"Will you love Muslims the way I love them?" She turned around, to the girl behind her in the pews. But she hadn't said anything. When she heard the voice again, 15-year-old Patricia knew it was God who called her.

It's hard for me to find her. Somewhere in the famous community center on the Chris Lebeaustreet in Amsterdam is the office of Road of Hope, the organization Patricia Silva Barendregt started three years ago to help refugees integrate. After twenty minutes of wandering around I find her hidden in a small, musty office on the top floor. Except for a simple desk and a discarded laser printer, it’s bare and empty. But soon the Brazilian refugee worker colours the room with her cheerful voice and lively anecdotes.

Am I going to die?
Since the moment God spoke to her, the Arab world has had an almost magnetic attraction to her. Even though she had never actually met a Muslim before. "Where I lived, in northern Brazil, there were no Muslims. I was pretty scared, actually. ‘No God, I can't do this. Isn’t there a lot of persecution in those countries?’ But I was also curious. I started writing letters with missionaries in the Middle East. What's it like living there? What's the climate, the food, the people? Is there really a lot of persecution? Am I going to die?"

Hollywood image
There wasn't much room for doubt. Convinced of her vocation, Patricia went to study theology. She immersed herself in the world of Islam and left for Egypt through a missionary organization. She remembers her arrival well. Everything was different. Everywhere she looked, she saw women wearing headscarves. It turned out to be an excellent conversation opener. Not that the passionate Brazilian seems to really need it, during the interview she talks with a flair that Moses would have been jealous of. "Then I sat on the bus next to two girls with a niqab and asked in Arabic: 'This is so different from where I come from, how do you wear it and what do you do with your make-up?' 'We can teach you', they said. That's how I became friends with a lot of women."
"One day I went home with one of those girls. When she had changed, I didn't recognize her at first, without covering. We became good friends. "You're the first Christian in my life I've talked to", she said. Many Muslims have a Hollywood image of Christians, as if they are often drunk and violent. "But you're so quiet," she said to me. "You dress like us, you're almost a Muslim.” I'll take that as a compliment, haha!"

you belong with us
Two years later Patricia came in contact with refugees fort he first time in her life, when she was transferred to war-torn Sudan. She lived and worked in a refugee camp, ate the same food and drank the same water. "I think I've had diseases I don't even know the name of."
Irresponsible, according to the the missionary coordinator, who ordered the team to stay outside the camp. The team refused. "The people in the camp said to us, 'You are the first foreigners who really live with us, you belong with us'. If we left, we wouldn't be much different from other foreigners coming and going."

road of death
Patricia couldn't let go of the distressing situation of the refugees. In 2014 she came to the Netherlands to study International Development Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Focussing on development issues. Her goal: Iraq. To help refugees, especially from Syria, on their way to a new future. It became Amsterdam. Love caused a small change of direction on the missionary route of the young missionary when she met her husband in the capital. That and a probing visit to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, where she did research for her master's thesis.
Patricia remembers very well the first woman she spoke to in the camp. "She had those beautiful green eyes that I will never forget. As I walked out of her tent, she grabbed my hand and said, 'Please, tell people about our suffering, about what it is like to live as a refugee. That's where the idea for Road of Hope was born. Refugees describe their flight as a road of death."

He's there
Back in Amsterdam Patricia refused to be happy for a while. "I had all those images in my head of people suffering from conflict, rape and violence. Then I can't be happy, can I?" After months of crying, bad sleep and intense conversations with a Red Cross staff member, she began to experience some rest again. "That man said: 'All the faces you have seen and keep coming into your thoughts: God knows them all. He is there. Don't forget that.' It gave me peace. I didn't have to be there. I can also help the refugees who are here. But not alone. That's why I started sending letters to churches in Brazil to support me. I noticed that they were praying for me: I could sleep again and I was doing better. In June 2016, Road of Hope was founded."

