“Being woken up with a phone call at four in the morning to be told I was needed at a meeting 150 miles away that evening, then spending nine hours on a bus before being asked the next day to speak to a room full of bishops and archbishops – that was one of the more interesting days!”
Rebecca Boardman spent 10 months in the Philippines with the short-term mission placement programme run by the Anglican mission agency USPG.
“I wouldn’t swap the experience for anything,” said Rebecca. ‘At home in Hampshire, I was fresh out of university and used to a fairly predictable way of life. In the Philippines, my church hosts drew upon all my skills and resources and I rose to the challenge.”
The USPG Journey With Us programme arranges placements of up to 12 months and is open to people from Britain and Ireland, aged 18 or over, regardless of their church background or where they are on their faith journey. No professional skills are required. There is preparation before travel, support while you are on placement, and debriefing on your return.
Rebecca had completed a geography degree at Cambridge University and was keen to explore both the world and her Christian faith.
“The placement stripped me of all my usual labels. In the Philippines, the people I met had no preconceptions. They just saw me for who I was, without masks, which was both challenging and refreshing.
“Also, there was the obsession we have in the UK with planning. Like my last minute car journey, things just happened. It was a case of just being me, in the moment, drawing upon my resources and creativity, but always with the support of my hosts.”
Over the years, those taking part in USPG Journey With Us have been to countries in every continent, finding themselves helping in schools, on farms, in churches and clinics. The point is not so much about the tasks that participants might be given, but a chance to fellowship with your hosts and experience the life and mission of the local church.
“I lived in a village at one point,” recalled Rebecca. “I had to hand flush the toilet using bucket of water and showered by tipping buckets of water over myself – so I became very aware of how much water I was using. Also we had to burn our rubbish, so I became aware of how much I was wasting. In a very direct way I was receiving a lesson in what stewardship means.”
Rebecca continued: “I had experiences that were unlike anything I’d experienced before. I visited one of the coastal communities that was hit by Typhoon Haiyan. It was just over a year after and I was with a church worker who recalled seeing the devastation.
“My assumptions about the way the church works were challenged. There were frequent gatherings and pageants. People would be dancing and being expressive with no fear of judgement. There was an openness, warmth and hospitality I’d rarely experienced before. People would open up their homes to me and welcome me in.”
The way people lived was very different in some aspects, observed Rebecca.
“It was common for married couples to have jobs in different parts of the country, so they might only see their partners three times a year. I ate chicken’s feet. I learned how to make chocolate. I learned how rice is grown on steep mountainsides and I learned how the church is supporting new farming methods that are ‘climate-smart’ because they use less pesticide and the rice is more resistant to storms and captures more carbon.”
Rebecca has no hesitation in recommending the programme to others. “The preparation and training are excellent for going into a culture and context that’s new. I felt prepared to make judgements for myself and rely on my own resources. And there was good debriefing when I got back.
“I felt stretched and refined, always with the support network of the church behind me.
“It made me realise that I’m part of a much bigger community – I felt a sense of connectedness that goes beyond our own small lives. I felt part of this huge thing that we call God’s mission. I also made friends for life and met people who I still consider to be role models.”