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The road ahead – an interview with a new missionary

Kylie Zietsch is one of the new CMS missionaries being sent out this year. She’s heading to Johannesburg in South Africa, to teach and mentor at Johannesburg Bible College. Checkpoint sat down with Kylie to chat about her journey to mission and the future. 

CP: What were you doing before you became a missionary?

K: I studied education at Wollongong University, and then worked for a few years in Campbelltown as a teacher. I think I’d always had in the back of my head doing ministry or just teaching overseas, and an opportunity came up to go and volunteer at a church in Johannesburg doing kids’ ministry. So I decided to go. I planned to just stay for one year but I ended up staying for three. Then I went to Bible college and worked for three years as a chaplain at a school in Sydney.

CP: Why did you decide to apply to CMS?

K: When I came back from Johannesburg the first time I thought I might return, and at Bible college I was convinced more and more of the need around the world. But when I went back to visit South Africa five years ago, and pretty much got asked to come and work for JBC, I didn’t feel like I could do the job. I doubted whether I was cut out for long-term mission overseas.

But over time God showed me that he is the one who equips and gives energy. Plus as you get a bit older you get a bit wiser! Every few months JBC kept emailing me and asking me to come so eventually I began seriously considering it. Then I thought about who I’d want to go with if I was to go back and I’d been involved with CMS since I was a teenager so I thought they would be a good organisation because they love you and support you. So it was a mixed journey – I even applied to CMS and then thought “actually I don’t want to go!” It’s funny how decisions and human frailty can make the path tricky.

CP: How did you find your training at St Andrew’s Hall?

K: Well I actually wasn’t looking forward to it – I thought, oh man, five months going to another city, and it all felt like a bit much. But wow, it was brilliant. We spent a lot of time, which I didn’t expect, looking at our own personalities and the way we operate, our strengths and weaknesses, looking at conflict and how we interact with others. We looked at our own faith and how we view other people. It was such an incredible time to think about people and myself and what it means to love and serve people where they’re at. I learnt so much about myself and doing it in community gave me the practical experience of loving and caring for people straight away. I feel like I grew.

Because I’d been overseas before I knew some of the things I’d done wrong last time and some of the things I wanted to change – you know the way Westerners can come in and be dominant, for example – so looking at things like power and humility and leadership were also really good. It was incredible, the material is brilliant, and being able to debrief with people afterwards was great.

Last time seeing poverty really shook me and I got quite burnt out trying to help. But at SAH we looked at how poverty is a web and so multifaceted and there’s not one clear answer, which anchored me in knowing that I can’t save people from poverty – but I can love people and share Jesus with people. I am a weak vessel but the treasure is Christ!

CP: Why South Africa?

K: When I was first there, I found out that there is quite high church attendance but I was interacting with so many people who had never heard of what grace was. I was really struck by that because I kept talking to people in churches who were trying to stop sinning and who were trying to be good enough for God and that was exhausting and so sad. So for me, South Africa is an opportunity to share the message of grace with people who for differing reasons have never known the freedom that comes through knowing Christ. And working for a Bible college, I’m excited about getting alongside those who will be able share that message even further.

CP: It’s a very strategic position you’ll be in!

K: Yeah!

CP: So what will your role be at JBC?

K: I will be mainly working with the women. It’s a four day per week course which is in the process of becoming a diploma based course. On the Thursday they have a women’s stream specifically which focuses on getting women more confident in handling the Bible through leading Bible studies and preaching. There are practical sessions so women get a chance to work at doing this in a safe context. The women’s stream of the course also focuses on being a woman, looking at women’s issues including HIV/AIDS, abortion, trauma, pastoral care and more. I’ll be focusing on that stream but also be involved in doing other things within the general course. Once I get there it will be a matter of figuring that out! JBC are also looking into doing more pastoral care education. I’m just finishing off counselling training so hopefully I’ll be able to get involved in that. There aren’t many resources there for helping people going through mental health problems.

CP: What are the main needs of the students at JBC?

K: I actually studied at JBC myself in 2007! But some of the people who come aren’t even Christians. They need basics – an understanding that the Bible is one story. A lot of the problems that African church is facing, like prosperity teaching, come from not understanding the major story of the Bible. JBC is big on helping people see the pattern – creation, fall, redemption – basic biblical theology. JBC is non-denominational so there’s an opportunity for people from very diverse backgrounds to read God’s word and understand it deeply.

CP: What are you most looking forward to?

K: I’m really excited to be a part of a multicultural team who have been really thinking, planning, praying, working and seeing God work. I’m excited to be under their wisdom and be a part of that. I’m also excited about getting to know the women, to love them and be in their lives.

CP: What are you nervous about?

K: I’ve realised more and more that I really value freedom and adventure, and exploring is just part of my personality. I think I’m a bit nervous about having to be really safe and wise, and that will mean I need to tuck away those parts of my personality for my safety. Crime is a reality and living in a context where you are always looking over your shoulder puts a lot of pressure on you that can take a toll, so I’m also a bit nervous about learning how to rest in a chaotic place.

CP: How have you felt supported so far as you head towards South Africa?

K: The support of CMS, churches and friends has been overwhelming. The amount of prayer of encouragement has helped me to have confidence in my ability to do the job, under God. Even weirdly my non-Christian friends have been behind me – people are excited, which I think makes it more real. I can feel people’s prayers. Whenever I’m like a yo-yo, emotionally, God in his kindness has given me people who pray persistently and that stabilises me. It’s exciting that there are all these people cheering me on and it definitely feels like a partnership. People are pushing me, in a good way!

CP: What can we be praying for you and your ministry?

K: For JBC, they’re starting a new campus in Soweto, which is exciting but will mean a fair bit of stress on the staff. They two campuses will be about 30km apart (1 hour’s drive on South African roads!). Pray for the team as they split and work across two locations. And pray for accreditation to come through for the course to be a recognised diploma. And for me – the next few months are going to be a bit chaotic and unstructured, so please pray for peace as I meet with churches, share what I’ll be doing in Johannesburg, and prepare to leave.