Incarnational mission

In 1881 Elizabeth Bielby, a nurse, Interserve Partner and founder of a small hospital for women in India, was granted an audience with Queen Victoria. She pleaded on behalf of the Maharani of Punna for more medically trained women. The Queen responded by allowing women to begin training as doctors in the UK and more hospitals for women to be opened in India. The liberation, restoration and empowering of women marginalised “overseas”, but also “at home”, had begun a new chapter. Interserve’s early history is representative of the pioneering work of women in mission.

A friend said to me recently that she could see how beginning as an all-women’s mission had shaped Interserve.¹ When the first women went to the Indian subcontinent, they had to work in partnership with, and under, other organisations because of acceptable cultural norms at that time. They pioneered the work of local women as partners in ministry. Local Bible women were an integral part of teaching and reaching out to the community. Community was a way of life because, as single women, they had to find ways of being accepted as part of society. Relationships with the local church were foundational.

Women have always done, and still do, mission as women. Friendship and hospitality that encourage trust, intimacy and community are at the heart of women at work in mission: nurturing relationships, being present, sharing stories of life and family together. This is about mutuality that helps both the missionary and those they are among to grow.

Emptiness, hiddenness and weeping characterise women’s participation. Women in many places are valued differently, and so those working among them live out self-emptying redemptively. Going to places where people feel broken, empty, hurting, unseen and unrecognised, women incarnate Christ who seeks, finds, heals, redeems and celebrates.

In ministry that is comforting and healing, women draw on the Holy Spirit. Mission is about healing the wounds, so many of which are borne by women. Women offer the good news of love, mercy and forgiveness by coming alongside to comfort those in distress. Recognising the other—women who are hidden, unrecognised and marginalised in their communities—is at the heart of women in mission. Seeing and listening are acts of love that include and empower so that the marginalised are given voice and lifted up.

With mind-sets of pragmatic strategy, it can be hard to embrace friendship and hospitality, emptiness, hiddenness and weeping, comfort and healing, and seeing and listening. The story of women’s contribution in mission is perhaps better read through these understandings. We know too little of women’s contribution to the transformation of communities and societies.

Here’s one example. We know few names of the many women who served faithfully in Pakistan at Kinnaird School and Kinnaird College (founded by Interserve), and at the Catholic schools. The Pakistani women activists who fought the injustices and abuses perpetrated under the Hudood Ordinances² had all been educated at Christian institutions. These activists were profoundly influenced by the unnamed women who walked with them through education, and they became advocates for justice in their society.

“As we engage in mission, whether that is through weeping with the broken-hearted, consoling the bereaved, bringing healing and comfort to those who are hurting or whether it is through surprising and unexpected friendships, or through parties and celebrations and feasts, or through hearing silent ones into speech, may we too rediscover the joy of the Gospel as we deepen our love for and friendship with Jesus.”³

Cathy Hine has served as an Interserve Partner for 30 years, working with women in the Muslim world. She now leads When Women Speak…

Learn more at www.whenwomenspeak.net

¹ I am indebted to Cathy Ross, Young Lee Hertig, Moyra Dale and many others in shaping my thinking and understanding.

² Enacted in 1977 to bring Pakistani law in alignment with Islamic sharia law, with profound consequences for the status of women.

³ Ross, Cathy. I have called you friends: Women in Mission (2017).

The housewife and the shopkeeper

When I first met Saule she worked as a vegetable and fruit seller. Her kiosk was a tiny wooden shack with a rough-cut tin roof. Saule was young, yet carried a notable dignity. She wore a head scarf and conservative clothes. Most Central Asian women and young girls, at least in this region with its former Soviet Union history, do not wear head scarves unless they are from strictly practising families. What really caught my eye was the copy of the holy Qur’an on the shelf beside her chair.

“Thank you, Saule. That’s all I need today.” As I took my purchases I asked, “Is that your holy book?”

“Yes, it is.”

“How nice that you try to read the holy book even while at work! I also read my holy book – the Torah and Injil*.”

After this, whenever she wasn’t too busy we had some meaningful conversations on different stories from our books, such as Abraham, Moses and Job. Our friendship grew and sometimes I brought homemade snacks and sweets and we enjoyed chatting together.

Saule worked seven days a week, twelve hours a day. She worked hard to support her family back home. “What’s your dream, Saule? If you weren’t working in this job, what would you rather be doing?”

