First Love

Seeing the world with the eyes of the Creator.

I had never dreamt of being a full-time cross-cultural worker. When I was 15 I applied for an overseas ecological study tour. During the week, as I marvelled at the savannah across the horizon, the clear blue sky and the meandering streams, I couldn’t help but exclaim, “O Lord, my God, how great you are!” (Ps. 104:1, GNT) From then on, my aspiration was to become a green warrior, to be involved in conservation one way or another. I saw the importance of intertwining your faith with protecting the Lord’s creation.

During my university days, I saw an advertisement for a short-term trip providing cross-cultural exposure. I had heard stories about these trips, but had never been on one. So I signed up. It was not an ordinary sightseeing trip. It wasn’t about tasting the exotic food, or  relaxing. This two-week trip taught me to see that country and its people from the Lord’s perspective. After the trip, the person who led the trip met up with me to pray. I decided to return to that country to learn more about the life, culture, and language of the people.

The Word became a ‘student’ and, lived among us.

The second time in the country, the challenge was learning language and culture. I spent two months studying in a language school and then joined a team working among university students. Some of the like-minded students led a weekly fellowship meeting. Being around them helped me to settle into my daily life. The year became instrumental for me in hearing and identifying God’s call for my life. I continued working among the students afterwards. Besides that, I knew I had to grow in my biblical knowledge and pastoral experience, so I enrolled at a theological college. Even after all this, I still had no clue where I’d go.

A friend arranged for me to visit a few cross-cultural situations, to see whether any would be suitable. One of the visits was to a place that I had never thought of before, as I knew next to nothing about it. Upon arrival, I was driven around by a friend on a scooter and noticed mosque after mosque, rather than the temples I expected to see. There were droves of students in uniform; little did I know that this place was also an educational hub of the area. I had the opportunity to join a fellowship and learn about the challenges for people living in the area. I also heard that in this country there are strong prejudices towards people with different faiths, which usually stem from misunderstandings, making any meaningful conversations difficult. This short stay definitely left me with a very deep impression about this place and its people.

I was reminded of the verse in Proverbs: “Speak up for people who cannot speak for themselves. Protect the rights of all who are helpless.” (31:8, GNT)

Not forgetting your first dream.

When I returned to studying theology, I shared with a few close friends about what I saw and heard, and asked them to pray with me. At the same time I began a dialogue with God, “Do you really want me to go?” I had lots of excuses: “Most people are Muslims but I know nothing about Islam!” “I grew up in a metropolitan city. How would I cope with living in a small town?” These questions kept coming back to me, until one day I said to God, “If it is your will, I am willing.” At that moment, I recalled the sentiment in my first cross-cultural exposure – using God’s lenses to see the world.

I recalled the sentiment in my first cross-cultural exposure – using God’s lenses to see the world.

Returning to this country once again, my heart was not trembling but full of expectations of the lessons the Lord would teach me. I was really clueless where to begin. Many new cross-cultural workers have plans or ideas; as for me I was entering into a new culture, learning about people, and letting God open the doors.

A few months in and  I got to know an elder of a village. He mentioned to me that there was an area of wetland near his village, and asked if I was interested in visiting. My interest in conservation had never faded since I was 15. So I decided to go and explore. Some people from the village had an idea of promoting community-based eco-tourism, as a means to get more people to care for the environment. I was deeply touched by their conviction, recalling how the Lord “called” me through his creation. All of a sudden, I understood all the things he did over the years in my life.

A few years have passed; I’d started without a clue how to start a conversation with the local people, but now I am welcomed and our hearts are connected. Serving among these people requires us to live side by side with them, erasing the misunderstandings people from outside place on them. “People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.” (Mark 2:17, GNT)

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