force until recently. Long life is seen as our ‘right’.

Contrast this with those missionaries that left carrying their possessions in wooden boxes that could also double as coffins. Britains in the 18th and 19th centuries generally did not expect to live past the age of 40.

Our view of risk is so culturally conditioned. Many in the mission force from the global south do not come from cultures where ease, comfort and security are taken for granted. Does this in part help explain the bravery and boldness of some of our colleagues in the newer mission nations? Views of what constitutes ‘acceptable risk’ will be challenged in agencies like Interserve as we open ourselves up to partnership with those who come with very different cultural assumptions.

How, then, are we to hold together obedient, sacrificial discipleship with appropriate risk taking, recognising our cultural conditioning? For us in Interserve it means at least three things.

1. Recognise and own the risks: Jesus warns his followers of setting out in discipleship without recognising the cost. As we recruit and select mission Partners, it is our responsibility to discuss the cost of cross-cultural mission. Selection and preparation must involve the church family and, where possible, the family of the person going. Orientation must involve reflection on the Partner’s theology of risk and suffering in the light of scriptural teaching.

2. Identify and reduce unnecessary risks: At times we bring problems on ourselves through our lack of planning or unwise behaviour. Those who join Interserve join a missional community with much collected wisdom. We cannot eliminate risk, nor should we attempt to do so. However, there is now a mass of understanding about how to reduce the kinds of risks mentioned at the beginning of this article. Much of this wisdom is what is now known as good ‘member care’. This should now include training in personal security, given the contexts in which most Partners work in Asia and the Arab World.

3. Reflect on the cost of taking the risks: When considering the questions of risk and suffering, we focus on the risks that occur because we go.

If we do not take the risks, on the other hand, there will be those who continue to live with a distorted view of Christ, prejudiced against the gospel because they have never seen or experienced the transforming love of Christ in action.

If we do not take the risks, there may be individuals, families and communities that never have the opportunity to become disciples of Jesus Christ.

If we do not take the risks, there will be those who continue to lack community development, employment, health care, discipleship, theological education and who will live in environments that continue to suffer degradation.

If we do not take the risks, there will be those who continue to live under unjust and oppressive structures with no one to advocate for them.

But the risks of not going are not simply borne by the peoples we have been called to serve. It is we who will suffer. We will miss out in joining God in His redemptive, reconciling and recreating mission. Our churches will miss out on the renewing work of the Spirit that occurs when we step out in faith and obedience in mission. By not taking the risks now, we will risk our life’s work perishing in fire of God’s judgement as we settle for security and comfort now. (1 Cor 3:12-15).

We recognise risk. We work to reduce risk. Yet the question remains:

Do we embrace the security risk, or has security become our greatest risk?

Stay on target

When I was going through the letters that our family had written through a 20-year period, I was amazed at how many things I had forgotten about. But there are situations that have remained with me almost as clear as the day they happened. These times are not recorded in letters. These are the situations when we never got around to writing home. They were days when the Lord spoke so intimately that it was hard to repeat them to others.

I remember one such time I was sitting numbly in the small waiting area beside the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit of the Islamabad Children’s Hospital. It is late March and Ramadan – although I am not fasting this year. Nazreen, beside me, is telling the rest of us her story. She has come in from her village with her third child, just newly born, who is now in an incubator on the other side of the glass partition. She was married at the age of 16 and is now 22. The doctor has just left the room having lectured Nazreen on eating properly. He has told her that she must eat better – so that she will be able to nurse well and ensure that subsequent babies will be born healthy. He has told her that she should not be fasting during Ramadan.

Nazreen had nodded obediently to the doctor, but when he has left, spreads out her hands in a gesture of helplessness: “What can I do?” she asks the rest of us mothers of the NICU, “my mother-in-law requires me to keep the fast. I can’t just go home and demand these foods.” We all shift uncomfortably on the hard, slatted benches, both from soreness (we have all just given birth) and from knowing that there is no answer to Nazreen’s dilemma. Other women nod – obviously understanding her plight from a firsthand perspective. Our language teacher had told us of an Urdu proverb, “Ek aurat thi…”, which implies that despite good advice and scientific reasoning, the older women will have the final say, and everyone understands that in these kinds of matters, the mother-in-law is the head of the household.