“I would love to become a medical doctor”, answered Saule with a bright smile on her face. “Well, what’s stopping you? You are only 19 years old. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life in this little box do you?”

I knew she could have a brighter future than merely being exploited by others; in fact, I had noticed she didn’t often use a calculator to add up the prices. That day I offered to bless her and pray for the guidance of the Almighty. And we opened up our hands towards heaven and prayed in the name of Isa*. “Lead Saule into her destiny, according to your good and perfect will. Show us the way we should go. Give us courage to follow the dream you give into our lives.”

Saule showed great courage to quit the job. On her last day before returning to her home in the south, we went out for the day to see the city and had so much fun together. It was her first day outside the kiosk and her humble accommodation!

Unfortunately, I lost contact with Saule for two years. We had also moved to another part of the city but, to my great surprise, she managed to find me. When Saule had returned home, she had studied really hard for a year and successfully entered the National University as a medical student; she had been granted a full scholarship for her entire course! Saule thanked me for challenging and encouraging her to follow her dream and asking God to help her to be courageous. It was an overwhelmingly joyful reunion.

Saule has now successfully finished her five years of studying medicine and hopes to specialise in cardiology. We have enjoyed deepening our friendship over the years. As a family we sit around the table to share the meal we have cooked together, and then open the Holy Book and freely discuss and pray to the Most High. God brought Saule into my path and I am truly thankful for the friendships God grants.

My official title in the country is “house wife”. I mingle with our neighbours in the communal courtyard and enjoy building relationships with our local shopkeepers, cracking jokes and bargaining with them. My hope and prayer is to carry the Light of Isa even in my mundane routines of daily life.

Davina is an Interserve Partner coming alongside the Central Asian church in discipleship and mission.

All names have been changed.

* The Torah and Injil are Muslim terms for books of the Old Testament and the Gospels. Isa is a Muslim name for Jesus.

Conversations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All names have been changed.

Story of a young girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From one woman to another

With Ramadan approaching, I was searching for ways to be real with my Muslim friends about our relationships with God. As I chatted with a friend one morning, in between bringing in the washing and kicking a ball with her toddler, she shared what Ramadan means to her. It is a time of year when she seeks favour and merit from Allah, when her good works are mercifully multiplied by Allah—a time for her to pray, fast, give and read the Quran for merit.

She also told me how a woman’s purity affects her prayer and fasting. My friend is not able to pray or fast during her menstrual cycle. This is so different to me. As a biologist, I celebrate daily how God made the world (she does that too), how a Holy God made me a woman who is able to reproduce and give life, and that a natural part of this life-giving creation is a monthly cycle. So I shared in a vulnerable way how I did not understand how our monthly cycle makes us impure or unclean; how I can understand how someone might consider a dead animal unclean with the decay, smell and germs, but that God created the natural cycle of our bodies.

My dear friend gently looked at me, confused that I could not understand that our bodies each month were unclean and impure to God. She then graciously said, “Well, that’s just it, each month it is the result of something dead, where life has not been created, and it is being cleansed and cleared out. That is why we are unclean, it is something dead”.

Well, ‘the biologist’ in me, ‘the woman’ in me stopped: something had clicked. I had been vulnerable with my friend and learned something from her. I thanked her. “That makes more sense now”.

Then ‘the Christian’ in me remembered that the Bible has recorded, for me and for all other women, Jesus’ response to a woman’s bleeding. Her bleeding was not just five days each month; she had been bleeding for 12 years… non-stop, unclean, smelly and shamed. “She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all the money she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.”

I couldn’t help but share this story with my friend. Well, to tell you the truth, I stumbled my way through telling it. I had not read it recently and was telling it in another language. “When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, ‘If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.’ Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realised that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?’”(Mark 5:25–30, NIV)

Our conversation continued about how this story shows us that uncleanliness could not be transmitted to Jesus but that out of Him flowed cleansing wholeness. This is why, for women who have come to Jesus, we see that we are no longer unclean before God because he has made us clean.

The author served long-term with Interserve in the Arab world, and now works with CultureConnect in Australia.

Trusting God when it matters most

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, sort of.

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

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

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

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

And we need only look around.

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

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

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

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

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

And we make her wear wrist guards now.

Words and photography by Chris Ellinger.

