Youth Worker

West Asia / Theology / Church / 1-11 months, 12-23 months, 2+ years / Job ID: 560

The churches in the major cities in this land need help with developing youth ministry. Reaching the youth and discipling them is a big need.

A significant focus for the churches in this country is providing ministry and support for teens. There is very little being done and it’s a significant need. Those with skill and focus on this age-group can work even while they are learning language.

Applicants should have experience in youth work, be initiators and self-starters, have the desire and calling to work with youth and teens, and have the ability to work with others, under the authority of a pastor or other leader.

The Bible changes the church

Imagine a national church that began just over 20 years ago after years of domination by a regime that forbade any form of religious belief and practice. Now many people have welcomed the good news that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead. Their lives have been
changed, and the church has grown.

Can you imagine what this church is like? Enthusiastic new believers share their faith, while still coming to grips with what it means to follow Jesus. Leaders with little or no biblical and theological training often find it difficult to recognise false teaching. There are few useful books to help leaders or people understand the Bible, and no models of preaching from a Bible passage to help people grow as Christians.

A major need is for the church to grow in depth. Local leaders are working with Interserve Partners to help raise the standard of biblical
teaching and preaching. They aim to equip believers with God’s word to
Jesus and to fulfil God’s mission in the world.

A Bible college, operating with government approval, exists from month to month with enough to pay a small allowance to the five local staff. Many foreign teachers were involved at the beginning, but the need now is to equip local teachers by providing opportunities for study and teaching. After working together with a Partner teaching a subject, the local teacher then teaches independently. When Valentina* taught an extension class recently, students were amazed at how much they learned from her through studying the book of Ezekiel and how much they enjoyed her interesting teaching method.

Because of the threat of extremism in this part of the world, the government requires all religious leaders to have some qualification. Consequently, many church leaders from all over the country are now coming to evening or extension classes. They say, “I’ve learned so much here!” … “I’m already teaching what I’ve learned here this week!” … “I never appreciated how good and loving God’s law is” … “I have
a completely different understanding of the Old Testament now” … “When is the next session?”

Providing good literature is also a key to growth in maturity. We have been upgrading the library with suitable books and computer software,
which has streamlined the librarian’s work. Tom Wright’s 13 New Testament for Everyone books are also in the process of translation
and publication in the majority language. One enthusiastic reader
others saying, “This is an historical moment! The first Bible commentaries in our language!” A small team of people who have seen the value in preaching clearly, faithfully and relevantly from a Bible text is encouraging and resourcing small preaching clubs where people learn and practise together. Now others are asking for this training. One participant remarked that all you have to do is study the text carefully, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and present its teaching in a clear,
relevant and interesting way. She encouraged her pastor husband to attend a preaching club too. Another pastor who used to agonise over
what the Lord wanted her to say has now been liberated by realising that God actually speaks through His word when it is faithfully preached.

These are some of the ways local leaders are working with Interserve Partners in a very young national church. It is slow, patient work, with few immediately evident results, but we know that faithful and effective teaching and preaching of God’s word equips His people for mission. The Bible changes the church, and God uses the church to transform the world, in His time and for His glory.

Gwen* is a Partner who has been working alongside the church in Central Asia for the past 12 years.

*Names have been changed.

Four denominations, one church

I have been privileged to serve the national church in the Middle East and to see God at work. Under the local leadership of the Anglican, Methodist, Orthodox and Presbyterian churches, I helped pastors and directors of church-run non-government organisations (NGOs), in
particular through administration for community development projects.

I enjoyed working with these denominations and hold them in high regard. Serving God is considered a real honour and privilege and they do it with zeal.

Little Akram was brought to the Anglican-supported deaf school at nine years of age. He had absolutely no idea how to communicate. When his parents left him at the city boarding school in less than a week, instead of gradually settling him in, Akram was beside himself. He felt abandoned, left with strangers who were making funny signs he could not understand. He expressed his bewilderment through sobs and tantrums that lasted for hours. He was so desperate, they even had to lock the front door to stop him dashing outside onto the busy street.

