For God so loved the cosmos

“Single use” was the word of the year in 2018, according to Collins Dictionary. In 2019 it was “climate strike”. Clearly the world is more and more anxious that our current lifestyle is leading the planet into crisis, and wants to make fundamental changes. Christians are also speaking up in word and action, from grassroots movements such as Eco Church to Christian voices at global environmental meetings. Are we just following the crowd? Or are there fundamental reasons why Christians should be active in caring for the environment? And, given so many needs in the world and so few workers for the harvest field, should environmental care be part of mission?

Interserve believes that creation care must be included in our response to the gospel, agreeing with the Lausanne Declaration on Creation Care (November 2012). The reasons for this are found throughout scripture. From the beginning, God declares that creation is good (Gen 1) and belongs to him (Ps 24). He sustains and nurtures it (Job 38), delights in it (Ps 104) and promises to take care of it (Gen 9). When he placed humans on earth he commanded them (us) to rule over creation as those who bear his image (Gen 1). And he balanced the command to rule with commands to “serve and to keep” (Gen 2)—the same commands given to priests in the Old Testament temple.

Not many Interserve workers are directly employed in “environmental work”, but those involved in Business as Mission affect the environment through their business, and all of us interact with creation as we eat, breathe, wash, shop and travel. When we do these things with respect for the Creator, conscious of bearing his image, we bear witness to others of the loving God we serve.

The Bible links environmental degradation with sin (Gen 3, Hos 4), but also affirms that God’s redemptive work will restore the creation to fullness and peace. In fact, Jesus’ death and resurrection reconcile not only humans but “all things on earth and in heaven” to God (Col 1). In the biblical picture of shalom we see harmony between God, people and all of creation (Isa 11, Rom 8). If we are to be active participants in God’s story of redemption, we cannot ignore the wide scope of the redemption story.

We also cannot ignore the fact that the people we serve depend on a healthy environment for their survival and wellbeing. This year, while smog in Delhi was closing schools and filling hospital emergency rooms, newspapers reported that more than 1 million Indians die each year from air pollution-related diseases. In
Indonesia the air pollution that affects the health of more than 10 million children comes largely from burning of rainforests and peatlands. Future environmental problems are likely to be far more serious. The glaciers of the Himalayas are a massive water reservoir, feeding rivers that support more than 1.6 billion people (about one in four people on earth). These glaciers are predicted to lose at least a third of their ice mass by 2100 due to climate change. This will mean floods in the short term, then severe water shortages and crop failures in the following decades.

Ultimately, the people Interserve serves cannot flourish unless the environment that supports them also flourishes. This is why the Lausanne Declaration says that, “Love for God, our neighbours and the wider creation, as well as our passion for justice, compel us to urgent and prophetic ecological responsibility”.

Christians are called to care for God’s creation and join God’s work of redeeming all creation as part of our obedience and love of the Creator. The environmental degradation we see across the Interserve world only makes it more urgent that we act.

Richard has loved the natural world since his growing up years in New Zealand. He has worked as a freshwater ecologist for 15 years, and with his wife Liza is currently serving to resource Interserve in the area of creation care. He and his family live in South Asia.

We are Kingdom Gardeners

For 168 years, Interserve’s approach to ministry has been to focus on the whole person. People are at the centre of our work. But people live in a physical, social and spiritual context which shapes their whole approach to life. As people striving to see God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven, we want to be Kingdom Gardeners, nurturing the Kingdom of God in all its glory. We can’t ignore the natural environment where people live—and where we also live—as we love and serve them.

Caring for God’s creation, with its people, has always been part of the story of redemption— both physically (“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” Gen 2:15) and metaphysically (“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field” Matt 13:24). As we go into the world, caring for people requires us to engage with the whole context in which they live. We become able to say, as Paul did to the Thessalonians, that “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Th 2:8). Sharing our lives gives us the opportunity to make known the glory of God in all His handiwork.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Ps 19:1). The knowledge of God is demonstrated to everyone through His creation. But how much of God’s incredible handiwork is obscured by the careless or wilful destruction of nature? And how often is this tied to unjust exploitation of people? For many, experiencing creation in all its intended glory is unattainable. As crosscultural workers, we can be a prophetic voice in a natural and spiritual wilderness, showing God’s intention for His creation and His people. As we demonstrate our love for God by caring for everything He created, we invite people to better understand their Creator and His desire to see all creation restored to its intended glory. “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth” (Ps 57:5).

