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My Short Term Trip Opened the Door to Full Time Cross-Cultural Work

Tell us about yourself:

Hi, I’m Mel originally from Melbourne, Australia and am now based in Sydney (more on this below). Before going on my Serve Asia placement, I was working as an Occupational Therapist in community aged care (working with older adults in their home to increase their independence and safety). I was also volunteering at my church 2 days a week as a trainee to prepare for my Serve Asia placement.

What did you Serve Asia placement look like?

I spent 11 months in Northern Thailand. During the first month I was a participant in the first ever Launch course in Chiang Mai and I thought it was fantastic! Launch is a program run for short-term workers with a focus on mission discipleship, designed to equip and encourage you, and your sending community, to find your place in all that God is doing in East Asia and beyond. After this training I spent 10 months living at the James O Fraser Centre (JOFC).

The main purpose for my Serve Asia placement was to further explore long-term mission. I had completed a 2-week Serve Asia trip in 2016 which led to me going back for a longer period of time to explore, in more depth, if God was calling me to serve long term in cross-cultural ministry. This included exploring things such as managing relationships with family and friends from overseas, managing my health in the field and seeing if I could, with God’s help, cope with culture shock and cultural stress.

I was quite open about what I could do in Thailand but had some ideas from my previous visit of useful roles for short-term workers. I had visited JOFC during my first trip so knew homeschool helpers were a practical way I could serve there. I went with an open mind to helping with homeschooling.

I also had the opportunity to do some English teaching which I really enjoyed. It provided a wonderful opportunity to get to know the students at JOFC through conversational English about their family, villages, interests/hobbies and their story. Teaching in a very different culture to my own had its challenges and definitely increased my flexibility in a teaching role.

What did God teach you while you were serving?

He is the great Provider. There were many situations I found myself in that I could never have planned or even dreamt of. He provided amazing opportunities, ways for me to serve others and provided so many people to serve and care for me. He looked after my every need physically, spiritually, emotionally.

Did you experience any major challenges/disappointments during this trip?

I have never spent a Christmas or Easter away from my family, and so spending Easter in Thailand was really hard, a lot harder than I thought it would be. It was the time I experienced the most intense homesickness. I think this was because many of the friends I had made (long-term missionaries) were away enjoying their summer break, many down south at the beach. I stayed in Chiang Mai as I was heading to an English camp in a village on Easter Sunday. I think this added to my loneliness. Thankfully God generously answered my prayers and provided two lovely women I had never met at a Good Friday service to comfort and encourage me in my homesickness.

Was there a Bible verse, passage or gospel truth that supported and encouraged you during this time?

I am a planner and like to know what’s ahead in the day, week, month. This did not compute with life in Thailand. I was constantly stretched by the ‘unknown’. This often led to feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious.

A dear friend, who has years of mission experience, shared the song ‘One Day at a Time, Sweet Jesus’ with me while I was in Thailand. It was a simple reminder to trust that God has each day in His hands. When I felt overwhelmed with culture shock, homesickness, worry about finances or illness, I remembered the words to this song and prayed that I would trust God with this day and leave worrying about the next day to Him.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matt 6:24

Give us an update on what you are doing now & how you handled returning home.

I am now studying full time at Sydney Missionary and Bible College to be better equipped for serving, Lord willing, full time in cross-cultural mission.

Returning home was a bit of a whirlwind. Less than six weeks from landing back in Melbourne I moved into college in Sydney. Those few weeks back in my home state were packed with reconnecting with friends and family (both in Melbourne and rural Victoria where I am from), sharing about my trip, an unexpected trip to the emergency room, unpacking everything I had left in storage for a year, sorting what I needed to take to Sydney (I could only take a car load) and re-storing the majority of my earthly-possessions, celebrating Christmas, debriefs with church leadership and OMF and dealing with reverse culture shock.

How has your experience changed your focus for the future?

My time with Serve Asia affirmed that, even in my weakness, God can use me in kingdom work, even in places way out of my comfort zone. It has cemented my focus in pursuing global mission long term. Time away from my beloved Melbourne (where I lived very happily for 10 years) gave me the confidence to move to Sydney for Bible college training where I can be equipped well for mission.

Any prayer requests for you or the country you were in?

For God to raise up more workers for the harvest field.

For the people of Thailand to discover Jesus’ love for themselves

For my full dependence on God, each day, even in the unknown.

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