I’m a sixth generation Kiwi who married into a family with four generations of involvement in mission to East and Southeast Asia. With my saintly (and long-suffering) wife I’ve worked with OMF in Muslim Southeast Asia since mid-2000. We live in a part of the Malay Peninsula where the Thai and Malay worlds converge. Even after six decades of Christian presence and witness on the Thai side of the border, there are 2 million Muslims and fewer than 100 Christ-followers from Muslim backgrounds.
Someone has said that missionaries should go when they are not wanted but needed, and leave when they are wanted, but not needed. Where we went, we were certainly not wanted. We lived the first two years in a sort of social quarantine. Like all first-termers who go on to have fulfilling and fruitful long-term careers, language and culture learning were our top priorities during those early years.
Another thing we did as soon as we arrived was work. Now, I had long regarded work to be a four-letter word, something to be avoided or minimalised. Our commitment to incarnational ministry meant that there were many things we didn’t take with us to Southeast Asia. We should have packed a greater appreciation for the importance of the ordinary and a theology of work.
As anyone who has ever been unemployed will tell you, life works when you work. Anyone who relocates to the Muslim world for the sake of the gospel without working there makes an already difficult task even harder. Not only are Muslim men (like Kiwi blokes) better human-doings than human-beings, working where we witness demonstrates that while we are pious, we are there for more than just religious reasons.
By the time I’d begun to resent teaching English as a second language, I came to realise two things. First, doing pioneering work in resistant areas did not require committing career suicide. And, second, I needed to know my new world and context as well as the text of God’s word that I had studied for three years at BCNZ (now Laidlaw College).
Before leaving New Zealand I had asked what could be done; four years overseas and I began asking what needed to be done.
Between 2005 and 2009 I retrained as a social scientist. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on a distinctively local aspect of Islam at a government university just over the border. My supervisors were all Muslims. I was the only Westerner to have graduated from this institution and am now an acknowledged expert in Southeast Asian Islam. Many now talk about business as mission (BAM). I would challenge those with an even mild scholarly bent to see academia as mission.
The author works with OMF in Muslim Southeast Asia and