Offering grace in a land of kindness
Posted on: 25th June 2018
In her first term of service, CMS missionary N*, serving in South East Asia, finds herself in a land of kindness where money really does grow on trees. Here N speaks of the challenge that CMS workers face in offering a grace that is greater even than kindness.
Sensory overload. That’s one way I’d describe my first few weeks in this new land. Everything was new. Everything was different. For the first little while, all my brain could handle when I stepped out of my door was remembering how to get to the market and then get home again.
But as time passed, I slowly started to see my environment. The blur of shopfronts on my doorstep coalesced into a convenience store, a florist and a hardware store. I noticed the dog snoozing in a scrap of shade, the man selling newspapers on the corner, and the water stands. So many water stands! Soon I was seeing them everywhere. In a country where you can’t drink the tap water and where the weather ranges from hot to extremely hot, drinking water is a precious commodity. It surprised me that so much of it was available for free.
Why the water is free
The people at St Andrew’s Hall had prepared me for sensory overload. They’d prepared me for the stress of adapting to a new environment, the sadness of missing family and friends. They’d given me skills to help me learn language. And they’d trained me to learn from little things like water stands. They’d taught me to be a curious observer, to notice differences in behaviours and customs, and to dig deeper and so try to understand the values and beliefs that lie hidden beneath what I see.
So what is behind all those water stands? Kindness. Kindness is considered one of the greatest virtues here. People strive to be kind and offering water to strangers is just one of the ways they do this. But while they strive to be kind, they also believe that the universe itself is not kind. They believe it operates according to a simple, fair but inflexible law of cause and effect—you get exactly what you deserve. So setting up a water stand is an act of kindness, but it is also an act of need—a need for kindness. Because nobody really wants exactly what they deserve.
Why the money grows on trees
I saw the same principle in operation a few months later when money started growing on trees! Overnight, a whole lot of stalls popped up all over the place. And as I passed these stalls each day, I saw tree-like structures on which leaves made of money started to appear. It turns out that these stalls are a kind of community donation booth where people come to give to the local monasteries. People can (and do) give at any time, but in this particular month, they believe that their gifts are more potent in the benefit they bring to the giver. So, feeling their need, they give. And as they give, they prove the old adage wrong—in some places at least, money really does grow on trees.
After a few weeks, the trees were full of money! And then little processions started taking place all over the city as the gifts were carried to the monasteries to the accompaniment of very loud and lively music. I did not admire the music. But I couldn’t help admire the way these people were displaying their beliefs. It was loud, it was public and it was unashamedly enthusiastic. It reminded me of these words:
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14–16
In this land of kindness, so many are in need of the great kindness and goodness of God—the one who gives us what we don’t deserve. And that’s why I am here, to shine my light for him.
Working quietly to work loudly
I am not naturally loud and lively. I’m not even outgoing. So I ask myself, how will anyone hear my message over the loud and lively clang of their current beliefs? I am surrounded by people doing good deeds, so I ask myself, how do I do my good deeds in such a way that they glorify my Father in heaven? To be honest, I don’t know. But I do know that God has placed me here to be a light for him. He has prepared me and he will use the training I have received at Bible college and at St Andrew’s Hall. He has given me a team of faithful supporters and he will work in response to their prayers. He will make little me, with all my failings and limitations, to be like that town on a hill that cannot be hidden. He will make his kindness known and he will make his light shine, because he is the king of kindness!
Another CMS worker in her first term, Bethany Vaughan, works in nearby Cambodia. How does she manage sharing her faith as she learns a new language and culture? Find out here.
To go to the mission field is to be flooded with change at every level. Ask our heavenly Father to remind missionaries in new locations of his unchanging faithfulness daily.
*Name has been removed for security purposes.