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The privilege and responsibility of discipleship

CMS missionaries Martin and Julie Field have worked with university students in Australia and Argentina over the past two decades. In this article, Julie explains how discipleship in Argentina is like being part of a family. 

As two dear student friends put it to us, “You are our spiritual aunt and uncle”. To us, this title is a privilege and also a responsibility. It speaks of a particular relationship we share here with students in Còrdoba, Argentina. 

In the past, our student work in Sydney was dominated by Bible teaching, leadership training, and evangelism. We would see each student in brief ‘efficient’ encounters during the week, mostly trusting that the rest of their lives (including progress in their studies) was under control. However, our time in Córdoba has taught us to consider the students we minister to in a far more holistic manner. 

Sharing the challenges of Argentine students 

It took us a while to recognise that the average Argentine university student needs a lot more accompaniment than some simple Bible reading skills to thrive in their Christian walk on campus.  

Many young people find their high school experience inadequate in providing a solid base for high level study in a hostile secular environment. Some are the first ones in their family to tackle tertiary study. We know various students who are under enormous economic pressure and live in underprivileged conditions. Many students juggle low paid jobs with the rigours of study. 

Some students are battling family crises, whilst others are learning to survive on their own for the first time. Shopping and cooking, finding work, paying the rent, hand washing the clothes—all these things take time and are new challenges for many.  

“Many young people find their high school experience inadequate in providing a solid base for high level study in a hostile secular environment. Some are the first ones in their family to tackle tertiary study. We know various students who are under enormous economic pressure and live in underprivileged conditions.” 

Sharing life with Maxi and Eli  

Then there is the example of our friends Maxi and Eli. While studying together in the faculty of Astronomy, Mathematics and Physics, a friendship blossomed, and they are now engaged to be married. Although we first met them in the context of the ABUA campus ministry, the partnership runs a lot deeper with Maxi and Eli. 

What has walking beside this couple looked like, especially during pandemic conditions? The basic needs of a student are food, accommodation and, in pandemic times particularly, reliable internet connection to access classes and study.  

But in addition, Maxi and Eli have some extra hurdles to overcome. As a result of a childhood accident, Maxi has cerebral palsy. From the age of twelve, he lost his ability to move freely and to speak. He communicates with us via a laptop that he carries everywhere he goes. Maxi depends more heavily than most on his technology for daily life, and an inability to recharge his device renders Maxi unable to communicate clearly with others. 

Eli has other challenges to overcome. She plays an important role in her family to care for younger siblings and provide for daily needs in humble circumstances. Our friends, like many students we know, depend heavily on the daily hot meal from the university canteen. It is the only solid meal in their day. Thankfully during the pandemic, we were able to help get food packages to their families, as the canteen has been closed since March 2020. 

Access to the internet is critical as well. In Eli’s home the internet is shared carefully between all the siblings who study. Maxi has had various crisis moments where he has needed to stay with us so he could have decent internet access to work and study. The zone he lives in has been victim to theft of internet cables on various occasions, leaving him unable to participate in classes and work. 

When discipling means holistic care 

On the medical front, we have been able to help Maxi access the COVID vaccine without him being exposed on public transport. Eli has needed some specialist treatment for recurrent headaches, and we have learnt how to work the challenges of the public health system to access care for her. These experiences make us so thankful for the use of a car and the CMS commitment to provide us with private healthcare. 

With marriage on the horizon, we have met regularly with this couple for marriage preparation counselling. We pray with them for the slow but steady progress of their new home and share their frustrations when building supplies are stolen from their building site. 

Most recently we shared Maxi and Eli’s joy as they received media attention for Maxi’s study and work achievements. We were there when the press sought them out, and Martin was able to share Maxi’s testimony on local television. We were also delighted to hear Maxi being interviewed multiple times in our home (with the assistance of a synthesised voice program), as national and international firms sought him out for job placement. We rejoiced with them as Maxi commenced a job with a renowned international technology company. 

Doing life with Maxi and Eli is a privilege and a responsibility. It certainly feels far more than a simple on campus commitment, but then being a spiritual aunt and uncle naturally requires so much more, right? 

PRAY 

Give thanks to God for the close discipling relationship that Martin and Julie have developed with Maxi and Eli. Pray for Maxi and Eli to continue growing as disciples of Christ and ask God to use them to help others know and live out God’s love in their daily lives.