The director and staff put their Christian faith into action and showed kindness to Akram who slowly began to respond. Although Akram was initially placed in a class with four-year-old children learning sign language from scratch, the teacher soon saw he was very bright. He even started to help his fellow classmates. After extra lessons during the
summer break, he moved into a class with children his own age the following year.

One Methodist pastor ministered in a very poor village of about 1500 inhabitants, where illiteracy was estimated at 75%. He saw the need to hold literacy classes and after-school classes to help the children grasp literacy and numeracy so they would not drop out of school. The NGO also provided poor families with school bags with essential items.

It was a joy to see how the children had grasped reading, writing and arithmetic skills. I was struck by the testimony of one teacher who admitted that initially the students were obnoxious, and after struggling for some time she was ready to quit. She prayed with the pastor about the situation. God responded by first giving her a loving heart for the
children then an amazing turn-around in the children’s attitudes followed.

The NGO supported many village projects and met with Orthodox priests who were working towards bettering the state of their village communities. One successful program provided small loans to villagers for projects that generated income: loans to purchase goats, sheep, sewing machines, or necessary stock for grocery stores, mobile accessory shops, motorcycle repairs and restaurants. The loans transformed the lives of families – widows could make a living using their sewing machines and men could work locally instead of in the cities, thus keeping their families together.

I attended a large Presbyterian church in the capital city. During the upheaval of the Arab Spring, the church found itself a possible easy target as it was situated just behind a now-famous city square. Instead
of closing the church building to the public for protection, the church opened their gates, set up a makeshift hospital and ministered to the wounded. The church also allowed Muslims to use their water so they could perform their ablutions before their prayers, as the nearby mosque was unable to cater to the large numbers. This was a friendly gesture that became a great witness to the people. Many Muslims spoke of the church in a positive way.

Thank you, Interserve, for allowing me to assist Arab Christians in serving their communities and see these people living out their faith
through active service.

Written by an Interserve Partner recently returned from the Arab world.

People of peace

For more than 30 years God has given me a consuming passion for discipling people from a Muslim background. In this process I have
always looked for key people with great spiritual potential. These could be referred to as the good seed in the good soil (Mark 4:20; Luke
8:15) that multiplies up to a hundredfold. A related concept is the “person of peace” (Luke 9:4–5, 10:5–6) who is strategic in the
spread of the gospel to others.

There is an Afghan man I’ve known now for about 11 years, and who I consider to be my best friend. We often meet for prayer and to share the scriptures and have some fun times together. He loves to share his faith but has suffered a lot of rejection from his relatives because of his allegiance to Jesus. He has a real gift for explaining the scriptures and all the believers greatly appreciate him. He is a person of peace.

As I think back over my years in ministry, I can identify three other people who I would call people of peace. Like my Afghan friend, they have a common strength in their faith and are making a wonderful impact among people from their ethnic backgrounds. In reflecting on the
time I shared with these people, I have learned a lot about how to minister more effectively with them.

During the 14 years I ministered in the Philippines I met a Filipino Muslim man who lived about one metre from my front door in a depressed neighbourhood in Manila. Over a period of 18 months he became a follower of Jesus. He was poor but much respected by his family and friends; a generous, unselfish man who had exceptional people skills. Together we shared the word of God with several of the people close to him using chronological Bible studies. I was amazed at the way he shared when he led the studies. His fluency of language and cultural expression of his faith in the scriptures was amazing. In the years to come he suffered for his faith but was mightily used of God. As I look back on that time I’m thankful for our ministry together but realise key mistakes I made. I dominated the biblical sharing and teaching far
too much. I should have focused much more on mentoring and enabling him to reach his own people.