Patricia started by counseling three refugee families. Now her organization plays an important role in the work of Amsterdam refugees. Since this autumn, Patricia and her organisation have joined Team NL, the work of Interserve in the Netherlands. There she shares her knowledge and experience about working with immigrants. She also offers On Trackers from Interserve, who will be sent out for a short time, the opportunity to gain experience with cross-cultural work in her own country.

A Brazilian woman. Called to show God's love to refugees in Amsterdam. Intrigued I leave Road of Hope: God's roads are indeed higher than our own.

NOTE:
A short documentary about the work of Road of Hope can be watched at http://bit.ly/roadofhope.

STREAMERS:
"Many Muslims have a Hollywood image of Christians, as if they're often drunk and violent."
"I think I've had diseases I don't even know the name of."
"You are the first foreigners who really live with us, you belong with us."
"I had all these images in my head of people suffering from conflict, rape and violence. Then I can't be happy, can I?"

Photos available at the Dutch office.

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.

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.

Celeste is a doctor living and working in Asia.

What led you to pursue a profession in medicine?
I never had a ‘noble’ intention to do medicine. I did well at school, and it was a practical profession. I always wanted to serve people and medicine provides that. A lot of people might have thought about saving the world, but for me, it was just a good profession and I had the ability to get there.

How did you sense God calling you into cross-cultural mission?
I struggled with this. Did I really hear God asking me to mission? Some people have dreams. But I think God also works through how your brain works. So for me it was open opportunities. Having everything line up: time, ability to go, the desire to go. I find that if I respond to one thing, God will lead me to the next thing. You don’t suddenly arrive there. You just need to have the willingness first to see mission as a possibility.

You have a heart for your patients, but also for your professional colleagues.
We can serve our patients well if our hearts and our brains and our values are all connected. There is only so much that we can do for one patient, but if we can have an influence on the healthcare provider, how much more we can serve the patients over and above what we can do by ourselves.

If we hold the value of being God’s created ones, then it is reflected in how we treat patients. To be able to look after your colleagues – it changes how they see themselves and the value a patient has in their eyes.

How can you share Jesus’ love when there are professional boundaries to what you can say?
I don’t think that is any different whether you are in my country or in Australia. It is more a change in your thinking – to be Christ-like in the workplace. People read you and watch you. The dignity and kindness that you give to a person speaks volumes. As much as we have to open our mouths, the Holy Spirit is working in their hearts. I am seeing that more and more.

People will ask “Why are you so different to the other doctors?” As we grow in faith, something has to change about us. There is a time and place for you to speak and a time and place when you show Christ through what you do. He will be the one who provides an opportunity to talk about it.

Names have been changed.

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.

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.

“If more people come to know Jesus through our deaths than though our lives, then we are prepared to die, Father.”

I read this prayer in a biography when I was nine. I was struck by how radical and countercultural life in Jesus is to the world around us. Our lives are gifts not to ourselves, but to be given sacrificially for His story and His glory.
God began to water the seed of overseas mission in my heart. Through reading missionary stories, I imagined being a teacher in the depths of the African savannah, choosing education as my university degree.

But throughout my teens, biographies, novels and world events like September 11 increased my curiosity about the Middle East and Islam. Growing up in rural WA, I don’t remember meeting any Muslims or even knowing anyone who had ever stepped foot in the Middle East. Yet God began to grow this curiosity. While I was at university, I read about Brother Andrew’s ministry to Muslims and in that moment decided that I would start working towards going to the Middle East as a teacher.

But it didn’t take long into this journey to realise I did not enjoy teaching. This led to a lot of anxiety as I studied at Bible college. If I didn’t teach in the Middle East, what could I do?
But just as God had begun watering the seed of love for Muslims, He also had planted a love of coffee! I returned to my home city and started working in specialty cafes, learning the coffee business and mastering the barista’s art. I didn’t know how I could use this in the Middle East but I prayed that I would!

God heard these prayers. I found myself boarding a plane as an On Tracker to the Middle East to work for a coffee business for two years! In His strength and grace, the project aims to accomplish many things alongside providing delicious cups of coffee.

