Coaching for the Kingdom

It’s an understatement to say Marian* loves her job, which has developed to embrace training/mentoring of believers as a core part of the work. “It’s amazing,”  she says. “There’s no higher privilege than serving as a soul companion to others on a spiritual journey.”

Though Marian qualified as a professional life coach in Singapore in 2010, she was discipling young students at her church soon after arriving in Asia in 2003 — many of them became good friends who still keep in touch with her. Her heart is to walk with people and see them grow.  “When I talk about coaching people I see that as discipleship too,” she says.  “I get to see people grow before my eyes. It is such a privilege. God is opening up wonderful opportunities.” This ranges from training sessions to one-on-one coaching of Christian leaders of local organisations, as well as colleagues who phone up and ask her to have a conversation with them through a challenging situation or particular task.

Marian’s start as a mission partner was in a different place in more ways than one. She had worked as a chartered accountant, and after a year of bible training, aged 29 she headed to Nigeria as the mission’s office manager. Three and a half years later she returned home, burnt out and disillusioned. God restored her heart, and with her elders’ advice and support she sought a part time finance role, so she could use some of her other gifts as well. Once in Asia, she soon gravitated to into leadership roles, as well as the smaller, manageable finance job. Marian has served there ever since, except for a year’s sabbatical.

“I get credibility here from having stuck around for a number of years; so many foreigners come and go. Also, I always let people know I’m older than them because in this culture it’s important to learn from those older than you, although it’s fairly obvious from my wrinkles! When I coach people they trust me as an outsider; that’s an honour. People don’t easily trust others with their problems in this culture as there is a fear of being condemned. People I coach tell me, ‘thank you for not judging me’.

“One thing that comes up in coaching both Asians and foreigners is where people say, “I know I should go and talk to that person, but I wouldn’t know what to say.” Or, “I’m not good at conflict.”  I realised that as believers we know the theory about what the Bible says about forgiveness and reconciliation, but we often don’t know what to say when we approach people. So I put together a 4-5 hour practical training about how to have hard conversations well. There are cultural issues that also make this difficult. Gender issues and power distance, for instance. It may be okay to have a hard conversation with your peers or those under you, but it is very difficult, or almost impossible, to approach those above you. And it’s not always accepted for a woman to approach a man, or for a man to be able to hear from a woman. Being an indirect culture also means that how you approach hard conversations may require some extra navigation.

Recently, within two weeks, Marian came across four new believers coming from four different religions in her area – and each had come with a worldview vastly different from the Biblical worldview. “The church is growing with so many first-generation believers here,” she says.  “Both in the official church and the unofficial church you’ve got so many new people coming who need discipling — so it excites me to be a part of that. These are exciting times!”

[*Our mission partner’s name has been changed.]