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Testimonies from CMS missionaries

For every CMS missionary who has left their home and family to serve God in another place there is a story. Here you can read about how God is moving his people.

Why us?

What makes a couple of born-and-bred, middle-class Melbournians want to be missionaries in Mexico City? Charlie and Kathryn Fletcher offer a bubble-and-squeak of broad reflections and personal stories which contributed to them becoming missionaries.
Read the story below.

The long and the short of it

7 weeks...2 years...and now for the long-term.
Read how Liz Burns came to be in Tanzania...for the long-term.
Read the story below.

How is your elastic limit?

Being a missionary requires flexibility. Previously working as a CMS missionary in Argentina, Terry Blowes writes about a student training event that tested the limits.
Read the story below.

Going, going...not going

Sarah and Peter Bull were set to head to Tanzania...but then their plans changed.
Read the story below.

Why Us?

What makes a couple of born-and-bred, middle-class Melbournians want to be missionaries in Mexico City? Former CMS missionaries Charlie and Kathryn Fletcher, who now work in CMS's training centre of St Andrew's Hall, offer a bubble-and-squeak of broad reflections and personal stories which contributed to them becoming missionaries:

First, let us mention four broad motivations which moved us to consider missionary work:

Sharing God’s vision
God’s deep concern for the world is evident throughout the Bible, from creation to new creation, from the Abrahamic promises through to the grand vision in Revelation 7 of, “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb, and crying out, ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb...” One of the few sermons that I (Charlie) remember clearly took these verses from Revelation 7 and simply said, ‘This is God’s vision for the world. Is it yours?

Showing God’s love
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son . . . The love of God for us in Christ is profoundly self-sacrificing. As God’s ambassadors in the world, we ought to echo with our words and deeds the character of the one we serve. Forsaking family and friends, home and hearth, culture and language to take the gospel to another country is one powerful way to sound that echo.

Displaying God’s power
A verse that greatly encouraged us as missionaries is 2 Corinthians 4:7. “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” Why leave Australia, where we’re relatively competent and at ease, and go to Mexico, where we are incompetent fish out of water? How silly! Living in Mexico, our human frailty and unworthiness (which we can sometimes disguise quite well in Australia) are on display for all to see as we speak in faltering Spanish and struggle to love people who are very different from us. Yet, paradoxically, our very weakness serves to highlight the power of God which is at work in the gospel. Our smallness underscores God’s greatness.

Passing on our blessings
While Christians are a minority in Australia, and there is much gospel work to be done at home, we enjoy blessings which make us a well-placed country to send missionaries: freedom of worship; many mature and outward-looking churches; a handful of excellent theological colleges; and the wealth to be able to support overseas missionaries. (How many of those advantages did the early church have when it turned the world upside-down with the gospel?) God has graciously given us both the motive and the means to train, send and support missionaries. Alongside these broad motivations were personal histories which led us to consider missionary work as well.

Kathryn grew up attending Scripture Union Beach Missions and CMS Summer Schools, and missionary visits to her home were common. All of this fostered a positive attitude to missionary work and an interest in other cultures. For Charlie, one key influence was a friend, Jon Cox, who played a big part in his early growth as a Christian and then went to London to lead a Youth With a Mission Team. That leads us to our second big question . . .

Why Mexico?
We’ll tell this part from Charlie’s perspective: "In 1992-1993, I spent several months on a Youth With a Mission team (led by my friend Jon) in the UK and in Bolivia, testing out the possibility of future missionary work. I returned to Australia in February 1993 enamoured of Latin America, and in the months that followed I committed myself before God to go back to Latin America as a missionary. During the same period, Kathryn and I became friends and fell in love. This posed a quandary. Having fallen in love with Latin America, I’d now fallen in love with Kathryn, but would these two loves be compatible? Having promised God I would go back to Latin America, I could hardly start going out with a girl who didn’t share the same vision. We took time to develop our friendship and to talk about our dreams and plans for the future. Kathryn wasn’t at all put off by the thought of missionary work, which was very encouraging! Then, in late August and early September, two extraordinary things happened. First, Kathryn (then in her last year of secondary school) was praying one night, offering her future for God’s service, when she saw a vision of a map, and recognised it as the border of Mexico radiant with lights. Then, within a week, I had a dream about preaching in Mexico. We shared our experiences and, having never thought of Mexico as a place to visit, let alone a place to live and work, we felt that God was being less than subtle!

"So we did the necessary preparations: going out, getting engaged, then married, finishing our university degrees, learning some Spanish, getting some theological training and ministry experience, talking and praying with others - and then applied to CMS. Then, in March 2001, we came to Mexico City to work in student ministry with Compañerismo Estudiantil."

