By Stephen Cauchi
22 January 2022
Hospitality blunders, language difficulties, heat rash and persecution. These are among the challenges of being a missionary in a southern Asian Islamic country.
But the hospitality and friendliness of the locals has made up for it for one couple serving with the Church Missionary Society.
Their sense of a great need drew missionaries *Rob and *Sarah to an Islamic nation, where Rob works in development.
They told the recent CMS Victoria Summer Under the Son conference that work in their host country was taxing but rewarding.
For security reasons the pair cannot reveal their names, or the country where they work.
Rob said the pair could see very obvious needs, both practical and gospel – with a lack of opportunity for most people in that country to hear the gospel.
He said the church in this country was not officially persecuted, but new believers had to be very careful about what they shared, and with whom.
“It would be very rare for anyone’s life or physical health to be endangered but there is great relational consequences, economic consequences, social consequences, for choosing to follow Jesus,” he said.
The pair both grew up in Melbourne as Christians, and attended Syndal Baptist Church and Monash University.
Missionary work held a strong appeal for both. After a month-long visit in 2016 to the country which is now their base, they began full-time missionary work there in 2019.
They plan to stay in their host nation until 2029.
Here, Rob works in a development field while being involved in the local church.
As with many missionaries, coming to grips with a new language had been a formidable task, he said. This was even despite 18-months full-time language learning when they arrived, before starting work.
“Language learning is a beautiful invitation to learn another’s country’s culture and language but also often frustrating and challenging,” Rob said.
“It’s filled with making mistakes and then feeling that we’re making the same mistakes over and over again.
“We reflect back and see multiple cultural blunders … hospitality mistakes or ways that we received hospitality.”
But he said the hard work did pay off. Encouraging moments included getting to the point where he realised he could understand the language, or participating in worship with local believers.
He said hearing the testimony of local believers had amazed and inspired him, as they told him of the work of God in their lives.
Rob’s wife Sarah named hot and humid weather among the challenges they faced, as well as the distance from family in Australia.
But she said, they had made great friends in their adoptive country, including with neighbours in their building.
“There was one year where we were the only foreigners in our town and we never felt alone,” Sarah said.
“We just knew that there were people we could count on who were there. That was very encouraging.”
For Rob and Sarah, missionary work in the country has been more about supporting local Christians than evangelising to Muslims.
Rob said that while the couple did what they could to share Jesus, most people who became Christians were persuaded by locals, not Europeans.
He said there was a small fledging church of believers. Encouraging these people, and equipping them to share the gospel, was their main priority.
“We very much recognise that the vast, vast majority of believers came to faith through other believers who are from the same culture group, from the same language group, who have come to faith in Jesus from an Islamic background,” he said.
Rob said the couple had to keep their work a secret because missionaries were not tolerated by the government. Any mission work there mainly involved supporting the local church, alongside paid work.
But for Christians persecution tended to be unofficial rather than government-sponsored, Sarah said. She said this was “sporadic and rare”, but it did happen and she felt Christians in the country were anxious.
Rob’s first exposure to missionary work came at the end of his degree when he took a missions-based gap year, working in his field in an Islamic-majority country.
He said during that year he really sensed God inviting him to consider long-term, cross-cultural work in the Islamic world, using his field of expertise to help with development.
“After that year I came back to Melbourne and I studied further … and gained some professional experience,” he said.
For Sarah, mission work was a feature of her childhood. She was born in Melbourne, but spent much of her youth overseas, where her parents served in church development.
But Rob said that missionary work was a “significant life decision” for the couple. His gap year experience confirmed to him that a long-term missionary term would be best also served in an Islamic country.
“We always had in mind an Islamic country and then in our region there are multiple large Islamic countries which have a very great need,” he said.
Summer Under the Son was held on January 13-15 at Syndal Baptist Church.
*Names have been changed for security reasons