Saturday, June 21, 2008

Two Years Well Spent

I just filled out a survey for alumni of Africa Inland Mission's TIMO (Training In Ministry Outreach) program. Although TIMO usually establishes two-year teams among people groups in rural villages in Africa, in 1994-1996 our team lived among the South Asians of Nairobi. Twelve years ago may seem like a vague and distant memory to a lot of people my age (!), but my time with TIMO was one of the most defining periods of my life. Answering the survey questions this morning was like commenting on something real and vital and presently active right now. In fact, I was just saying this week to a former student passing through London on a long layover (It was soooo lovely to reconnect with you, Danielle! You’re a beautiful young woman, inside and out, and I’m so very proud of you!) how much my experiences with TIMO prepared me to do just what I’m doing now, right where we are. The invesment of those two years continues to pay huge dividends in my life (and, I pray, in the lives of those around me).

Then I was single and enjoyed the freedom of disappearing into my neighbors’ lives for days at a time: I began waxing, wore shalwar kameez and painted my nails in matching colors, drank pots of masala tea, ate with my hands, watched scores of Hindi films while listening to endless amounts of extended-family gossip, shopped on Ngara Road, attended henna parties and elaborate wedding rituals and, by God’s grace, had several chances to share Truth. No longer single and no longer living in Africa, I’m tied to our home and family routines. I wear jeans, go sleeveless and shop at Sainsbury’s, but the lessons of putting people ahead of time/tasks and investing in cross-cultural friendships have served me well. Extremely, beautifully, immeasurably well.

I tried to answer the open-ended questions of the survey in broad terms because I knew if I started describing individual women (and their particular situations) who’ve been part of my life since TIMO, I’d end up going on and on. That’s something better talked about in person over a pot of tea in the garden or, say, in heaven when we’ve got all the time in the world. Even the generalities, though, are specific in their beneficial impact on my life and work:
As an orientation for further cross-cultural work, TIMO was:
Perfect! TIMO gave me skills and insight that I rely on constantly, most notably the ability to plant myself deeply in the host culture, building and finding joy in heart-level relationships among women within the local community. This has proved to be my lifeline as a (now) wife and mother of two small children because my husband’s ministry requires frequent travel out of the country and there are no other workers with our company living nearby. My life/ministry here is rich and full with friendships across several cultures, and I feel the benefit and influence of my years with TIMO on a daily basis. TIMO also planted in me a deep love and appreciation for South Asian people, food and culture. In both Cyprus and now England, God has brought women from Hindu, Muslim and Sikh backgrounds into my life, extending my opportunities to interact with our team’s wider people group even though I no longer live in Nairobi.

Overall, my TIMO experience was:
Outstanding! Life-changing! A tremendous gift! I’m amazed to look back and see all the ways God used TIMO to prepare my heart and mind specifically for situations I’ve encountered in the twelve (!) years since our team served together. I’m confident that the coming years will reveal even more miracles of His plan to bless and multiply the TIMO investment, and I’m only one among many!
I have a soft, warm spot in my heart for AIM, for TIMO and for all the people -- colleagues, teammates, RVA students and their parents, African/Asian neighbors and friends, other expats -- who were part of that season of my life. They would probably be surprised to know how very often they are part of my thoughts and prayers during the day and my dreams at night, even after all this time.

Sometimes I’m the one who’s surprised, as I was by a call on my mobile phone during a mums’ Bible study recently. The number on display began with 254, the country code for Kenya. “Excuse me,” I said to the other mums. “I really need to take this call.” And suddenly, there was the familiar voice of my Muslim neighbor from South C, calling to say they’d had another grandbaby and when are we coming to see them in Nairobi?

Often I even have a little déjà vu moment, like earlier this week when Sophie stood perfectly still on one of our dining room chairs as a Muslim friend combed and braided her hair. (She never stands still for me!) I was brushing and braiding the long, thick, dark hair of my friend’s two young daughters, and the scene reminded me of the untold hours I spent “doing hair” with the daughters and female cousins of that very same neighbor family. (As Sophie gets older I’m having fun rediscovering girly things and sharing them with her!)

(Many of my friends here have boys because they’re the mums of Jack’s friends at school, but God brought M into my life when we first moved here and renewed our relationship this spring when her elder daughter began taking piano lessons from a woman just down the street from us. Now every Tuesday afternoon M and her daughters walk home from school with us. The children play sweetly together, T goes to her lesson and in the meantime M and I drink tea and chat. She has a lot of pain in her life, and our weekly visits are ideal opportunities for me to share Scripture and speak Truth to her deeply felt needs.)

All this reflection on my TIMO experience and its relevance to the wider call on my life makes me even more grateful to God for the ways He has led me and for the grace-full gift of faith and willingness to follow Him on His terms. It makes me want to encourage young, single believers everywhere to pursue cross-cultural opportunities like TIMO now, while life is relatively uncomplicated and unconfined, just God-and-me. It makes me appreciate the continuity of life, even of seemingly different phases, and the importance of teaching my children the song as well as the concept: Trust and Obey.

It also makes me wonder where Jack and Sophie will end up living when they grow up, in which cultural contexts they will plant their lives and among what people groups they will find the joy of living out their faith for Jesus’ sake?

1 comment:

Edith said...

Love this post - thanks for sharing.