Interservers show how God loves the world— His people and His creation—in many different ways. A naturopath works with the local community to develop healthy and sustainable food sources in an arid environment. A family lives with a displaced people group, helping them farm in productive ways that value all life. Another couple runs an eco-tourism business in an area occupied by several oppressed minorities, bringing people together through enjoyment of God’s creation. An engineer’s day job is working towards providing sustainable, alternative energy. After hours, he partners with the local church to meet needs in the refugee community. A researcher is studying the practical and spiritual relationship between animals and humans, working with local people to demonstrate and share God’s love for the world. Kingdom Gardeners plant, water and tend the garden, and God brings the growth. “May the whole earth be filled with His glory” (Ps 72:19).

Peter has worked with Interserve in Australia and the Middle East for over 20 years.

Serving God without leaving home

A few weeks before my family went to live overseas for the first time, I got a phone call. The caller was an older friend whom I respected.

“Ruth”, she said to me, “I know we talk a lot about Jim’s role. But I wanted to remind you that the reason your family can go overseas is because you are behind him. If he could not rely on you as his wife and mother of his kids, then there would not be the option to go.”

It was the first time I recognised my unique position to be used as a stay-at-home mum overseas. We were heading there with a baby and toddler in tow. Usually the anticipation focussed on my husband's role, whereas mine… not so much. Let's face it, being a stay-at-home mum is not glamorous.

It didn't get any more glamorous overseas. There were still sleepless nights, tantrums and dirty nappies (to be clear: Jim also dealt with all of these – I couldn’t have done it without him!). Besides that, it is tough for kids in a new culture. They needed me close by, especially at first when the street dogs were scary, their tummies were upset and they were still getting used to having their cheeks squeezed by strangers.

But in the Middle East, there is a lot more respect for mothers than I'd experienced in Australia. To locals, I was doing a legitimate role. It was beyond their imagination that I put my children to bed before 11pm at night, or hadn't toilet trained them by 12 months old. But walking the kids to school, shopping at the market and doing my own cooking did make sense to my local friends. And that helped as we built our relationships.

Being a stay-at-home mum also enabled me to use other gifts in flexible ways. Relationship building was part of our ministry within the Interserve team. We loved having visitors and we would often have people over to share meals together because I had the time for hospitality. In the frequently stressful times of a foreign land, this mutual encouragement strengthened and refreshed us all for our ministries elsewhere.

Interserve’s vision is transformed communities. Did I transform anything through my school drop-offs and nappies and pots of spaghetti bolognaise?

Maybe the question is not what did I transform, but what was God doing though me? Like a tapestry that is not yet finished, I can only see scraps of the pattern God was creating. I do know my role contributed to helping us thrive as a family in the country. I had a part in enabling my husband to do the role God had for him. It also allowed me to pour time into building relationships with other cross-cultural workers, to support them in fulfilling their own God-given purposes. It gave me time to see the opportunities, and as the kids got older, to find my niche outside the home too.

I am no hero of the faith, but I trust God used me as a stay-at-home mum. He placed me there, made me the person I am, and gave me my role for that time.

The rest is His story.

Ruth served with her family in the Middle East for six years.
All names have been changed.

How bout them kids

We’d like you to meet Kath, Interserve Australia’s new TCK Advocate. We sat down for a chat to learn about what she’s up to!

What are TCKs?
TCKs are Third Culture Kids. There’s a first culture: that of their parents and their passport country. And there’s a second culture: that of the place they are living in. But these kids grow up in a third culture, a unique mix of the first two. So they are called Third Culture Kids.

They can thrive in a multicultural and international environment, and connect with people across barriers of religion, language, and age. TCKs acquire all sort of skills, from bartering in the marketplace to catching planes, to speaking other languages. And they see global issues like poverty or human trafficking from a very personal perspective.

What are some of their unique needs?
One of the biggest issues for TCKs is loss and grief. They may say goodbye to someone they care about every six months – sometimes unexpectedly. Some kids become reluctant to make friends, because they’re scared that friend will leave. Kids also grieve their stuff. When they first go over to a country, they might have tons of Lego but they can’t bring it with them. They lose culture too – one of my youth girls said “I don’t understand how girls and boys relate in Australia”. They even have to learn a new language – Australian teenage slang.

What’s involved in being a TCK advocate?
TCKs need to have someone willing to listen to them and to speak for them. My heart is to see that kids are socially, emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy.

Part of my role is to help equip parents and families as they prepare to take their kids overseas. I’ll be helping out with Missions Interlink’s ten-day Transition Training twice a year, specifically to help kids transition to new environments. I’m also working on resources for churches.

