18 June, 2015

More good questions about our support base

I have some fantastic friends. They are of varying nationalities, but I think one of the most outstanding characteristics of my closest friends are that they are good at asking questions. Superb at asking excellent questions.

One of my friends asked me these the other day:
"How do you get these churches to invite you? Why these particular churches? What about all these people you've been meeting individually, who are they?"
One of the churches we visited, a group praying for Japan.
How this journey all started
To answer this I really need to go back to when we started out on this missionary journey. Back in October 1998 while we waited for OMF to process our application to join them, we started to write a prayer/newsletter that we distributed to people we knew, asking them to pray. 

That really was the key, the people we knew. From there we asked people if we could visit the churches they were associated with. But some people also approached us. We also asked churches within our denomination if we could visit them. The most notable of these were the churches in Western Australia, with whom we had no personal connection but who welcomed us in 2000 for a visit. By the way, none of this involved asking for money. OMF does not allow solicitation of money. We were merely talking about Japan (a place we'd never been to) and what we were hoping to do there.

It took until October 2000 for us to get clearance to leave (that included medical, psychological, and financial clearance). It was the financial clearance that was the hardest, because of exchange rates and the different costs of living between the two countries at the time. 

At the end of 1999 David quit his teaching job so that we could focus on deputation (and staying sane, full-time work plus deputation was a huge stretch). That was a giant decision for us financially because I wasn't working either (our eldest was 6 months old).

During that 18 months to 2 years of deputation we developed a lot of new relationships and networks, and strengthened old relationships. Since then, every time we come back, we revisit many of those people and churches (at their invitation). We have found a laid-back response works best: we make sure people know that we're available, but we tend not to aggressively pursue getting together with people or seeking church invites.

Churches we've visited?
So the churches who invite us have usually seen us before or there are people in the church who know us and have advocated on our behalf for us to visit. Only four out of the 20 churches we visited this time we'd never been to before, those visits came from the advocacy of contacts or friends.

All the people we've met? 
Many are friends from the first 27 years of our lives. People we'd met in the course of life, in various churches we've been involved in, uni, family friends, former colleagues, and even someone I learnt piano with. Others are people we've met along the way, like our youngest's Prep teacher who has prayed for us ever since we left five years ago. And then there's the OMF network. People who have themselves had involvement with OMF, former missionaries especially. This time we've also met a few people we know from Japan, not Australia, but for varying reasons we've ended up in the same cities, so we've caught up. In Perth we also stayed with a family who'd visited us in Japan.

Then there's new friends. I feel a little like a snowball. Every time we come back we make new relationships. This time it's primarily been at our new home church. But I also met a new Japanese friend and a friend who I'd met online via my blog and Facebook.

One of the strange aspects of a missionary's life is that part of our job is to stay connected to people and groups of people we don't often see. I'm pretty sure we have a wider network of friends and people than many Australians. 

But what a blessing. Our prayer letter goes out to more than 200 units (Ed. I orginally published this as 300, but I should have fact checked and not relied on my memory) every month. I don't know how many pray, but I know that a lot do. That's a big support base. I'm scared to think of what life might be like without that. I'm pretty sure we wouldn't still be in Japan if we didn't have such a group of people behind us. 

So that's what we've been doing in Australia. We've been reconnecting with all these networks and relationships that we've built over the last 40+ years and cultivated over the last 17 years.

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