It Takes a Parish

One of the most important aspects of our calling as missionaries is that we are doing it as members of our church. We have been in Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church since 2003, and it is a vibrant, loving and living congregation.

The congregation has embraced our missionary plans with enthusiasm. We have a graphic designer among our core team members, who created a beautiful trifold brochure and inserted pledge card for us. We have another friend who works at FedEx/Kinko’s, and gave us a great deal on copying our brochures in full color. We have a realtor who has given us advice about our house, and has also made follow-up calls to ask for pledges for us.

Our brothers and sisters in the congregation have done so much to help out as we prepare to sell our house. My friend Tim Giese is the proprietor of Liberty Carpet Care. He and his sons Andy and Levi cleaned all our horrible Olefin carpets, working a miracle and making them presentable again.

Yesterday, eleven members from five families showed up to help us paint our house. They worked hard, and got a lot done. Three of the dads did a beautiful job of painting over all the messy marks our kids had put on the wall of their 24×24 playroom. The younger men braved the late-morning heat to paint fences and a shed.

I also want to give special thanks to an older member of our parish, Mr. David Kern. He owns a nursery (we get our Christmas tree from him each December 24th), and he volunteered to weed our flower beds. He showed up as we were barking at our kids and trying to get the family ready to rush out the door for Talia’s graduation ceremony, from which we would be driving directly to Nashville, Tennessee for a Whitsunday (Pentecost for you non-Anglicans) deputation visit. When we came back, we were astonished and delighted to see that every thistle and stray piece of grass had been removed from the beds, so that they are ready for new mulch.

I started the month of May looking at my list and wondering how on earth it would all get done — especially with multiple deputation road trips, the last month of the school year, and our oldest daughter’s high school graduation. But now it is eminently doable, thanks to the members of our church. It is as though God said, “No, you certainly can’t get it done by yourselves, so I will make clear to you how much I want your mission to happen, and you will learn a lesson about depending on the other members of the body.” This is a congregation that loves in deeds, not just words. We will be honored to represent them in the Philippines.

Stay, listen

With each passing season I’m more and more convinced that the kindest, most loving, most respectful, most relational thing we can ever do is to just rete (stay) and koute (listen). Whenever I take an opportunity to truly do that, I am humbled and I learn.

This is not to say there is no need for teaching, that there is no benefit to learning other ways. It is only to say that we ought to seek first to listen, to learn, and then and only then should we attempt to tell or to teach. Save that stuff for later when we have respected and listened to the people that do life here every day of every month of every year of every decade. I’m thinking we have more to learn than they do. Rete, koute

We’re going into this adventure expecting many learning experiences, many paradigm shifts, and many challenges to our egos. There is one thing that I think (hope!) we have figured out before ever getting on the plane: to proceed with humility, never forgetting that we have much to learn. The name of our blog was chosen partly to remind us of this, a necessary reminder since what we’re going to do (“cross-cultural ministry”) carries the inherent implication that we are the ones giving out rather than the ones receiving. The verb “to minister” means “to give aid or service.” And of course, we are going because we do believe we can be of service to others. After all, we are both successful and experienced in our respective fields. We are both accustomed to being very competent and productive in our familiar North American context. Therein lies the danger. It is vitally important that we not mistake our professional competence for cultural competence and that we not assume we already know what the people we seek to minister to need and want from us. Going prepared to be still and listen, to learn and to receive, will both bless us and help us to be a blessing.

Ministry opportunity for Matt in the Philippines

After a Skype interview with principal Mike Hause, I’ve been invited to join the faculty of Faith Academy, Mindanao, starting in the spring of 2013, Lord willing (and if we have raised funds to go by our expected departure date this November). Faith Academy is an evangelical K-12 school serving primarily the children of English-speaking missionaries laboring in the Philippines and other places in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. All the faculty at the school are donor-supported missionaries, in order to keep the tuition affordable for missionary families.

I’m very excited about this for three reaons:

1. The tentative plan at this point is that I will be teaching the two subjects I love most, Antiquity and Bible. My students from past years can testify that these subjects are the ones for which I have the deepest love, and for which I bring the greatest enthusiasm to the classroom. I believe I have been really gifted in these two areas, primarily by my parents, who raised me to love the Bible and to love the Greek and Latin classics.

2. Second, just as Sora will be helping to train other missionary midwives, so my work will not only be a means for me to serve, but will also help enable other missionaries to serve too. We want to leverage our talents for the Kingdom. By teaching missionary kids, I can bless their parents and help equip their children for ministry. Supporters will thus be able to know that the talents they invest by supporting us will not be buried in a handkerchief, but will be multiplied into blessings for many other missionaries besides the Colvin family.

3. Because of this development, both Sora and I will have defined ministry opportunities ready for us upon arrival. And both hers and mine appear to be perfect fits for our experiences and skill sets. This gives us a hope that we will be able to serve actively from the get-go, even before study and work enable us to overcome language and culture barriers.

The fact that both Sora and I now have well-defined, well-suited ministry plans is another strong indication that our missionary calling is of God. We’re just following where He leads. He is far wiser than we, and His plans are marvelous in the way they fit together perfectly.

Midwives Save Lives

Today is the International Day of the Midwife. The theme chosen for 2012 by ICM is “Midwives Save Lives.”

Many people have asked me why I feel the need to go overseas, because they see the work I am doing as a midwife here in the States as needed, valuable, and important. And the shortest, simplest answer is: to save lives. Complications of childbirth will kill 1000 women today, and probably none of them will live in Ohio. The very few women who give birth unattended where I live do so by choice, and with readily available emergency care a phone call away. The millions of women who give birth unattended in the majority world have no other option and no back-up plan.

As a midwife attending home births in North America, I see low risk mothers almost exclusively. When complications arise we are usually able to anticipate them and transfer to hospital care long before they become life threatening. Only very rarely will my actions make a life-or-death difference for a mother or baby. But there have been a very few occasions when I know that God has used my hands to save a life, and it is a humbling and breathtaking thing. That is what I became a midwife to do.

“You Lacked Opportunity”

Yesterday we spoke to a club for little girls, with a few of their mothers in attendance. Sora talked about what she’ll be doing at the birth clinic, and I spoke a little bit about the Biblical theology of missions. There were some good questions afterwards.

Deputation is a tremendously challenging and edifying experience. We have had several families over to our house so that we could share our vision with them over food. These have been the most rewarding occasions, as it is always interesting to see what aspect of the mission God most puts on the heart of those we’re speaking to.

We end up having a great time and connecting with the families over sometimes surprising things. Sora had a terrific afternoon talking with a veterinarian about blood, mess, and animals giving birth. More recently, another sender became obviously excited about the potential for missionary midwifery to help stem the tide of the world’s orphan crisis by saving the lives of mothers.

Talking to larger groups is more difficult. We learned some hard lessons yesterday. Because of a heavy workload, I wasn’t very prepared, and it showed in the talk. We also didn’t arrive early, and had to spend an embarrassing amount of time setting up a projector and screen. And to crown all, when someone asked if we had anything printed that people could take home – we didn’t. So it was a learning experience, and we’ll do better next time.

There’s a real sense that preparedness in a talk to potential supporters is a matter of faithfulness to God, and unpreparedness is something to be repented of. On the other hand, we always remember that God doesn’t need our slickness and fancy computer slideshows to raise up supporters.