Tom & Monica Liddle – East Timor
“Therefore my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Cor. 15:58 (NRSV)
This past week, we’ve hosted a team of dentists from The Gap Uniting Church in Brisbane, Australia. This year was their second visit to Clinic Immanuel. During four, ten-hour days, they occupied two rooms in the clinic pulling teeth and filling cavities on people who rarely have had oral healthcare of any kind. Probably, most Timorese families have at least one member who suffers from chronic tooth pain. Timor Leste has about 12 dentists for a population of over a million and most of them are in the capital, Dili.
Another exciting thing happened: teams from The Gap and Immanuel Church have agreed on a church partnership. Last night, we sat together with members of both churches and talked about why it’s important to be connected across cultures and national boundaries as the body of Christ. It was great! The two congregations agreed on a number of areas they could work together: youth, Sunday school, community mission, and engagement. Both congregations agreed the main goal is that they can learn from one another and pray for one another.
As we were closing our meeting last night, the group from Immanuel Church, who are also clinic staff, thanked the dental team for their visit. They expressed hope that they would return next year, noting that the need for dental care is so great here in Lospalos. Throughout the week, more than one person acknowledged that in their visit they were only “scratching the surface” of the needs. This is a constant theme in a ministry of this kind. From Moses to MLK Jr., Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, and thousands of unsung saints in between, a reality of faithful discipleship is that no matter how hard you work, you cannot fix all problems, heal all wounds, or calm all anxieties. But the good news is you don’t have to because this theme comes with an assurance and a promise: “Therefore my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Cor. 15:58 (NRSV)
The assurance is that the small things we do in faith do not go to waste. Whether marching for justice in the Poor People’s Campaign or pulling teeth in a remote corner of SE Asia – it’s not in vain.
And the promise, implied by Paul’s previous detailed discussion of the resurrection, is that our work done “in the Lord,” however seemingly insignificant, will be brought to completion in the new creation that God has inaugurated in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
These two things coupled together mean that while Christian discipleship always implies engagement with the pain and suffering of the world, we need not be overwhelmed by it. Christ’s resurrection means that a new world is underway. We are, therefore, summoned to get on board. Simple acts of mercy, words of consolation, and prophetic acts of justice are not in vain. They are the ingredients of hope and signs – pointers – of God’s future bursting into the present.
The Liddles have started a blog, if you want to read updates and learn more about the issues of the region.