There is another Afghan man I met in early 2003 in Melbourne. He and his family were new believers when they transferred to a location near where I lived. We quickly started reaching out to his friends and relatives with the gospel. Several of them came to faith and were baptised. His gifting was in sharing his faith and he was a natural evangelist. However, since they were all new believers, I felt I needed to take the lead in the ministry.

The third man is an Iranian who came to our country and joined a Bible study I was leading. It quickly became clear that he wanted to be the
pastor and lead the group. He invited a number of Iranians to our study and really helped the group to grow. My fear was that he wasn’t mature enough in the faith to effectively lead the group, and I was also conscious of avoiding any power struggle. And so I held him back instead of more effectively nurturing his leadership skills.

A key characteristic of people of peace is their deep value of personal relationships. Personally praying and sharing God’s word with them
is vital. My key mistake was controlling the Bible teaching and sharing when I should have stepped back and taken a mentoring role. By
God’s grace and with the help of others who share this ministry, I continue to learn and grow! I hope these insights may be valuable for others engaged in outreach to our beloved Muslim people.

Robert* is a CultureConnect Team Member who is helping churches in Melbourne to reach out cross-culturally.

*Names have been changed.

The best place to be

Working alongside with the national church is not to ‘show and tell’ what it means to follow Jesus, but to learn, discern and participate in what God has already been doing amongst the local people. It is not just to say, “Here I am, use me,” but to say, “Thank you God, for using these people to teach me about humility, trust and perseverance; thank you for giving me the privilege to witness the mission movement amongst them in a time such as this.”

Ministering from the prosperous coast to the devastated earthquake region, from the cold mountains to the arid desert, from the rural villages to the urban apartments, I’ve had many unforgettable experiences in Asia. Here is a glimpse:

Can you imagine being woken up by the orchestral sounds of birds, indigenous music and singing, and fervent prayers at 5am every morning? I lay on a hard wooden bed in a simple hut in rural Asia and was deeply touched by the presence of God in this special setting. I knew that this was where God had placed me. This is close to heaven. I forgot about the high temperature, bites of fleas and mosquitoes, regular power failure, lack of water and the unbearably filthy toilet. All I knew was that I was deeply touched and spiritually enriched. The indigenous songs, sung right from their hearts without any instruments, echoed again and again in my ears.

In the eyes of the world, they are lowly, uneducated and poor. Yet, they
and servants of the Most High who demonstrate an amazing godly lifestyle. There is a deep sense of spiritual connection between us. My heart joins with God’s and there is an overflowing love for this simple, humble and thirsty people.

Their purity, boldness and sacrifice for the sake of the gospel exemplify what is described in Acts 4:13: “they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Some of them have served the Lord for over thirty years, starting to preach with only one chapter of the Bible at hand (which was shared by the entire church back then). They travelled and preached the gospel by foot or bicycle throughout the years until revival came to the region. They fed the beggars, healed the blind, and drove out demons in Jesus’ name.

My colleagues and I came to provide intensive training. Who are we to serve these treasured people? Yet, they called us ‘teachers’, they served us with the best of their food and they saved the best place for us to stay and use. They even took our clothes to wash so that we could focus on teaching. They kept saying, “Teacher, thank you for your hard work, we feel so unworthy … yet God loves us so much and sent you.”

The beauty of the picture is that God dwells and manifests himself when we are humble to each other and serve together. It is humility and love
in action that conquers the enemy and changes our world. I am honoured to witness what God is doing here in Asia. When we are in the place where God puts us, it is the best place to be.

Jewel* provides pastors and leaders training in Asia.

*Names have been changed.

Why faith and action?

Without faith, it is impossible to please the Lord (Hebrews 11:6). It is tempting to quote this verse alone. But the passage it comes from lists what the great characters of the Bible did with their faith. Faith and action weren’t just passing acquaintances, but their lifelong companions.

