Experiences - South East Asia
Experiences - Central Asia
Experiences - South Asia
Experiences - Arab World
Six months in the Middle East
I came to the Middle East wanting to serve as a physiotherapist in a developing country. I would like to think that I helped people while I was here, but I guess the reality is that I have gained so much more that I could have given. I have gained a second family; people from my team, church and work, people who are understanding and encouraging- people who share a common bond of wanting to reach out to Arabs and show them the love of Jesus. I also gained Arab friends, people who had welcomed me with open arms. I gained a better understanding of this culture, my culture and the issues of the Middle East. I have deepened my relationship with God, and gained more direction. I cannot say goodbye to this country, these people, but only that Insh’Allah (God willing), I will return.
A need to feel useful
Heather and her husband Tim spend three-months in the Middle East on a medical placement.
My patient, swathed in layers of black including a cloth wrapped firmly over her lower face, was indicating the problem that had brought her to clinic today. I could not understand the words, but the actions were clear enough as she clutched almost every joint in her body one at a time.
‘And has she got a headache?’ I asked my translator.
‘Yes,’ she answered, ‘she has a headache all the time, for the last six years.’
‘And what makes it worse?’
‘It’s worse when she works.’
It took me more than two months of living and working in that rural community to begin to understand what ‘work’ meant to the women there. Two months of hearing over and over again about chronic neck, back, knee and arm pain. Two months of watching anonymous black shapes mounting impossibly steep path with brightly coloured objects on their heads, before I realized those objects were 20-litre containers of water and that the women were carrying them uphill two or three times a day as well as working the fields, cooking the meals, baking bread and looking after their many children.
I felt embarrassed that I, supposedly open-minded and aware, could be so ignorant of how hard these people’s lives really were. We can never know what it is like to live the way they do. I finally realised how dependent we need to be on God and his guidance to have any positive impact in such communities with deep-seated problems.
God used the time to challenge us too. Why did we need to feel useful? Why did we need to feel that we had made a difference? Although God calls us to be agents of change in a broken world, he wants to do it through us rather than have us take it all on ourselves.
This has two implications. One is that we can let God take on responsibility for the problems that are just too big for us to cope with. His power is sufficient and we can rest in that knowledge. The second implications is that any success in our work is God’s success, no ours; we should be pleased to give him the glory. God used our time in this country to teach us humility and the need to trust in his power and goodness. We are now working on the application of that lesson.
During Eid (religious festival) and Christmas we managed to visit quite a few of our neighbours in our building. We were feeling bad that we don’t visit often enough, until we found out that one family (who have lived in our building for thirteen years) do not even know the names of our other neighbours – two floors down from them – who have lived here for thirty years. Who said there’s no such thing as community?
Vocational Training for the deaf
Four and a half months have now passed since I first arrived in the Middle East. It has passed quickly!
During my time overseas I discovered many valuable things about living for and serving God cross-culturally that just cannot be learned or experienced anywhere but out on the field. At the very core of this experience was the invaluable opportunity to connect, bond and grow with a fantastic bunch of disadvantaged men (and women from the guild-work section) who attend a Vocational Training Centre for the local deaf community in the inner-city. Through my work I was able to impart 17 years of carpentry skills and building/project management in a practical way.
There were many high points of my trip including surviving Ramadan and the extreme satisfaction of learning two new languages, Arabic and Arabic sign. The cultural nuances need in order to connect personally, culturally and spiritually, as well as watching the quality of workmanship and product improve, not to mention the ownership of responsibility increase on a daily basis.
In short, this experience has changed my life forever, and hopefully has added some value – both practical and spiritual – to the deaf community here.