There is a sliding window in the wall between our area and the NICU. Two doctors stand on the other side in conversation and I quickly realize that they are discussing my baby. Perhaps because I am a foreigner they assume that I will not understand them speaking in Urdu. We had brought Sophie in just hours after she was born because we couldn’t wake her up. Since being admitted to the hospital because she was in coma, she has also been diagnosed with a bowel blockage. Surgery has already been discussed with us, but now I overhear one doctor tell the other that they suspect the baby has Down’s Syndrome. I am stunned and overwhelmed. Tears begin to roll down my face and I lean my head back against the wall. Then, as clear as day, a voice inside me asks, “Do you want her?”

I am amazed at the question. Its honesty makes me uncomfortable. “Do I want her?” I think about what life going forward will be like raising a child with a disability. I have no reference for it, as I have no experience of someone with Down’s Syndrome. I have absolutely no idea what it will mean. Then I think back over the last 10 months since our third daughter, Danielle died suddenly of leukemia. Because we live in a country where good medical care is difficult to come by and diagnostic labs almost non-existent, she was left undiagnosed until just 2 days before she died. Despite the wonderful way God had prepared us for Danielle’s death and the way He has born us up subsequently, her dying was the hardest thing I ever had to do – and I know it is not something I would chose to go through again. I have learned that it is always good to say “yes” to God.

“Yes, I want her”, I am able to answer. I’m not sure I would have had the wisdom to choose life over death 10 months earlier.

Later that day Bushra joins us in the waiting room having come in with her eleventh child. The eldest of these is the only other one to survive infancy and we all can tell that this miniscule baby she has brought in will not live long either. It becomes evident to me that Bushra has a learning disability and is probably seen by her husband’s family only as a baby-making machine. Again the doctor lectures: “Too many pregnancies too close together”. Again the women of the NICU spread their hands in helplessness. These decisions are not in their power.

The next morning I am told that Sophie is out of the woods health-wise but will remain in the hospital for a few days and I know that this is the result of the conversation that God had engaged me in the day before.

I begin to bring in food to eat – despite it being Ramadan. Normally I would respect the fast and not eat in public but here in the waiting area of NICU I realize that I want to set an example. The next day a couple of the women have courageously followed suit and by the following day we are all eating our lunches together.

The population of the waiting area changes with the days. Some leave with a healthy baby, some leave with no baby – including Bushra. There are no more tears from me. I cannot feel sorry for myself in this company. After 2 weeks in and out of the NICU of Islamabad Children’s Hospital I am able to go home with Sophie to start a new adventure.

The psychologists of this world talk about finding a “happy place” – that place in your mind where you feel peaceful and where the stresses of life can’t upset you. Usually, it’s a warm, sandy beach, or a shady cottage in the woods. But Jesus tells us about a different “happy place” that defies the definition that the world offers. “Blessed (happy) are the poor…. the needy… those who mourn… the humble… those who really want to see justice done… those who work for peace…” This is the real happy place He tells us. We are all seekers with a deep hunger, and prevailing restlessness, not to find safety and comfort, but rather meaning and authenticity.

In the Freedom Business

Millions of people in this world suffer from extreme poverty and exploitation. When we seek to reach these people with Jesus’ love, we need to communicate this message in a meaningful and appropriate way.

Our brothers and sisters living in situations of suffering need liberation from the physical and emotional pain they face every day, as well as the freedom that is found in a life centred in Jesus. Not only do people need to hear the gospel but they also need to feel it, touch it and experience its healing and freeing power in a tangible way. To communicate who Jesus is, how much He loves people and what it means to follow Him, we need a way that humbly and sacrificially brings God’s justice, healing, and redeeming love to all aspects of a person’s life… in other words, we need a holistic approach to mission and ministry.

My wife and I, along with a team of passionate and inspirational people, live in a red-light district in Kolkata, India, and work in a business committed to sharing the message of Jesus in a holistic manner. The business was started ten years ago by a New Zealand couple, who moved to Kolkata with the simple desire to extend the love of Jesus to their neighbours. However, after the Smiths* naively signed up for an apartment in the middle of the day, they discovered they were living in a red-light area, and their ‘neighbours’ were over 10,000 women trapped in sexual exploitation and abuse.

Undeterred by the enormity of the task, and realising that communicating Jesus’ love to these women through word only would be insufficient, the Smiths came up with the idea of starting an export business. The goal of the business would be to rescue women from the sex industry, but they knew that more than alternative employment was needed for the women to find true freedom. They needed a place where they could heal physically and emotionally, and where they could have a real encounter with Jesus in a new community of love, care and trust. With this vision as the foundation, the Smiths’ business was born.