Faith compels action
Central to the Christian message is a personal belief in the claims of Jesus Christ. ButChristianity’s individualised faith also hides a trap within – it can disconnect us from the actions that should demonstrate it. Comforted by our own salvation, satisfied by token expressions of faith, and blessed by our relative wealth, putting our faith into action can be ignored or at least minimised. But every aspect of the gospel actually screams: Live it! Act on it! The Apostle Paul’s motivation is that Christ’s love compels him to no longer to live for himself but for Him who died for us all (2 Cor 5:14-15). The motivation is not a belligerent Biblical command but a heartfelt compulsion to share God’s love with the world. Our faith in the transforming power of the gospel compels us beyond belief into action.

Faith perfects action
Anyone can love and serve the needs of others. It’s part of what it means to be human. What makes the difference for us is our faith. Not only does our faith provide the motivation for action, it also informs and perfects how we do it. As Christians, we represent Christ in our service for others. Jesus is the one we look to, as Saviour and as exemplar. His life gives us a template for action, specifying our goals and testing our
motives. Running around trying to prove our faith to God or others only leads to frustration or failure. Instead, we measure our actions against the tenets and experience of our faith as exemplified by the life of Jesus.

Action inspires faith
Seeing God at work in our often inadequate attempts to serve is a great inspiration to our faith. Stepping out in faith, however tentatively, unleashes the opportunity of seeing God at work. Faith is no more than a theory in our lives before we do anything with it. Real faith puts us at risk. Real action is the only way to develop our faith.

We have much to learn from Christians in Asia and the Arab world whose faith in action can put their lives in danger. Sharing their journeys of faith stretches ours, giving us the privilege of learning from each other and together walking with Jesus amongst the poor and marginalised.

So, why not?
So what stops us from putting our faith into action? Is it lack of conviction that the gospel is really transformational? Sure, Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on caring for others. Is it fear that our finances or safety will be threatened? Yes, they will be. Does social or family pressure to preserve certainty play a part? Of course. Faith by definition is a belief in the unknown, and that can be scary. Is it a lack of confidence in our abilities? Living and serving in a cross-cultural context is known to challenge our capacity, resilience and skills. So when all of these fears threaten to paralyse my action I look two ways. First, I look at the world; particularly those regions where unspeakable pain and suffering exist not just for a moment but as a way of life with no means
escape. I’ve lived there and am forever changed by these wonderful people. Then I look through the eyes of Jesus and imagine his response to their suffering as His call to me. I need to do something about God so loving the world. Following in the footsteps of Jesus is putting faith into action.

By Peter Smith, Returned Partner, Church & Community Engagement Director

When Women Speak…

Interserve worker Cathy explains why the voices of women are incredibly important in understanding Islam today – and introduces a
brand new forum for discussion.

When Women Speak… is a new network formed to encourage exploration of the place of women’s voices where Christians and Muslims meet. It exists because we believe it is time we heard the voices of Muslim women more clearly.

The network was launched last year with a colloquium in Melbourne, bringing together 28 women scholar practitioners from 16 nations,
including first and second generation followers of Jesus from a Muslim background. Our vision is that women who follow Islam are not veiled from the good news of Jesus Messiah, and that the message is communicated effectively to them.

This network is important because in Muslim culture women have a significant role in preserving and passing on faith to the next generation, yet approaches to mission are often gender-blind. Christian women scholars and practitioners have a unique ability to speak into the gap but they are surprisingly underrepresented in the development of mission strategies and missiologies, in publishing and teaching.

Space for learning
That’s why When Women Speak… network’s activities will include networking, academic and ministry research, publishing, mentoring, training and resource development.

One of these, the ‘Women’s I-view’ course, is presently bringing women practitioners together from Australia and Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Muscat, Egypt and Tunisia. The women, from Interserve and CMS Australia, are exploring topics through readings,
conversations with Muslim friends, and shared learning in a virtual classroom. One of the comments has been, ‘Now I have something
to talk to my friends about apart from babies, clothes and cooking!’

The When Women Speak… blog (whenwomenspeak.net/blog) is a fortnightly posting that explores a woman’s experience of Islam and the implications for the gospel. It provides a space for women to share their
learning, and so help shape the way we engage with our Muslim neighbours.

