The work of walking humbly

A friend recently commented that living cross-culturally strips back your identity to its most basic shell. My experience took me on a journey from being a competent, confident adult who was contributing to his community to a place where every aspect of my identity was challenged.

This was partly by my own choosing. Several years ago Marie Clare and I, along with our two children, departed Melbourne (one of the world’s most livable cities) for Bangkok, Thailand. We spent our first year studying Thai. We easily could have moved to Thailand to teach in English or to work in a large international church or school. However, we felt a strong desire to partner with the local church, to be involved in community and to learn to speak Thai.

We have now been in Thailand for three years. A large portion of our time has been dedicated to learning Thai, watching the people and environment around us and attempting to understand a culture that often intrigues us. We are often exhausted, frustrated and at times desire to return to a place where we are understood and are able to clearly articulate our thoughts and feelings.

Thai is a tonal language with 5 distinct tones. The meaning of a word changes based on its tone. Thus far I have yet to master these tones. I have discovered I enjoy getting out and about and speaking to people. In English I love to talk to people about politics and debate the current hot topic. However, in Thai my conversations last 5–10 minutes before I run out of things to say. In meetings I am 5–10 seconds behind the conversation. By the time I have decoded the conversation and translated my thought into Thai, the conversation has well and truly moved on. Thai people are kind and they are always amazed by how much Thai I can speak. But I know how far I have to go before I can think and speak Thai effortlessly. The more I learn, the more I know how much I don’t know.

So is learning Thai worth it? Why can’t I, like many mission workers here in Thailand, just speak English and get someone to translate for me? Then I could get down to doing what I really love: teaching and discipleship.
The answer is yes, it’s worth it! I don’t always feel this way. It is hard living in a place where you can’t express your thoughts clearly and have deep conversations. However, this journey is not about me. I have come to understand that without walking humbly with God, one cannot understand or practice justice, mercy or humility (Micah 6:8). Not being able to speak has provided me with an opportunity to observe, to slow down, to listen and to pray. Language learning has taught me to rely on others and on God.

God often reminds me that I am not walking on this journey alone, nor am I leading the way. I am walking humbly with Him. My identity is not found in my Australian passport, my Persian heritage, my science and teaching degrees. My identity is found in God my father.

Emmanuel is a qualified chemistry and biology teacher. He and his family are in Thailand long-term, partnering with the local church in outreach and discipleship.

God went ahead of us

It all started when a friend told me that she had an idea. It was late 2012 in a Melbourne suburb where a church hosted a free food distribution point for those in desperate financial situations. Most of the people coming were asylum seekers from countries such as Sri Lanka, Iran and Afghanistan who had no work rights here. Maybe we could meet more of their needs if we got to know them better? Together we came up with the idea of inviting them inside the doors of the church where we would offer cups of tea, nuts and dried fruit and help them practice their conversational English.

The church was happy to support the idea and good connections with the local ministers’ fellowship led to offers of prayer and practical support from other pastors and members of their congregations. We were absolutely delighted with the amazing, warm hearted and friendly responses from asylum seekers. We sensed that God had gone before us and had something special in mind.

As the program grew we decided to extend the informal English classes and launch more formal, regular classes. At that stage, the asylum seekers were not supported by the government in any way to learn English. Many were bored and really wanted to learn. The response to our proposal by the community was very enthusiastic!

We formed a partnership with the local ministers’ fellowship and cross-cultural workers from a range of organisations including Interserve’s CultureConnect. It was fantastic to see the unity. A missiologist was invited to devise and launch the new program. Volunteer teachers were recruited to teach at four different levels. There was overwhelming interest from asylum seekers and the number of students quickly surged to well over a hundred. The church felt they had reached their capacity but still the students kept coming! A few other churches from the ministers’ fellowship also started English classes from the overflow.

At the same time there were many asylum seekers asking questions about the Christian faith. At a time of personal upheaval and trauma they were open to God in new and exciting ways. By the grace of God, I was able to start Bible studies with several students. One particular Bible study grew to 20 participants, all from Central Asia. After several years, members of this Bible study formed their own church and one of them became their full-time pastor. This church still operates today.

The English classes in the main church continued for over four years. The numbers eventually declined as asylum seekers in the area obtained visas with earning rights, became more settled and the local library and other organisations began to provide services for them. One church still retains the program we began.

