Grace for the long haul: reflections on 13 years o

Grace for the long haul: reflections on 13 years of service

“We don’t see you as a foreigner, we see you as one of us.” I was so stunned to hear those words three times, soon after I reached 10 years of service in my adopted country.

The first hint I got that I might one day have some level of approval in my new culture was when I returned after my first Home Assignment. The local people realised then that I was serious about being in their culture and their acceptance of me began to grow. So when I crossed 10 years and people acknowledged me as one of the team, serving together, my heart was so encouraged. Ten years is considered a long time to serve in cross-cultural work these days but it has some excellent rewards. As I look back I can see how the Grand Weaver has been weaving the threads of my life and experience to bring me to where I am today.

I remember being handed an exercise book with four pages of notes, essentially my first job description as school nurse at an international boarding school. Over the four years there, I found tasks I did not enjoy doing and others I had never been trained to do: making budgets in a currency I didn’t really comprehend and working with children who had suffered sexual abuse are good examples. Even as I struggled with some of those challenges, I also saw how my previous training was used by God in that placement. Being the eldest of eight siblings and working in children’s camp ministry was helpful experience. Working in the Emergency Department in a major Melbourne hospital proved very good training for handling the accidents that occur in a school of 300 children.

I guess in some ways I have done it the hard way with four different placements in three different language areas. I remember a particular time when I felt I was a failure. I had persevered with a placement for five months but it became obvious that it was not going to work out. Eventually, when I was removed from the placement, feelings of failure overwhelmed me. I learned two things from that experience: failure (real or perceived) is not final, and you are not a failure if you have been faithful. I took a month out to recover, then moved on to a placement that was a much better fit and led me to the unique niche I now enjoy.

Teaching and mentoring health care workers to be involved in health research came to me after some years in the country. Despite its challenges, it has been a fulfilling role, teaching people theoretical and practical skills, but also having opportunities to teach life values along the way. I have grown into the role, but God has also brought people across my path who opened doors for me to do this job.

There were a lot of things I wanted to achieve in the early days. I remember the list I kept on my wall of what was still to be done. These days I don’t have such a list but I still have dreams of what I’d like to see done. I now focus a bit less on the tasks and more on relationships with people. We have wanted to do a community survey looking at a local health issue. It has been delayed for two years because I wanted it not to be driven by me alone, but this year I have a local colleague who has a passion to see it done and I am trusting others to work with us will be provided.

I now have more white hairs. Sometimes that is helpful in Asia because people give you more respect. However the respect that comes from the wisdom and experience gained can only come from living each of the 365 days of each year. Someone recently asked me how I learnt resilience. My reply was, “You can’t learn it in a week!” On my wall is drawing of a tree with the words of Jeremiah 17:7–8 (NIV):

But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when the heat comes; its leaves are always green, It has no worries in the year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.

That verse became very precious to me and some of my local colleagues when we faced a difficult time in the leadership in an organisation. Together we dug deep into our relationships with God. Resilience comes from plodding on and remaining calm, through the summers and the droughts.

Luke 10:17–20 tells how the 70 disciples came back to Jesus and reported on their mission. Their highlight was the power they had over Satan but that was not Jesus’ agenda. “All the same, the great triumph is not in your authority over evil but in God’s authority over you and presence in you. Not what you do for God but what God does for you – that’s the agenda for rejoicing.” (The Message) These words have been a strong reminder to me as I prepare for my next Home Assignment that God has taught me much and it’s really important to share what He has done in me.

“For God’s love compels us” is the verse on my prayer card. In recent days God has been teaching me new things about his love, especially from the Servant passages of Isaiah. “Take a good look at my servant, I’m backing him to the hilt. He’s the one I chose, and I couldn’t be more pleased with him” (42:1 TM). It’s been good to be reminded that He is pleased with me because He chose me out of His love and not because of the tasks I do. I can relax in that and then serve freely because I am secure as His child. And His love becomes again my motivation to serve. I am still learning; I wonder what more I will have learned in another 13 years’ time. I do know the loving Weaver will be at work making me a more useful servant in His service.

The author is a Partner in South Asia