How could God use an occupational therapist in mission?

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Unexpected Encounter

‘How did you end up in Asia?’ is a question I am often asked and the short answer is ‘God’! I found myself accompanying a friend to a local mission event with various organisations and stands to peruse. After what I thought was a passing conversation with the OMF representative about the need for health professionals in Southeast Asia, God stirred something in my heart and opened doors to an amazing and surprising opportunity.

In 2017 I had the pleasure of spending three months in a Southeast Asian country as part of OMF’s Serve Asia programme.

Unexpected Experience

I had been working as an occupational therapist in the UK for eight years and it was a joy to see my work and faith colliding in a new and unexpected way. Occupational therapy ‘provides practical support to empower people to facilitate recovery and to overcome barriers preventing them from doing the activities that matter to them’.(1)

Disability in that country is often associated with social isolation, unemployment and poverty. People affected by physical disabilities or learning difficulties are often disadvantaged from an early age and can lack meaningful roles in their communities or families.

During my visit I was able to come alongside a small group of Christians who have established a project to help provide life skills and work training for these people. The team are proclaiming the gospel to these individuals in word through their conversations (sometimes in sign-language!) and in action as they demonstrate God’s love for them by including and treating them with dignity.

In all honesty, at times the needs seemed overwhelming due to cultural differences, the lack of healthcare; or limited resources and the lack of facilities which I had become used to. However it challenged me to depend wholly on God and to ask him first. I also had to ‘think outside the box’ and look at what was available and what would work best locally.
An example was using a combination of crates and bricks to raise the height of a bench to help a man with cerebral palsy do his work. He loves his role of sawing and sanding wooden board for artwork!

The lack of language also made things more complicated although I managed a few language lessons and grasped a few basic phrases which always caused my new friends to smile (and sometimes laugh)!

I was also able to spend time helping at a local Christian home school. This allowed me to use my occupational therapy skills in sharing resources and advice for teachers and assistants working with children with additional learning needs.

A key aspect that I had not considered before going was the importance of training local people so they can meet their needs better. It was another unexpected part of my placement when I was able to create and deliver a two-day course for therapists, teachers and parents on topics including autism and mental health. It was at this time that I clearly felt God’s sovereign hand and how my unique work experiences and placements facilitated this.

The experience was not only my own, because my sending church also benefitted from learning more about OMF as well creating a sense of community as people journeyed with me.

Eagerly Expectant

Admittedly, I had only envisaged this as a short-term trip. However the experience has opened my eyes to the opportunities for the gospel in this country and God has started a work in my heart as to the real possibility of longer-term mission.

Personally, on return to the UK I have been welcomed with open arms into the OMF family. With the OMF Serve Asia programme I felt as prepared and equipped as I could be in going there. And I was supported at every stage of the experience and am thankful for the loving practical assistance shown. I have joined my local OMF prayer meeting and have been able to share with other groups all that God is doing in that particular country.

I can reflect on Frederick Buechner’s words (2):

‘The place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet’.

There is a special opportunity to use professional skills for God’s glory in a practical way and I was surprised by what God could do through me.

Ephesians 3 calls us to look to a God who is able to do ‘immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us’ for his glory. It is a lesson I am continuing to learn and be both challenged and encouraged by as I seek to expect more from our faithful God.

Serve Asia worker

1. Royal College of Occupational Therapists
2. Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC