‘A’ serves in the Middle East, including as a part-time GP*
Cups of tea. Hundreds of cups of mint tea. The sugar makes your pancreas wince with every sip. Cups of coffee. Hundreds of small cups of sludgy Turkish coffee. So I drink, and I waste time with women here. I think this is my main ministry. I’m thankful I learnt the value of ‘wasting time with people’ in my years at SMBC, through example and theology.
In this ocean of need, I wonder how to be effective.
I’ve been living in a poor neighbourhood in a big city in the Middle East for the past two and a half years. We have millions of refugees. My official ministry is the often soul-crushing exercise of learning Arabic, observing culture and working part-time as a GP in a refugee clinic.
It’s always chaotic. Sometimes I notice a particularly troubled woman, stop, listen and pray with her in wobbly Arabic and there are tears. Another clinic takes us into refugees’ homes. It’s a huge privilege to do this alongside believers of Muslim background who are wildly passionate about sharing Jesus.
The thing is, in this ocean of need, I wonder how to be effective. People who are frustrated and helpless, with poorly managed chronic disease such as diabetic foot infections, depression and domestic violence. How do we help and not create dependence? How do we honour people and help them discover their God-given resources? How do I cope with having my weaknesses shoved in my face most days; feeling tired, feeling like a disappointment because I can’t manage what Arabs expect in relationship, being given ‘helpful’ comparisons of my weight/language skills /[insert other sensitive attribute] with other foreigners?
Here I am, doing inefficient ministry.
Before attending Sydney Missionary and Bible College, I drank coffee. I needed to stay awake during hospital shifts or to write Bible studies. I went to SMBC because I wanted to be theologically prepared and pushed to go overseas. Surprisingly, at college I also learned how to drink tea and sit on the Sir Walter buffalo (lawn).
I learned that God has not made the world to be particularly efficient – at least, not in the way we think about efficiency. We are limited; he is not. It’s humbling, and in faith we lament.
It’s the same story in ministry. I learned that church planting is all about working with people who are messy. I also learned that the gospel is described in so many metaphors which speak to our messiness in different ways. The first time I was encouraged to think beyond the foundational image of justification, I wondered: ‘Is SMBC heretical, or brilliant?’!
So here I am, doing inefficient ministry. Which opens the opportunity to look into the eyes of a weary Syrian. Four years ago, as bombs dropped on her village, she fled in the night with her children. They now live in a miserable, mouldy flat, desperate for a new life. I ask if I can share stories, of how God did not forget Joseph in Egypt or Hagar in the desert.
Another night I sit late with Sudanese friends who share their shame. The husband was imprisoned without trial and repeatedly sexually abused by the guards. I’m sad and angry, and I show them Psalm 13. The wife asks me, ‘Many Christians have been very kind to us; what is it that Christians believe? What does the Christian book say about judgement day? I don’t want any surprises.’
Do you know what pushed me to serve overseas in the end?
Another day I sit in class with my young Arab teacher, who’s already divorced from an abusive man and knows the silent ostracism of shame with no way out. And I marvel at all those times Jesus fiercely and lovingly subverted shame, bringing shameful people out of the shadows and crowning them with honour. My Muslim teacher ‘gets goose bumps’ as I tell her.
Do you know what pushed me to serve overseas in the end? After a lot of uncertainty on my part, an SMBC graduate working in a rough corner of the Middle East gently reminded me not to make it too complicated, but to ‘Read Romans 10.’
Wasn’t it still true that people couldn’t call on the Lord Jesus for salvation if they hadn’t heard the gospel?
So in the end, I’m just very thankful for the way SMBC focussed on Jesus, and on community.
College community isn’t just a promotional slogan: it’s real and precious and changed my life.
Learn more about SMBC’s cross-cultural training at SMBC’s Open Morning (9.30am, Saturday 3 August; 43 Badminton Road, Croydon, NSW) or visit smbc.edu.au
* Author’s identity concealed for personal reasons