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.

A different way of doing medicine

I was only fourteen when I decided I was going to become a medical missionary. I assumed I would be going to Africa – back then I thought all missionaries went to Africa.

But I was surprised to learn that female medical personnel were most needed in Muslim countries, where women must see a female professional and sometimes died when there were no women doctors to attend them.

So I ended up doing a medical student placement in South Asia. It was in a compound with high fences and armed guards. Women were not allowed outside the compound alone, and we had to cover every part of our body including our head. I remember old rusty beds, surgical gloves hanging out to dry after use, hot sweet tea and lots of kids with thin mums.

I started to think about wholistic health and doing medicine in a different way after I witnessed a nurse stomping a baby’s bottle under her foot. Her strange action made sense after I learned that bottle-feeding contributed to the illness of babies there. Big multinational companies sold their milk formulas cheaply and promoted bottlefeeding as the way of the West. However, many poor village women watered down the formula to make it last longer, depriving their babies of the nutrition necessary for growth. The lack of clean water and difficulty to sterilise bottles frequently led to infection and diarrhoea, then dehydration and death.

My brief time there taught me so much. I learnt the importance of preventative and community medicine. I learnt that even though curative hospital care was exhilarating and necessary, for me prevention is better than cure. I began to understand that people’s health is more than physical, and that it is bound to their poverty, education level, status, economic means, gender and religious beliefs. In short, I had begun to understand about wholism.

Another turning point in my Christian journey came when I had the opportunity to go on an evangelistic ward round. The hospital evangelist shared the gospel with patients’ relatives, who stayed to care for the patient. I thought it was great that the gospel was shared, but I was uncomfortable with the division for me: because of time constraints doctors mostly dealt with the physical and evangelists dealt with the spiritual. I didn’t want to restrict myself to being a doctor; I wanted to be a doctor sharing Christ and to teach from the Word of God. This was a good fit for the way God made me.

So I began full-time theological study while working part-time as a GP and completing my training. I was able to reflect on the interaction of the physical, emotional and spiritual. We are complex beings and being healthy is a complicated business.

When I applied to join Interserve, I was willing to go where I was most needed. That turned out to be Central Asia, where the church had grown exponentially since the fall of the Soviet Union, but leaders were young in years and young in faith. I quickly caught the vision of impacting communities in a wholistic and grassroots way, where they could be empowered to recognise and solve their problems with local resources. Our community development lessons covered many topics, such as physical health, income generation, agriculture, emotional issues and moral values like honesty and forgiveness.

Most of the communities we worked with knew we were followers of Jesus, and in time, through interaction, they developed a more positive understanding of Christianity. We did this work not as a means to evangelise or plant churches, but because it is good in itself and demonstrates the love of Jesus. In many places around the world, however, the natural consequence of such wholistic community development is that, over time, new communities of faith begin.

These early lessons have shaped my work as an Interserve Partner for the last 22 years. When there is harmony between people and God (the spiritual dimension), among people (the social dimension), within the person (the emotional dimension) and between people and their environment (the physical dimension), we have wholistic health. As Christians we work to show that Jesus is Lord of all and has reconciled all things in heaven and earth to Himself (Colossians 1:15-20). That’s wholism.

Lyn is Interserve’s Regional Director for East Asia and South Pacific. She lives in Australia with her family.

Listening with respect

I see myself more as a Jack-of-all-trades than a specialist. I spent more of my working life raising children than in my profession of medicine, returning to family practice and then counselling as they grew up.

In my new country, I work in ‘support’. I do not run any projects myself. ‘Support’ for me may mean collating clinical data, making cushions, dolls and straps for disability work, applying for grant funding, updating health training materials, training locals in counselling and offering child development and parenting support. There is no ‘ordinary week’ for me. Some work is fun, some engaging and exciting, some frankly boring but necessary.

There are highs and lows. Here is one low from the start of my work: I was finally going to do something useful and I was excited! After a year of cultural and language learning, I was going to assist a local NGO with health promotion and a women’s shelter. I had carefully prepared my first training presentation and I arrived twenty minutes early, ready to set up and start on time. The room was in use, so I waited. With five minutes to go, I showed my face at the window. When it was time to start, I knocked on the door. A colleague came out. She said that the person before me was still talking. I waited for forty-five minutes. The team then came out and asked me to give my presentation another day, as now they did not have time for my training!

