Dinner and a dream

13 Aug

I haven’t blogged in far too long. I have had a few life changes coming up over the last couple of months – or even a bit longer – and sometimes even the mere unproductive thinking-about that goes into it, takes up so much of my time.

I am going back to where I was a year ago, on a different course. A challenge considering how the last one went. I am stepping out on to this career that I believe God himself opened out to me in a way I did not expect. It’s one of those things I have thought to myself on hearing about from other people: “I wish I’d known about that when I was in school” and felt sorry for myself! Not for long – you know I laugh at myself often enough…

In less than a fortnight.

And I’m leaving my beloved family behind again.

Last week, I met a man who’s done that – in effect – for 16 years. Dr Colin Yarham is someone who has been faithful to the church I grew up in every Sunday. I was always faintly curious about why an older, Caucasian gentleman continued to attend and seemed to live in this city with obviously no family with him. I met his granddaughter when she interned in my city. We talked. I asked her what she did but I still never got to find out about what Dr Yarham was doing.

A couple of weeks ago, in the urgency of leaving, I strong-armed a very good friend of mine – whose fellowship I’d shared growing up and with whom I’d always shared prayer lists – into having dinner with me. And she knew Dr Yarham. Loved him, and his work and wanted me to meet him when I told her about what was next for me.

Dr Colin Yarham first came to India for a conference of SE Asian nations on education and couldn’t leave. He headed a department of Health Education in Sydney and then worked with the WHO and UNESCO and every other high profile organisation you can drum up. But he came here and found a piece of his heart, I think. Or found that he’d leave it behind if he left. So he stayed.

For 16 years… and counting.

During that time, he has committedly tried to put through a programme of Total Health in the schools in Tamil Nadu primarily. It considers the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual health of the child in totality and follows a curriculum that is streamlined from grades 1 through 12. The programme is now finding recognition internationally. But that is recent.

I went to dinner with Dr Yarham and my old friend. Dr Yarham is a tall, well-built man, with very kind eyes. I notice this about him. And his large hands and his generosity. His hair is now all white. As I read through an article he shows me, I realise the sacrifices there have been.

And the sheer strength of character. He lives away for 10 months of the year, and returns home to be a husband, father and grandfather to his family. His wife must be as committed as he is to these causes. Or perhaps she has her own, in Australia. And she has been rconciled to this decision together in a way that few now have the grace to be.

I have struggled with questions about family and commitments in my choosing this career. Working in a mission field may not be easy. I don’t know if I will work with a church or work outside. I’d be happy to just help the children I want to help. Show them love. Show them God. And I know that my mother is wonderfully special in understanding that. I am grateful. I know that my need of grace is even more immense.

In my mind, I imagine it all. A picket fence. Bikes with wicker baskets for happy Saturdays. Definitely a dog. And the family. And the grace to travel to where I or we want to serve also. Two different sides.

In a flash, I remember this recent conflict within myself. This is when I notice Dr Yarham has understanding in his eyes. But also implacability.

His team houses their office in a reasonably sized apartment. The living room is generously endowed with books everywhere. They rise from ceiling to floor and cover the tiles. He took me through the curriculum, its inception, the challenges (one time the water came through the roof from a garden balcony and nearly soaked all the precious publications), and the purpose. They’ve never wavered.

And as he says, over and over again, the programme is about bringing God’s love to the children. It’s a simple formula.

And yet – I am not sure I apply it well.

I wonder if it were my child, I would be satisfied with telling her Bible stories 10 days of the summer, with liberal lunches and a field trip? Would I make it free of cost and then thank God in public so that I can say in the same sentence “my church has done so much”? I love the work that the church does, but I wonder if I myself, in my calling to be salt and light, grow complacent. If I assume that preaching behind a pulpit, or tithing, or including the needy in the litany satisfies some false ideal of righteousness I seek.

I think our preaching and our sharing of the gospel in words must go alongside our awareness of social justice, our voice in the millions of voices abroad today, forming the ideas and not just asking them to formed, speaking against inequality, measuring society in God’s eyes and addressing the lack. I ask forgiveness for the times I have loved my Christian bubble too much. And for the other times, when I have felt too insecure to go out and be excellent, as God has asked me to. (No, I’m not linking that one because it will do us good to find it.)

To bring God’s love.

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