Over the next weeks and months, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship will be sharing reflections from our CBF field personnel serving around the world. These are stories of impact and outreach, Gospel-sharing and relationship building, long-term presence and abundant love.
The following is a reflection from CBF field personnel Brooke and Mike, who serve in Southeast Asia. You can learn more about their ministries and support their work at www.cbf.net/brookemike.
This past semester a new student entered our lives. She comes from an island and a people group that many of our students come from. She is shorter than most, maybe 5-foot if I’m being generous. Though she’s 27, it’s hard to believe she’s a day over 18. Her undergraduate degree is in English and she worked as an English tutor before moving to our city to begin her second degree.
She’s soft spoken, yet asks deep questions. She has a strong faith and loves Jesus, but behind the spectacled eyes staring up at you, there is a long history of brokenness.
Most people here as everywhere else are like icebergs. You can see only a little on the surface, but much more lies underneath. Culturally, it is the pattern to hide personal problems and to be indirect and elusive about personal offenses and emotions. Brooke spent an afternoon with this girl recently and their conversation revealed a life of pain and personal struggle that most will never know.
Like most young girls, the bond between a mother and child is paramount. When she was 13, she lost her mother to cancer. From then on, she was tasked with caring for her father and her mentally handicapped older brother. She had $8 per week to maintain the household and buy groceries. As you might suspect, even in Southeast Asia, this is grossly insufficient.
Like the Biblical Ruth, she gleaned from nearby coffee plantations, picking up the fallen beans before roasting and then grinding them to sell in the city to make ends meet.
Her family lived with the stigma that comes with mental health issues, many in this country believing disabilities to be the result of familial sin. She grew up knowing firsthand the pain of loving someone with a mental handicap and the poor treatment they endured. Often, family members with disabilities will be hidden from sight, chained to a tree, or even kept with the livestock. She could only watch as her father hit her brother, after angering his father without the capacity to understand how. Her brother, too, died young taking all the good that was left in her world with him.
Her father remarried and she was on her own. She scraped by in undergrad and worked for several years to save just enough to begin her master’s degree in psychology. Due to bureaucratic constraints in this country’s healthcare system, she will never be a psychologist, but she desperately wants to know more about mental health in order to help those like her brother.
After tuition is paid, she has $287 to get her through the semester. Working odd jobs she hopes to gather enough money for the next semester’s tuition payment. She has so little, yet has so much hope and determination. She’s small, yet strong. She’s broken, but manages to be incredible.