And the Vivienne Stacey Scholarship was launched as part of the network. Following Vivienne’s vision, the scholarship is committed to
providing resources and mentoring for women from countries where Islam is the major religion so that they can be equipped for ministry among their own people.

Collaboration at the heart
It’s all about collaboration. Collaborative research will explore how women who follow Jesus from Islam form community and are included in the family. Collaborative resource development is bringing together a group of women from Muslim backgrounds to explore discipleship needs and develop those resources. Collaborative training will bring women from different backgrounds together to share learning and make that learning available to the next generation. Mentoring is about investing in women so that women who live under Islam receive the message in ways that communicate the reality of God and his goodness.

When Women Speak… is the generating centre for practical acts of loving our Muslim friends. It will enable us to explore innovation in ministry to women living under Islam. There is vision for a conference that brings together Christian and Muslim women scholars to address issues of violence and women. Another part of the vision is for a major research project that brings Christian and Muslim women together to explore important social values that are shaping their lives.

Creating positive change
Muslim women are calling for change, and they are rewriting the discourse of Islam. Women of the mosque and piety movements within Islam want to live a life of faith, and gather to explore what faith looks like in their everyday lives. At the other end, radical women are calling for a fresh interpretation of the Qur’an that is shaped by the realities of our world. Women activists are pressing for change to address social issues that control and harm women’s lives, and Muslim women academics are addressing areas of challenge in faith, society and politics. Each of these is an opportunity for the gospel to engage with these changing discourses.

When Women Speak… is an innovative response to the opportunities in ministry with Muslim women today. Recognising that God is at work drawing women to himself, it challenges the contextual stereotyping of Muslim communities that says if we reach the men, we will reach the community. It says women are the keepers of tradition and among the greatest innovators in Islam today. It enables women who are passionate with love for their Muslim neighbour to explore ministry in a collaborative network.

Find out more about When Women Speak…, read the blog and discover resources at whenwomenspeak.net

Vivienne Stacey Scholarship

Vivienne Stacey Scholarship

Vivienne Stacey studied English at University College London then spent some years as a teacher before joining Interserve in 1954. When she learned that the United Bible Training Centre (UBTC) in Gujranwala trained Pakistani women for their witness among Muslims, she requested that as her place of ministry. From the very beginning of her mission career she was committed to equipping local people to engage in ministry among Muslims in their own context.

Established to honour this innovative pioneer, the Vivienne Stacey Scholarship is for equipping Christian women scholar-practitioners from Middle East, Africa and Asia to engage with the Muslim world. It follows Vivienne’s heart to see women, including those coming from a Muslim background, trained, equipped and engaged in ministry.

Soon after her arrival in Pakistan, Vivienne and Esther John became firm friends. Esther was born in a Muslim family but had become a follower of Jesus through seeing the love of Jesus lived out in her Christian school and through the study of scripture. She went to UBTC in 1957 from where she and Vivienne visited homes in the surrounding villages, sharing the story of Jesus. Esther went on to minister in other parts of Pakistan; she was murdered in 1960, becoming the first of many martyrs that Vivienne knew.

Vivienne was a much-loved friend, mentor and example. She worked with the Community Development Team from Multan Christian Women’s hospital, training them in outreach and setting assignments individually tailored to areas where each member of the team needed to grow. Vivienne challenged them to find ways of integrating what they learned into their work. The full impact of her commitment to that little community development team was immeasurable.

Vivienne encouraged many to scholarly practice – in Interserve and other organisations, in local churches in the countries where she worked, and right across the globe. She formed a study group in Pakistan that gave many their first foot into research and writing on significant ministry issues for working among Muslims.

