You came back

“What? WHAT? Wow! Wow! WOW!!” Silence followed; a deep, intentional silence from my friend, Mawar. “I’m crying!” she eventually said.

I had texted Mawar earlier to let her know we were back in the country after four months in Australia due to COVID-19 border closures, and she was now in disbelief. “You came back, from your safe country to this scary situation?” she asked. She told me that she had not worked out in the community for this time, keeping herself safe at home.

Chickens squawked in the background, and I remembered when she and her husband moved into their house last year and transformed it from a clothing factory to a self-sufficient oasis in the capital city of this country. If I close my eyes I can still vividly see the lush plants and taste the bountiful mangos from their front tree served from a bottomless plate. Mawar is vegetarian and we ate lavishly from the fruit and vegetables that grew in her garden.

I have known her for fifteen years, having met on a medical team after a natural disaster. She is a well-known researcher, advising the government and World Bank on micro-finance projects and is much sought after for her research skills. For years she has travelled to remote regions of the country advocating for the needs of the poor.

Our journey from Australia back to Asia began with that deep call to be back alongside those who are suffering after thinking we had retired from field work. We began to ask ourselves, often prompted by other people’s questions, “while we can do good remotely, what can older people who are willing to leave the safety of life in Australia do to serve others overseas?” We knew from experience that walking alongside others in their pain is much more powerful than what we can do from a distance. Isn’t this what Jesus did, after all?

While Australian authorities were working hard to keep us all safe and near to home, the deep call back to Asia grew in us. Just before retiring to Australia, we had been working with our national friends to teach and model what good member care and self-care could look like for local Christian workers who laboured tirelessly in remote areas away from their support systems for long periods. We felt that ‘still, small voice’ calling us out of retirement to take this work further to the remaining provinces.

It was so encouraging to find that our act of obedience motivated Mawar to in turn take the risk to return to field work. She was acutely aware of the increased suffering of her fellow citizens from the pandemic. She had been writing a paper to publish on this topic and my first job was to proofread it for her. “We are not called to be safe,” she wrote. “We are called to be whatever God wants us to be to help others.”

What we had been able to do as older Australians is mere loaves and fishes compared to what our local friends become inspired and encouraged to do through our commitment to take risks to serve others. It’s been such a joy and honour to see workers who face isolation and burnout becoming healthy again and able to continue to do good in these communities. Praise God! We are more convinced than ever that ‘doing life together’ with local people is such a powerful way to show that God loves the world, and we do too.

Sharon and Len recently returned to the South East Asian country where they lived and served in member care for many years.
Names have been changed.

Keeping watch

“The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” Proverbs 15:3

This verse recently caught my attention. I had always thought of God keeping an eye on good but absent when evil is present. I remember being taught that God can’t look on evil. Now I am not so sure. This verse points out that God is in every place and he is not inattentive to evil. It describes him as “keeping watch on the evil” as well as the good. In the phrase, “keeping watch”, I think of a military officer whose job it is to be alert and give constant, disciplined attention to a situation. I like the idea that God is alert, not disinterested or neutral. He is taking a good long look at evil.

We are hearing about a lot of negative things at the moment. The COVID-19 pandemic, the plight of refugees, economic crises, land border tensions, floods, earthquakes, locust plagues, racism, sparring world leaders and people careless with the resources of God’s world. God is alert and watching all these things.

A Christian friend recently told me that, “God has given Satan control over our world.” That statement has some truth but it made me cringe a little, for it leaves me with the hopelessness of deism – that God has walked away to let the world run itself under Satan’s control. This made me rethink how I would describe the current situation. Satan is indeed busily bringing harm. But God is not absent, and evil will not stay active forever. God is unchanged by evil but not unmoved.

God sees all of this – separated and distressed families, unexpected funerals, loss of salary, sickness and death – and because he sees it, he sent Jesus. God is keeping watch over the evil and the good. It is a privilege to show through our words and deeds that he so loved the world that he sent Jesus.

Amelia has served in South Asia for more than 15 years.
Names have been changed.

Youth Worker

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

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

A significant need for the churches in this country is to provide ministry and support for teens. There is just a little being done and it is a significant area of need. Those with skill and focus on this age-group can serve 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.

Evangelist

South Asia, Theology / Church, 2+ years / Job ID: 226

This 75-bed hospital serves the tribal people of a remote region. It has good operating rooms and is supported by laboratory pharmacy X-ray and ultrasound facilities and has physiotherapy and mother/child healthcare departments.

