National Magazine of the Lutheran Church of Australia

How will they hear?

February 2016

by LISA MCINTOSH

Two young Australians are leaving their families and taking their baby – and the gospel – to West Asia.

’‘You’ve got a new baby, and you’re doing what?’

It’s a question Mary and John have become somewhat used to as they prepare to head overseas to serve as volunteer cross-cultural workers – with baby James in tow.

The simplest and best answer is that they’re answering God’s call and following his lead to wherever he guides them, no matter what the cost.

Members of a Lutheran church in Adelaide’s northern suburbs, in South Australia, Mary and John will be going to serve people in West Asia for a time to be determined, but probably at least six years. In the interests of their security, The Lutheran is withholding their names, their exact destination and other details.

They’ll spend the first 12 months learning the local language and culture and building relationships with local people.

Then it will be a matter of what God has in store for Mary, a teacher in Lutheran schools, and John, a software engineer, both in their early 30s.

Their supporting agency Interserve Australia has identified a number of potential voluntary roles, possibly working with refugees, and, in Mary’s case, perhaps with children with autism.  The aim, as with many development roles, will be to train local people to do a needed job.

Their long-term service overseas has been arranged through the supporting agency, which has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Lutheran Church of Australia International Mission. They won’t be paid a wage while they are away, but will rather draw on a living allowance and medical cover from Interserve, which will be funded purely by regular donations from individual and church partners.

James will be just six months old when the trio hopes to leave Australia in April, and the young parents know that being away from their families at such a time in their lives will be difficult – on them and their loved ones.

However, Mary and John believe God is behind the move and offers reassurance in the Bible.

‘Mark chapter 10 has really spoken to me because it’s about giving up things, and we’re going to be leaving our families’, Mary says.

John adds: ‘Even though it’s going to be tough leaving, that’s been really encouraging to have Scripture like that’.

‘Having a baby made us think longer and harder about whether it was the right thing for us, but it didn’t ever change our minds. Once we started this journey towards going away, we met so many people with families and discovered that most of the people serving overseas have children.

‘It’s a sacrifice for the people who stay behind as well. Our families are sacrificing a lot and missing out on things. We realise it doesn’t affect just us, our going away.’

Indeed, their decision to leave their families, friends and church family, give up secure jobs and sell their house hasn’t been taken lightly. Nor has it been made overnight. The duo believes God has been working for years to prepare their hearts for this move.

After meeting Mary, John went on a short-term volunteer trip to Cambodia, organised through the LCA International Mission.

He says that once they started planning their wedding, the idea of ‘staying overseas, doing something meaningful’ became stronger.

Married in January 2012, they spent four months in Malaysia volunteering at Bethany Home (a school and accommodation for young people with disabilities), as part of an overseas trip.

Including that LCA International Mission-organised service as a component of an extended honeymoon did have friends and colleagues questioning whether it was a sensible move for newlyweds.

‘People thought that it would be
tough on our relationship’, Mary says. ‘But we found that it was better because we weren’t just going straight into (normal) life.’

At Bethany Home, Mary worked with students with a wide range of disabilities, and ran meetings to train staff, as well as developing resources for the local workers. That work moved her to do specialised study in the field of special education, which she continued after returning to Australia.