“What are you doing here?” is usually the first question people ask when they hear that we live in the Middle East. Short answer: exactly what we used to do in the UK. Joseph is a teacher in a secondary school, and I (Linda) am a wife, mum and homemaker. We aren’t working in orphanages, we aren’t feeding refugees, we aren’t even planting churches…people sometimes wonder whether we are really doing ‘mission’ at all!
But this was always our vision; to transplant the kind of life that we had in the UK to another country. We told our sending church that we wanted to mimic the work that each of us were doing in Somerset, in the Middle East: meeting our neighbours, engaging with the community, being a good example in the workplace.
Of course it can’t look quite the same – there aren’t so many donkey carts in Somerset and the road network here is a little crazier. We’ve had to adapt our lifestyle to be sensitive to the people we want to touch: we have changed our eating and drinking habits, we dress more moderately and the activities we do in our spare time have had to be adapted to our new environment. We are also doing our best to learn Arabic.
Just like being a witness in the UK, it is sometimes easy to feel that we aren’t achieving much at all. Are our lives really reflecting Jesus’ light in the community? As our two-year-old throws a tantrum in the street, do we really look like a model Christian family? But hopefully our real, messy lives are showing people what it actually means to have living faith. We have to trust God that he is managing to communicate his love through us, whatever we’re doing – from a warm smile on the street, to coffee with a fellow mum wondering how to keep her toddler entertained; from a cup of tea with a local shopkeeper to a deep conversation with students about how corruption can ever be conquered.
And every now and then there is a genuine opportunity to plant a seed. Every day I pass an old lady who serves tea to taxi drivers on the street. As my language makes minor improvements, conversation has developed slightly. One day the lady looked sad and tired and it turned out she had a problem with her arm. A couple of days later, I plucked up the courage to ask if I could pray for her healing in Jesus’ name. The lady was delighted.
Joseph meets a neighbouring shopkeeper for language practice. One day, the guy’s brother handed him an alabaster cross saying, “This is for you as you are a godless people”, to which the shopkeeper leapt to Joseph’s defence, said that he was a Christian, and a meaningful conversation ensued. We’re not having a ground-breaking impact on society as a whole, but we are God’s ambassadors, touching the lives of individuals who he cares about.
For many years, we questioned whether there could be any role for us on the mission field. We had a deep-rooted love for the Middle East and a heart for Muslim people. But we aren’t great language-learners, we couldn’t see how we fitted into your average mission team, we weren’t even convinced that our calling was genuine. Does a love of travel, a passion for adventure and a love of the exotic really contribute to a calling? Aren’t missionaries called against their will to life-threatening places where they’ll struggle?
Or maybe, just maybe, God knew what he was doing when he knitted us in our mothers’ wombs? Maybe, just maybe, our characters and personalities are crafted by God to suit the roles that he has in store for us. Maybe, just maybe, the role you have in the UK could be played out overseas. Perhaps you could live in and work alongside people who don’t usually meet Christians and show them what it is to have a real relationship with the living God.