Ida Glasser, now Director of the Centre for Muslim Christian Studies in Oxford, wrote about her experience of Vivienne’s support as she pursued her PhD:
The great thing Vivienne did for me was to take me out for lunch when I was struggling towards my PhD, and then to ask whether money might help. She then (probably through a trust of which she was senior trustee) provided enough to pay Crosslinks for I think half my time for 3 months, so that I could break the back of the writing up. I might never have completed it otherwise. Another time, after a conference in Holland, she treated me to a day in Amsterdam – took me on a canal trip and gave me a good dinner – things I’d never have done for myself, or been able to afford.

The Scholarship does not just provide financial support. It is also committed to providing mentoring, both individually and as part of a learning cohort; to investing in the development of the whole person as they pursue their studies.

The Vivienne Stacey Scholarship Fund was launched during the When Women Speak… colloquium on 25 September 2015. It is actively seeking partnership with academic institutions in Asia and the Middle East, and in the West, as it builds capacity to support these women. Please join us in supporting the fund. You can do this through your local Interserve Office, marking your gift ‘Vivienne Stacey Scholarship’, or by clicking on ‘donate’ at www.whenwomenspeak.net For further information contact admin@whenwomenspeak.net or cathy@whenwomenspeak.net

By Cathy Hine

Remembering Mongolia

I traced the railway line 30,000 feet below me, two silver hairs lying across the Spring-greening Mongolian steppe. I’d amused myself with this challenge 23 years previously when I first flew to Ulaanbaatar, via Beijing, in 1992. Now I could get a flight from Hong Kong, a new convenience serving those from the South Asia and Pacific context.

I found the railway tracks again, signposts pointing to a city that still echoed its 70 years of socialist planning, but was now subsumed in a speedily growing population, new glass towers, traffic congestion and all the trappings of a financial boom financed by Korean, Chinese, and Japanese investment. I
arrived Thursday 21st May, 2015: there was an air of cautious optimism for the future, for Rio Tinto, the global mining company had signed another contract with the Mongolian government the day before. Mongolia’s wealth had been its grasslands, but in the last 20-odd years, what is under those grasslands – gold and copper, mainly – has been of more interest. Mongolian Christians were cautious, for did not an economic boom result in yet more poor?

It was for the Mongolian Christians that I had returned to Mongolia, not to celebrate Mongolia’s new-found wealth, but to reflect again on being Christian in their particular and unique context. My wife, Karen, and I along with our children, had lived in Ulaanbaatar from August 1992 to July 1996, as Interserve Partners seconded to JCS International, then an infant umbrella organisation through which several mission agencies accessed Mongolia. I had returned five times from 1996 to 2002 – a sort of non-residential commuting consultant missionary – teaching at the Bible School, and advising Mongolia Theological Education by Extension (MTEE). But now the gap had been 13 years!

On Saturday 23rd May, 2015, MTEE held its 20th anniversary celebrations. This was the reason I had returned. I had founded the MTEE in 1995. TEE, by using a tried and educationally sound methodology of workbook and well-trained tutor, was a proven way of training Christians in discipleship, Bible knowledge, Christian leadership, and ministry formation, all in the students’ contexts of home and church. Now I was the guest of honour – invited back by MTEE’s Director, Naranbaatar, and the Mongolian leadership team – and I was to experience a deeply moving two days of celebrations.

On being picked up at the airport, I was taken immediately to a tutor training event that was in full progress. Because many tutors were going to be in Ulaanbaatar for the big celebrations on 23rd May, an ‘added value’ training had been arranged for them. Fifty-five of the best tutors from all over the country – some now with 20 years of experience in leading dozens of TEE groups – were gathered around tables, practising their leadership of small groups, encouraging and critiquing, praying, worshipping and learning together. They were being introduced to a new course on the book of Proverbs, as well as hearing reports from TEE movements around the world.

“Do you remember me?” asked one woman. With some prompting, I did. “I am Urnaa. I was in the very first field trial group of the very first course, in the summer of 1996. The course was Abundant Life. I have been tutoring TEE groups ever since.”