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

What is home

I have been thinking a lot about home: home here, home there …

Home is a place. We moved to a new house in June. It’s not quite home yet but it is becoming so. The boys love to entertain visitors with Cleopatra’s bath (2m x 3m plunge pool that goes with the sauna), and the fairy grotto (a small cave-like room covered with natural rock inside the house which contains the central heating and the toilet). Mark is laying down supplies of jam, pasta sauce and sweet chilli sauce (26 litres of sauce!), purchasing freezers and fixing cupboards. I am dreaming of photo frames, curtains (so the boys can sleep in in the mornings) and shoe racks.

But Ethan still cries over the tree and the trampoline from the backyard in Australia and, when he cries, we all cry.

Home is a place.

“For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” Hebrews 13:14

Home is people. We visited the town where we lived before. And as we drove up the starkly beautiful shore of the lake I knew I was home. The boys’ “Aunty Mila” was with us and, as we arrived, her mother hugged us and took us in for tea. For four days we went from person to person; hugged, laughed over, fed – coffee and chats in the morning with our closest friends, morning tea and lunch with workmates, unexpected midnight rice and meat with friends from the local fellowship. Home with the people we love and who love us.

“Why aren’t we living here?” asked Robbie. A good question that was hard to answer even to the boy who says his favourite thing in life is making new friends. Moving to new people is uncomfortable. And yet, as my new workmates tell me about God, it feels like a fresh breeze coming in my window.

Home is people.

“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” 1 Thessalonians 2:8

Home is sacred. Two nights ago we all had disturbed sleep. The two little ones had bad dreams and crawled into bed with us, making sleep almost impossible for Mark. Robbie had insomnia at 3am and crept into the study to read. I dreamed of being bitten by a snake in the garden.

When I was a child I would crawl into my parent’s bedroom and fall asleep safe. I knew I was safe where they were. Now I am the parent. But, even so, the night can be a dark place in a strange house. Our safe place, our home is with Jesus.

Home is sacred.

“You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:7–8

The author is an Interserve Partner serving in Asia. Names have been changed.

Reaching the scattered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philip Chang is the Chair of Interserve Malaysia.

In a temporary place

In mid-2015, we responded to God's call to move to Nepal. With two young boys, we knew it wouldn't be easy; we prepared ourselves as best we could to face the challenges of settling into one of the least developed countries in the world. Little did we know, however, that an even greater challenge awaited us: the challenge of being on the move.

It took several months for us to adapt to our new life in Nepal: new language and culture, new house and community, new school for the kids, new workplace and expectations. Yet, despite shortages in electricity and gas and petrol, we were finding our feet. We were starting to thrive.

Then we got the news: to comply with changing visa requirements, we, with all the expats in our organisation, would have to leave the country. There was no certainty about when we could return, though it was hoped it could be within a few months.

A few months turned into many months, and we found ourselves making makeshift homes in two different countries while we waited.

Of the two places, we spent the most time in Malaysia. There, God provided for us in an extraordinary way, organising everything we needed to set up a temporary base. Yet, we longed to return to Nepal. We wanted to go back to the home we had set up, pursue the language we had worked so hard to acquire and continue the work we were excited about. Longing turned to aching turned to despair. Being in limbo was much harder than we could have anticipated.

It was also in Malaysia that we spent time with a refugee and migrant ministry serving the needs of asylum seekers and migrant workers. Speaking and sharing with some of these asylum seekers, we realised that there were common questions we all shared about our lives. We were all in a temporary place, wondering about our and our children’s futures.

The humbling difference was, however, that we had an irrevocable Australian passport. They had no safety net. There was no guarantee they would be accepted by any country and, therefore, no certainty of safe work or education for their children. Their limbo stretched so much longer and deeper than ours. And many of them did not know the restful arms of the Saviour or the hope of His promises.

Our sense of uncertainty – with its accompanying confusion, frustration and despair – was but a tiny glimpse into their experience. As these communities continued their agonising wait upon an increasingly begrudging world to accept them, we could see they were at great risk of mental health and social problems.

When it finally came time for us to return to Nepal, we left Malaysia still uncertain of our futures. We had been able to obtain only tourist visas, our work roles were unclear, our son would be starting in only a temporary school (his fourth in 18 months) – we had little idea what 2017 would bring. In our confusion and frustration, we continued to turn to the Father, looking to His sovereignty, victory and goodness.

Bidding farewell to our new asylum-seeker friends, we wondered and worried of the even greater uncertainties that awaited them. Could they be re-settled? Where? When? Would those still waiting for their interview with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) be granted refugee status? Could those whose families had been split be reunited?

