It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Melanie* recalls her first days of TIMO on an Indian Ocean Island and the struggles and joys of learning the heart language.

As I stepped off the plane into the heat and humidity of a little tropical island, I had little idea of what the next two years would hold. I knew TIMO was all about language and building relationships, but what would we actually do? TIMO values told me that ‘being’ was as important as ‘doing’, but I couldn’t get my western, activity-orientated brain round what that actually meant. As for language learning, I couldn’t even say the name of this language, let alone have the first clue about how to learn an unwritten language. I still wasn’t sure why I was spending two years learning a language spoken by only 300,000 people. Surely it made more sense to learn French? Behind all these questions was a great sense of inadequacy – ‘What on earth do I know about sharing Jesus with Muslims?’ and ‘How do I do it without getting the entire team kicked off this almost entirely Muslim island?’

It-was-the-best-of-times-lady Melanie was encouraged to get out into the community to build relationships with the Islanders

As we stared rather cluelessly at the French arrival form, right on cue our team leaders arrived. Not only did they guide us through the form, but they continued to guide, challenge, encourage and inspire us throughout the next two years. I for one wouldn’t have made it through the first few days, let alone two years, were it not for the wisdom, love and passion of our longsuffering team leaders! As a team we learnt together, prayed together, and laughed together. We were each other’s friends, family and church. Together we struggled to work out how best to share Jesus with the islanders, what an island church should look like, and where the line was between boldness and foolishness. We didn’t always agree, but as we met together for weekly team days, we aimed to be iron sharpening iron.

“That’s when you realise why TIMO is about learning the heart language… it opens doors – literally.”

Though team is a key part of TIMO, we were encouraged from Day 1 to get out in the community and begin building relationships with the islanders: to begin to understand their culture, and to allow Jesus to help us to love them, even when we were hot, tired, and frustrated with language learning. On our second day, we were introduced to our language helper, taught a few simple greetings and sent out in pairs, not to return until we had said our greetings to 20 people! This was the pattern over the next two years: learn a few more phrases, practice them and then share them with all and sundry. At times it was excruciatingly painful; I’d forget phrases, or worse remember them only to have no one understand me. But on other occasions I’d greet the first lady I saw, and before I knew it I was dragged into her house, introduced to every relative, presented with a huge plate of food, and urged in no uncertain terms to return tomorrow. That’s when you realise why TIMO is about learning the heart language and why we learn it the way we do: it opens doors – literally. As we spent time with our friends and neighbours, our language abilities grew and relationships deepened. They saw in our lives what it meant to follow Jesus, and we began to see where the barriers to Jesus were, and, perhaps more importantly, where the bridges stood, and we began to earn the right to be heard. TIMO: two years spent continually out of my comfort zone and often out of my depth. Was it easy? No. Did it change my life? Absolutely! Melanie (*not her real name) is now undertaking further training in cross-cultural mission with a view to longer-term outreach to Muslim people.

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