Friday, February 9, 2018

Why to visit a gospel partner

This January we enjoyed a trip to Cambodia, visiting friends on the field.  We have several dear friends who are gospel partners overseas (we used to call them missionaries, but this is the term now!). Some we studied at college with, some we have met at church over the years. This lovely family we have only ever known on the field, for they left Adelaide the same year we arrived, and a relationship has built up over various home assignments and connections in between.

The trip has been a long time in the planning, and finally this year we were able to make it work.

It was fantastic. We saw the sights of Phnom Penh in the capable hands of locals, ate together, spent time in their home, had them for meals at our hotel, went to church together, and had lots and lots of conversation. Our kids know their kids quite well, all being similar ages and having spent time together over the years. It took a little while on the first day for the ice to break again, but then they were like old friends - playing basketball, swimming, joking, sharing food and talking.

They emphasised that our visit was a blessing to them, and we feel the trip was exactly the same for us.  Here are some of the blessings:

  1. Understanding. Yes, it's only a very small amount, we were only with them for two full days. But we now have a glimpse of what their home, their school and their church is like. We have a feel for their city - the major traffic and driving skills required, the street vendors, the fun of riding tuk tuks, the haggling in the markets. We saw the range of poverty and wealth, the beauty of the city and the friendliness of the people.
  2. Conversation. We talked and talked and talked. The women talked, the men talked, the families talked. We learnt more about Theravadabuddhism, the monks of the city, and what living there is like. We heard the story of how they met and married. We shared about our life in Australia and what we are involved in.
  3. Fun. While the adults enjoyed all the conversations and catch ups, the kids really had fun together. Whether it was sharing food, tuk tuk rides, nerf gun wars or basketball, it was a great chance to be reminded that no matter where you live, the same things are still fun. 
  4. Connection. One of their concerns is that their children won't develop the same Christian friendships that they might if in Australia. So the time for the kids was very beneficial. We’re looking forward to them being back on home assignment, and when they are, we'll treat them as the normal friends they are, not as if they're the 'special missionaries' who generally aren't approached. Our kids are already talking about how to connect with them again when they’re next here.
  5. A wider worldview. Australia is a very egalitarian and secular culture, and we don't realise it until we come face to face with the strong contrast of wealth and poverty side by side, and the overt elements of religion all over a city. 
  6. A wider acceptance of difference. Travel the world and you encounter different languages, traditions, ways of communicating and understanding. Having to be the outsider is a good thing. Struggling to communicate teaches you how much you value being able to do so easily. Having to wear pants and longer sleeves, even when the weather is very hot, is a small price to pay to learn that we show respect in different ways. Communicating to our children that there are differences and considering why, means we are hopefully raising them to understand and analyse a variety of cultures.
  7. Insight into what they actually do. In many ways, their lives are very similar to ours: the kids go to school, the wife is involved in school management and teaching, and the husband is involved in translation work. They go to church as a family and they try to connect with locals in myriad ways. It's very normal. It's not super special and it's not super spiritual, but it's living faithfully for Jesus in their context, just as we would hope we are all doing in our own contexts.   
  8. Food for prayer. We have prayed for this family for years. Now we can pray more informed, specific prayers for this family, with an idea of what their days and weeks look like.

Both families together

Another option is to consider holidays together. A few years ago, I met a dear friend in Dubai for ten days. She worked in a country with high safety risks and was required to have regular out-of-country breaks. While I never saw her life ‘in–situ’ there were still wonderful benefits for us both: a break, encouragement, fun being tourists together, the chance to worship together, and lots of time to talk and debrief. For a single woman, there was the added bonus that she had a companion for her holidays. For me, it was a marvellous treat to be away from the responsibilities of my own family life!

Holiday fun in Dubai

Both trips have been highlights of the past few years, and times of great fun, joy, conversation and encouragement.

Do you have friends who are gospel partners?  Could you visit them or holiday together? Of course, talk about it, make sure it can work and it would be helpful, but it's definitely worth considering. Not everyone can do this (we have certainly counted it a great privilege), but if you can everyone is likely to be encouraged and blessed by the experience.

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