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20 April 2020

Relearning humility again


CMS missionaries Ian and Jenny Wood are new to their location in Arnhem Land, and once again learning what it is to be learners. Ian describes the experience. 

Ministry is full of lessons in humility. Life is full of lessons in humility. 

Jenny and I have arrived at Numbulwar, on the Arnhem Coast of North Australia, and after years of learning humility in Bible teaching, we’re finding new lessons around every corner. 

The way it was 

It’s Wednesday night and it’s Sydney, and I’m running a course called ‘Old Testament 2’. I’m expecting a dozen students, and they’ve all put in a day’s work already at various jobs, but now they’re turning up for two hours of Old Testament. With me. 

And they love it (At least, they tell me they love it). They stick around and ask questions. They pay to do this course, and they tell their friends how good it is. 

It would be easy to enjoy that rich flavour of ‘me teacher, you student.’ 

And that would be a total fail. Instead, we’ll look at Amos the prophet and see what God is saying. We’ll set the students to work on Amos the prophet in various ways, and they’ll share their observations and insights, and we’ll build lessons around what they find. 

Who knows? if we do this really well we won’t end up with people who think I was a pretty good teacher. We’ll end up with people who do read Amos, and the Old Testament, better than me. That would be a win. 

The way it is 

Today, we’re still in Australia, but here on the Arnhem Land coast, the main languages people speak are Kriol and Wubuy. There are subtle distinctions we don’t understand about who might speak which language, and when. 

Jenny and I have been teachers for a long time. When we head to Darwin we’ll be teachers again. But here we’re very much learners—things work by rules we’re not used to. It will be a while before we can even ask the right questions to understand what the new rules are. 

To give one example: we’re summoned to church on Sunday morning by a bell. When everyone’s assembled, we go inside and church happens. Prayers are in Wubuy. After a while I realise I’m being asked to read the Bible in Kriol. And then to preach (in English). Preach? I’m acutely aware that I barely know how people’s lives work here. And I keep getting ‘yes’ and ‘goodbye’ mixed up. 

It would be easy to enjoy that rich flavour of ‘me teacher, you student.’ 

Or this: I was sitting on a sand dune overlooking the sea with a local man and we were reading the Bible together— me in Kriol, him correcting me. In Genesis we were reading about God creating us and giving us dominion over all the animals. At the same time we were being bothered by a random dog and a pig, and we don’t have much dominion over either. But why are they even here? What part do animals play in this community? 

So currently, we’re experiencing either questions we don’t know how to ask, or completely unfamiliar experiences that we are trying to interpret in light of what the Bible clearly says. At the moment we are just a little out of our depth. Until further notice, we are very much learners. 

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If you support a new CMS missionary, they will be going through enormous learning experiences in their new location. Send them a message of thankfulness about things you notice God has worked in them up to this point.