We are grateful for those we met who are committed to walking with migrants and work hard at supporting them through this trying and lengthy limbo. Our hope for them in this uncertain and changing world is that they would find some security and stability. More so, we hope they will take up that most valuable and precious citizenship – irrevocable – in the kingdom of the unchanging and victorious Father.

Grace and Huy served with Interserve in Nepal and Malaysia.
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FACT BOX
Refugees in Malaysia

There are no refugee camps in Malaysia. Instead, refugees live in cities and towns across Malaysia in low-cost flats or houses side by side local Malaysian homes. This presents a unique opportunity to come alongside refugees to offer practical, emotional and spiritual support.

Refugees have no access to legal employment, but are allowed to work in the informal sector. They tend to work in jobs that the local population does not wish to take (the 3D jobs: dirty, dangerous and difficult) and are at risk of exploitation.

Refugee children do not have access to formal education.

Refugees are able to access healthcare facilities in Malaysia, but the cost of treatment and refugees' irregular income make healthcare unaffordable to many.

Faith-based organisations play a vital role in caring for the practical, emotional and spiritual needs of refugees and migrants throughout Asia and the Arab world. There is a great need for personnel. Would you like to be involved in Malaysia or other areas? Visit interserve.org.au/serve

For information about refugees in Malaysia, visit www.unhcr.org.my

Mountains to beaches

Drolma* tells her story to her new friend as they sit on the beach.

My story began in a place very different to here. My family lived on “the roof of the world”. They are extremely religious – even here, my parents are always muttering mantras as they finger their beads, and I’ve had to beg Mum not to walk down the street spinning her prayer wheel because it is so embarrassing. My uncle was a monk,– a really good monk. One problem, though, was that his monastery wasn’t allowed to have monks anymore. As if being an illegal monk wasn’t dangerous enough, one time he stood in his maroon robes on the town square and told everyone who would listen that he hoped that His Holiness could one day come back to lead our people. Of course, my uncle was arrested. It’s good that he didn’t set fire to himself – some monks do, you know, as a public way of showing despair.

My grandfather and dad were questioned at length. The truth is that they were sympathetic to my uncle’s cause, and they knew too much. My grandparents decided that they and my parents should flee.

After careful planning, including getting together as much cash as they could, my parents and grandparents slipped away. They were okay while hidden in the back of a truck that took them towards the border, but when faced with several days of walking at night over snowy mountain passes and hiding deep in the forest during the day, my grandparents turned back. Mum and Dad made it though, despite Mum’s growing belly. Mum says that the night they met their contact near the river bordering Nepal was both the highlight and the low point. They love their homeland, but fear for their own lives as well as hopes for the next generation propelled them on. After handing over a wad of money, they were each harnessed to a wire running across the river. It only took a few minutes to be pulled across the churning water below to freedom and exile both.

They made their way down to Kathmandu then on to North India where they registered at the centre for Tibetan refugees and waited … and waited … and waited. I was born a few months after they arrived, and my brother followed a couple of years later. As we grew older, we went to a school for refugee children where we learnt English. The day our parents heard that we would be given humanitarian visas by Australia they threw a party.

That’s how I come to live near this beach. My brother and I are sort of like Australian teens already, even though the Tibetan community here holds activities to help us remember what it means to be Tibetan. It’s hard for Mum and Dad. Even though they’re adults, they go to English classes every day. There are people who will help them find jobs when their English is good enough.

We’re safe and mostly happy here, but Mum still cries when people talk about our hero monk uncle. We don’t know what happened to him. We did hear that our grandparents made it back safely, but Mum and Dad don’t contact them because they are afraid it will only lead to trouble.

Thanks for listening to my story. I’m sure my parents won’t let me to go to youth group at your church, but it’s kind of you to ask. We’re Buddhist, of course, because we’re Tibetan. The lama says that it doesn’t matter what others believe though, so long as they are good people. Can we still be friends, even though I’m Buddhist and you’re Christian? That’d be awesome.

The author is a CultureConnect team member working with the Tibetan community in Australia.

* Drolma is a fictional character, but her story is based on those of many who have fled their homeland and been welcomed by Australia.

More information about Tibetans in Australia can be found at http://www.startts.org.au/media/Tibetan-Consultations-Report-2016-WEB-2.pdf (accessed 21 February 2017).