…we walk by faith and not by sight. 2 Cor. 5:7
On Tuesday I was at one of the weekly home worship gatherings that form a core part of the pastoral ministry for the Protestant Church in Timor Leste(IPTL). The house where we were was typical of many in Timor Leste: a simple corrugated iron shack with a rock foundation and a dirt floor. Such houses don’t have windows so the host had left both the back and front doors open to allow light to shine on our gathering. Out the back door I could see the neighbor processing food gathered from the surrounding forest. Through the front door I could see inside our host’s kitchen. A mound of earth with a fire on top was cooking something in a smoke-stained kettle. Our gathering included two moms and ten children, ages 5 to 17. Alberto, the pastoral intern, was sharing a reflection on Matthew 5:13-14. He proclaimed to the gathered community: “…You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world.” As I heard that, I was reminded how often the Bible draws our attention away from the rich and powerful and toward the poor, the meek and those who mourn (Matt. 5:3-5). And that is where our attention has been as we settle back into our ministry in Lospalos.
In September, the Synod of IPTL assigned me as a pastor in the region surrounding Immanuel Church Lospalos. In addition to Immanuel, there are five rural congregations in the area; this brings new meaning to the notion of a “multi-point parish.” Although I’m the only ordained minister in the region, Alberto and several lay leaders share the work of teaching, preaching, youth work and pastoral care. Monica continues her work in Clinic Immanuel, doing consultation, teaching the staff and helping IPTL develop its health program.
Six months after we arrived, the rainy season is finally upon us. And none too soon. This time of year is known as the “hungry season” among Timorese. It’s the time between the end of the dry season when vegetables are plentiful and the beginning of the corn harvest when food is once again more reliable. Typically, the rain starts in December, but this year it was late and sporadic. The result has been a delayed and inconsistent corn crop. A few weeks ago Monica asked the six clinic staff if their families had enough to eat. All of them said yes, with the caveat that by the end of the month home budgets were tight and food scarce. All of these folks are salaried full-time workers. Yet most Timorese have no such employment; they are subsistence farmers who eke out a living hawking vegetables and selling basic supplies from roadside kiosks.
The rainy season always brings more sick people to the clinic. January saw days with more than 100 patients. This week, a mom and dad came in with their 5-month-old son Jose. The child had had diarrhea and vomiting for 5 days and was refusing breast milk. But the parents didn’t realize how serious this was and by the time they brought him to the clinic, he was dying of dehydration. Sadly this situation is not unusual in a country where malnutrition and poor sanitation combine with a deficit of education to create a situation where kids die from preventable illnesses. Since July, Clinic Immanuel has been doing more preventative health education. Both in the clinic and in the remote village of Sorolua, staff have been working to help communities understand the fundamentals of good health and how to recognize pneumonia, tuberculosis and malnutrition.
As a family, the transition back to Lospalos has been a challenge. But by God’s grace we feel like we’ve finally landed and settled into a routine. Nevertheless, making a move like this with a 6 year old and a pre-teen was, to put it mildly, rocky! Our daughter Hannah misses her friends and family, her school and the opportunities available to children in the United States. Yet she’s always been a “glass half-full” kid with a good sense of humor. While lamenting the “sad” lack of hot water and “dearth of Target stores,” she enjoys knowing that her daily task of cooking the clinic staff rice and vegetables on a kerosene stove is a skill few of her American friends have. And although Simon was born here, during our years in the U.S., both kids’ Tetun language skills went into hibernation. Thankfully, both are now speaking Tetun fluently again and picking up other languages as well. Last week, Simon started first grade at a public school where Portuguese is the language of instruction. In our first assignment Hannah went to a public school as well. This time she has opted for homeschooling, so in addition to our work we also spend time each day teaching and learning with Hannah.
Our life in Timor – like life anywhere – has its challenges. But ours is a life rich with the things that matter most: family and friends, meaningful work and a community of faith that, despite our quirks as Americans, has taken us into its life. We give thanks for the opportunity to serve the church alongside global partners witnessing to God’s abundant love, justice and mercy.
Yours in Christ,
Tom Liddle serves with the Protestant Church of East Timor. His appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.