The evangelist will work with the resident pastor talk and pray with patients and visitors speak to patients and visitors at daily devotions and at the outpatients department lead bible studies and prayer groups for staff and interested people and work with external organisations.

A theologically trained Christian who is prepared to commit at least three years to the position of which twelve to eighteen months would be in language study. Either male or female but a female is preferred because majority of our patients are female.

Theology Lecturer

South Asia, Theology / Church, 2+ years / Job ID: 189

The Bible college trains local leaders.

The Bible college has an opening for faculty of theology and missions.

The qualified candidate will have a Th.M. or Ph.D./Th.D.

Bible School Faculty

South Asia, Theology / Church, 2+ years / Job ID: 240

The evangelical seminary in South Asia trains students for ministry.

Faculty members are needed at the undergraduate level (B.Th.) for the Bible school.

The qualified candidate would have an M.Div..

Seminary Faculty

South Asia, Theology / Church, 2+ years / Job ID: 235

The evangelical seminary trains students for ministry.

Faculty members are needed at the graduate level (M.Div.) for the following subjects: Biblical Studies Systematic Theology Church History Christian Ed Counseling Greek and Hebrew.

The qualified candidate will have a Th.M. or Ph.D./Th.D.

A ministry of encouragement

When I first arrived in Central Asia 15 years ago, I vividly remember the Principal of the Theological College telling me, “You’ll be a great encouragement to the women pastors!”

“Most unlikely!” I thought to myself.

I knew no one. I couldn’t speak a word of the language and had very little understanding of the culture. I had years of experience of teaching and pastoral ministry, but in a very different context. In this culture, I was a complete novice.

Now that I have learned the language and gained a greater understanding of the culture, I’ve been privileged to work with and encourage many people; both women and men. The theological college is now locally run and though no expats officially work there, I’m still involved in various ways.

I’ve worked with local teachers with varying success and am always delighted when I hear from students how much they enjoyed and learned from the teaching of friends like Venera, Kostya and Gulya.

A very able young woman, Venera worked with me teaching some Old Testament books. At first, she taught only sections of each lecture and developed into teaching the subjects on her own. She married a young man from a neighbouring country and now only comes back once a year to see her parents and to teach. However, God continues to use her knowledge and skills in preaching and teaching as she serves in a large church in her new home city.

Kostya is a fine young man, who came to know Jesus through a student movement here and worked with this group for ten years. When he had leave to pursue theological studies, I was able to advise him about places to study online and guide him to books and links along the way. He is now engaged in work towards a PhD and I’m happy to be a discussion partner and resource.

Gulya, a pastor in a village nearby, is a friend and colleague with whom I’ve taught. For the past ten years she has been leading the only church in her village. It is known and respected by all. Gulya has been involved with me and others in the Langham Preaching Movement. Her continued involvement in a preaching club is helping her and the church to grow in depth of understanding and love. She says, “I used to pray and pray for inspiration about what to preach. But now I find it so much easier. We go through a book of the Bible and work carefully on the text … and find inspiration. God really speaks through his Word — to me as well as to others.”

Ordering books to expand our library has been just as important. Can you imagine trying to do theological study without books? “How do you know which books to order?” someone asked me recently. Experience over many years has taught me which of the books that have been translated would be useful for students and teachers here. Translating suitable books into the local language – or rather, working with translators to check the translations – has become part of my work, as has seeing them through to publication. Suggesting books to be translated by a publisher in other parts of the former Soviet Union has also borne fruit.

So, fifteen years on, I’m pleased to see how God has used the skills and experience He has given me to be an encouragement to people in a very different culture. God has also provided local friends and colleagues to love, teach and encourage me as I serve with them here. I’m very grateful for the privilege.

Gwen is a long-term Interserve Partner who has been working alongside the church in Central Asia for 15 years.
All names have been changed.

Watching Gods grace work

She turned up in my small group on the first day of my first year. A young woman, slender and frail, skin as dark as the night, dressed in faded clothes, barely speaking English. A few of us wondered how she possibly passed the entrance exam. But her name was Kiruba, which means ‘grace of God’. Maybe it was by God’s grace that she had been accepted into one of the most prestigious Bible colleges in the country. But how was she ever going to get through four years of rigorous tertiary studies in English? Maybe I could help somehow. Would it be worth it? Maybe the college should just send her home now.