From its small beginnings of 20 women working out of a rented apartment making jute bags, the business now employs over 170 women, and sells hundreds of thousands of fair trade bags and t-shirts every year. Most importantly, though, it’s a business that offers an opportunity to be part of a community of unconditional love, where people can find freedom, hope and healing, and come to know Jesus. Hundreds of women’s lives are being transformed through this holistic approach to ministry, and the stories emerging from the work of the business are amazing and inspirational.

Suraya* was trafficked from rural Bangladesh when she was thirteen years old. She came from a poor, uneducated family, and faced very limited employment options. When a smartly dressed businessman told her he could secure her well-paid domestic employment in the city – the wages would support her entire family! – Suraya agreed to go. However, there was no domestic service job waiting for her; instead she was taken to a red-light area, and was sold, drugged and raped. This was her life for twenty years until she started working in the Smiths’ newly opened business. Suraya’s new job provided not only freedom from the sex trade but also education and healthcare. As she was loved and cared for and treated with respect, Suraya regained her confidence and self-esteem, and became a follower of Jesus. Now a senior member of the business, Suraya still walks the streets and lanes where she used to work, but now it is to take a message of freedom, hope and healing to the women still trapped there.

Holistic mission – bringing Jesus’ love and liberating power to every aspect of a person’s life – should not be reserved just for the overseas mission field. It can, and should, be applied wherever we seek to express the love of Jesus, whether in a red-light district in India, in a struggling community in New Zealand, at school, at work, or with the person who lives next door. Jesus’ call to His followers is to bring the kingdom of God to earth, to feed the hungry, heal the sick, care for the widow and orphan, to be generous, to turn the other cheek, and to invite people to find freedom in Him and His way.

My personal journey that led me here to Kolkata, to help free women from slavery, was shaped by many things: overseas travel where I witnessed extreme suffering in the lives of women; questions about God, His plans for the world, and what it truly meant to be a follower of Jesus; and questions about the life I was living. Was working nine to five – so I could buy things I didn’t really need – and just ‘doing’ Church on Sunday, really living out Jesus’ call to build the kingdom of God here on earth?

As I wrestled with these issues, I reflected on the six months I’d spent as a volunteer with the Smiths’ business several years before, and on how much my own faith had been impacted and transformed by the women I had prayed, sung and eaten with. And I realised that my time of living in that red-light district, walking as the broken person I am with other broken people, and seeking transformation together in a community of faith centred on Jesus, had made more sense, had been more exciting, and held more beauty than anything I had experienced before.

It was a combination of these experiences, thoughts and a strong sense of God’s calling that drew my wife and me back to Kolkata, to live and serve on a long-term basis in the red-light district. It’s emotionally demanding here, noisy, dirty, crowded and often heartbreaking… but there is no place I’d rather be than here in the centre of God’s will.

Dan and Mai are Kiwi Partners. Dan is 33 and has a marketing background, Mai is 25 and is a graphic designer.

* Not their real names.

Steps on a Ladder

“I remember when you came to help out at summer camp,” Dana said. “We played that game… baseball.”

“You do?” I was a little surprised. Not only had that been over two years ago, before I moved here, but many people had come in different years to assist with the summer camp programmes – why would she remember me?

But as we continued our conversation over chai, it turned out I wasn’t the only one she remembered. She and all the other young people remember at least the faces and some of the names of those who helped out with the programmes over the years.

I work with an Orphanage Project in an industrial city in Central Asia. I first visited this Project back in the summer of 2008 (as Dana remembered) to check it out, to find out whether I wanted to join in the work that was being done among the children from two local orphanages. I was so impressed by the way the Project majored on relationships – how these attention- and love-starved kids were being treated like real people – that I moved here in April 2009.

The founder of the Orphanage Project, Keri, has been here about ten years. As I understand it, she had been invited to visit a children’s home where she was struck by the poor condition of the children: they were small, underfed, inadequately dressed and timid. Soon after, she was joined by Mary, who is still on staff, and together they initiated programmes to fill some of the severe gaps in the orphans’ developmental, academic and life-skills education.

Being raised in an orphanage leaves most of the children apathetic and highly dependent, with no idea how to function outside its walls. Most of the children are diagnosed with a disability of one form or another, ranging from the relatively minor – such as behavioural problems and developmental delays – through to mentally disabled. For some of the children the main issues are institutionalisation and the barriers they will encounter as they enter life with a ‘mental disability’ label. This not only affects their chances of further education but narrows their options for good employment.