We now live in a relationship-based culture, not a time and task-based culture. I knew ‘flexibility’ was important for living and working here. I just didn’t know how flexible. Your duty is the person in front of you and other commitments go on hold until they leave. I have learned to call the day before I run training, and to schedule sessions at the start of the day so it starts approximately on time. That is, after the mandatory relationship-building cup of tea and chat.

I have continued to work with the same wonderful ladies for the last five years. They sat patiently while I attempted to teach in a new language. It was a relief to all of us when they offered to allow me to train in English, with one of them translating. They always encourage me and tell me how much they value me, which makes it hard to get good feedback for improvement! I think it took three years before my health training took root. I think it also took about that amount of time before they really trusted me.

Here are some of the highs:

I was asked to work as a counsellor in a medical clinic. It is always challenging seeing people in very difficult circumstances when you are unlikely to see them again. What could I really do? I was very humbled when lady after lady shared their experiences of difficulties with husband or children. They entered sad and left smiling. What had I done? There was really no advice I could give them, no change in their circumstances. It was simply important to them that both I and my Christian translator listened and valued them. I encouraged them. So many of these ladies only get abuse and blame. To be listened to with respect and cared for was a new experience for them.

The ladies running the women’s shelter asked for training to help the children who had escaped abusive situations with their mothers. I explained that although the children will probably later need counselling, the first and most important thing is to provide them with a safe and nurturing environment, provide good food and clothing and to cater for their educational needs. I also gave them training on basic child development and parenting skills. They were very grateful and said they found this training helpful even in their own families. They also realised that their work was just as important as what professionals did.

Nothing happens by chance. God uses all our experiences, and I am grateful for everything he is doing through my retirement!

Marian and her husband are doctors, serving long-term in a remote part of Central Asia.

Names have been changed

Social work and software

OSCaR is one of those things that’s hard to write about. It’s a social work case management and database software package. It doesn’t tug at your heartstrings like rehabilitating drug users, or rescuing people from trafficking, or reuniting children with their families. It’s certainly not what I had in mind when our family left Australia for Cambodia in 2014.

In my life before Cambodia, I was a case management social worker in a high school, working directly with disengaged young people. I also had some experience supervising social work students through their university placements. Coming here, I knew that I probably wouldn’t be doing the same thing – social work in a second language is really tough – and I assumed I would fit into a support role at an NGO.

Social work is a fledgling discipline in Cambodia.The Royal University of Phnom Penh started offering the Bachelor of Social Work in 2008, and the number of qualified social workers in the country is low. While there are many Cambodians at NGOs with a lot of life experience, the lack of formal education often results in people making things up as they go. It goes without saying that social work like that often doesn’t lead to the best outcomes for vulnerable people. Unfortunately, there is also a history of some missionaries obtaining visas as social workers despite being unqualified, contributing to the perception that social work is not a real discipline. But now work is in progress to address these issues.

I now work at Children in Families (CIF), a local NGO dedicated to providing family-based care for vulnerable children. When I started here in 2015, I was asked to conduct a social work audit. We had some good practice strengths, but weaknesses in client assessment and record-keeping. Those administrative things don’t sound particularly exciting, but they have knock-on effects for the quality of social work generally. How can you make a good plan for someone if you haven’t assessed and understood their situation? How can you keep the details of 20 people fresh in your mind and provide high quality follow-up every single day, if you never adequately write down the things you’re doing with them? And how can you ever hope to report on your work to your donors (and so keep on doing that work in the future!) if you haven’t got records of what you’ve done?

I’m not a computer programmer, but I grew up comfortable with computers. And our office already did most of its work digitally, so it felt natural to look at supporting our work with better software. We applied for (and won!) a grant to develop a case management system in late 2015. The system has continued to be more and more widely adopted, but it’s tempting to ask, so what?

I’ve been really excited to see how OSCaR has contributed to the development of social work practice at CIF. Our assessment structure is now more relevant and lets us track long-term whether the work we do is improving the lives of the kids we support. We keep records in Khmer, with processes in place to let managers supervise their staff. We track all the things we need to in order to report on our work to our donors, and our managers are beginning to understand how they can be involved in monitoring and evaluation processes themselves. As I’ve helped other organisations integrate OSCaR into their practice, I’ve seen how they also wrestle more with their own work and consider how best to serve their beneficiaries.