What a privilege it was to reach out in practical love to generous, warm-hearted asylum seekers. Lifetime friendships were formed. Most of all we praise God who had gone ahead and led us to take hold of the wonderful opportunity we had to reach out to these people. Each asylum seeker is cherished by God, whose Son Jesus offers eternal life through the cross He bore for them as He did for us.

Robert is a CultureConnect Partner helping churches in Melbourne to reach out cross-culturally.
Names have been changed.

Feeling frustrated and fruitless

It is a strange relief to find that I am not the only one working cross culturally who feels it is often fruitless and profoundly frustrating.

Things never work as planned: ‘amazing potential’ always feels within reach but, because of our own intercultural incompetence and local resistance to ‘outside things’, the impact of our work never seems to reach anywhere near its potential. Culturally conditioned as I am to take at least some of my identity and worth from my success at work, it has at times been a crushing journey that has frequently tempted me to pack it in. At my worst, the crushed expectations have driven me further into workaholism, with a subtle but inherently selfish Babel-like agenda to “make a name for myself” (Gen 11:4). That at least would validate why so many people continue to so generously support us!

I have fought discouragement from fruitlessness for over 10 years and perfection-driven workaholism for over 20 years, so I wish I had read Tim Keller’s book Every Good Endeavour earlier and taken his advice that “the key is to accept fruitlessness”! This book helped me discover what hope there is for work and how I can look past the deep problems and realise God’s purpose and plan. As Keller says, it all starts with being clear on one sure fact: nothing will be put perfectly right “until the day of Christ” at the end of history (Phil 1:6; 3:12). Until then, all creation “groans” (Rom 8:22) and is subject to decay and weakness.

et all is not lost. The disappointments of cross-cultural work have given me ample opportunities to get my identity from what God has done for us and in us and to constantly check that I am not making any good thing that work might offer into an idol. There is no shortage of toil, often more than I seek or expect, but my challenge now is to be one who “find(s) satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God” (Ecc 3:13).

Keller’s idea that we view all work as cultivation was new to me: as gardeners we work to rearrange the raw material of God’s creation to help the world in general, and people in particular, thrive and flourish. His question, “How, with my existing abilities and opportunities, can I be of greatest service to other people, knowing what I do of God’s will and of human need?” has helped me focus on where to be working/gardening. I run a business here and the heart of my ‘gardening’ is to sow in peace. I’m praying for a “harvest of righteousness” (Jas 3:18)—creating the space for individuals to get right with each other and, ultimately, with God.

As I seek to work as a peacemaker, I must first use my talents as competently as possible. Even if my job is not, by the world’s (or my) standards, exciting, high paying and desirable, reframing it as fundamentally a way to love my neighbour has been a great way to find job satisfaction. My daily work is ultimately an act of worship to the God who called and equipped me, no matter how fruitless and frustrating it can get! The act of worship that God asks for in our work and everything else is to be a “living sacrifice” (Rom 12:1); as Keller says, “to be continually in the rhythm of dying to your own interest and living for God”. Please ask that all Partners serving cross culturally would “never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord” (Rom 12:11).

Paul is a long-term Partner working in business in the Middle East.
Names have been changed.

The ordinary work of life

We see them on Facebook and Instagram in all their colour and energy. The biography shelf at our local bookstore regales us with their tales. You know the stories I mean. The ones that we wish were ours, but are quietly terrified of at the same time. The stories of lives that are full and exciting, and overflowing with blessing and fruitful ministry, drama, joy and … life!

We read these stories and are filled with awe, and sometimes more than a little jealousy. We look at our own ordinary lives and wonder, is this it? Am I missing something? In contrast to these exciting stories, the lives of us ordinary humans, doing the ordinary work of life, can seem incredibly boring.

Then, there are those of us who appear, to others, to have the exciting lives. We have left our passport countries to make our home in new places with interesting cultures, exotic foods and tale-worthy challenges. We may have thought that we were finally getting to live those stories we had once listened to with rapt attention.

But then comes the reality. The new place loses its wonder. The challenges become mundane and ordinary, or a never-ceasing frustration. We fill our lives with language classes or sit at a computer most days. To all appearances we’re not changing the world; we’re just changing nappies. It may look like we’re not spreading the Gospel; we’re just spreading peanut butter sandwiches. We are not seeing hundreds healed and coming to faith every other week; we are just sitting with our friends, trying to navigate relationships. We’re not seeing breakthroughs; sometimes we’re just experiencing breakdowns. Our once-exciting lives once again seem very ordinary.

