Missionary Diary: If tables had ears

Zoe Creelman is serving with the Church Missionary Society (CMS) under the Anglican Diocese in the Northern Territory. As she focuses on learning language and building relationships, she prays that God will use her in her role as church support worker to encourage Indigenous church leaders in Ngukurr (in southern Arnhem Land) and surrounding areas.

Some say the kitchen is the heart of a home, but more accurately I think it is the kitchen table. I was thinking recently that if my table had ears, it would have a lot of stories to tell!

There have been afternoons of uproarious laughter, evening sing-a-longs, tedious hours on the phone to the bank, emotional times of praying through family problems, vulnerable sharing of stories, wrestling with Bible passages, impromptu language lessons, sketching of family trees when I’m too confused with verbal explanations and so on.

Collecting plums

But it’s taken a while for people to feel comfortable coming into my home, and some still prefer to sit outside. Culturally it’s a bit odd to go into people’s homes. It’s much more common to sit outside, normally on the ground and with a steady flow of people coming and going. There’s something quite intimate and familial about going into someone’s home and sitting with them.

Vulnerable mission

I wrestle with what vulnerable mission looks like in this context. Vulnerable mission is the idea that we don’t go out in the world to stay in our comfort zone and work from positions of power. Christ came into our world as a helpless baby, in an occupied state, so that people could understand his message in their own context, rather than as an abstract intellectual exercise. Wherever possible we want to enter other people’s worlds so that there are few barriers for people to understand the good news of Christ.

Fishing in a billabong

Going out bush has been the main way of leaving my own comfort zone and entering other people’s comfort zones. My naivete is humbling for me, but reverses the power dynamics. I might get the wrong wood for the fire, and people instruct me on where to sit to fish and take my line out of my hands when I get snagged. Out bush, I’m definitely the learner!

Zoe with a shark.

It’s hard to have deep conversations, though, when there are multiple people around and you’re spread along the bank of a billabong. Time out bush is more of a mental health break. Time away from the kids and chaos of home to just sit in silence, share jokes and tell stories.

It’s the time out bush in silence that builds the trust for people to come into my home and have those deeper conversations. Sitting around my kitchen table having these conversations, I’m the new one. These guys have sat at this same kitchen table with previous generations of CMS workers, as they sought to support each other in life and ministry. I praise God for the relationships of trust that I’m forming, and for the legacy of those who have gone before and paved the way.