Sharing God's love softens hearts, opens minds
Switzerland-based Andrew and Claire Livingstone see missionary work as a blessing.
By Chris Shearer
February 17 2016
At the social events CMS missionaries Andrew and Claire Livingstone hold for international students in Lausanne, Switzerland, the focus is on meaningful conversation. For the Livingstones these chats illuminate different approaches and perspectives towards life, giving them a chance to really get to know young people from across the world.
“At our social events we’ll often get conversations going about ‘what is friendship?’ or ‘what makes a good neighbour?’. It’s really amazing to hear,” says Claire. “A Swiss student will say a good neighbour is one you don’t see, don’t hear, and the African students will go ‘What? No! A good neighbour is in and out of your house all the time!’ and the Swiss student will go ‘What?’. So it’s a wonderful opportunity to encourage students to actually respect some of the differences and respect each other.”
The Livingstones, pictured right with students, have been in Lausanne since mid-2012 setting up a sustainable ministry for international students from over 124 countries studying at the various universities in the region.
“There’s many elements to it, but the local role really is to try and reach out to internationals,” says Claire. Part and parcel of this is holding regular social events, such as the weekly “international café”, where the emphasis is on building strong relationships and a sense of community over a free meal.
Claire says the other part of the job is building a local team that can “capture the vision” for the ministry, itself no easy task. “There are cultural and linguistic blockages that make that really really difficult,” she says. “I think it’s much more of a pioneering ministry than we expected.”
Both had been involved in “very structured” ministry in the Diocese of Melbourne for 20 years previously. In those years they had sent many missionaries around the world but decided they needed hands-on experience themselves. Starting from scratch, though, was very different from their experiences here in Melbourne.
“So for the first six months we were just watching, and listening, asking questions. Then we spent the next year or so continuing to do that while exploring some options for ministry,” Claire says. “Lots of networking, lots of getting to know people, lots of listening to what’s worked in the past and what hasn’t worked. So that’s how we started, lots of trial and error, giving things a go.”
Despite the challenges, both see their missionary work as a blessing. “We get to hang out with international students who come from all around the world,” Andrew says. “Just learning from them and hearing their story and all the while thinking about how God’s story connects with their story. So that’s just a great privilege.”
“They’re quite happy to hang out with a couple of middle aged Aussies who must seem like, well, I’d like to think uncles and aunties rather than mums or dads.”
And for the students themselves, often far from family and friends in a very different cultural environment, it’s the chance to build important relationships. One Belgian student, says Andrew, told him he has never experienced such deep relationships as the one formed through the Livingstones’ network.
“It’s just been amazing to see God soften hearts and open minds,” says Claire. “It’s been wonderful to see Him take people who experience the love of Christ through his people and begin to come curious, and we’ve had the privilege of seeing some people come to faith in Christ and continue on in their faith.”
Watch a video about the Livingstones at https://youtu.be/mdMf-3qoLBk