Personal details of the people in this story have been changed.
“Local men often just live whatever lifestyle they choose but women are still generally doing most of the work and are home with the kids."
Carol, her husband Anthony, and their three young children live in Central Asia. Officially, their role is church planting amongst the Muslim Yee people, but as yet there are too few believers in the area to plant one.
First they must introduce people to Jesus, by forging relationships amonst the Yee. Carol and her family’s first step was to align themselves with Yee culture; because Carol dresses modestly and they only eat halal they seem less "Western" - less foreign - to the community. But it also means the family has to follow typical Yee gender roles.
“I do spend most of my day cooking each meal, everything has to be from scratch. Cleaning up – the dust is so pervasive – and dealing with the usual things you deal with overseas,” she says. “Blackouts and the water has gone off again and the toilet is blocked up and we’re homeschooling. So that’s my day, homeschooling and housework.”
While it is easier for Anthony to go out and build relationships with local men by sharing meals and having conversations about marriage, sin and the Gospel – it is harder for Carol to do so as a woman, since the local cultural expectation is that she remains at home.
“I want to be the one out there doing things and having ministries,” she says. “I don’t want to be in the kitchen making bread three times a day and wiping bottoms. I want to be doing cool stuff, I want to be doing what I was trained to do and qualified for.”
Spending days at home like any other Yee woman would, however, means Carol is communicating her respect for the Yee culture - something that is especially important in this bi-cultural city. The majority people often look down on the Yee. Carol says being a mother also makes her more “normal” in the eyes of their friends and neighbors, though being “normal” is a tentative proposition at best.
“I go to the bazaar and it can be overwhelming,” Carol says of the pointing and gawking the family still gets, even after three years. “But at the same time, I have really good conversations with people because they want to know, ‘Where are you from? Oh you have three kids! Wow, that’s great!’ So it can open up opportunities. I guess it’s a double-edged sword.”
Spending so much time with her children means that Carol is able to witness them find their own faith in God as well.
“One of the greatest joys is hearing some of their prayers and hearing them tell him about their struggles and also tell him what they think of him, what they love about him and ask him for help,” she says, tearing up. “That’s amazing, six-year-olds doing that is really beautiful to me.”
A missionary kid herself, Carol empathises with the struggles her children face. It pains her to watch them come to terms with where God has led their parents, and how that means leaving their grandparents and dog and going to a foreign school that they don’t like. But she finds great joy and comfort in watching them finding their own faith in him.
Slowly and tentatively, Carol’s life at home comes to include other Yee women, doing cooking lessons and language exchange.
“Sometimes it takes months to build up trust with somebody, for them to see that I am not a threatening Western woman,” Carol says. “I am modest, I am faithful to my husband. Over time they tend to open up about their personal issues and then I can share.”
Carol tells the story of a young woman whose father had arranged a marriage for her. In situations like this, Carol doesn’t always know what to do or say. Instead of offering advice, she prays with the women of the community.
“I pray with her and ask for wisdom for her rather than giving her the answers, saying, ‘Let’s ask for wisdom for what you should do and ask him to show you,’” she explains.
Despite the discouragement and the difficulties of being a wife and mother in this part of Asia, Carol remains convinced that this is where she and her family have been led work.
“I think being a young mum in a Muslim setting means that I really daily have to – I don’t want to – but I have to keep giving God my pride and confessing my pride,” she says. “God isn’t asking me to try to have 'successful ministries’ outside of the house, but right now he is wanting me, just for this season of life, to be wiping bottoms.”