Our experience of being directed to Mexico is not prescriptive, but the four motivations we presented earlier apply to all of us as Australian Christians. The question is not whether we have been called to share God’s vision for the world, but how we will do so, and whether for us it will involve overseas missionary service.

The long and short of it

Written by Liz Burns in 2005; Liz is now serving long-term with CMS.

I am now on my third trip to Tanzania and each time it has been quite different, giving me different insights into the country and to ministry. One of the biggest things I have learned is that the longer you stay, the more you can be involved in ministry.

Opening my eyes
My first trip was really a holiday. I came to Murgwanza for seven weeks. It was a wonderful time for me where I learnt some aspects of culture and it opened my eyes to the possibility of a longer term. I was greatly hampered by language and could really only be of any help to the other missionaries in things like child minding or teaching. I also catalogued the school library and chatted to the few English speakers around.
Looking back I realise that I was the one who gained the most from the experience. It opened my eyes to what God was doing in another part of the world. The locals gained little from me and the missionaries had a lot of work caring for me and translating conversations.

Going as a short-termer
My second trip to Murgwanza was as a short-term volunteer with CMS. This time the trip was for two years and so was a very different experience. However, I did not go to language school and so again the biggest obstacle for my time was language and communication. I wanted to be involved in ministry but again I was very dependent on the missionaries for communication and wisdom about culture and living. Again, I learnt more from the experience than I was able to pass on to others. When I arrived I had come with so many ideas of what I could do and what I could teach. Soon however, reality set in. One thing I could help I also realised that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care, meaning that all the things that I was able to help in were dependant on relationships and these take a long time to build. Again, the missionaries were the ones who gave the most in my short-term experience.

Going for the long-term
I have now returned a third time to Murgwanza - this time as a missionary in full connection with CMS. The greatest difference so far in this experience is that I can now communicate more than just greetings. The opportunity to go to language school means that I can now have real conversations with pastors, women, and children - most people really. I can now understand the real issues that they face, rather than just guessing. With language, people are able to share their lives and we can have real friendships.

As a new missionary, I am still very dependant for advice on the other missionaries but I can quickly move from this to making decisions and taking up new ministries.

I am working on setting up church-based Bible studies and supporting pastors and evangelists in their teaching efforts. I will also be teaching Bible Knowledge in a local high school and later I will start Girls Brigade as Helen Hoskins has done in her area. I have also been asked to do some more accounting seminars as pastors have seen the result of the first lot of teaching I did and trust me to teach.

So what do I feel about long-term and short-term mission?
Short-term mission is of most help to the short-termer. In my case it helped me work through the hesitancies that I had about mission. When I returned to Australia it built awareness in others when I shared with them. But on the whole it costs a lot for the local missionaries. A short-termer must be willing to be open-minded and to follow local advice and be as flexible as possible when they set out so that both they and the locals can get the most out of the experience. Long-term ministry is all about relationships. Having the language means that relationships are moving forward faster but time just spent with people on my previous visits was the foundation to many of those relationships. I still must learn not to be critical of another culture and another way of doing things and realise God doesn’t have to work through the western methods of ministry. I am looking forward to continuing to learn and grow in my godliness and hopefully to encourage Christian growth in others in the future.

How is your elastic limit?

Written a while back by Terry Blowes; now a returned missionary from Argentina. It is a great example of how as a missionary your flexibility can be tested ...

I remember when we were training at St Andrew’s Hall, how the unexpected would often occur and we would have to change our plans or come up with something on the spur of the moment. We would laugh together and say: ‘Good missionary training. A bit of stretching develops flexibility!’ There is no doubt that the need to be elastic is a basic missionary skill. Take, for example, our recent leadership training day, planned for the public holiday the week before Easter.

The stretch begins
The day would be a full one: workshops on study skills, personal evangelism, mutual support, cell groups, and occultic influences in the university; plus a talk on ‘To Believe is also to Think’, all of which were designed to teach the students to place their trust in the word of God as they put their best efforts into their study. Workshop leaders, speaker and lunch were organised, and a strategic venue booked. Advertising was begun and there we faced our next challenge.

More stretching necessary
The Second of April is the day in which Argentines remember the fallen in the Malvinas. War. The national government had to declare on which day the public holiday would be held - Friday 2 April or the following Monday. All of our advertising had to say, ‘On the day of the Malvinas’ public holiday’ - leaflets, emails, word of mouth - around all of the local churches, plus further afield. Monday, 29 March the national government confirmed that the holiday would be held on Monday 5 April. The decision was based on encouraging tourism during the Easter week. Since the local university is a national university that was our day, even though the Province of Corrientes decided to continue to respect 2 April as the ‘proper’ day. All the publicity had to do another circuit to help people with the complications.

