12 March, 2012

3. The steps that you took in preparation.

This is the third in a series of questions I'm answering for a friend's Bible college assignment. Here you'll find answers to questions one and two.

This question really overlaps with the previous question, in that, God took me down a path of preparation as he led me to become a missionary. That included attending a mission-minded church as a child and a short-term trip to Indonesia.

At my childhood church I developed friendships and role-models who were to be important as I pursued God's call to mission. One of those was a couple who moved away from our locality when I was 15, to become state directors of The Leprosy Mission (TLM). When I left home to go to uni, I moved to the same city that they had shifted to two years earlier. As I wrote in answer to question two, half-way through my four year degree I felt God asking me, "So, what are you doing about mission?" At that prompting I applied to join a short-term study tour to Indonesia.

I also wrote to the aforementioned couple to tell them about how God seemed to be leading me. They advised me to read missionary biographies, to pray for missionaries, and to go to mission-minded events. So I did. 

Plus I had begun applying for this short-term trip, so that meant application forms, an interview, and beginning to tell people that this what what I was doing. That was a biggie: letting people know that I was going on a mission trip was a little bit like admitting I had an infectious disease. People seemed to start to treat me differently. I had to stand up in front of groups and speak to them (at my two "home" churches). I had try to figure out how I was going to pay for this trip. I had to tell my parents about my plans. All this was God preparing me to become a missionary.

Then the trip itself was a huge part of my preparation. It gave me my first cross-cultural experience. I discovered that missionaries struggle, that they are ordinary. It was a study tour, so we were given assignments and responsibilities. We had to give reports, read books, tell our stories. My biggest surprise was learning more about myself than I'd anticipated.

Then, on the end of the tour, I'd tacked on an extra 10 days to look at what TLM was doing in Java, Indonesia. As an Occupational Therapy (OT) student, I wondered if God was leading me to work with TLM. That was a very lonely experience; travelling on my own, staying with missionaries from other non-English speaking countries, and missing the team that I'd bonded with very strongly. It was also fairly disillusioning. Seeing the struggles that TLM had with working with the local authorities and seeing missionaries who complained about "them" (i.e. the Indonesians). That trip took a whole lot of gloss off missionary work. I'd anticipated a lightning-bolt answer to my "am I called to be a missionary" question, but it simply didn't happen. In fact, I came away certain that I never wanted to live in Indonesia!

Then I returned and slammed straight into a whole lot of issues in my life in Australia. That first six-months after the trip were bad. I struggled at and then failed a seven-week full-time practical assignment for my course. I came back and everything seemed to have changed. I hated church, I felt isolated. Partly because my best friend at church had practically become engaged while I was gone, to someone I didn't like. Life hit me like a large truck and mission seemed a long way away. I became consumed with just getting through my course and wondering what would fill the black-hole that loomed: post-graduation.

Fast forward to a year later and I had a job, a lonely job. I was the sole OT for a large rural area and I lived alone. I attended a church where I was the only one between about 18 and 28. However, for all the challenges, it was a very rewarding job, the best OT job I've ever had. And several of the people who I met at church are still in my life! But still, it was a desert experience in many ways. 

I wrote about the next bit last time: not wanting to be a single missionary, dating my husband, leading via a missions conference, and so on.

I guess the usual answer one might expect from a question such as this is, "I went to Bible college." However I contend that there are many other ways to be prepared for mission. God was preparing me in so many facets of my life, particularly in the loneliness aspect, having to rely on Him, not my friends or family. He took away the childish image of glamour that mission had. He provided me with a partner who was prepared to go where God called him. He taught me about relying on him to provide my finances (and not to rely on my own efforts). He provided me with multiple friends who'd later become valued supporters and pray-ers. He had me learn about public speaking, about failure, and about rejection. He had me grow up in a church and family environment where I learnt much about the Bible. He taught me many things that I can't even recall now.

But I did do some Bible college too. As we applied to OMF International, the local committee who interviewed us suggested some Bible college would be useful. However neither of us completed a whole course, just several subjects each. It would have been different if we were headed for church planting or teaching at a theological school, but what we already knew was sufficient for what God was leading us into (more on that next time).

As a part of our application we had to go to through a Psychologist's assessment. That taught me many things about myself too (like I am an extrovert!). I took up cross-stitching as as result of that consultation: needing a hobby that would help me to "just be", as a stress-management strategy has proven to be invaluable advice.

Our nearly two-years of deputation prior to leaving for Japan were preparation too. In 1999 David worked full-time as a teacher, and our first child was born. In addition to all of this we were working on raising support, on doing deputation. It nearly pulled our marriage apart and at the end of the year we said, "Enough is enough." David quit his job and only took on supply teaching work in the year following. We left for Japan in November 2000. For that whole year we had to rely on God for all our finances, for a place to have a holiday, for churches to visit, aeroplane fares, etc. That was a challenging year, and one during which we learnt a lot about trusting God.

Actually, I think preparation for mission should include a good dose of "getting to know yourself". And that is what many of the experiences I went through prior to going to the mission field on a long-term basis taught me. 

Really, looking back, it wasn't me who took the steps to prepare, it was God who led me through various life-experiences and taught me much as a result.

The next question that I'll answer later this week is 
4. The nature and purpose of your ministry.


KarenKTeachCamb said...

Isn't it awesome the way God uses the experiences of our past to prepare us for the future He has for us. I'm enjoying your story Wendy.

Mrs Q said...

Wendy, Hubby and I aren't that old! Or did you mean only single person between 12 and 40?

Wendy said...

Whoops, Mrs Q, should have checked my facts. Would 30 be more accurate?

Wendy said...

Sorry Mrs Q. I've fixed it. Bad memory!

Sarah said...

I'm really enjoying this series, Wendy. My husband and I have just taken on the missions role at our church which involves corresponding with the missionaries the church supports, sharing their news with the congregation, and encouraging them to pray for them. I feel it's a step forward, but to what I don't know.

I live on a farm three hours from Perth so I understand the loneliness that comes from living in the country too. It's not just a loneliness from the lack of people, but also trying to find people who you really connect with.

Wendy said...

Sarah, that's so true. In that small town there were very few 21 year olds who'd been to uni. I felt quite isolated. So glad for the church's Bible study where I developed great friendships with some slightly older couples.

It is difficult to move a church forward on the "supporting missions" front. It is something that needs really to overflow from within people and how God is leading them to be concerned for mission. I'd encourage you to see if there are one or two other mission-minded folk who would commit to pray with you regularly for a mission-minded church.

Anonymous said...

Wow, we must have been over 30, too! JeS was born when I was only just still 30 & she was in Yr 1 when we moved there, so I must have been at least 35.
Nearly 60 now, and I still feel about 22. Most of the time.