Lizzie: my virtual mission placement with OMF (UK)

Lizzie recently finished our first virtual mission placement. We asked her to share her experience and what she learnt along the way, doing short-term mission in the UK, on Zoom:

I’ve always had a heart for overseas mission, and right from the start of my degree with Moorlands Bible College, I was looking forward to my third-year placement where I could go overseas short-term and serve with a mission organisation.

A few months into 2020, my hopes and plans for this began to fade and I realised I needed to think more creatively. Determined to find a placement that linked with my professional specialism (cross-cultural studies), I began researching mission agencies, and came across OMF. The name sounded familiar (I think from learning about Hudson Taylor), but I didn’t know much about what they did.

As I began to explore their website, it seemed like OMF might be the ideal fit for me. I’d previously spent eight months in Tanzania on a short-term mission trip, and whilst I loved Africa, I wanted to broaden my cultural experiences. An East Asian mission organisation would be just right. As I’m exploring a future career in some cross-cultural capacity, I especially wanted to learn how to engage with people from East Asian backgrounds, and how to share the gospel in a way that would be relevant and clear. As OMF work with East Asians living in the UK, I also saw an opportunity to get cross-cultural experience without having to get on a plane! I contacted them with low expectations – many fellow students had failed to get placements due to lockdown – and was delighted when they responded to say they could offer me a five-week ‘virtual placement’.

As OMF work with East Asians living in the UK, I also saw an opportunity to get cross-cultural experience without having to get on a plane!

Zooming in

It’s hardly been a normal placement: lockdown has meant that the majority of my work has taken place from my bedroom. However, some benefits have come from this. I have managed to simultaneously be on placement in Kent, Manchester, and Belfast, and even had Zoom calls with people from Thailand and Japan! I have joined Bible studies with Chinese students, conversation classes with people from Japan, and several OMF events with people from various locations. I have joined prayer meetings with people across the UK, to pray over different countries and ministries operating both overseas and within the UK. Whilst not what I expected, compared to my pre-pandemic expectations, my OMF placement has blessed me and given me a breadth of learning and experience.

There were two areas I hoped to learn and grow in through my OMF placement. I wanted to learn more about how mission organisations run, and the variety of work involved in an agency such as OMF. In my first two weeks with OMF, I joined the member care team where I joined meetings, explored the National Office (the archives were especially interesting!), and had calls with various OMF workers who shared what their work looked like. My placement has broadened my understanding of being involved in mission. For example, I now have a greater appreciation for the background administrative roles, and the overseas supporting roles such as TCK care.

Listening to people’s stories is such a great way to grow in understanding of cultural backgrounds…

I also hoped to learn more about East Asian culture. One placement highlight for me was having one-to-one Zoom calls with East Asian women living in Belfast. Through these conversations I hoped to learn more about how churches can welcome and support women coming to the UK from East Asia. Some ideas shared made so much sense, and yet wouldn’t have occurred to me, for example taking someone to the supermarket and showing them how to cook some basic meals with British ingredients. Listening to people’s stories is such a great way to grow in understanding of cultural backgrounds, and it was an honour to hear these women share insight into their home cultures and open up about their personal struggles of transitioning to life in the UK, without having to travel across the world. I used what I had learnt through these conversations to write an article about supporting East Asian women in the UK, which has been shared with other OMF workers.

I also discussed Japanese culture a lot with a couple involved in sharing Jesus with Japanese people in Manchester. I was fascinated to learn about some of their non-verbal communications which they may use instead of verbally disagreeing with you so as to preserve a peaceful, honouring relationship. This learning has come at the right time, as I feel these conversations, along with other learning experiences during my placement, have better equipped me to support the increasing East Asian diaspora within the UK, especially in light of the Hong Kong migration.

I have begun to think more creatively about my involvement in mission, realising that I can still be involved even from the UK

Next steps?

Alas, my placement with OMF has not created a lightbulb moment for my next steps in the future, despite graduation looming ever closer. However, it has certainly given me many areas to reflect on. I have developed a greater understanding of the needs of the churches in East Asia, and the opportunities to reach out to East Asians in the UK. I have also begun to think more creatively about my involvement in mission, realising that I can still be involved even from the UK. I’ve enjoyed creating a few resources for OMF, such as a self-care document for the member care department, and a report on engaging young adults in mission-focussed events for the Northern Ireland mobilisation team. This has helped me realise that creating resources is a skill I want to develop and use further. And finally, through hearing the stories of how various OMF workers ended up in their positions, I have grown in greater appreciation that I just need to trust in God for my future, and that he will guide my paths as to where he wants me to go.

Lizzie Sparks

Find out more about local mission placements with OMF

If you, or someone you know at church, is interested to learn more about sharing the good news of Jesus with East Asians in the UK, we have a number of local placements available. Freddie, our Serve Asia Coordinator, can provide more details. Please email uk.sacoordinator@omfmail.com.

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