Mongolia is an event-orientated culture, so I took my watch off. Also, I had mistakenly left my camera battery charging back at the flat. The only thing I could do then was to soak up the event, not distracted by time or picture. The 20th anniversary celebrations were a typically Mongolian moment: a banquet with traditional music (one of the pastors is a skilled musician of traditional Mongolian genres), a big worship service with speeches and entertainment (including more traditional Mongolian music, a Korean worship dance, and Cossack dancing). About 200 attended: the founding employees, current employees, board members, tutors, past students, local pastors, teachers from the Bible College. Testimonies were told and vision was shared. I was simply overwhelmed by what God had done over those 20 years, and what the ongoing hopes and dreams were for the future.

MTEE had been set up originally as a joint project between JCS International and a donor agency. Current JCS and donor agency leaders were able to attend the celebrations. The celebrations were a true salad bowl of all those who had given so much to developing the programme over 20 years. As I looked out over this assembly when I had to make my speech, I was overcome with emotion: a simple seed of an idea in 1995 had grown to become a dynamic movement extending to the remotest nomad family in Mongolia’s farthest provinces, equipping disciples throughout Mongolia’s cities, and even penetrating into Mongolia’s prisons. Today, at any given time, there are about 600 TEE students throughout Mongolia, studying at foundation, certificate and diploma level. The Asia Theological Association has accredited the four-year Certificate in Christian Ministry programme, and this has inspired and cross-pollinated with TEE projects in other Asian countries. We give credit to our God, and also to the hard- working employees of the project over the years, and the current team under director Naranbaatar’s leadership!

As part of the celebrations, the MTEE hosted an academic symposium at which five academics presented papers on various aspects of Mongolian Christian history. During our residence in Mongolia, I had come to understand that Mongolians were passionate about their history; I myself had made it a project to research and publish for them. At this symposium I discovered a movement had started. Others now – all Mongolian – were researching uniquely Christian history of Mongolia. And MTEE was seen to be able to move amongst the academics of Mongolia, something that will give MTEE credibility and kudos for its ongoing legitimacy as both a methodology and a Christian training programme.

After the 20th anniversary celebrations, I stayed another week, co-leading the Langham Preaching partnership training of 29 pastors in Biblical preaching. I remember a good number of these pastors as teenagers, 22 years ago. I had baptised several of them.

We met in a summer resort village outside of Ulaanbaatar, and it was Spring. The last of the snow had melted and the trees were bursting into leaf. In all these events – academic symposium, MTEE 20th anniversary, Langham Preaching training – there was a recognition from several pastors that “the initial work is complete; the church is well planted. What we need now is consolidation and capacity building.”

*Hugh and Karen Kemp were with Interserve from 1992 to 2002. They both now work at St John’s Theological College, Auckland, where Karen is one of the deans, and Hugh is an adjunct lecturer.*

Extract from GO Magazine (Aotearoa New Zealand) July 2015.

Reflections on Tangible Love

Emily is an Interserve Partner, currently preparing to serve long term in a very difficult part of Asia. She hasn’t left yet, but her journey began a long time ago. Here she reflects on Jesus’ call to make His love tangible in the world, and on the people and challenges she’s met along the way.

When I think of the concept of ’tangible love’ I think of my Nan. She passed away a couple of years ago. What I remember most about her was how her life was characterised by a quiet, joyful, servant heart. Even until her last waking moments, she was knitting little booties for the neonatal intensive care unit. She knitted hundreds of those little booties and toys for the babies. She even made tiny hospital gowns for the premature babies. She never got up on her soapbox to ‘go tell the world’ (though she did need one to reach the wool for those booties), yet her motivation for doing these things was never hidden. Unlike her tea (white, no sugar, three dunks of the tea bag please) her faith was strong. Her faith was simple yet deep. She had Jesus and that’s all she needed. She loved Him. Her servant heart and gentle character spoke volumes about God’s love to me and those who knew her.

Nan’s life displayed tangible love. In thinking about tangible love, two prevailing thoughts come to mind.

