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Partner Profile – Grace

By interserve
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  • Interserve Partners are people like you. Do you ever wonder where Interserve Partners come from, what led them to Interserve, what they do with Interserve and what skills they use? Our Partner Profile series is here to help you find out more about our Partners and to help you in your journey of following the call on your life.

    Fulfilling a childhood dream…

    From a young age I’d always had the idea that I didn’t want to live a “normal” boring settled family life! I’d become a Christian as a child and gradually developed a heart for sharing the Gospel.  I used to attend missionary meetings with my family sometimes and thought how maybe one day I would live a life like that.  It seemed so adventurous!

    From my teenage years I also developed a love of the outdoors, particularly mountains, and a thirst for adventure activities. I trained as a teacher thinking that would put me in good stead if I ever wanted to work abroad, and my first job was teaching geography and physical education in Norfolk (Not great for mountains!). However, I was always more keen to work in outdoor education, teaching climbing, field studies, and adventure activities like walking and white water rafting. 

    Photo of Grace balancing on top of a mountain

    Having completed my teacher training in outdoor activities and three years in a secondary school, I used money I had saved to take a year out. Part of my travels took me to Australia and New Zealand, but I also had a friend working at a boarding school in South Asia and I was keen to explore the Himalayas. On my way home I stopped with her for a few weeks to catch up. The school attracted kids from different areas including sherpas from the mountains. I helped to teach English at the school for a few weeks, but also loved playing sport and ended up organising student-teacher football matches. I still remember playing football with the evening sun streaming across the backdrop of the Himalayan mountains, and just thinking, ‘wow!’  

    As Christmas came round, I taught the children the Christmas story. It was amazing because the story itself – with all the animals and their lifestyle – was more relevant in their context than it was mine. All about donkeys walking on footpaths, staying at an inn, living with the animals downstairs – it made total sense to them. And I realised I could really be a Christian witness there almost more easily than at home. It was a brilliant combination of the mountains, the lovely people that I was teaching, the local children who I loved, and the fact that it felt easy for me to be a Christian witness there. In fact, it seemed, easier somehow, to relate. I realised that if there was an opportunity to go back to South Asia one day, then I would love to do that.  

    Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash
    All about donkeys walking on footpaths, staying at an inn, living with the animals downstairs – it made total sense to them.

    When I came back to the UK, I went to work at the Christian Mountain Centre in North Wales, as an instructor, and then as deputy leader.  It was a great time of ministry seeing lots of young people committing their lives to Jesus, but eventually it was time to move on. 

    That was when I wondered about the possibility of going back to South Asia. I wrote to ten different mission charities – I ended up joining the Baptist Missionary Society and went off to Bible college for a term. I was clear that I wanted to use my giftings as a teacher, and that South Asia was probably the place, although I was open to other possibilities.  There was a vacancy for a geography teacher in a Christian International School for expat kids. Although I was disappointed that it wasn’t working with local kids, I could see that I was much more experienced at teaching geography to western kids anyway, and I could support families where parents were working. It seemed a good fit and that God was providing this opportunity. 

    Finding joy in the mountains

    My second time back in South Asia was just as good as the first. It’s impossible to say what was the best thing, because I love South Asia – and I love making locals laugh! I loved the mountains, I loved the food, I loved the kids. I really enjoyed teaching geography to a class of children from Pakistan, Korea, America, UK and all over the place. We even had one or two children from the military. With small classes, with well-behaved kids, it was a total joy. I mean, they were more worried about my behaviour than I was about them. You could see them thinking, “Do you think we ought to go and tell the headmaster that Miss Penney is standing on the desk?” Because you could get away with so much!  Yes, we had issues, but the parents were supportive, and kids got good results. It was a really satisfying context for teaching – I wasn’t policing children and managing classes and disciplining all the time – I could actually teach. 

    It wasn’t all fun though. I became principal of the school during times of major unrest in the country. It was frontline – risky everyday dependence on God. It was massively scary trying to make decisions for other people’s children. But learning to rely on God, and knowing people were surrounding me, supporting me and praying for me was amazing, and drew me closer to God. 

    One of the best things about being in South Asia was being part of the mission community because I was involved at the school. I felt really connected to people. I never felt single – I felt much more single when I came home. It suited me well because I’d been living in community at the Christian Mountain Centre as well. It didn’t matter whether you were married or single or a family – you just got on with it. It was a wholistic experience being part of peoples’ lives, living as a community of Christians with a real sense of shared purpose, and it was the thing that I mourned most when I got back here. 

    I still remember playing football with the evening sun streaming across the backdrop of the Himalayan mountains, and thinking, ‘wow!’

    A new chapter with Interserve

    Until this point I had been a mission partner with the Baptist Missionary Society rather than Interserve. However, in South Asia I mixed with lots of other expats, including many Interservers from Australia, Brazil and all over the world. They seemed to be a happy mix, being more international and interdenominational in flavour! While I was still in South Asia, one of the Interserve team moved home and became chairperson of Interserve Scotland. He suggested I apply for the position of National Director of Interserve Scotland and thought it would be a good fit. “Would you like to think about it and pray about it?” I knew that I could work with Interserve from the people that I’d met.  I was attracted to the culture that they created through living out their values and faith, and having fun!  Even so, it was hard to come in and lead an organisation I had never worked in before, but I learnt a lot.  

    I recently stopped working for the National Office as a staff member, and started as an Interserve Partner. My current role involves supporting the wellbeing of Partners, staff and leadership in their walk with the Lord, through spiritual accompaniment and leading retreats.   

    Looking back at my time in South Asia, it was fantastic to work with so many different people from different cultures and backgrounds, and having to rely totally on God through prayer and fellowship. I thank God for these memories that I will always remember and treasure.   

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