A lot of us have come to believe that a mission field has to be in a different country. But sometimes we forget that Jesus also calls each of us to be a missionary right here in our own communities. For us to reach the lost, we have to be involved wherever God has called us.
Elena Ciobo is the Missions Pastor at Gateway Baptist Church, and has worked in missions for almost 30 years. She recently joined us on Rise & Shine to share her journey from school teaching in Brisbane, to working and overseeing training for Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in some of the most remote parts of South East Asia.
At the age of 27, Elena began her missionary journey ministering to the red light district in Amsterdam. She then moved on to training for YWAM in Switzerland. After that, Elena spent the majority of her time in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
‘I oversaw those parts of the world for YWAM,’ says Elena. ‘I trained the trainers to run the discipleship training school. But it’s all mission, whether it’s the unreached or unengaged overseas, or those right here in our own community.’
Throughout her many years as a missionary, Elena has never married. According to her observations, this can have some negative implications. However, she has discovered that, on a personal level, it has allowed her to thrive in environments that aren’t ideal for raising a family.
Building God’s Kingdom
‘Obviously I’ve been able to give a large portion of my life to serving,’ says Elena. ‘Just being available and flexible with travel is a real positive to being single. I often say to people, I’m single by choice, only it’s not my choice. It’s just the way the circumstances of my life rolled out.’
Elena says that even though she knows what she’s doing is building God’s kingdom, it can be hard to be by herself sometimes. There is also a price to pay for financial security, such as not having a big retirement fund or a nest egg.
‘There are also some challenges with people coming in and out of your life,’ says Elena. ‘It’s hard to put down roots, especially now that I’m actually back working as a Pastor in Brisbane. I’m having to rebuild relationships after nearly 30 years of living overseas.’
Trusting the Lord
We can all be tempted to compare singleness and marriage, but Elena believes they both come with their own complexities. ‘I want to live my life without regret,’ she says. ‘To get to the end and say, Lord, I’ve run the race. If it should be that in my fifties I don’t meet someone, I’m trusting the Lord. But at the same time, I’m very open if God has someone out there.’
There’s a book Elena recommends by Sam Alberry, titled 7 Myths About Singleness. ‘Sam talks about marriage being seen as a highway with all these off-ramps,’ she says. ‘You can talk about children, you can talk about anniversaries. Whereas singleness is seen as a cul de sac. It’s an awkward U-turn in a conversation. A lot of people don’t know what to say, especially to older singles and they just assume you’ve chosen it.’
Elena says the best way to change people’s perceptions is to build relationships with them. That is especially relevant in her role as Missions Pastor at Gateway Baptist Church. ‘People realise that I’m authentic. As they get to know me, I have opportunities to share God’s word and encourage and disciple, particularly those with a call to mission.’
Elena likes to speak to the reality for some of the young people who are about to head out. ‘In the kingdom of God, be prepared for whatever He calls you to. Be prepared to say, God, whether I marry or not, my heart is to seek You first, to seek Your kingdom.’