Tell people about our suffering

"Will you love Muslims the way I love them?" She turned around, to the girl behind her in the pews. But she hadn't said anything. When she heard the voice again, 15-year-old Patricia knew it was God who called her.

It's hard for me to find her. Somewhere in the famous community center on the Chris Lebeaustreet in Amsterdam is the office of Road of Hope, the organization Patricia Silva Barendregt started three years ago to help refugees integrate. After twenty minutes of wandering around I find her hidden in a small, musty office on the top floor. Except for a simple desk and a discarded laser printer, it’s bare and empty. But soon the Brazilian refugee worker colours the room with her cheerful voice and lively anecdotes.

Am I going to die?
Since the moment God spoke to her, the Arab world has had an almost magnetic attraction to her. Even though she had never actually met a Muslim before. "Where I lived, in northern Brazil, there were no Muslims. I was pretty scared, actually. ‘No God, I can't do this. Isn’t there a lot of persecution in those countries?’ But I was also curious. I started writing letters with missionaries in the Middle East. What's it like living there? What's the climate, the food, the people? Is there really a lot of persecution? Am I going to die?"

Hollywood image
There wasn't much room for doubt. Convinced of her vocation, Patricia went to study theology. She immersed herself in the world of Islam and left for Egypt through a missionary organization. She remembers her arrival well. Everything was different. Everywhere she looked, she saw women wearing headscarves. It turned out to be an excellent conversation opener. Not that the passionate Brazilian seems to really need it, during the interview she talks with a flair that Moses would have been jealous of. "Then I sat on the bus next to two girls with a niqab and asked in Arabic: 'This is so different from where I come from, how do you wear it and what do you do with your make-up?' 'We can teach you', they said. That's how I became friends with a lot of women."
"One day I went home with one of those girls. When she had changed, I didn't recognize her at first, without covering. We became good friends. "You're the first Christian in my life I've talked to", she said. Many Muslims have a Hollywood image of Christians, as if they are often drunk and violent. "But you're so quiet," she said to me. "You dress like us, you're almost a Muslim.” I'll take that as a compliment, haha!"

you belong with us
Two years later Patricia came in contact with refugees fort he first time in her life, when she was transferred to war-torn Sudan. She lived and worked in a refugee camp, ate the same food and drank the same water. "I think I've had diseases I don't even know the name of."
Irresponsible, according to the the missionary coordinator, who ordered the team to stay outside the camp. The team refused. "The people in the camp said to us, 'You are the first foreigners who really live with us, you belong with us'. If we left, we wouldn't be much different from other foreigners coming and going."

road of death
Patricia couldn't let go of the distressing situation of the refugees. In 2014 she came to the Netherlands to study International Development Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Focussing on development issues. Her goal: Iraq. To help refugees, especially from Syria, on their way to a new future. It became Amsterdam. Love caused a small change of direction on the missionary route of the young missionary when she met her husband in the capital. That and a probing visit to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, where she did research for her master's thesis.
Patricia remembers very well the first woman she spoke to in the camp. "She had those beautiful green eyes that I will never forget. As I walked out of her tent, she grabbed my hand and said, 'Please, tell people about our suffering, about what it is like to live as a refugee. That's where the idea for Road of Hope was born. Refugees describe their flight as a road of death."

He's there
Back in Amsterdam Patricia refused to be happy for a while. "I had all those images in my head of people suffering from conflict, rape and violence. Then I can't be happy, can I?" After months of crying, bad sleep and intense conversations with a Red Cross staff member, she began to experience some rest again. "That man said: 'All the faces you have seen and keep coming into your thoughts: God knows them all. He is there. Don't forget that.' It gave me peace. I didn't have to be there. I can also help the refugees who are here. But not alone. That's why I started sending letters to churches in Brazil to support me. I noticed that they were praying for me: I could sleep again and I was doing better. In June 2016, Road of Hope was founded."

Patricia started by counseling three refugee families. Now her organization plays an important role in the work of Amsterdam refugees. Since this autumn, Patricia and her organisation have joined Team NL, the work of Interserve in the Netherlands. There she shares her knowledge and experience about working with immigrants. She also offers On Trackers from Interserve, who will be sent out for a short time, the opportunity to gain experience with cross-cultural work in her own country.

A Brazilian woman. Called to show God's love to refugees in Amsterdam. Intrigued I leave Road of Hope: God's roads are indeed higher than our own.

NOTE:
A short documentary about the work of Road of Hope can be watched at http://bit.ly/roadofhope.

STREAMERS:
"Many Muslims have a Hollywood image of Christians, as if they're often drunk and violent."
"I think I've had diseases I don't even know the name of."
"You are the first foreigners who really live with us, you belong with us."
"I had all these images in my head of people suffering from conflict, rape and violence. Then I can't be happy, can I?"

Photos available at the Dutch office.

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.

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.

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.

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.