Another part of the role is personally supporting kids re-entering Australia. The role is being developed as we speak and will continue to evolve. I can see the way God has prepared me. I’m a trained social worker and youth worker, and growing up some of my best friends were missionary kids. My first job was as a child therapist with kids who had experienced abuse and struggled with mental health issues. More recently, Interserve sent me to a school in Cambodia for two years and through that experience I better understand the world that TCKs live in and the challenges and struggles they face.

What’s it like being a voice for these kids?
Sometimes kids are not able to share what’s on their hearts because they’re afraid of what their parents will think. So I ask, “If you can’t say this to your parents, are you willing for me to say it?” In that way I can be their voice, and help facilitate communication within the family.

Or I might be a voice for them in their church. Church families think TCKs have come back home – but home for them is the place where they’ve grown up. There are heaps of ways people can support TCKs – prayer, practical help, a listening ear. Learn more.

What’s your favourite thing about being a TCK Advocate?
Listening to the stories of our young people. I love to hear their experiences of life in other places. I think listening is one of the most important ways to building a relationship so they feel comfortable to say, “This is how really I feel”.

It’s exciting to see where God’s taking this role. It’s God’s journey and God’s dream. I would always be underprepared if it was my dream. But this is God’s idea.

Love at work

As a Christian friend and I chatted about his week at work, he shared that two work friends were doing it tough – one diagnosed with terminal cancer and one with other serious issues. As the conversation continued my friend confided that he was considering leaving his workplace of 30+ years and going into ministry.

My response: “Why not stay at work and go into ministry?”

Most Christians spend a huge part of their waking hours at work. But how do Christians work? We love. Love is a big deal for us. In fact, God says it’s the biggest deal (Mark 12:28-31). It makes all the difference. For almost 40 years, I’ve worked in many jobs, in several different cultures. Here are nine things I’ve learned.

Love intentionally.
If I want to really love my neighbor as myself, I’d best get to know them. No matter how busy my workshop gets, I try to make time to listen to and better understand at least one bloke each day. It usually means asking a question when we are working on something together, and listening.

Love prayerfully.
Consistent, focused, informed prayer. Choose one person at your workplace and start praying for them, every day for a month. As you listen and observe, you can pray in a more informed way. To help me be consistent, I also chose a spot on the drive to work each day to start praying for the blokes at work.

Love sacrificially.
Put yourself out for the good of others. It is often the ‘smaller’ sacrifices that impact our non-Christian friends. One work mate’s adult son had an issue that I could help with, but our work schedules made it hard to meet. I simply went to meet him during a break from his work, on a Saturday. It meant heaps to him that I gave up my free time and travelled to help him.

Love by taking responsibility.
Sometimes we come across as self-righteous when we let people know we follow Jesus. A mate of mine introduced himself to his army unit like this: “You should know that I follow Jesus. That means that you can always expect me to treat you with respect and to tell you the truth. If you think I’m not living up to it, feel free to let me know.” He put himself out there as a Christian, but the responsibility was on him. Often the boys in my workshop apologise to me when they swear. I tell them that they can swear if they like – that’s their decision. I say I follow Jesus, so I should live to a different standard, not those who don’t follow him.

Love with words.
Is it enough to let our actions speak for themselves? If I love God and love my neighbor as myself, then I’ll speak about God’s love as well as living it out. One situation that comes up again and again is Monday morning. “What did you do on the weekend?” Saying “I went to church” goes down like a lead balloon in most cases.

Some responses I’ve used instead: “I heard this great joke and a ripper story.” First I told the joke, then the story: There was this bloke who had two adult sons, and the younger one said to his dad, “Give me my half of the inheritance…” Their responses included things like: “Wow, what a great dad.” There was no need to mention ‘church’ or ‘sermon’. The main thing was to help people look at the father’s character, and then let them know Jesus told the story about God, our Father.

Love in hard times.
Work is not always easy. People see us most clearly when we’re under pressure. When someone has caused a problem, what should we do? Forgiveness is a mark of love. We still need to fix the problem, but we can avoid putting people down when they do something wrong. What about when the problem is of my own making, perhaps even from my own sin? Are we willing to take responsibility, to ask forgiveness, to be humble?

Love together.
The Christian life is not a solo effort. If you work with other Christians, pray together that you’d all honour God in your work, and pray for co-workers. Make sure you don’t use work time to pray, and don’t ‘pray on the street corners’.