I believe that God wants to see Christians not only reach out to the vulnerable, but reach out in ways that are helpful, relevant and competent. And while OSCaR by itself does not work with vulnerable people, it is supporting hundreds of social workers, in Cambodia and in other countries, to do so more effectively. This isn’t the work I expected to do, when I left Australia five years ago. But I’ve seen God bring things in line, and I’m grateful to have been put where I am.

Chris and his wife Stacie advocate for family-based care for children. Their family lives in Cambodia.

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.

The gift of a voice

Speech therapy is largely unheard of in Cambodia. Currently there are no speech therapists in the country who were trained at a Cambodian university. For the last 18 months, I have worked as Program Manager in a locally-run organisation working to grow speech therapy in Cambodia. We have a vision for a Cambodian university-qualified speech therapy profession that is able to provide high quality, culturally-relevant services to the estimated 600,000 Cambodians with communication or swallowing difficulties.

Establishing a new profession is a pretty daunting task! Curriculum writing, development strategy, clinical research and advocacy work all require connections and expertise beyond our little team of seven Cambodian staff and three foreign therapists. For a university course to be relevant to this context we need to document research and experience of using speech therapy strategies here. The purpose of this is to evaluate what approaches to speech therapy work in Cambodian culture and in the Khmer language, rather than simply transplanting models of practice from Western countries.

Cambodia has a long history of foreign therapists working in isolation for a few months or years, each investing in their small area but with little connection to government systems and no overall coordination. One of the first tasks for our organisation was to partner with others to establish the Cambodian Speech Therapy Network, with an aim to share resources and learning, and to be an orientation point for future speech therapists coming into the country.

Another early task was to establish a speech therapy clinic as a social enterprise. Two years in, our private clinic is booked out and needs more staff than we can find. This clinic brings opportunities to document therapy in Cambodia. Furthermore, also critical to ongoing success, the clinic helps to raise awareness and builds advocacy platforms with influential Cambodians whose families have benefited from therapy.

Currently, many children with disabilities are not in school even though by law and by government policy children with special needs are allowed to attend. Last year we designed and implemented a pilot project to coach rural primary and preschool teachers in their inclusion of children with communication difficulties within government schools. Beginning with disability-accessible schools from the government’s special education department, our staff worked to train the teachers in skills and knowledge that assists them in using teaching methods that helps all children learn. Presenting our results to the government was a tangible example of how speech therapy could help Cambodians. We ended the year with a formal partnership agreement with the Ministry of Education and had some very pleasing discussions with the University of Health Sciences as they plan a bachelor course in speech therapy to start in 2020.

Building on our national staff’s connections in the national disability and health sector, I’ve been able to bring my experience from 12 years of living and working in Cambodian poor communities along with my grassroots involvement in community-based disability rehabilitation work and establishment of community preschools and homework clubs. As a cross-cultural worker with longer-term experience, I’ve helped our local and foreign team members to understand each other better. In addition to my professional expertise in speech therapy, I’ve also drawn on Interserve’s values of partnership, servant leadership and valuing local expertise as together we grow our organisational culture and strategy.

While it’s not part of the employment criteria, it has been a surprise and encouragement to see how many staff members in the speech therapy project share the Christian faith. For the Christians within our staff it’s been easy to see God’s hand guiding our planning and his provision of resources and partnerships. It is such a joy to together celebrate God’s blessing, lament the injustice we encounter and advocate for systems that allow access to services for the poorest and most marginalised.

Ruth lives with her family in Cambodia. She works with a local NGO working to grow a Cambodian speech therapy profession.

Working for transformation

“What do you do?” he asked, by and by.
“Well, I work”, answered I.
“What as?” he continued, with aplomb.
“I do my job …”
“Yes”, he said, “I see,
that this work is why you are here”.
“Yes, indeed”, with much in store,
waiting for a chance to tell him more,
Sharing with him about how much he is loved.

So, our identity is in our work. Rarely are we asked, “Why do you work?” and “What is your motivation?” Usually, it stops at “What do you do?” and that is enough to satisfy the curiosity of our host country, host organisation, local friends and complete strangers.

