Five lessons I learnt this summer

Every January around Australia, each branch of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) runs a conference focused on cross-cultural mission. Naomi Jones has been serving in Communications with CMS Australia for over a decade, and here she reflects on five things she was challenged by at CMS NSW & ACT Summer School this year:

CMS Summer School 2024 helped me grow in my faith and challenged me in how I approach my own partnership in cross-cultural mission.

At great conferences like Summer School, I can feel overwhelmed by so much deep and wise insight. I appreciated the chance to reflect for a couple of minutes after each of the Bible talks from Galatians, while still sitting in the auditorium. And with some more time to reflect in the days since, here are five lessons from the conference that stood out to me – a mix of new challenges, as well as much-needed reminders of gospel truth.

1.     I was challenged to live life today with heaven as my primary reality.

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It’s not that I don’t think at all about the promise of eternity with Jesus, but to live with heaven as my primary reality completely flips my default mode of thinking.

CMS missionary Megan Rosser shared this, talking about what it means to be a faithful gospel witness; how knowing Jesus and making him known is ultimately all that matters.

Most of the time, I live with earth as my primary reality. I am focussed on the day-to-day – on things like ensuring that my kids get to school with food in their lunchboxes (that they will actually eat!), getting my work done, and planning dinner, appointments and other commitments. I long to make heaven my primary reality in the day-to-day.

I’m reminded of these words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:18: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

2.     It is our sovereign Lord who saves souls by his grace

It’s not up to me!

God saved the Apostle Paul, perhaps the most unlikely person at that time to become a Christian. He went from persecutor to preacher – entirely of God’s doing.

I was challenged to keep praying for my loved family members and friends who don’t yet know Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

In his message on Sunday morning, speaker Ed Loane (Warden of St Paul’s College, Sydney) shared how the gospel first came to Korea in the 19th century through a man who was martyred for his faith. The pages of the Bibles he had transported there were used as wallpaper, which, 20 years later, led to people reading the walls and becoming Christians.

I was heartened by this reminder and challenged to keep praying for my loved family members and friends who don’t yet know Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Ed challenged us to remember Galatians 1:15-16 – that God’s grace is powerful to save even the most hardened hearts. He will do it, in his timing.

“But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles …”

3.     Start with the person in front of me

At one of the sessions on teaching cross-culturally, a CMS gospel worker shared how her key learning from past missionary experience was to start with the person in front of you. She had found value in asking questions like, “Who are they?” and “What’s important to them?”

She shared how, when teaching English in the Middle East to refugees, she learned that it didn’t make sense to use household appliances, like dishwashers, for language training (as the teaching manual suggested). They wanted to know about words that were relevant to their daily lives – like the English name for the stick utensil used to make “aseeda”, the grain-based dish they eat every day.

Another missionary at this session, Matt Tyler, spoke of how vital it is to help people engage with God’s word in their heart language. Matt, with his wife Ellen and family, is going to Vanuatu to undertake Bible translation. In a video he shared, a Vanuatu Christian profoundly noted, “If the Bible is foreign, God is foreign.”

CMS missionaries Matt and Ellen Tyler with their children

CMS missionaries Matt and Ellen Tyler with their children

I thought about my friend who has visited our church a couple of times and has recently agreed to read the Bible with me in 2024. I had assumed we would read the Bible in English as we communicate easily that way normally, but this person that God has placed in front of me wasn’t born in Australia and English is not her first language. Maybe we could read it in her language instead? I’m looking forward to exploring these questions with my friend and seeing what God has in store.

4.     Missionaries are ordinary Christians too

Having worked with CMS for over 12 years, I’ve been blessed to meet many wonderful followers of Jesus who have accepted significant sacrifice for the sake of serving the Lord in cross-cultural mission. I was reminded again this year that missionaries are still ordinary Christians. They aren’t perfect or super-Christian – they serve in weakness and vulnerability, for the sake of God’s mission. This is why missionaries are sent in partnership with God’s people, so we can support missionaries through the ups and downs of serving cross-culturally.

CMS missionary Kylie Zietsch teaches Christian leaders who would otherwise not have access to training, at Johannesburg Bible College in South Africa. Many of the students have experienced significant brokenness and suffering in their lives, false teaching and domestic violence.

Kylie Zietsch

Missionary Kylie Zietsch speaks at CMS Summer School, alongside David Williams, Director of Training and Development for CMS Australia CMS NSW & ACT

“There is a need to bring the word of God with the comfort God brings. They need to hear the true gospel,” Kylie shared at Summer School.

“I don’t feel smart. I didn’t get great marks in Greek at college,” she continued. “It feels wild that God has used a reluctant person like me to teach here.”

Kylie described how whenever she was facing something difficult, she would receive an email from a supporter at just the right time. “Your prayers and emails keep me going!” she stressed.

Missionaries are ordinary Christians that need our prayers, and those prayers make a difference.

5.     The Christian life involves suffering

I can easily forget that being follower of Jesus isn’t meant to be easy.

In his message on Sunday evening, Kanishka Raffel (Anglican Archbishop of Sydney and the President of CMS Australia) spoke on Psalm 22 – a Psalm that highlights how the pathway of the Messiah from dereliction to delight is only through his death and suffering on the cross. Jesus suffered and said that those who follow him would share in his suffering.

Missionaries commit to suffering in different ways for the sake of the gospel, as they live and carry out ministry in a culture different to their own. Confusion at the markets, filling in the wrong form or making daily language blunders – these are all regular reminders of this truth.

A cross-shaped life is the calling of every missionary and every disciple, including me.

It was helpful to be reminded again that living a cross-shaped life is the calling of every missionary and every disciple, including me. And there is joy and hope in knowing that Jesus suffered so that I might be brought near, and that I will see all nations worshipping him:

“All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.” (Psalm 22:27-28)

Naomi (left) with her friend Cathie at Summer School.

Naomi (left) with her friend and former missionary Caroline Clark at Summer School.

Thinking back and looking forward

One of the attendees at Summer School this year has been coming for over 60 years. At my first Summer School, I remember being amazed at the vast number of people who came to Katoomba every year for deep Bible teaching and to hear about what God was doing in and through CMS missionaries. With over 3400 adults and children in attendance this year, I’m still amazed.

I praise God for his work, and I give thanks for the blessing of this time of learning and fellowship. I’m thankful too for God’s powerful, saving grace in my life and long to see it change the lives of those around me – and to the ends of the earth.

The talks from CMS Summer School 2024 will be available to view and download from cms.org.au in March.