Karen & John

A long journey but what a privilege!

Since late 2008 we have been in Phnom Penh, Cambodia with Global Interaction, learning the language and culture and working with young emerging Cambodian leaders, academic staff and post-graduate students. Our work with students focuses on assisting them to develop a range of academic skills. We also offer support as they seek to balance the opportunities and demands of the modern world with their cultural traditions. We find the work we are doing a joy and a privilege.

We are currently in our mid-fifties and our journey to overseas mission has been a long one. This is how it happened:

Early on in our marriage God put a desire on our hearts to engage in overseas mission and we were convinced that there would be a period in our life when we served God in an overseas context. We were keenly aware that many throughout the world, unlike in Australia, had no opportunity to encounter the gospel by word or deed. We weren’t sure when we would serve overseas, but there was a sense that it would be after our children had completed their schooling, and that is how it worked out.

From the early days of our marriage we were quite deliberate in seeking opportunities that would extend our understanding of cross-cultural mission through such means as talking with mission agencies, reading widely, attending conferences, and being involved in cross-cultural mission in Australia. We were involved in running a drop-in centre for teenage gang members and over the years Karen worked in a variety of roles including teaching, counselling, and as a university academic and often she was able to walk alongside and help those from different cultures. John also, as a Baptist pastor, had wide experience working in a number of different cultural settings and as we look back we can see that God was preparing us through all these experiences.  Another step we took was to upgrade our qualifications and in our forties we both obtained doctorates, Karen in education and John in history.

The years 2006 and 2007 were ones of more focused exploration of cross-cultural mission opportunities. We weren’t sure where God was leading us and we did not know if we should go overseas with an agency or not. One option was to find employment in a developing country and live and share our faith in that context. One important consideration for us has been that what we do in a professional capacity is part of God’s call; it is part of God’s cultural mandate to us to fill the earth and subdue it as stewards of God’s creation (Genesis 1:28-30; 4:19-22)

It was in 2006 that friends of ours who had visited Cambodia told us that they thought there was a good match between our gifts and experience and the opportunities which existed in Cambodia. They also said that they thought we would fit well with the members of the Global Interaction team in Cambodia. And that is how it has proved to be. We decided to apply to Global Interaction to serve in Cambodia because we agreed with its general philosophy of mission and because we wanted the prayer and general support, training, accountability and overall backing of a well-established mission organisation.

Karen’s involvement in policy writing has also provided priceless opportunities to engage with key people in setting future directions for higher education. It is in these contexts that we have had the joy of sharing our faith in Jesus and mentoring young Christian leaders.

A key way we have been able to help students and staff is through LEaRN Cambodia. LEaRN stands for Leadership, Education and Resources Network. We have conducted many workshops; spent countless hours talking, listening, laughing and eating with students; helped students apply for scholarships and given financial assistance to needy students.

Overwhelmingly, people, including our family, have been very supportive of what we are doing and although the necessary financial support took a while to come in, God blessed us with the supporters who would stand with us financially and in prayer.

As we are now in the second term of our work here in Cambodia we are glad that we made the decisions we did. At times the constraints that go with being a member of any mission organization have chaffed a bit, but we have been happy with the support we have received, particularly the prayer support of many faithful people connected to Global Interaction throughout Australia.

At times, particularly early on, we felt completely incompetent within the Cambodian context as we struggled to understand the language and culture. This, and many other situations, has thrown us time and time again back on to God and we have found the journey to be as much a journey inward as it has been outward. But in it all, God has proven himself faithful time and time again as we have sought to follow the Lamb wherever he goes (Revelation 14:4)