Over the last ten years Mat and Katy Linley and their children have been working in Mandritsara, northern Madagascar, on a project seeking to plant and strengthen churches among the unreached Tsimihety people group through a hospital, school, and radio station.
Some years, our project had the privilege of welcoming and receiving up to 100 visitors and short termers; no easy feat considering our remote location, requiring either an internal flight with MAF or Helimission, or a bush-taxi journey of at least 22 hours. Despite the logistics of getting people to us, our experience of short termers was very positive! God brought many amazing and gifted people with all types of skills at the right time. We’ve welcomed short term accountants, telephone engineers, Bible teachers, builders, teachers, multi-media experts, electricians, musicians, as well as many medical professionals. Some have come to fulfil a particular role at a particular time whereas others, such as medical and nursing students, come for work experience and learning. However, roles on the mission field are rarely fixed and there is a great need for flexibility. The role someone came to fulfil might not be the main reason God brought them there at that time.
We have really appreciated short termers’ practical help, whether to fulfil a particular need or to bring out Land Rover spares, parcels, or bacon from home! We have been astonished at God’s timing and we’ve been reminded of his care for us in unexpected ways. When a young guy arrived as an ‘extra’ with a team from Belgium, he asked us if there was anything he could do to help. It turns out he was a Bobcat driver back home and so he made a sports pitch using a Bobcat which also ‘happened’ to be there at the time! Or the accountant who arrived just days after a financial crisis erupted, something we hadn’t anticipated during his 9-month application process.
Sometimes we were tired at the thought of showing more people round and teaching them how to buy food and cook without getting ill, but the reality was usually energy-giving rather than energy-zapping. It was a great encouragement to us as a family to meet new people, to re-tell our story and be reminded of why we were there. Short termers often provided friendship and encouragement – we are still in touch with many now. Some support us or the project in prayer and/or financially as a result of their visit.
We are reminded of short termers who cooked us a special meal to enjoy while they looked after our children. Many have been willing to teach our children sport early in the morning before work, or quietly read and chat with them. Many would get involved in family activities – what great mentors our children have had over the years.
We have been blessed by the ministry of many wise and loving short termers who have led Bible studies, prayed, spoken into a situation or have modelled keeping quiet in other circumstances. Chats throughout and towards the end of their stay would provide time for debrief and feedback. It was important to hear how God had spoken to them during their time, to hear what they’d learnt and to learn from them. These times remind us of God’s calling on our lives, his faithfulness, and help to prevent cynicism. One of the greatest privileges has been discipling many short termers and helping some along the way to longer term service.