So, are we just missing something, or are we instead missing the point? Maybe our human need for glory and recognition has blinded us to the fact that God never said “Go out and make a name for yourself”. There is no great commission to Facebook or newsletter glory. Jesus did, however, tell us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Matt 22:37–39). We are also reminded by Paul that “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).

Whatever you do. Yes, this might include miraculous healings or being involved in exciting conversions. But it also means the ordinary, day-to-day work of life too. It means loving those around you well, and meeting the sometimes very ordinary needs you see, with the skills and experience God has gifted you with. The main thing has always been about the heart. It’s about anchoring yourself in God, and living out that relationship.

For me, this anchoring, through prayer and rest, is perhaps the hardest part of the ordinary work of life. But right now I’m discovering its importance. I’m diving deep into discovering the biblical-ness and beauty of the rich wisdom of our spiritual mothers and fathers in the contemplative traditions. I am realising how necessary it is for us to just be with God, being exactly who we are. In that place we can hear who God is saying that we are, and discover joy in all the extraordinarily ordinary work God has prepared us to do.

So, I pray that you let God open your eyes to the beauty of the ordinary work of life, wherever and whatever that looks like for you. Because whatever ‘ordinary’ is for you, when it’s done with God at the centre, it is always extraordinary.

Kylie is a Partner living in South East Asia. She serves a community development organisation.

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.

Tribute to John Howard Barclay AM

On Sunday 10 February 2019, an Interserve statesman and a great man of God finished his earthly work and passed into the presence of the God he loved and served. Howard Barclay – missionary, leader, encourager, pray-er and family man – faithfully and graciously served with his wife Betty the people of India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Australia and New Zealand during a lifetime commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Howard grew up with a family heritage of prayer and concern for Nepal. His father co-founded the Palmer Street Mission, which had a focus on prayer for Nepal from the outset and his mother prayed for Nepal for nearly 80 years until she died at the age of 97. He attended Melbourne Bible Institute (now Melbourne School of Theology) and went on to attain a diploma in teaching.

In December 1950, Howard met Betty Cane, who was about to leave for India in February 1951. Following Betty to north India in January 1952, he brought with him an engagement ring, which was presented at the first opportunity – waiting for their tickets at Lucknow Railway Station. According to mission regulations, single missionaries could not get married until they had passed their first year Hindi exam, so Howard married Betty the day after, in Motihari, near the Nepal border. This began a loving and supportive partnership of 64+ years which included four children: John, Ruth and Heather, born in India, and Margie, born in the hills of Nepal.

The move from their base on the Indian border into Nepal in 1960 entailed a five-day trek with the family from Kathmandu to the remote village of Amp Pipal. Howard was the Project Director of a United Mission to Nepal (UMN) effort to open schools to help address Nepal’s literacy rate of about 2%. Howard trained teachers and spent much of his time trekking to schools around the district, providing teaching resources and supporting fledgling teachers. Within five years, he had established nine primary schools including the nationally–renowned Luitel High School and founding the prestigious Gandaki Boarding School.

Howard held many walking records! A two-day, 98km trek from Pokhara to Amp Pipal with Bishop John Reid in the monsoon of 1966 involved crossing flooded rivers, climbing steep ridges and surviving on sardines, biscuits and chai. John Reid said of these arduous journeys, “They were great experiences, because ultimately when you got to the Barclays’ home, that was like this eagle’s nest on the ridge of the mountain, there you saw two people pouring out their lives for the boys and girls, men and women of Nepal and seeking to show them the way of Jesus – it was worth doing.”

In 1972, Howard became Interserve Director for Australia and New Zealand, serving in that role for seven years. He was a convincing preacher and speaker, spending time in churches, universities and professional groups every week. He listened and he encouraged many to deeper commitment to Jesus and to serve Him full-time – where appropriate, cross-culturally.

In 1980, Howard and Betty returned to Nepal, serving as Personnel Counsellors in UMN before Howard was appointed the Executive Director in 1984. At this time, UMN was involved in healthcare, education, rural and industrial development. UMN was a complex organisation with over 400 expatriate mission personnel, and employing more than 2500 Nepalis. He had a wonderful relationship with the Nepali church leaders whom he mentored and encouraged. Howard had a role in seeing the church grow from just a handful of believers to many thousands in his lifetime.