But isn’t our identity more than work? We are loved and completely accepted—isn’t that our identity? Hence, we often experience a tension in how we share our identity with those around us. What we do is less important than who we are. It’s easy to say that we work; indeed, it is expected. If not, then suspicions are raised—how can they really live here if they do not work? Or, if we say we are doing one thing but in fact are doing something else, we actually have a major problem with integrity. I define integrity as having just one story about who I am and I share the details of my story in a way my hearer will understand. But, what I say is what I do, because it usually is, in terms of my work.

Of course, work is not everything. Family, rest, sharing in communities … we all know the expression that no-one gets to their deathbed and says, “I wish I had spent more time at work”. The reverse is invariably the case. God rested, and so should we.

But identity is not the only function of work. One major function of work is relationship building. We have many opportunities to spend time with the people we work with. Indeed, I have found it easier and more natural than, for example, becoming friends with my local traffic policeman (as I did in my early language-learning days) and this is because we have more in common. Work relationships seem to last longer. And relationships are often key if we want to see transformation.

Transformation—yes, that is what we long for. Often the transformation, physically and spiritually, is through our work. When I see a community being empowered to take their own actions to address some of their limitations for health or education, then I can see transformation—and all this through work. When I see a social business being able to contribute significantly to a social cause through a business model, then I witness transformation.

What about when I don’t see transformation, though? Is my work less successful, or is it even wasted? How do I handle ‘bad days’ or even bad seasons? At various points in time I have thought about what makes success. Going back to the question of identity … if our identity is based on our success, we are setting ourselves up for a big problem.

Perhaps the end of the matter is to have a healthy attitude towards work. For most of us, that will be ordinary work. Ordinary people doing ordinary things. But we are enabled for our ordinary work to be achieving something quite out of the ordinary in kingdom terms. And, if anyone asks—yes, I am here to work; here to see transformation.

Robert has worked in community development in South East Asia for over 10 years.
Names have been changed.

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.

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.

Working for transformation

“What do you do?” he asked, by and by.
“Well, I work”, answered I.
“What as?” he continued, with aplomb.
“I do my job …”
“Yes”, he said, “I see,
that this work is why you are here”.
“Yes, indeed”, with much in store,
waiting for a chance to tell him more,
Sharing with him about how much he is loved.

So, our identity is in our work. Rarely are we asked, “Why do you work?” and “What is your motivation?” Usually, it stops at “What do you do?” and that is enough to satisfy the curiosity of our host country, host organisation, local friends and complete strangers.

But isn’t our identity more than work? We are loved and completely accepted—isn’t that our identity? Hence, we often experience a tension in how we share our identity with those around us. What we do is less important than who we are. It’s easy to say that we work; indeed, it is expected. If not, then suspicions are raised—how can they really live here if they do not work? Or, if we say we are doing one thing but in fact are doing something else, we actually have a major problem with integrity. I define integrity as having just one story about who I am and I share the details of my story in a way my hearer will understand. But, what I say is what I do, because it usually is, in terms of my work.

Of course, work is not everything. Family, rest, sharing in communities … we all know the expression that no-one gets to their deathbed and says, “I wish I had spent more time at work”. The reverse is invariably the case. God rested, and so should we.

But identity is not the only function of work. One major function of work is relationship building. We have many opportunities to spend time with the people we work with. Indeed, I have found it easier and more natural than, for example, becoming friends with my local traffic policeman (as I did in my early language-learning days) and this is because we have more in common. Work relationships seem to last longer. And relationships are often key if we want to see transformation.

Transformation—yes, that is what we long for. Often the transformation, physically and spiritually, is through our work. When I see a community being empowered to take their own actions to address some of their limitations for health or education, then I can see transformation—and all this through work. When I see a social business being able to contribute significantly to a social cause through a business model, then I witness transformation.

What about when I don’t see transformation, though? Is my work less successful, or is it even wasted? How do I handle ‘bad days’ or even bad seasons? At various points in time I have thought about what makes success. Going back to the question of identity … if our identity is based on our success, we are setting ourselves up for a big problem.

Perhaps the end of the matter is to have a healthy attitude towards work. For most of us, that will be ordinary work. Ordinary people doing ordinary things. But we are enabled for our ordinary work to be achieving something quite out of the ordinary in kingdom terms. And, if anyone asks—yes, I am here to work; here to see transformation.

Robert has worked in community development in South East Asia for over 10 years.
Names have been changed.