Love life.
Work is a big part of how God made us to live, but life is more than work. Don’t forget the rest of life – family, church, neighbours – and don’t forget to rest. How does being a workaholic show love for God and people? Resting is a real form of trusting God.

Love actually!
Run with one of these ideas this week. I pray that you will live your life for Christ, at work and everywhere.

Phil and his family lived and served in Central Asia as Interserve Partners for more than 20 years. He currently works in an Australian manufacturing workshop with a multicultural team and is a CultureConnect team member.
Names have been changed.

On Track Together

It‘s Tuesday afternoon and I am sitting in the career counselor's office. “Have you had any thoughts about what you’ll do at university?” my teacher asks.

I’m coming up blank. Sure, I’ve got interests. I like helping people, I have a yearning to travel and see new places, I’m saddened by injustice in the world … oh, and I love Jesus. At age 16 that’s what I’ve worked out. But it doesn’t seem like enough to pick subjects for Year 12, let alone choose a university course or a lifetime career.

At age 19, after a gap year overseas, I have no greater clarity despite exploring a number of options including a couple of short-term mission trips.

My story is not uncommon. It happens to many people, usually in their twenties. Finding a life purpose, a focus for our passions, isn’t always straightforward. McCrindle research suggests Australians of my generation, the Millennials, will have 17 employers and five careers in their lifetime.

The Millennials and the younger Gen Z are facing a different world than those who came of age in the twentieth century. Our world is more globally connected but feels more unstable. Our neighbours are more diverse, work and career is less linear, and as Christians our faith is challenged by questions from our secular counterparts.

So how do we engage with Jesus’ call for every generation: to love our neighbours, to make disciples and to be kingdom minded? Our world looks different and yet Jesus’ call remains the same.

Maybe we need to start by letting go of the expectation that a meaningful life will always progress through traditional milestones. Blessings come through a career, marriage and children, but blessings also come through courageously making space for the unknown—the openness to do unlikely things and make seemingly illogical choices as we follow our God who specialises in the unexpected. Are we willing to trust in God’s goodness? Are we willing to walk an unknown path of sacrifice for His Kingdom?

We also need to get better at knowing our neighbour, so we can love them well. More than pulling in their wheelie bin after collection day, can we love from the point of understanding their worldview, their culture, their beliefs? The good news of Jesus answers the heart’s cry of all people, but do we understand it from their perspective? This is no longer a challenge set aside for the expat, the missional-minded worker in a distant land. In our globally connected world we all need intercultural understanding to love like Jesus loves, to share His good news and to disciple those who believe.

And yet, if the mission movements of the twentieth century teach us anything, it’s that we need community. We can’t possibly hope to do these things on our own, nor does God intend us to. Alone we become distracted, pressured by life’s challenges. Alone we become disillusioned or discouraged when our efforts bear no fruit. But together we live out the encouragement from Hebrews 10:23–25. Together we remember that the hope we have in Jesus is sure and his love spurs us on to share His hope with those around us.

Jane Fairweather leads On Track Together, a new initiative helping to equip, envision and engage those in their 20s and 30s in lifelong missional living.

On Track Together
A 22-month missional pathway integrating cross-cultural study and service in Australia and overseas.
www.interserve.org.au/together

For such a time as this

I still remember an airport encounter many years ago and the woman’s surprised question: “Do missionaries still exist?” She may actually have been questioning what relevance they have in this day and age, especially if she was linking imperialism and colonialism with missionaries.

Yet we know that the truth of the gospel never dates; it is relevant to every age and society. Our God—the same yesterday, today and tomorrow—is the one who calls his people from every age to the same task (Matthew 28:20). Just as he raised up his people to take the gospel to ‘deepest, darkest Africa’ last century, he is raising up people today who will take the gospel to those who have not yet heard. The context and even the outward tools may have changed, but not much else.

We are products of our times. Missionaries no longer set sail for Africa ready to die there, we go by plane; instead of carrying a coffin, we take our medical insurance; instead of letters, we connect online. They battled disease, we battle visas, bureaucracy and cyber security. Some of their practices were a product of their colonial times. Yet like them, we too trust God to provide, motivated by love so that all might have the opportunity to hear and be saved.

Just as each generation has been equipped for the task God gives, so too I expect that God has equipped Millennials “for such as time as this” (Esther 4:14).