Tangible love is made possible because Christ first loved us
Nan’s seemingly endless and unconditional love for others was a reflection of Jesus’ love for her. It wasn’t until I made a personal decision to follow Christ with my whole life, and experienced this love that conquers all, that I understood how one could make love tangible without expecting something in return. Now, I know that the source and strength to make love tangible is a response to the love God has lavished on us: that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Moreover, I have found that as I grow in my faith and walk closer with the Lord that it grows more natural to live a life characterised by tangible love. My prayer echoes Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else” (1 Thess 3:12).

Christ’s love compels us
There was a time when Christ’s love was so tangible it was overwhelming. There was a little old lady in a hospital in Kolkata, India. She looked downcast when I walked in the room. She had lost all her fingers as a result of leprosy. I was filled with compassion for her, a love that was not my own, but Christ’s love.

I wrestled in my mind for a moment, then I looked into her eyes and took her fingerless hands in mine. It was the first time I had touched a person with leprosy. Although I didn’t know a word of her language, as she told her story our hearts connected and her eyes welled with tears. Love was tangible in that room.

I was compelled to reach out that day and take her hand. That day, 2 Corinthians 5:14–15 took on new meaning for me: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again”.

Tangible love accepts risk and sacrifice
Tangible love is an expression of agape love, which by definition is unconditional and self-sacrificial.

Whenever we love in tangible ways, there is some sort of sacrifice, whether it is time or money that could have been spent in other ways. However, for those called to serve the Lord overseas, counting the cost of following Jesus can be much more. For some it can mean losing your life because of and while loving in tangible ways. This became the story for Tom (surname withheld) in Central Asia. His wife, Libby, has also counted the cost, yet in the midst of her loss continues to live her life as a living sacrifice for God’s glory.

As my husband and I prepare for serving the Lord overseas we have grappled with the concept of risk and sacrifice. We have chosen to leave our well-paying jobs and comfortable home to live in one of the poorest and least developed nations in Asia. In fact, when my passion started to come alive for this country, it was home to the fourth most persecuted church in the world. It was this church’s ‘counting the cost of following Jesus’, this acceptance of risk and possible sacrifice that enlivened my heart to pray for this nation. I admired this faith that had counted the cost, and this people’s conclusion that choosing to love Jesus was worth it. I desired that my faith would grow strong like theirs and that one day I could serve the Lord alongside them.

Perfect love casts out fear
People ask me whether I have thought about the sacrifices we have made in our decision to serve in a developing nation or whether we fear for our safety or health. In this journey we have considered many potential situations and our response to them. We are also aware that our decisions affect others, and that our families are also making sacrifices over which they have no control. When we are faced with these questions, we choose to follow Jesus and His plans for us. When we focus on Him and his love for all people, our fear of risk subsides because “there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18) and “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7).

We know that we can trust Him because of what we have already seen Him do. We have seen Him protect us, direct our paths and do the impossible in our lives. He is faithful. We remember that God does not promise that we will be ‘safe’, but He is good and promises that He will be with us (Is 41:10, Matt 28:20, Heb 13:5). We know that our eternity is secure in Him. We have come to peace in our decision to follow Jesus and to make His love tangible among the neediest people in the world. We pray that our families will be filled with the same peace, and that they also fix their eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.

Tangible love points to Jesus
Demonstrating Christ’s love is not possible in our own strength. Rather, tangible love is Christ loving through us. It is a sustainable love because its source is eternal. Christ’s love never spoils, fades or runs dry. Tangible love isn’t motivated by trying to earn approval, favour or forgiveness from God. Nor does it expect to be loved in return. We love because Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19).

As I reflect on tangible love, my desire is that my whole life is lived as a living sacrifice to the Lord in response to God’s great mercy and reflecting His love (Rom 12:1). May the way that we live out our lives be a beacon, a lighthouse, that points to Jesus wherever we are and in whatever circumstances we are in. This, to me, is tangible love.