In second year, every student has to read the Bible aloud in the chapel. How was Kiruba going to manage it? Her first year had passed in a blur. She barely understood instructions, often managing to show up in the right place at the right time by literally following the other women. Others from her ethnic group must have been helping her get through the classes by translating for her, both ways. She asked me for help and came to my apartment every day to practise reading her Bible passage. This wasn’t a sermon, mind you, just simply reading the passage out in front of the whole community. As she stood behind the lectern, quaking with fear, every student and every faculty member was holding their breath.

It was word perfect. And with a boldness that must have come from the Holy Spirit.

One Christmas while our residential Bible college was on its holiday break, I went to visit Kiruba and a few other students in their homes. After about twenty hours on the rickety train, she met me at the tiny station and we rode in the open, ‘naturally air-conditioned’ bus another four hours to her home.

It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. There was a lot of love here, but not a lot of money. It was a simple mud-brick house with a couple of bedrooms, a common area and a kitchen outside. The beds were made of jute rope tied over wooden frames. We walked in the fields and chased the chickens and chatted about this and that. I wondered how this farm girl ended up at a prestigious Bible college in the big city 2000 kilometres away, and what would happen after she finished.

In final year, all of the students have to preach in the chapel. By then we were no longer anxious about what would happen when Kiruba took the pulpit. We all knew that this was a woman anointed by God with the power of His Spirit. She had an incomparable boldness, a fearlessness that made others stop still and listen. Where had it come from? I believe it was there all the time. I always felt that my time in the classroom wasn’t as significant in the lives of our students as the time I spent with them in the college dining room, by the playing field, in my lounge room. My colleagues and I had just allowed Kiruba the space to blossom and flourish under the care of her Master. She trusted in Him fully, and gave herself fully in his service.

Now Kiruba pastors a church in the south of the country, together with her husband.

Jessica has taught at Bible colleges in Asia and Australia. She currently provides leadership and pastoral care to Interserve workers in South East Asia.

Imitating Gods kindness

Each week our family has the privilege of supporting Khruu, a local Christian community leader, to reach out to children who live in the city’s largest slum by teaching them who Jesus is and what He has done. This ministry originated out of our own local Thai church. This slum community has numerous social problems ranging from substance abuse to domestic violence and neglect … and is spiritually oppressed. The reality for each child is that these problems are a natural and deep-rooted part of their surroundings. However, in spite of these challenges, God has enabled us to get to know these children well and to witness their growing desire to know Jesus.

Nong is a 10-year-old boy. His father has long since left and his mother is heavily in debt and hounded by debt collectors. He has recently had to flee home with his mother in order to avoid these debt collectors. The Christian community leader Khruu herself lives in the slums and does not have much money. But Khruu sought to imitate God’s abounding grace and kindness to this boy by purchasing a new uniform for him to wear to school. It was the first set of new clothes Nong had ever worn to school. Before this, it had always been fourth or fifth hand-me-downs, worn out and covered in blotches. Nong was so grateful and now walks to school with pride. His grandmother, who also lives in the slums, has encouraged his mother to return to the community on the weekends so Nong can still participate in our Sunday school outreach program and get ready for school for the coming week.

Asking the question “Is mission relevant?” presupposes the answer to a related question, “Whose mission is it?” The question of mission’s relevancy cannot be disassociated from the One whose mission it is.

What seems indisputable from Genesis to Revelation is that our God is the unstoppable God who is bringing about His unstoppable mission. In spite of humanity’s every effort to thwart God’s plans, the creator and redeemer God relentlessly demonstrates His abounding love, righteous justice and profound wisdom to all humanity.

And in the course of God’s salvation history, the death and resurrection of God the Son is the epitome of this divine love, justice and wisdom. By natural consequence, all must respond to His offer of amazing grace. When God’s redeemed seek to imitate the very nature of God himself—his abounding grace and kindness—the world cannot but at least acknowledge that this transformation must come from the divine, particularly when juxtaposed against fallen humanity.

Nong’s circumstances reflect the hope of the salvation we have received, which shapes our lives now in anticipation of that certainty when Jesus will create all things anew. At that time the foolish decisions of others will no longer have a devastating impact on children. All that will remain will be praise and glory to the One who has redeemed us out of our own poverty of sin and who will give us pure and blameless clothes to wear for eternity.

Dan works with the national church to safeguard and promote the wellbeing of children.
Names have been changed.