My People, My Country, Myself
Our world is constantly changing, and field workers in ‘creative access’ countries have to be flexible and innovative to find ways to stay on the field. Stacey* has been with Pioneers for several years and has been involved in a variety of ministries, but her calling has remained the same: sharing the love of Jesus with the people of Asia. We recently asked Stacey to share with us about life in her country, and some of the highlights and lowlights of serving there:
MY PEOPLE, MY COUNTRY
The people in my country welcome you in such an honest, raw way. Not just a polite, “Hello how are you”, but they make you feel truly welcomed – like a friend you haven’t seen in a long time. They are so happy to see you and they are delighted to spend time with you. The amusing thing is that many of the other cultural norms are so different, loud, and sometimes seemingly unsafe that it causes a foreigner to want to run away. Turns out that friend who has been dying to see you also has smelly armpits, a visible bogie hanging out of his nose and sits way too close! Yet, once you let go of your own cultural norms and start to see the world from their perspective you realise that the offensive smelly one with the bogie hanging out isn’t them but you! It is cringe-worthy to think of how I unwittingly broke their cultural norms and ideas of politeness yet despite this they chose to embrace me anyway!
I love so many things about this Asian culture: the food, the history, the depth and eccentric nature of life, but most of all what has touched my heart is the community way of life. One Sunday after church we went home to my pastor’s house. There were several of us there. We played Uno, joked and laughed together, ate together and then all napped ….. together. It felt so normal, but then as I was lying down trying to sleep the thought came to mind that this would never happen back home. In that moment I was lying in the same bed with the pastor’s wife, the pastor, his kids and another person from church, with everyone else sprawled around the floor in close proximity. That would never happen back home – it would be too weird – cross too many boundaries. But here those boundaries don’t exist. The strong community values have stopped any individualist notions like personal space (or private bedrooms!) from becoming a concept or desire.
One challenge of ministry, though, is that lack of mature leadership in some of the churches has meant that there are some fundamental issues. This is especially true in the villages. Some of the local pastors were telling the ladies who work with us that since they were working for a business whose leaders were Christian they also needed to change their beliefs and be baptised, even though they weren’t yet believers. This was not the message that we want to communicate to our ladies or the community. When we tried to address this issue with the pastor we could not get on the same page. There have been so many other things done and said by this local church that we don’t feel comfortable associating with them anymore. We seek to work alongside the local church as much as possible, but this has proven to be rather difficult, and we have found ourselves having to distance ourselves from some of them.
However in the city it has been a bit easier. I work with national partners from amazing church communities. I wouldn’t be able to do this work if it was not joining in on what they have already been doing.
The low point of life here has been seeing the persecution of my brothers and sisters and feeling helpless. It can be hard to believe that we have the victory when you are losing the battle. Cruel injustice can roar against those seeking to see His Kingdom established, the enemy doesn’t fight fair and even goes for blows against vulnerable children. It can be a battle to keep the eternal perspective in mind. But the highpoint for me has been seeing the reality of what I have hoped for. I have longed to see the kingdom of God come into and transform vulnerable communities. I never dreamt that I would be able to see this happen, yet before God called me to be a part of this it was something he was already doing. I’ve been able to visit communities that have come to know Jesus in the unlikeliest of places, even in the midst of Asia’s biggest red light district.
And what about ‘me time’? Going outside can be an exhausting experience, with the sweltering heat and lots of noise. When I need some down time, it involves me alone in my room with some music or Netflix, and lots of icy cold drinks. Sometimes I go out and find a café but mostly the idea of travelling out in the very hot and sweaty weather is too exhausting, so I keep indoors. Where I live is very conservative – I can’t wear sleeveless tops or expose my legs – even showing my ankles would be a bit risqué! So if I have some down time I like to stay indoors and chill, and with curtains pulled, wear those banned items of clothing (shorts and a tank top). Being able to do this makes me ridiculously happy!
*Name changed for security