The programmes, including reading, maths, life skills, summer camps, city excursions, Saturday visits, can be loosely described as steps on a ladder reaching towards the ultimate goal of seeing the orphanage ‘graduates’ well adapted to life outside their institutions. We also help the children build a support network by recruiting and training local volunteers to work with us.

The graduate programme After I had been here 18 months, we were approached by someone from the Department of Education who wanted to know what we planned to do for children once they left the orphanage. At the age of eighteen, having completed their mandatory attendance at a technical college, the teenaged orphans step into the big, wide world, usually with no support network, no job and no place to live. So, with the backing of the government, we began our graduate programme, in which we help the graduates through the challenges of moving from institutional care to real life, and provide training and encouragement as they seek jobs, housing and a place in society.

And that is how ‘my place’ became ‘our place’: two graduates, Dana and Indira, moved in with me as part of our formal graduate programme, and that baseball conversation over chai (tea) was one we shared in the months we lived together.

Dana and Indira The girls moved in with me on a holiday weekend, and before it was over, they had written their resumes and, though terrified, were ready to start door-knocking for work. Only an hour and a half into the job search, Dana bounced in the door. “I’ve got a job!”

The next day, Indira was really hoping to come home with the same news. I accompanied her as she went from door to door. She came out of the tenth café with a sigh. “This is just not my lucky day!” she said as she came towards me.

We headed to the next one. With a deep breath she disappeared once more and I resumed my wait on the street. She was gone a while this time. Eventually she came out beaming from ear to ear and jabbering away, not making much sense. Attempt number eleven made that day her lucky day.

This was just over eight months ago. The conversation over dinner that night was all excitement; it was as if they each had the world in their hands. They had been in the city for less than a week, both had jobs, which they had found themselves, and this was just the beginning of much more.

Our life settled into a routine as the girls learned the responsibilities of daily living, how to cook and clean, and how to respect those they lived with. Even more challenging was discovering the difference between needs and wants as they learned to stretch their salary across the whole month. But the hardest part was working out what to do with the weekend, how to behave appropriately in the new world around them, and how to act in social situations.

It’s been about four months since they both moved out into flats and became fully independent. They know, however, that my door will always be open to them if they ever want to swing by.

Dana stopped in the other day. We hadn’t seen each other for three weeks so she wanted to catch up. I had another friend visiting so the three of us had chai together. When Dana was living with me, she tended to demand full attention at all times. Her mouth rarely stopped moving and the topic was usually whatever was on her mind. This time, however, I noticed an impressive change: Dana participated in the conversation without taking it over, offering her thoughts and questions and waiting and listening for responses. It was as if, all of a sudden, she had become an adult.

It has been an amazing, exciting and stressful experience for me, watching over Dana and Indira and growing and learning with them. Those few months gave support at a crucial time as the girls transitioned into life in the big, wide world. We are confident that Indira and Dana will go on to establish themselves as independent, valuable members of society, and we are looking forward to our next group of graduates.

Hope has been working with children and youth in Central Asia for over eight years.

Poverty and the environment

As we look at how the 21st century is shaping up, we have four really big challenges: climate change, biodiversity loss, human population and resource depletion – especially oil and water. These four issues all impact on each other and in turn affect economics, politics and global security. What does mission mean in a century facing these major environmental challenges? This article will look at a number of biblical passages to provide a theology of environmental mission.

Creation and incarnation An interesting place to start is John 1 and the importance of creation and incarnation to our understanding of mission. It has powerful things to say about the value of the material world. The Word is the agent of creation: all things came into being through Him and without Him not one thing came into being (verse 3). So the whole of creation looks to God as its source. The passage goes on to say that in Him was life; that this life was the light of all people; and this light shines in the darkness. The implication is not that any part of creation is darkness, but that non-creation (that which is not of God) is darkness. This might be the non-being of Augustine, or it might be other interpretations of evil, but it is not God’s creation, which God created to be good.

John 1 has great significance for the doctrine of the incarnation: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (verse 14). Jesus was without sin and affirmed the goodness of creation by becoming a part of it. John 1 connects a high view of the biblical doctrine of creation with a strongly historical and physical belief in the doctrine of the incarnation. This has implications for the way we see salvation and redemption.