An unexpected stretch
Friday 2 April arrived, and Peter decided that, since he had a very full weekend ahead, he’d take the morning off. We were just relaxing over breakfast when the phone rang – “Three students from Virasorro have just arrived for the training day..” Virasorro is nearly 300 kilometres away, and we have been trying to respond to that pastor’s call for help for some years. They had missed the loop of the latest publicity!
“Well,” responded Peter, “we’ll just have to run some workshops for them!. And with that he ran out the door, calling over his shoulder, .I’ll bring them here. We’ll have to feed them at lunch time. I’ll go and get Diego (our local staff worker) - between us we can do three workshops...”
A very profitable day was held, enabling those visitors from afar to have some special attention.

When the moment arrived
On the real day of the workshop, our student committee worked hard with registrations, music and other organizational matters. Fifty students came for a great day of training and challenge. One of the workshop leaders didn’t come - it was the first one of the day!, so the program had to be re-organised at zero hours plus 15 minutes. It was a roasting hot day and there was a blackout for 3 hours in the morning, but I still managed to serve 100 super hot-dogs for lunch. The after-lunch break proved to be too long, so some integration games were brought into play on the spur of the moment to keep everyone there through the siesta hour. God provided in all of our needs.

Elastic limits
It reminds me of something that happened a couple of months ago. I had run out of a meeting, drove home, ran into our bedroom, and grabbed the good skirt I had left on the bed to wear to the wedding we had to attend fifteen minutes later. I pulled up the skirt, and in one instant all of the elasticity in the waist disappeared! What should have bounced back didn’t! My skirt fell down around my ankles - no use any longer.

Please pray for all CMS missionaries as we face daily stretching, that the Lord will give us the flexibility of grace to reach towards limits and bounce back, ready to stretch again. Especially pray that at those unexpected moments of extra stress we won’t find that we.ve reached our elastic limits.

Going, going ... not gone!

Here’s Peter and Sarah Bull's story of getting set to go to Tanzania, and then not going:

Six years ago, Pete and I were finishing off our Bible College training and praying madly and seeking godly wisdom about where we would head next. Mission had been very much on our hearts, and as we looked at options, talked to friends and family, and talked with various mission groups, we got to the point where we both felt very comfortable with the CMS focus, and wanted to be a part of gospel work where needs were great and local churches were under-resourced. We felt at that point in our lives we were wanting, ready and able to go.

Having got through the many ‘chats’, interviews and meetings in order to be accepted as Missionaries-in- Training, we headed off to Melbourne. Our time at St Andrew’s Hall gave great insight into preparing for life in another culture, and being involved in mission. We loved our time there. Especially when our little Amelia was born in the final week of the course.

The unexpected happens
What happened then was quite unexpected. As we faced my post-natal depression, it became pretty obvious we couldn’t continue as planned. After much agonising, we decided to not go to Tanzania. At that time, as we opened up to many of you about this, our ‘CMS family’ were a beautiful support, and especially the CMS staff. It has been a difficult time changing our direction, as we had invested so much thought, vision and emotion into getting ready to go. We still struggle sometimes, wishing we were there, not here. We know God has all this in his hand, and loves us just the same, whether in the Southern Highlands or Africa. The passion for mission has not left us and as we get asked ‘are you still planning to go?’ - we know we would like to, but currently there are some factors in our lives which mean it wouldn’t be sensible right now.

In hindsight, I’m sometimes glad we didn’t go when we did. I have developed strength of character in areas I needed to. Pete had some health issues arise and we suspect that we would not have managed in Tanzania. There have also been other little conversations, and ministry opportunities that have come because we didn’t go. One special way we’ve seen this journey being used by God, is the understanding and closeness we have felt to Ralph and Kylie Whitten - we met them at Bible college – having understood ‘getting ready to go’ issues. We also had the delight of being sent by a member of our congregation to visit them in 2003 in Seville. I also find myself getting very defensive of our CMS missionaries when in conversations with others if I feel missionaries have been misunderstood.

You can be active in world mission and still be in Australia. You can pray; you can get to know link missionaries well and support them very closely in prayer.

You can visit them and write letters and e-mails and pray through world events as you read the newspaper. You can get to know God’s heart for mission as you study the Bible and encourage others at your church to grasp mission. You can build friendships with people from overseas and give financially to the spread of the gospel. You can join your CMS regional committee as they work to raise awareness of missions in your area . . . and we’ve discovered this is just a start.

If we are not going, we play the part of supporting from this side of the world. We need lots of people like this, and at this point the Bull family is one of them.

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