Lying face-down on the examining table, I winced as the needle pierced my buttock, then frowned at the suppressed giggles that broke out behind me. Glancing over my shoulder I saw the delighted faces of the university principal’s children grinning at me over the partition wall. They’d come along for the ride after their dog had ‘nipped’ my leg, and I like to think that they still remember their first sight of an ‘albino’ bottom. For my part, it was a memorable finale to an unforgettable trip…
I became a Christian just before I turned eighteen and was part of a thriving student fellowship while at university. I joined a group that prayed reguarly for the world and was active in serving international students, and the penny gradually dropped: if I was serious about following Jesus, I had to at least be prepared to serve him overseas. God could use anyone, and as the lyrics of a popular worship song had it at the time, ‘If you say go, we will go’. So at the end of my final year I applied to go on a short term mission trip with OMF to check out mission.
I was placed as an English teacher at a Christian university in a large city in South East Asia under the supervision of a long-term worker who seemed totally unsurprised (and in fact a little amused) when the expected English Conversation classes were joined on my timetable by English Poetry and English History lectures – the latter a three-hour slot to over 100 students. After a time of mild panic and lots of sage advice, the lectures went tolerably well – at least, I certainly learned a lot!
I learned even more living in a homestay, where my new ‘parents’ taught me to enjoy dried fish and sambal with my rice for breakfast; how to peel a durian; and that real men drink their bandrek (ginger tea) with a raw duck egg stirred in. I found that you get along best in a new culture if you dive in and grab on with both hands. By day, I learned how to kill a chicken while simultaneously catching its blood in a bowl (for the gravy), a technique that involves two hands and both feet. By night, I duelled giant rats for first use of the bathroom.
It was fascinating and tremendous fun. I had opportunities to serve, some meaningful chats with a few people who didn’t know Jesus, and I do trust that God used me to bless some people. But my abiding memory is of being blessed by the thriving local church that welcomed me, and of the young men and women in a prayer group I joined who were preparing to go and serve cross-culturally within their own country. They were giving up bright futures in their hometown to follow God’s call to share the good news about Jesus with people who hadn’t heard it. They taught me how to pray and worship in a new language, and lived out their love for God and neighbor through their willingness to step out in faith at significant personal risk – and without insurance or a health system to fall back on if things went wrong.
All of this was a shot in the bum for my understanding of mission and the church. I returned home deeply challenged – God can indeed use anyone, but I was aware of my need to grow up a bit, put down deeper roots as an adult in the church in my home culture and develop some useful skills before I might be useful for the long-haul in someone else’s. Seven years later I was on a plane heading back to Asia with my wife (the girl who ran the first “World Prayer” group I attended) and our nine-month-old son, who was of course given several injections in the backside as a sort of rite-of-passage before we left…
Roger and Brunhilda have been serving the Urban Poor in Asia for five years.