As I helped develop the barista program and its curriculum, train staff and build the team I was amazed at how God used simple things like coffee and baristas to bring people together: rich and poor, educated and uneducated, Muslim and Christian to create networks and communities that provided endless opportunities for people to see His power, glory and reconciling love. I saw Him refining and using local Christians as they showed their Muslim colleagues what it means to be a Middle Eastern Christian. I saw Muslims taking note of God working in the lives of His children. I saw them begin to have their misconceptions about Christianity dispelled and be curious about what it truly is all about. All in the everyday workings of a small business!

God has used my education and my coffee experience. If I were to go back in time to decide on a future career, I would tell myself that God doesn’t just use the ‘traditional’ missionary careers like teaching and medicine. He can use any career or trade! He gives to each of us skills, talents and passions to be used for His glory and in His story.

Ella is preparing to return to the Middle East as a long-term Partner.

“You can’t think of teaching as a job. You have to think of it as a vocation.” It was very sage advice that I received in my first year of teaching and it still guides me to this day.

In Australia, my favourite subject to teach was Year 11 Ethics. I loved challenging my students to think for themselves – to reflect on their values and the kinds of people they wanted to be. I loved tapping into their idealism and their belief that we can make a difference in the world.

Four years later, holding tight to the side of the Jeep as it jostled and swayed over the rugged hillsides of Central Asia, I couldn’t help thinking that I was literally half a world away from my bright and cosy classroom. I looked out the window at sun-aged brown hills without another person in sight before we took a turn and suddenly came across shepherds guiding their flocks of black and white sheep and then, a small oasis of green that surrounded mud brick houses. My sense of awe at seeing this part of God’s creation gave way to nerves as we drew closer to the village. In spite of the 43C weather, I put on my socks so as to be culturally appropriate and readjusted my headscarf. My local colleagues and I were about to meet with the Ministry of Education and the Head of School in these parts. We hoped to convince them to allow the high school graduate daughters of the village to join our teacher-training project in the city.

We knew we had our work cut out for us because what we were asking of them is so counter-cultural. For a young unmarried woman to not be under her father’s or brother’s roof overnight can bring a great deal of gossip, if not shame to the family. Yet work was urgently needed to help village girls to go to school and stay at school as long as possible, in order to curb one of the world’s lowest literacy rates for women. One factor for why girls in villages do not go to school is because there aren’t any female teachers. We hoped to change this.

Negotiations with the Ministry and Head of School ended, and we made our way to one of the girls’ mud brick home. Huddled in one of their two rooms and surrounded by family member of all ages, we sipped our tea and listened to the parents’ fears: of gossip; of damage to the family name; of family opposition; of letting their daughters study for a couple of years only to see people from the city with money and power get the jobs and then never turn up in the village to teach; of how the families will put food on the table because at least now their daughters can sell some craft pieces to make ends meet. A family allowing their daughter to move to the city is an act of tremendous courage. The back and forth conversation quietened as a meal was spread before us in the true spirit of hospitality in Central Asia. Overwhelmed by both their struggles and their generosity, I ate quietly, smiling at the girls, acknowledging the hope in their eyes.

Fast forward again, to the beginning of our teacher training program in the city. In my classroom and in their spare time, the young women from the village work so incredibly hard, determined to shape their own futures. We will learn about classroom management, and social and emotional intelligence, and critical thinking, and how to actively engage students in their own learning instead of using the traditional method of rote and repetition. God willing, after two years I will visit them in their classrooms in their home villages and mentor them. But mostly, I pray in hope for these precious young women, that after everything they have overcome to be here, they will return to their villages with their heads held high, they will teach with love and integrity, and they will shine the torch on the capabilities and dignity of women and be a role model for the next generation of girls in their villages.

Jodi is a teacher-trainer, serving the girls and women of Central Asia.

Names have been changed.

“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.

“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.