Creation and salvation What is the link between creation and salvation? Romans 8 is a good place to investigate these themes. A popular passage for biblical teaching on the environment is Romans 8:18-27 which does seem to be written directly for our own environmental situation today. But before we rush to apply it, we need to remember that it was written within a very different world. The Romans to whom Paul was writing would not have been in the shadow of global warming or environmental meltdown. For them the term “Creation Groaning” was not something that would have resonated with contemporary environmental problems. So what was Paul getting at and what would the Roman Christians have thought? There are four mentions of “creation” in this passage. There are only 24 in the whole New Testament, and this is certainly the only place where the “whole of creation” is included in the same sequence. Like John 1, this passage is based on the understanding that humans are part of God’s creation. The human experience of suffering is part of creation groaning and not something separate. There is a lot of discussion over this concept of a “cosmic fall” and we are sure there will be differing views among readers. Part of the reason why we support the concept of some sort of cosmic fall is that the opposite, a cosmic redemption, is seen in Scripture. We can see this in the amazing promise in verses 20-21: the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay.

Isaiah can help to explain a cosmic redemption. Here we find the idea of a renewal of creation that is integral to the prophecies of salvation at the end of the age. For example in Isaiah 11:6-9 “The wolf will live with the lamb”, we see a picture of harmony between nature and humans. In Isaiah 65:17: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth”, we have an image of creation renewed. The Romans would almost certainly have viewed Paul’s concept, of creation in bondage and waiting to be liberated, as looking toward these redemption images. So creation groaning points toward a redeemed and renewed creation.

But there is another very powerful image in this passage, of a woman in childbirth (Romans 8:22). In the first century, the pangs of childbirth were used as illustrations of cosmic woes accompanying God’s judgment, and they are a metaphor here for the universally shared pain that anticipates new life and the new creation to come. So what will this new life look like? Creation will obtain the freedom of the glory of the kingdom of God, and will become a magnificent sign of God’s love and faithfulness. Our God, who became part of His creation and died for us, was raised bodily as the first fruits of the redemption of our cosmos. We see glimpses of what all of that looks like in Isaiah and Revelation 21-22.

Creation and the kingdom Redemption therefore impacts on the whole creation and not just humans. This means that being part of God’s redemptive plan for creation is a mission imperative alongside proclamation, discipleship, justice and a concern for the poor. As we engage more deeply in integral mission, we discover that God is just a whole lot bigger than we may have imagined! Environmental mission looks toward seeing God’s kingdom come and will be done on Earth as in Heaven.

Margot Hodson is a church pastor and Martin Hodson is an environmental biologist. They are joint authors of Cherishing the Earth and work with the John Ray Initiative.


Broadway and Likay

My name is Yuriam Manowanna. I work at the Christian Communications Institute (CCI) in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Many years ago when I was in my final year at Payap University, I prayed to God that if He would like me to work for Him, I was willing. Upon graduation in 1980, I was offered a position at CCI, and it was an answer to prayer. I love Thai dance and I love to sing, so the opportunity to spread the Word of God through CCI’s performing arts ministry has been a great blessing to me.

CCI is a very unique ministry. It came about in the 1970s through the vision of a special missionary couple. One of them had been a performer on Broadway herself while her husband was an engineer-turned evangelist. They wanted to share the Gospel in a way Thai people could appreciate and understand, and what they chose was the traditional Thai art form of likay, or folk drama. These missionaries were brave because in those days the Thai church was wary of such things. Traditional musical instruments, dance and drama were associated with the Buddhist culture and had no part in Christian worship services. Slowly and with great care, the founders of CCI worked together with a family of professional likay artists, seminary students, and performers like myself, creating a ministry that not only became accepted by the church but was extremely popular as well.

This is a fact: if these missionaries had not come to Thailand and had not started CCI, we would not have our ministry today. We Thai Christians are almost embarrassed to admit that it was foreigners who thought of using our Thai artistic expressions to communicate God’s Word, and it was foreigners who have helped us to preserve a beautiful Thai art form! But of course, we are so thankful. And those of us who have been involved in CCI have been personally inspired and blessed. We have also learned many important things that help us grow in our faith.

I remember one trip our CCI likay troupe took to the town of Phetburi. I was quite new to the team at the time and I was struck by the way CCI’s founding couple truly reached out to the people there. In particular they were drawn to the Lao Song, an ethnic minority group. I watched as they tried to learn some of their language and expressed interest in their food and crafts. I was touched to see them continue to support and help these people long after we left that place. Genuine love for God’s children of all kinds — even those that we Thais sometimes overlook — is something quite difficult to cultivate, and yet over the years this love has been demonstrated over and over again by these missionary friends.

This couple also has modeled humility, which is something that was strange for me at first. In our culture, people in high positions rarely admit to a mistake or ask forgiveness of someone under them, but on many occasions I saw my colleague apologize after having a disagreement with one of our team members. Even more striking was that he always admitted his mistake. This demonstration of humility is a good thing that we at CCI have learned from and which I will always remember.

