Missionary Diary: Snotty noses, dirty laundry and round-the-clock meals

Joy Oliveira Woolmer and her husband Pedro are new missionaries with Church Missionary Society (CMS). They have three young children and have been living in Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay in South America, for two and a half years. Here they serve alongside the local staff and students of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) movement in Uruguay.  

As I look at my calendar and plan out my week, it’s hard to believe that we’re getting to the end of June. Where did the last six months go? So much has changed in this time. At seven months old, our baby is not a newborn anymore. Since the year began, we’ve also moved to a new home, changed churches, started our two-year-old in preschool five days a week and (almost) come out of a pandemic. And now, halfway through the year, I’m still not sure what a “normal” week looks like. I get to each Friday wondering how in the world we made it to the end of another week. Life is very full, and while some of it feels really worthwhile, most of it just feels exhausting.

Right now, more than at any other time in our missionary service so far, I’ve really wondered what God has put me here, in Uruguay, to do. Most days, it feels like I’m just surviving – and not even doing that particularly well! In terms of being a missionary, I’ve wondered if I’ve gone from being a missionary in my own right to “just” being a missionary’s wife. While my husband continues on – indeed ploughing on, full steam ahead – with new and exciting ministry opportunities, faithfully teaching the word in season and out of season, I feel like my current mission field involves snotty noses, dirty laundry and round-the-clock meals. Couldn’t I be doing all this back in Australia? Surely I’ve travelled too far (and at too great a cost to supporters back at home!) for me just to struggle along as a wife and mum in Uruguay! What am I doing here?

Uruguayan students with Joy Oliveira Woolmer

‘It’s a joy to know these students who have basically become members of our family,’ says Joy.

As I’ve wrestled with this question of purpose and identity, I have been both rebuked and encouraged by some basic gospel truths. Rebuked, because the question really worth asking is not “What am I doing here?” but rather, “What is God doing here?” And encouraged, because the answer to this question is that God is doing something here. Both in me and through me, at the same time.

God is working …

God is always at work. And until Jesus returns, he will not stop working out his salvation plan in our world. And so no matter what our human eyes can or can’t see, we can be confident that under God, our efforts, resources and prayers are not wasted. His work is always fruitful! And this truth has fueled our perseverance over the last few years, when we have often felt like unproductive, unprofitable servants.

… in me …

The Bible assures us time and time again, that God is at work in us, teaching and transforming us by his Spirit, to make us like Jesus. He is the author and the finisher of our faith, and works all things for our good, toward this end. There is no doubt that despite my slowness and stubbornness, God will do whatever it takes to finish the work he has begun in me – and that includes moving me halfway across the world! As a friend and fellow missionary put it so well, “God is so committed to my sanctification that he would send me all the way to Uruguay just to make me more like Jesus!”

… and through me!

Amazingly, God is also at work through me. His good work in me involves good works for me to do, in every season of life. And so, I can be confident that even now, his refining work in me bears fruit, grows his kingdom and brings glory to his Son. Titus 2 has both inspired and challenged me as I’ve reflected on how this looks in my current season, as a wife to Pedro and mother to our children. It warns and encourages us to teach sound doctrine and live accordingly, as we wait for Jesus to return; the two go hand in hand.

I’ve been reminded that how I live can either commend the gospel we’ve come to preach or malign it. Indeed, the danger of bringing shame to God’s word by my daily life is very real. And at the same time, how I choose to talk about others, and what I allow to influence my behaviour and decisions, these can adorn our message. Likewise, how I relate to Pedro and our children, my character and conduct, my work within the home, these too can train others how to live their own lives.

Cooking in Uruguay

‘Inviting Uruguayans into our crazy, messy lives,’ says Joy.

Our time in Uruguay has shown us the power of teaching by example, both good and bad. As we use our home as our ministry base, students are watching us “do life” every day, often at the messiest times of day. We involve them in school pick-ups, family meal times and when Pedro is away and I need an extra pair of hands. And whether we intend it or not, what they see will either encourage or discourage them to persevere and mature in their faith. And so we pray that they will see God’s transforming work in our day-to-day lives. We pray that they will see our joy in knowing God and being known by him. We pray that they will see our certain hope and how it sustains and motivates us. We also pray that they will see repentance and grace when we fail God and hurt each other.

So, what am I doing here? Or rather, what is God doing here? He is conforming me daily into the image of Christ and teaching me to live out his redeeming work in me. Conforming and teaching me amongst the snotty noses, dirty laundry and round-the-clock meals – just as he would if I were in Sydney or any other part of the world. But in his wisdom, God is doing this in me here, in Uruguay, and among Uruguayans who, like me, need the transforming power of the gospel in their lives, whatever the season. And because this is what God is doing here, I know that my labour is not in vain.