Kissing a Lifestyle of Convenience Goodbye
I’ll be up front – I am writing this at the worst possible time for my family and me. Rachel and I are in the throes of moving from Thailand to Vietnam. Not only are there the logistical challenges of visas, accommodation, flights, ‘yard sales’ (to borrow a term from our American friends) and endless packing, there’s also the emotional upheaval of goodbye meals with friends and colleagues, daily ‘lasts’ of what have been routine activities for the past five years, and a variety of emotions that range between excitement, sentiment and a growing realisation that we have little idea of what we are heading into.
We had our final packing day on Tuesday, and then we officially leave Chiang Mai, Thailand, on Thursday. In fact, since this is scheduled to go live on the second Friday in April, you’re most likely reading it on our very first day as official residents of Hanoi. Oh, and add a three and one-year-old into the mix, and you will be rightly wondering if spending time writing this is the wisest use of my time… and you’d be in good company with my long-suffering wife. (Editor’s note: thank you, Rachel!).
The Urgent Requires The Urgent
But it was the theme of ‘urgency’ relating to the Sermon on the Mount, and our forming lifestyles ready for Jesus’ return, that gripped me. It was the agreement in my spirit that the Christian world view should form a lifestyle that joins in on the urgency we see throughout scripture – whether it’s one of the old testament prophets berating Israel, or Paul writing history-shaping letters from prison, or Jesus preaching to the masses on a mountain. So even in the midst of a major, life-changing event such as moving to another country, I appreciated the urgency behind doing this.
Amidst all the current frenetic activity, the reason behind why we are moving (again) is never more than a glimpse away towards our two boys – let me explain because Rachel and I are living an urgent lifestyle because of an urgent problem in our world:
Since 2003, I have worked for an organisation called Care for Children. There are eight million children living in orphanages around the world, with the majority of them in Asia (UNICEF 2011). At Care for Children, we are working in partnership with Asian governments, developing their child welfare systems, to help move orphaned and vulnerable children out of orphanages and into good, local families (foster care). It is highly strategic work, founded on a remarkable series of prophecies given to the founder, and has already helped transform hundreds of thousands of lives throughout the continent. Yet it wasn’t until November 2013 that I experienced an extraordinary moment to give me a much deeper appreciation of the mission and urgency behind our work.
How Does God See Us?
I was visiting an orphanage in Thailand. The boys were playing a football match, and I noticed Noo Lek, who, at only six was clearly the youngest of the group, but his delicate frame could easily have passed for a four-year-old. As he dashed past me, chasing the football in front of him, determinedly competing against boys twice his age and size, I couldn’t help but see Theo in him, my own precious son (only six months old at the time). It was an epiphany that stopped me in my tracks because I realised that’s how God sees us! Surely, the very essence of the gospel message is this: that when God the Father sees us, otherwise preoccupied and dashing past Him, He also sees in us His own beloved son Jesus, who, through a compassion so strong, and grace so audacious, He sent to earth to die and rise again, and make possible our adoption into His family!
Child welfare organisations the world over agree that children living in institutions are amongst the most vulnerable in the world. I find it joyfully gob-smacking that God attaches His glory and majesty to helpless orphans in need of a Dad (i.e. you and me). It is classic upside-down-kingdom-stuff that we see bursting out of Jesus’ sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7). To borrow the same language: ‘Blessed are the orphans, because you can be adopted into God’s everlasting family.’ Despite being exposed to the desperate messiness all around us, it still cannot extinguish the great hope we have in Jesus and his imminent return.
OK, But Really, Why The Urgency?
I know that none of us have to look beyond our own home towns to see the trail of destruction sin has had on families and communities, never mind traipsing around SE Asia; I have family members in the UK who are social workers that specialise in child protection, and they can share some harrowing stories. But perhaps the sceptical amongst you (count me in), could dismiss all this as ‘confusing the kingdom of God with a socialistic program’ (Francis Schaeffer). After all, there are many non-Christians in the field of orphan care.
So, allow me to finish with the following:
The Old and New Testaments are bridged by the same prophecy (Malachi 4:5-6 & Luke 1:17).
“And he will go on before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to prepare for the Lord a people made ready.” (LEB)
I often share my opinion that the greatest cause of social ills, other than sin, is men not fulfilling their responsibilities as good husbands and fathers. So critical is their (our) role, it is how God is going to prepare a people made ready for Him – by turning the hearts of the fathers to their children.
In a very practical way, by working with a government to make it possible for fathers to care for orphaned and vulnerable children in their own families, I believe that this is how to prepare the fertile ground upon which the gospel can be sown in any nation, as it uniquely mirrors God’s own heart – it’s how He sees us.
Therefore, if my family is called to pack up our lives every few years and move on to a new nation to help prepare her people for the coming of the Lord, then so be it:
“Thus says Yahweh of hosts: ‘It will happen again that nations and the inhabitants of many cities will come. And the inhabitants of one city will go to another city, saying, “Let us go immediately to entreat the favour of Yahweh, to seek Yahweh of hosts—I also will go!”” (Zechariah 8:21).
Practical Lifestyle Take-Away #1
Our practical lifestyle take-away is therefore: Are you ready to explore what it means to ‘immediately entreat the favour of Yahweh’, to go from city to city (room to room, person to person, exploit to exploit), and to trust in the great hope that is found in Jesus despite the mess you see around you? Go to God in faith and in prayer – see what He says!
This is what keeps Rachel and me going – but perhaps give us six or so months to recover from the last few weeks before you ask!
Thomas and Rachel Abbott, together with their two sons, Theodore and Barnabas, live in Hanoi, Vietnam, where they are working with Care for Children. Thomas has now spent over half his life (18 years) in Asia, starting in Pakistan where his parents were missionaries. Their story has recently featured in a book by Dr. Ernest Crocker: ‘When Oceans Roar – Powerful True Stories of Courageous Faith and Changed Lives’ (available on Amazon).