Over the years I have come to know not only the founders of CCI, who are almost like parents to me, but also many other short-term and long-term missionaries. They have shown us the importance of living together with people from other cultures. They have taught us the value of using our gifts for the glory of God—whatever those gifts may be. Above all else missionaries have taught us the virtue of patience. How patient they must be as they learn our language and customs! They do not just pack up and leave when things become difficult. They patiently persevere. The early missionaries to Thailand experienced great hardship, disease and loss. We Thai Christians are indebted to them for their sacrifices and for their contributions, not to mention for bringing the Gospel. Nowadays life is easier, but still we know there are challenges that require much patience. When these challenges arise we must help each other if we are going to be partners in ministry. Yes, it is good for missionaries to learn as much as they can about our country and culture before they arrive, and dedicate time to language study once they are here. But we Thais should also prepare ourselves and be willing to learn from our Christian partners who come from other places. What a valuable experience it is to live and work together, building the Kingdom of God!

Some people ask if missionaries are still needed in Thailand. It is true that the first missionaries came over a century ago and the Thai church has been well established for years, with qualified Thai leadership and adequate resources. It is also true that Thailand is not on the list of lesserdeveloped countries with great physical needs. No, our needs are not as obvious as those of many countries in the region and beyond. Yet I believe that we still value the Christian partnership and vision that our missionary colleagues have to offer. Thais helping Thais alone is not always enough. We need help with addressing contemporary issues that challenge the church. We need help with networking, with language skills. And we welcome creative, culturally appropriate ideas for sharing the Gospel—such as the idea CCI’s founders had when they stepped out of the boundaries to form a Christian likay troupe and establish CCI in Chiang Mai.

By Yuriam Manowanna with English and editorial assistance from Ellen Collins, who with her husband Andy are IS USA partners serving with CCI since 2006. (Photos from the CCI Archives).

Tough Love

In many of the poorer houses here the walls don’t always reach up to the roof which is shared by several houses. There is often a gap through which sound travels from next door. Or through which, if you stood on something tall – say, a table – you could look.

I was visiting Wendy when I met Amanda in this way. She squeezed up against the top of the wall to peer over at me. I could only see a slice of her face: an eye, part of a smile, a flash of the orange scarf tied around her hair. She greeted me and chatted for a few minutes before disappearing again behind the wall.

In a scandalised whisper, Wendy told me Amanda’s story. Unmarried, she had had a relationship with a local man and become pregnant. Her parents kept her hidden at home ever since. When the baby was born Amanda’s mother strangled him because he was illegitimate and a shame to their family. Amanda is still imprisoned in the house; she has never been out since.

“Do you visit her, Wendy?” I asked. “No, my husband won’t allow it.” “Does anybody visit her? Does she have any friends?” “No, nobody visits her because of what she did.”

We sat in silence for a bit as I chewed over the information. I was horrified that Amanda’s mother – a woman who had once held her own babies in her arms and loved and nurtured them – could have killed her own grandson. I wanted to cry for that little boy that never got to live. And I thought about Amanda, lonely and isolated, forever living out the consequences of her sin. And then I thought about the community. Steering clear. Staying away. Lest they be contaminated by her sin, or incriminated by association; tainted. Neither her family nor her neighbours will forgive Amanda for what she has done. And while her family will deny what has happened, others like Wendy will continue to repeat it in hushed tones. It will be revisited often, as a warning to the young women of the neighbourhood, against the follies of romantic involvement or of doing anything else which might bring shame on their families.

Yet I know that there is forgiveness available for Amanda. There is One who has already redeemed her and who is waiting to take possession of His prize. One who sees that she is precious, though at fault; beautiful though broken.

So this morning, as I write this, I am asking myself again “what would Jesus do?”. And the problem is that I know the answer. I’m just not sure I’m ready to act on it. In a culture where reputation is everything, am I willing to throw mine down, to bring Jesus to this woman? And while the questions crowd in, “what would the neighbours think?” and “would they still want to know me?” or perhaps seemingly more important, “what will it do to my witness?”, I know that these thoughts are foolishness. The truth is that this is incarnational living. The demonstration of God’s forgiveness. The extension of His grace to all. And if it ruffles a few feathers in the neighbourhood, so be it. As John said, “He must become greater; I must become less.”(Jn.3:30) After all, His reputation is my concern; my own is not.