As this post goes live, I am at a conference in Japan.
We recently came to a firm decision that at the end of 2014 we will return from Mongolia.
It was not an easy decision, and in this post I am going to both explain and explore the reasons, the implications, and some of the attendant issues.
We first came to Mongolia in March of 2012, about 2.5 year ago. Our intention was to learn Mongolian well, and spend an open, but longish, number of years serving here, with an eye to theological education ministry. In 2013 I began teaching at UBTC, part time for one semester before switching to full-time. This present semester is my 4th, and the end of a second year. Overall this is a fairly 'short' time.
At the same time, beginning in March 2012, I commenced a PhD program. Although I am a fairly talented and resourceful individual, pursuing a doctorate in patristic theology while in Ulaanbaatar has proved challenging. The two great challenges are (a) availability of resources, and (b) undivided attention. Teaching a full-time load in a foreign language has proved enjoyable but taxing. While I have many resources, access to secondary literature is a major barrier.
Over this past summer I gave considerable thought, and prayer, to not only our immediate, but our long-term future. Although I have no prophetic 'word from the Lord', I've come to believe that returning to Australia at this time to pursue full-time studies will bring greater benefits and greater opportunities for life-long ministry in the future. Primarily this has to do with completing the PhD, and working in the related of fields NT studies, Church History, Patristics, and Greek (and Latin) language.
In many ways leaving the 'mission field' is very difficult especially when it's voluntary. I think within evangelical circles there is a simultaneous problem of making too much of missionaries, and too little of missionary life. That is, 'missionary' is a title with an unhelpful mystique and prestige, it's the highest rank you can achieve, short of martyrdom. To step back from that into other worlds, other ministries, can seem like, and for us feel like, a kind of 'failure'. This is simply not true, but that doesn't mean it doesn't feel true. However, I can honestly say that over these past almost-3 years, that we have "done good" in Mongolia. It wasn't a waste of time, it was a 'success', if you want to use that language. At the same time, we make too little of missionary life, because we think missionaries are so great, and fail to adequately appreciate the real difficulties and sacrifices involved in living in foreign cultures, ministering in strange lands. I would say that we have done pretty well, and been well supported, but it has been taxing.
It's also quite difficult because we are well aware that there are significant, great, gospel needs in Mongolia, and that we will leave some 'holes' here. Holes that God can fill, but holes nonetheless. This will be true at the college, at our international church, in our organisation's UB team, and in our personal relations. We are at a point where my language skills in particular are 'quite good', having been able to preach in Mongolian a few times over the summer.
Returning also comes with a financial cost for us. Perhaps ironically, to go from missionaries back to Australia takes us from a surprisingly financially stable situation, to an incredibly uncertain one. For my part, I am hoping to take up a scholarship as well as find some part-time work to support us. My wife, too, will be exploring employment possibilities. My assurance in this is that God's provision is not merely a 'special promise for missionaries', but his enduring character.
At present, we will continue here until the end of November, and I will see out the teaching semester. We will return to Sydney where I will pursue full-time doctoral studies for the next 1.5 years. During that time I am planning, Deo volente, to visit Mongolia at least three more times to teach some intensive courses. At that end of that year and a half, we will again re-assess what future possibilities there are for mission, ministry, work, and the Lord's Kingdom.
For those of you who pray, I would ask you to commit this time and our plans to the Lord.