Mel Croom has worked with OMF since 1983, first in Taiwan and later with Chinese students in the UK. We asked Mel a few questions about her journey into mission.
Mel grew up in a farming family in England but from an early age had an interest in far off people and places. Her first friend at infants school was Polish and her favourite subject was Geography. At teacher training college Mel enjoyed OMF books from the CU library and in the holidays joined in summer outreaches to international students with UCCF in Oxford.
But Mel clearly remembers the point of commitment to serve God full-time:
‘In my second year at teacher training college, on 6th October 1972, I went to an Open Doors meeting with Brother Andrew. I can’t remember what he said, but I remember he gave a general appeal for people prepared to commit to full time Christian service.
I knew I had to stand, so I did. In a follow up meeting they suggested praying for a missionary. So I started praying for someone in East Africa, an area I’d always been interested in.’
Mel went on to teach Geography in North London. She joined Muswell Hill Baptist Church and she met Rosemary Harris. Rosemary had started ‘Tell a Tourist’, a summer outreach sharing the gospel with tourists in London. Mel got involved and looking back, sees that time as great preparation for long-term mission.
A Nudge From God
‘After four years teaching’ Mel recalls, ‘I knew God was prompting me to go to Bible college. The Pastor and church missionary committee agreed. So in September 1979 I went to All Nations Christian College.’
But how did she know it was time to go then?
‘One day I was teaching a class and they were all working quietly. I suddenly found myself thinking ‘I don’t want to leave this, I’m happy here.’ As I thought that, I recognised that I was in danger of disobeying God. That Sunday at church there was a visiting preacher, and he spoke about Peter’s vision of the sheet of all the different animals, where Peter says ‘No, Lord’ when he is told to eat. He said “you can’t say ‘no Lord’, it’s a contradiction. If Jesus is Lord, you must say ‘Yes’.” That was the push for me, I knew God was confirming it was time to go to Bible college!’
‘Don’t you think it’s time to talk to OMF?’
When Mel went to Bible college, she was thinking of serving in Africa. However as time went on Mel felt increasingly called toward East Asia. During her ministry placement at All Nations Mel joined outreach to international students in Cambridge and after graduation was asked to return there for a year. Mel relates: ‘I had a great time working with the Chinese student fellowship (the students were from Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia) which helped to focus my growing interest in the Chinese. After about three weeks my colleague said to me ‘don’t you think it’s time you went and spoke to OMF?’
So I met with Cecil McSparron, the East Region Director. That was my first official contact with OMF. It took around two years to go through the application process and during that time the call to work with the Chinese clarified to be service in Taiwan.’
Taiwan for the next 35 years
Mel says she went out to Taiwan in October 1983 thinking, ‘this is it, Taiwan for the next 35 years’. But, she explains ‘by the end of my four year first term I was told my Chinese language wasn’t good enough to be able to return after home assignment.’
So Mel returned to the UK and was asked to work in the OMF UK China Programme, a time which proved invaluable preparation for her next role reaching out to the growing number of Chinese students as part of the Diaspora Ministries team.
When Mel joined it in 1994, the team (started by Keith Ranger in 1990) was four strong. Today Diaspora Returnee Ministries (DRM) has 86 OMF members serving in 15 countries.
Interestingly, Mel’s interest in Africa and mission recently came full circle: in 2014 she was asked to be on the training team to help train Africans to reach the Chinese. (You can find out more about this work with the Church Mission Society on their website).
What advice would Mel give someone considering long-term mission?
‘Get in touch with somebody already in a mission situation, pray for them, get to understand their situation. One of the most valuable things I did that prepared me for mission was writing to the missionary in East Africa and praying for her. It really helped me get to know a bit of what she was experiencing.
Also read your Bible! It will give you an understanding of God’s heart for people and help you hear him better.