“What? WHAT? Wow! Wow! WOW!!” Silence followed; a deep, intentional silence from my friend, Mawar. “I’m crying!” she eventually said.
I had texted Mawar earlier to let her know we were back in the country after four months in Australia due to COVID-19 border closures, and she was now in disbelief. “You came back, from your safe country to this scary situation?” she asked. She told me that she had not worked out in the community for this time, keeping herself safe at home.
Chickens squawked in the background, and I remembered when she and her husband moved into their house last year and transformed it from a clothing factory to a self-sufficient oasis in the capital city of this country. If I close my eyes I can still vividly see the lush plants and taste the bountiful mangos from their front tree served from a bottomless plate. Mawar is vegetarian and we ate lavishly from the fruit and vegetables that grew in her garden.
I have known her for fifteen years, having met on a medical team after a natural disaster. She is a well-known researcher, advising the government and World Bank on micro-finance projects and is much sought after for her research skills. For years she has travelled to remote regions of the country advocating for the needs of the poor.
Our journey from Australia back to Asia began with that deep call to be back alongside those who are suffering after thinking we had retired from field work. We began to ask ourselves, often prompted by other people’s questions, “while we can do good remotely, what can older people who are willing to leave the safety of life in Australia do to serve others overseas?” We knew from experience that walking alongside others in their pain is much more powerful than what we can do from a distance. Isn’t this what Jesus did, after all?
While Australian authorities were working hard to keep us all safe and near to home, the deep call back to Asia grew in us. Just before retiring to Australia, we had been working with our national friends to teach and model what good member care and self-care could look like for local Christian workers who laboured tirelessly in remote areas away from their support systems for long periods. We felt that ‘still, small voice’ calling us out of retirement to take this work further to the remaining provinces.
It was so encouraging to find that our act of obedience motivated Mawar to in turn take the risk to return to field work. She was acutely aware of the increased suffering of her fellow citizens from the pandemic. She had been writing a paper to publish on this topic and my first job was to proofread it for her. “We are not called to be safe,” she wrote. “We are called to be whatever God wants us to be to help others.”
What we had been able to do as older Australians is mere loaves and fishes compared to what our local friends become inspired and encouraged to do through our commitment to take risks to serve others. It’s been such a joy and honour to see workers who face isolation and burnout becoming healthy again and able to continue to do good in these communities. Praise God! We are more convinced than ever that ‘doing life together’ with local people is such a powerful way to show that God loves the world, and we do too.
Sharon and Len recently returned to the South East Asian country where they lived and served in member care for many years.
Names have been changed.