Interview by Melanie Crosbie | GC3 Youth Director Assistant
This article is based on an interview with Katie, a social worker with a passion for justice.
Katie grew up in Te Awakairangi (Lower Hutt) with her parents, three younger sisters and their Yorkshire Terrier. In 2011 she was a gapper with Headspace and went on from there to study social work, where she was privileged with the experience of a four-month placement in Thailand. Now a registered social worker with experience in mental health, Katie is excited to have been given the opportunity to move back to Thailand to work with Partners, the organisation she spent her placement with.
Where did you get your passion for cross-cultural missions?
My passion for cross-cultural missions is something that has developed over the years.
I remember during my intermediate school years my parents wanted to take us overseas, but they felt it was important to do more than just ‘touristy’ things, so we ended up going to visit two of our sponsored children in Tanzania. Since then my passion for justice, my willingness to empower others and my enjoyment of travel have come together, esulting in my decision to do cross-cultural missions. Another part of my life that I see as being great for developing my long-term missions goal was my time with Headspace in 2011.
Headspace provided a practical stepping stone for moving out of home. It taught me how to treat culture with respect and it exposed me to people of different faith communities. My time in the program also gave me a small taste of what serving on the mission field might look like.
What made you decide to study social work?
Following high school, I knew that I wanted to do missions, but I also felt that I should get training in something that would make me more useful in the mission field. I wanted my training to be in an area I was passionate about, that would upskill me for working cross-culturally with people and that would be as versatile as skills like teaching or nursing. In the end the decision was between counselling and social work. With input from a few people, I landed n social work, thinking that it’s holistic nature would provide great practical skills for working with people. There is one person in particular that I can remember contributing to that decision. He was a social worker, originally from my church, who at the time was working in Thailand and I got to meet with him during the Headspace trip. Meeting with him clearly showed me the capacity of social work to be used in a missional way.
Can you tell us a bit about how your passion and skills developed over your time of study?
Over the course of my study there were a few things that helped me to feed my passion. I enjoyed hearing other people’s stories, keeping in contact with people who were in the mission field and doing my fourth-year placement in Thailand with an organisation called Partners. Partners is a Relief and Development Agency who work with displaced people from Burma; either displaced within Burma (internally displaced peoples) or those who have fled to Thailand or Bangladesh. Their vision is “Free, full lives for children affected by conflict and oppression”. Partners is in a unique position within the conflict in Burma where they are able to reach those whom a lot of organisations cannot get to (for more information on Partners visit https://www.partners.ngo). I was able to spend four months there and I found it hugely valuable. I got to spend time in Chiang Mai working at a migrant community development centre where we were developing material for children around self-esteem and doing some basic teaching around social work models. From here we were able to take the self-esteem teaching we had developed into Burma to teach some school children. I was able to teach community development to people in internally displace peoples camps. My time there reignited my passion to do mission. It provided a ‘testing ground’ for what it could look like in a more long-term context and it gave me a small taste of the challenge of transferring things I have learnt in a Western cultural context to a different cultural space. It also provided a small view of the needs in that area which helped me make informed decisions about where I should work in New Zealand to gain the skills I saw were needed. An area that I noticed a need to learn more about was mental health, so I did a post-graduate paper in mental health and addictions along with gaining work experience in the field. I was able to build on practical skills and theories simply through having the opportunity to apply them in practice.
Can you tell me about support and advice you have received that has been useful as well as advice you would give people wanting to support others with long-term missions aspirations?
I’ve found that my family has been a great all-round support for me. I have a great appreciation for my grandparents ho also have a passion for mission and have continually prayed for and encouraged me. Their experience in the mission’s field has been a source of stories and wisdom that I have been able to learn from. The church has also been a really great support for me in the way they have been a source of community that have supported my personal growth in God. Something I would say has been essential for me has been having a small group of supportive friends who have walked the journey with me and encouraged me along the way. I would say to anyone looking to go into missions to be intentional about getting a small group of people who are dedicated to praying for you regularly and that you can ring at three in the morning for prayer if you need to! My other big piece of advice would be to be intentional about building strength in your relationship, heart knowledge and trust in God.
I think to people wanting to support people looking to do long-term mission, I would say pray with them and be honest about what you feel God might be saying to them. Other ways people have supported me that are helpful are often small practical things like offering to help me sell my car, printing off my pamphlets for free and just having people I can talk to about my journey with God. I’ve found it to be a really humbling experience to see other people offering to run fundraisers for me and obviously financial support has always been very appreciated! And last but not least, simply give them much needed encouragement on their journey!