During the 1990s Mark van Rossen was Head Trainer for the Lions Hearing Dog national training school in Verdun, South Australias. He invested much into this role, including much study, and in addition to vet nurse training he was the recipient of a Churchill Fellowship Award, which sent him to the US to attain his Master Trainers Certificate in Police and Narcotics Canine Training.
So when considering missions, the question has to be asked … can God use a Dog Trainer?
I recently sat down with Mark and his wife, Lorene, who have recently commenced their new role as Member Care Co-ordinators for Wycliffe Bible Translators. They shared with me some of their experiences of what God can do in the lives of ordinary people and encouraged Aussies to consider Bible translation, especially as there are still 300 language groups waiting for someone to start work right now in PNG – our nearest neighbor.
In 2000 Mark and his wife Lorene commenced study at Tabor Adelaide, in the two year Diploma in Intercultural Studies. In the same year a friend of Mark’s, who was a short-term helper with Wycliffe in PNG, asked him to be part of a work party in Lae. Mark’s departure was delayed, however, as it took him more than three months to raise the necessary funds. Within three hours of stepping-off the plane, Mark was at a Bible dedication, where the Dedua speaking people were receiving portions of the New Testament for the very first time. He quickly realized that the delay was just for this purpose and it was God’s timing. He had no idea that there were people out there that didn’t have God’s word in their own language having come from Tabor where the Library was filled with Bibles and resources to grow his faith. These people had nothing until this day and he felt honored to be there.
In 2004 Mark and his family commenced calling PNG home. They spent 5 years as managers of the SIL Regional Centre in Lae (this involved building relationships with businesses, Government reps and the security services which helped Wycliffe/SIL do its work), 4 years in Ukarumpa in the Directorate serving all SIL’s regional centres, and 2 years in Port Moresby as SIL PNG Government Relations Officer (representing the work of Bible translation to the members of PNG Parliament and department leaders) and assisting the management of the Port Moresby base. In 2006 Mark was even able to use his unique skills set by supporting and training the Lae Police Force in their care of the police dogs.
As Mark and Lorene served in PNG they both came to realize the value of the education they received at Tabor Adelaide and were able to put the theoretical constructs they had learned into practice. The benefits of the training they had received was often highlighted when they encountered fellow expats in PNG who had not undergone a similar formation process, and who had little respect for the culture, worldviews or even for the people themselves – they seemed to be “mercenaries instead of missionaries”.
They very bravely lugged around many of their course handbooks all over the country:
“We loved those books and referred to them often, using them for personal study, and also as inspiration for staff Bible study times. When Dr Lorraine Beard made us memorise scriptures and recite them in class, we had no idea just how much we would need those truths to fall back on in the times ahead. Being equipped with the Word of God is so needed in animistic cultures, the spiritual warfare is real. It was one of the best methods of giving us what we would need for the field. We also passed on many of the things we learned at Tabor to our national colleagues during devotion times, they were hungry for resources and teaching, so the lessons extended far beyond us.”
During Mark and Lorene’s ministry in PNG they increasingly came to recognize that it’s not about the work you ‘do’, but about whom you represent as you do it. The massive workload, stresses, and the struggles with climate, opposition, culture and the lack of organization can crush the strongest person. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 became very significant to them.
Mark and Lorene are an encouraging example of the value of Tabor Adelaide studies, of “ordinary” people being used by God if they are obedient to His call, and the fact that no skill is ever wasted and can be used for the Kingdom. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.