Howard and Betty returned to Melbourne in 1990 and served in post-retirement interim executive roles in Kabul, Kathmandu and Mongolia. He received a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) award from the Australian Government in June 1994 for “service to international relations in the Asian region, particularly through the provision of humanitarian aid to Nepal”. Betty passed away in October 2017.

Howard inspired, mentored and encouraged countless Partners and remained a key member of Interserve’s prayer community right to the end. God has deeply blessed Interserve through his work and we mourn the loss to his family and our fellowship.

With thanks to members of the Barclay family, Berys Nixon (former Interserve Personnel Director) and Dr Graham Toohill (former Interserve Partner) for sharing their memories and photos.

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.

Seeing God at work

I sometimes get the feeling that some people think we’re ‘super Christians’ to have lived in a slum for the last 12 years with our family… but to us, it’s just life. We don’t think we’re special. We are just using our lives and the gifts God has given us, to be good friends to our neighbours and respond to those whom God is placing in our midst.

Our first years were all about learning. Learning the culture, the language, how to wash the clothes by hand, how to shop at the market, how to live with 17 people in the house… and how to be parents for the first time. Learning was hard, painful, and disempowering for ourselves, but was the ultimate step in allowing us to serve, empower and champion Cambodians, rather than come in on top of them with our education, power, money and white skin. Here’s what we learned:

nterruptions are not interruptions if we see it as God bringing someone into our lives. So often we book up every minute and never have time for the thoughts, things or people that God places in our midst. We need to shift our posture to allow God the control and space to work. Leaving our door open means anyone is able to come into our home with a need, or share life with us.

Life is mission. People don’t drop by at convenient times. It’s usually dinner time! We need to be flexible to respond. People are not ‘work’, because work happens in the 9–5 and people happen in the 24/7… people are life. We do, however, need to take time to rest, or we burn out and are not useful to others.

Living in community has its ups and its downs. We see births, weddings, funerals, parties and sadness… we’re on this life journey together. Khmer culture goes well with Aussie culture, but is also very different. Sometime we get along, sometimes we don’t. It is enriching to our lives to find a way to get along with others, rather than just hanging with those who are similar to us.

Have an empowering mindset. When we worked in an NGO for the first few years, it was a slow process to empower our Cambodian colleagues until they came up with the lightbulb ideas. It can be arduous work for us, but it means Cambodians will own these initiatives. It’s about having an empowering mindset when you see a problem: Can that person bring about their own change? What about their family? Can their community? When those avenues are exhausted, maybe then it’s appropriate for the mission worker to step in. Partnering with the local church is also another way to work with ‘people of peace’ who want to see the gospel spread and change in their community. True help brings about long-term change and empowerment.

Through being present in our community we have been able to see needs and journey with Cambodians who are willing to respond. These include: helping someone navigate the health system, advocating with the village leader to get the drainage fixed, standing in-between a husband who is beating his wife. Homework clubs have started so that kids can pass their exams and speed up their literacy. A local preschool started under someone’s house, so that kids can become ‘school ready’ before they hit grade one. Justees, our fair trade t-shirt printing business, helps young ex-drug users earn a wage to support them through their schooling, and Connect Street Work is responding to direct requests for us to be advocating for users from poor communities in the drug rehab system. The small things make a great difference for the people that society thinks are at the bottom of the heap.

It takes pressure off when we believe that God can do great things! We need to be in a right relationship with him and submit our lives and ideas to him so he can speak, lead and guide. We’re just being us, in this place, looking to see the way he is working… and being part of that.

David and his family have lived in community in Cambodia for 13 years.

Priorities

We as servants of God carry and display His splendor ("You are my servant, in whom I will display my splendor." – Isaiah 49:3) and people will be attracted to it.

During my time here I reflected a lot about how big of an honor and responsibility it is to carry God’s splendor, especially when we’re so busy and people will come to us all at once sometimes, so how do we find balance in between?
In one of my busiest months here, around November, I was rushing here and there, coming home late, a lot going on in my head, and very often my landlady would be waiting for me willing to have a very long chat and during that time I kept thinking about all the things I still had to do or the time I could be resting and unwinding a little…
But it turned out that in those chats she was really open to hear my opinion about faith, seeking advices and prayer! So I praise God for showing me, in those moments, what is really important and what should be prioritized.
I still struggle to find the balance between it all, but I try to always keep the mindset that people are way more important than any task you may have.