|Date||1 October, 2014|
“Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.” 3 John, 5–8 ESV.
“We are to grow up…into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:15–16 ESV.
The team in Central Asia has a beautiful cultural and denominational diversity. We are supported by dozens of sending communities from places as far-flung as Germany, New Zealand, Korea, and even China. Despite such varied backgrounds, there is a palpable sense of unity and shared vision when we come together for our annual conference. This year, through a series of talks by Dr Chris Wright, we were encouraged to consider the importance of community in the context of God’s redemptive mission. As we studied Ephesians and worshipped together, I found myself reflecting on the strength and love of my sending community back in Australia, who support my work and generously allow me to invest in this place.
When anyone starts thinking about leaving their passport country for overseas mission, the first question that must be asked is how their church community can support them. The early church provides some wonderful examples. One of my favourites is in Acts 15 where the congregation in Antioch rejoices over the encouragement in a letter from the Jerusalem church. I think I know how they felt, having rejoiced in a similar way over letters and emails! With this in mind, I decided to ask some of my co-workers about their experiences.
Sent by community
R has been in Central Asia for nine years, involved in theological education. She was in her early fifties when she first considered taking her work overseas. “When I first thought of going, my friends and colleagues resoundingly said, ‘Yes! Go! We’ll support you in every way we know how’.” That support has been unceasing; for example, there is a group of women clergy that has met for many years to pray for missions. When I go back on home assignment we always have a meal together. I hear about what they’re doing and it‘s wonderful. Such funny stories! We share our joys, difficulties, hopes. It is a source of mutual encouragement.’
There are many other practical ways that the church can remind its overseas workers that they are valued members of the sending community:
“Receiving care packages is a big deal. Some of my favourite things are coffee beans, handwritten notes and nice stationery. It’s not just the material blessing of small things – sometimes by the time I get the parcel other people have gone through it and it’s always sad if something’s missing – but it’s knowing that someone has cared for me and carefully considered what I’d like. And gone to the expense.” (B, from Holland)
“I had a group from my church come and visit. It was the best thing they’ve done for me. Even though there’s cost involved on both sides, you can’t put a price on a shared experience. They saw how I lived and who I worked with, and had direct experience of my daily challenges and relationships. Now they can pray for me and visualise my life, and I feel deeply satisfied to know that.” (C, from the UK)
“I’m awful at writing letters and am always behind with my emails, but I still love hearing from people. It opens up my own perspective in various ways, as lives are shared. I can think of them as I pray for them, as they pray for me. It’s a shared thing.” (R, from Australia)
On the whole, our workers in Central Asia seem to feel well-supported by their churches; so, does this influence the way they contribute to their new community in Central Asia? After all, part of the role of a partner is to foster our team on the ground.
Building new community
This can be a difficult reality. Central Asian life is rarely easy and never simple, and the routines we used to take for granted now require a surge of effort: finding ingredients for a balanced meal, catching public transport, paying bills, communicating basic concepts in a second language. Life takes a lot of energy. And yet, building community doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it can be as simple as offering friendship and caring for people. The tried and true buddy system, where an experienced partner helps to orientate a newly arrived worker, is the first step in this important process.
“I make it my business to meet new people and do what I can for them. When I first arrived, I remember someone telling me not to expect anyone to invite me to dinner because they’re all too stressed themselves. And yet I’ve been enriched by being an orientation buddy to so many people, and connecting them with others. I want people to feel like they belong because we are all very scattered with our work: women’s evenings, for instance, young parents, different ethnicities. It’s not easy here! We must provide a sense of belonging.” (R, from Australia)
“Arrival can be very traumatic. Experienced partners need to meet people, go with them to new places. You have to do community on the ground; one of the most important things is just being a friend. Why not invest in new arrivals? They’re God’s people. You miss out if you don’t.” (S, from America)
For my part, I’m profoundly grateful to be part of the community here. It is manifested in different ways: in my small group that meets to eat, pray and share together; in a wide variety of friendships; in the pastoral and professional care that I receive.
But it doesn’t end there.
My relationship with my sending community is not one-way. They have sent me out with financial support, prayers and blessings; how can I bless them in return?
• By communicating a vivid, honest picture of this country and its needs, so that they can pray in an informed and specific way, with love in their hearts.
• By encouraging them to see a broader picture of God’s work in the world, and communicating as much as I can about the work of our company.
• By sharing good news and answers to prayer, so that they can rejoice.
Whether we are serving God in our passport country or overseas, we can’t do it in isolation. The body of Christ is called to be in community, and it is the particular blessing of workers to participate in numerous communities. When the time comes for me to return to Australia, I’ll have an enriched understanding of the sending church’s role; I’m pretty excited to see what my part will be.