Some stories only make sense when you know the end; the destination was not at all apparent at the outset. Along the way the journey has had twists and turns, a few blind alleys, and points where it seemed that nothing was going to happen at all. But here we are, three months away from setting off to work with Africa Inland Mission in Nairobi.
I have worked as a counsellor for over 30 years, and have been Head of Counselling at Cambridge University for the last 17 of these. Barbara has been an Adult Literacy Tutor for 18 year.
We have been Christians since the early 1970s, but the thinking about mission started just three or four years ago, when we were in our mid-50s – hearing some advice from someone who said that it was good to begin to prepare for retirement several years beforehand. We began to think and pray about what we would do when that time eventually arrived. I wasn’t going to take up golf, and doing endless sudoku puzzles didn’t appeal. Anyway, there’s no such thing as a retired Christian, so what did God have in mind – what opportunities might He open up?
Not long after, some missionary friends from Kenya visited us at home while they were on home assignment, and we talked. I voiced a thought that it would be wonderful to work in a Christian counselling centre, and also asked what kind of support missionaries had when they went through tough times. The answer surprised me – there was a mission-run counselling centre called Tumaini just a few miles from where they lived in Nairobi.
That piece of information lodged in my brain, and at Easter 2010, when we were visiting the same friends in Nairobi, I arranged to call in to see the centre. Amongst other things, I learned it was run jointly by Africa Inland Mission (AIM) and Wycliffe Bible Translators. I’d heard of Wycliffe, but not of AIM, so out of curiosity we looked them up on the internet. They had an introductory day coming up called ‘Into Africa’ for people who wanted to know more, so we booked to go.
We found out that AIM took people for short-term mission work – usually 6-12 months – or for long-term work – as we couldn’t do either, we seemed to have reached a dead-end.
However, we could go for a month that summer (2011), would that be possible? We talked this over with a Christian friend, who suggested: “Well, you could always ask; they can only say ‘no’!” So we applied to go and work in the centre for a month that summer – it would be our summer holiday – and were very surprised when AIM said ‘yes’!
Dipping our toes…
We spent a month as (very) short-termers with AIM in Nairobi in the summer of 2011. I worked at Tumaini helping out with various organisational / administrative functions. Barbara helped with other administrative stuff and was also able to see some literacy work in the area. We had a great time, and gained a much better idea of the ups and downs of mission life. We then returned home to resume normal life, or so we thought!
We had wondered what constituted ‘a calling’, and found very useful guidance which suggested there might be four components:
- There is a genuine need (as opposed to something we would like to do!)
- There was a specific invitation from the local people, so that the agenda is driven by them
- That we also felt God’s call to go
- And other Christians confirm the call, with our church being prepared to support and ‘send’ us.
Our short-term visit had shown us the reality of the need – missionaries certainly worked in difficult circumstances and sometimes needed the kind of counselling support that Tumaini was able to offer.
A couple of months after our return, we got an unexpected email from a senior person in AIM who we had met in Nairobi. He asked whether we might consider going to work long-term with them! That caught our attention and started a period of many months thinking and praying through the practicalities, including about our work, the financial implications, and our family situation. None of this was easy or straightforward – but the thought would not go away!
We talked it over at some length with Christian friends, who were very encouraging. Then we took it to our church minister and elders, who agreed to back our proceeding, and to support and ‘send’ us if we were accepted.
So we decided to test the call by applying to AIM for long-term service. This is a lengthy and thorough process, which took 7 months from start to finish in 2012, culminating in our being accepted. We had never taken being accepted for granted, for we didn’t feel we were ‘obvious mission candidates’.
Preparing to go
Barbara arranged to leave work at Easter 2013 to give time to visit her parents who were needing increasing support and also to do some specific training in Teaching English for Speakers of other Languages.
I retire from my job at the University at the end of October and am busy handing over to my successor, and we are well into the practicalities of renting out our home, selling, lending or getting rid of various possessions, etc.
In the middle of this, our first grandchild was born, Jasmine Joy, who is a joy and delight. Just over two weeks later, sadly, Barbara’s father died following three and a half years with vascular dementia.
We have been doing the AIM Outbound training course and are seeking prayer and financial support (although the majority of the finance will come from Mark’s early retirement).
What have we learnt so far?
- God is surprising, but always faithful!
- Possessions matter much less than we thought, but family and relationships matter much more; it will be hard to leave people we love.
- God is very gracious – taking our small faltering steps of faith, and he continually confirms his call with words of encouragement.
- Prayer really does matter and work!
The beginning – so now it’s nearly time to go!
Having summarised the last 3 or 4 years in these few paragraphs, we now find ourselves just at the beginning.
So, as with most stories, we don’t know what the ending will be. We can only trust it will all make some sense as we continue to look back and see God’s hand making a straight path out of our crooked lives. We trust that he sees the end from the beginning and knows what he is doing, for we only see glimpses as we take one step at a time.
If you are the praying kind, please pray:
- For the work of AIM generally and the Tumaini Counselling Centre specifically
- That we would both be useful workers in God’s Kingdom
- For the right work for Barbara to do to become clear at the right time
- For our preparations over the next 3 months prior to going to Nairobi, including accommodation being found in Nairobi
- For more prayer supporters and financial support (over 80% of our finance will come from pension income and savings; about half of the rest is already pledged)