Different gifts; same mission

Meeting several godly volunteers in Bangkok who confront enormous problems and difficult situations every day, I found myself wondering why more Australians aren’t on the frontline of mission.

Anja Markkanen pauses mid-sentence, takes a deep breath, looks away. It’s a hopeless exercise though; nothing will stop her tears. So she cries … along with Jeab – and me.

At the Home of Grace in Bangkok, I’ve been listening to the heartbreaking story of Jeab, who is pregnant and unsupported; her husband left her two months ago. “We used to be so happy. But he left me without saying goodbye. I just want him to come home.” That’s when Anja cries.

This is not the first sad story Anja has heard. Every mother at Home of Grace has their own. And still Anja cries, as though Jeab’s story is the first she’s heard, as though it’s her own heartache. Her compassion for those who find refuge at Home of Grace is as fresh as the day she arrived three years ago.

My three-day stay in Bangkok has involved visiting programs of the Lutheran Diakonia Department (LDD) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Thailand – projects supported by Lutheran Church of Australia members. The work is truly inspirational, as are the missionaries.

I have met Lutheran laypeople from Finland and Norway who gave up secure jobs to follow God’s call to Thailand. In each case, it is amazing to see how God has placed them in a mission role where their life and work experience, and ministry gifts, are used to full effect.

Anja is a nurse. As well as dispensing loving care, she provides training in health, nutrition and childcare to mothers. “I don’t want to preach only in words”, Anja says. ‘I like to work where I can show the love and mercy of God more by what I do.’

Another example of this attitude is violin teacher Solveig Johannessen. The sound of violins and children’s laughter rings out from Home of Praise in Klong Toey, Bankok’s largest slum and home to about 400,000 people.

When Solveig left Norway eleven years ago, she knew God would find a way to use her gifts for his purpose. At Home of Praise, Solveig teaches slum children how to make music, feel proud and, perhaps, find a way to break the cycle of poverty and despair that is their unwanted inheritance.

Kirsi Mikkola, from the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission, is a psychiatrist nurse and art therapist who works with the LDD’s HIV-AIDS support ministry. “Our ways are holistic”, she explains. “We support the people who have HIV in every aspect of their lives: physical, mental, spiritual and social. So I am able to use my training in both psychiatry and art therapy to help people on their road to wholeness.”

A nurse, a violin teacher, an art therapist … how could these people be missionaries? In Thailand, I have witnessed how clever God is in using all the gifts, professional training and life experience presented to him – and then multiplying them.

Spending time with Anja, Solveig and Kirsi made me ponder: Where are all the Australian missionaries? We have only two full-time missionaries overseas: Pastor Simon Mackenzie in Thailand, and Pastor Greg Schiller in Papua New Guinea. I wonder if we think that only pastors and others with hefty theological degrees can be missionaries.

Being a “missionary” is one way that many Christians, not only pastors, can present their giftedness to God for use in his kingdom of grace. And every one of us can actively promote and honour the position of “missionary” as a calling for each of us.

This story was also published in the October 2009 edition of Border Crossings, the magazine of LCA International Mission.

If you would like to consider the opportunity to serve as a volunteer in mission, serving in practical ways, teaching English, teaching in the seminaries and institutions of our partner churches, or in local churches, you are invited to phone Nevin on (08) 8267 7300 or email nevin.nitschke@lca.org.au. For more information, go to http://www.lcamission.org.au/join-gods-mission/volunteer/

Read more stories about volunteering at http://www.lcamission.org.au/category/join-gods-mission/volunteers/