Today, we seek to share the good news in the context of:
• increasing globalisation and migration of people(s)
• accelerating leaps in technology, with more immediate global awareness and contact though media, new levels of cyber possibilities and crime, and ethics not keeping pace with these advances
• growing inclination toward localisation and nationalism, even tribalism
• greater awareness of and willingness to advocate for human rights in all areas of society
• growing unease in society, politically, economically and socially, including threats of terrorism, pandemics and wars
• rapidly changing demographics, with aging, lower fertility rates and challenges to the traditional family unit
• pursuit of happiness through spiritualism and personalisation
• deep desire for authenticity, with integrity in relationships.

Are Millennials prepared for this?

Millennials have a global mindset and knowledge which gives them confidence for crossing cultural barriers, even where those boundaries are politically complex. Because Millennials are innately in tune with changing technology, they are able to adapt quickly and are adept at using technology to interact with and effect change. Couple this with a desire to make a difference and Millennials are willing to challenge the status quo, asking “why”, thinking outside the box to achieve old purposes in new ways.

Like many generations before them, they have a thirst for significance and purpose. In general, Millennials are interested in host-culture leadership, which will enable sustainable transformation. They desire to see wholistic change and transformation, concerned for social justice as well the spiritual state.

Millennials desire a balanced work/social family/ministry and authenticity, and need to share challenges without judgment. This accountability is also part of what makes them lifelong learners, eager to engage and be part of the team’s decisions.

Coincidentally, many Millennials already share our Interserve values: Dependence on God, Community, Oneness in Christ, Partnership, Integrity, Wholistic ministry and Servanthood. Perhaps God has prepared this generation of wholistic, global technophiles, who are willing to think differently about challenges, for just such a time as this? Aren’t these the kinds of On Trackers and Partners we want to partner with so that the good news of Jesus can keep being shared?

Carolyn has served cross-culturally for more than 25 years. In her current role, she helps short-term workers to serve well.

Names have been changed.

As for me and my house

The entry to our home displays a wall plaque with Joshua’s statement of commitment: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”. We adopted this proclamation as our own when we married and became a family, and so dedicated our two daughters to the Lord from the start of their lives.

Yet at times I have cried out for sympathy when I came face to face with the implications of living out God’s calling on our lives.

“Does that really have to mean separation from all our dear ones?” I asked. But God’s spirit through His word reminded me, “No one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come, eternal life”. Luke 18:29–30

The request to reflect on the topic “Fear or fruitfulness” came at a time of heightened pre-Christmas nostalgia. You see we are separated from one daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren who have been serving in Cambodia for 11 years, and our other daughter, son-in-law and grandchild are understandably preoccupied with their pre-departure stage of cross-cultural ministry in South East Asia.

“Why would you be surprised that your children are willing to serve in hard places?” our friends and family have reminded us. Throughout our 30 years serving in rural pastoral ministry with the Anglican church, we shepherded struggling parishes and communities. We experienced God’s provision, healing and growth whenever we stepped out in faith.

Our own lives have been enriched through cross-cultural ministry locally and through visits to teams working in Cambodia and South East Asia. Since retirement from parish ministry we have been freed to offer chaplaincy to Interserve staff, CultureConnect team members and the in-country member care team.

It is not that we do these things for reward. The fruit of obedience is far reaching. By surrendering our cultural values to Kingdom values we experience a closeness to God in all things … we suffer with Him, we care deeply about injustice, his creation, and his people of all backgrounds and cultures.

We can overcome fears of this world—about security, education for children, loneliness for us—through prayer and reading God’s word.

However, some well-meaning friends and family members question the validity of our work and sacrifice. It would be so easy to accept their sympathy and kindly meant advice; however, they may be more like Job’s advisers who introduced fearfulness to his circumstances. Instead, we may recognise in this situation an opportunity to share our experience of God’s goodness and purpose in our lives and so build others’ understanding of what God requires of us.

I urge the Interserve community to come alongside those families, especially parents, who are left behind, to lovingly support them and remind them of God’s faithfulness.

Our inclusion as part of the Interserve community in Australia has helped us to more fully understand and support the whole scope of ministries which God’s people are called to, both locally and in Asia and the Middle East.

As we experience ordinary people doing extraordinary things we recognise that the power of God overcomes fear and timidity: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

Thus we are equipped with fruitfulness both in our character and service in order to share the best news of all wherever we are planted.

Let’s support Partners and their loved ones, and encourage and spur each other on through prayer, communication, financial support, visitation and opportunities for fellowship.

Ian and Nancy are parents and grandparents to Interserve families serving overseas. They also serve on our Member Care team looking after Partners and CultureConnect team members.

An ongoing creation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join me in holding onto that.

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

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.