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Interview: Ruth Jack, country director, Mission Aviation Fellowship

25 March 2022

‘When things get easy, we get a bit bored — we’re pioneers not settlers’

I’m currently in Scotland on home assignment, but one requirement is that we build support for MAF. It’s not my favourite part of the job, and it’s difficult at this time when people are rightly concerned about Covid, the cost of living, and the crisis in Europe.

In Arnhem Land, in Northern Australia, my day was all about running the operational working of a busy aviation hub,
with a large engineering hangar for maintenance, and space for pilot training. The role also includes responsibility for the welfare of the whole team — spouses and children, in addition to the job-holders — and connecting with partner organisations like Tearfund, Save the Children, and local missionaries.

Duncan, my husband, worked with me,
and we really enjoyed leading the team together. He’s the smartest person I know. He’s a big guy, six foot four, very athletic, an engineer by training, and he gave up earning a lot of money doing software development to come to Arnhem Land. He’ll complete his Master’s degree in Uganda — our next assignment — and take over the lead in looking after our son.

We both have a real passion to enable charitable work to be done really well,
to stringently evaluate the work and expenditure of NGOs’ work. Sometimes the smallest management changes can have a tremendous impact.

I have degrees in management and psychology and a Master’s in international development;
so I’m a team leader and project manager. I honed that working in the oil industry, doing youth work, and in aid and development. I did a lot of travelling with Tearfund, and saw some really good practice. Now, I’m doing what I always really wanted to do.

My parents would say I’m bossy,
and my children say I want to save the world. I see myself as a small cog in a large humanitarian wheel, but to do this work you have to have a certain amount of resilience, passion, and determination. My husband and I love new challenges. When things get easy, we get a bit bored — we’re pioneers not settlers.

We don’t own our own home,
but the Lord is faithful and makes sure we don’t lack. It’s amazing. We were given the grace we needed.

Being so far away from family was the most difficult thing,
and the last six months was the hardest, but we had to finish the job well. We had Samuel with us, but we’d left our two daughters behind in Scotland — they were 17 and 20 when we left — with the hope of seeing them a couple of times a year; but Covid separated us for over two years.

Arnhem Land was hot and humid,
and the work we were doing was busy, challenging, and enriching. When we arrived, we had to bring some health and order back to the running of the programme.

In addition, there’s a multiplicity of church backgrounds and theologies to bring together
in our international team from Europe and the UK, the US, and Australia and New Zealand. In Arnhem Land, we were in a town of 2000-3000 people, a mining town with a lot of white people with different churches. Team members can find their own local church, and take responsibility for their own Christian journey, but as a mission team, we have to find some common ground and work through and honour the differences; so Duncan and I were spiritual leaders, too.

The indigenous people we served, the Yolngu, also surprised us.
They are a proud and ancient people, but they live very remote lives, and their culture is as far from ours as you can imagine. In many ways, their needs are similar to those that one would find in an African country or other developing nations.

I grew up in a Christian conference centre, Overtoun House Spire Christian Fellowship
[near Dumbarton]. My grandparents had a vision for this when they returned to Scotland in the late 1960s, after serving with the Worldwide Evangelistic Crusade in Senegal for 25 years. They ran it together with my parents, and that’s where I lived until I was 18 and spent a gap year in Guyana.

It was an unusual childhood, not always easy;
but that’s where I developed my passion for international mission. I think my daughter Sarah might be interested in using her psychology in the humanitarian field, working with trauma. Samuel loves the adventure of living in different cultures, and wants to be a doctor and an engineer.

I was very young when my parents first started to include me in ministry.
I was baptised at the age of 12, and was often part of the prayer team when my dad preached. I guess my real first memory is my baptism, and also being filled with the Holy Spirit around the same time, and speaking in tongues.

I have a very close and intimate relationship with God.
I’m very aware of my heavenly Father’s love and guidance, and also aware of who I am in Jesus. I am who I am because of who he is. I want to live the fullness of all that he’s called me to on this earth, and not miss a single second.

Coming back to Scotland, we were cold!
It felt very strange — almost post-apocalyptic — due to the effect of Covid. We’d lived very protected lives in Arnhem Land because of Australia’s tight border restrictions; so we hadn’t experienced mask-wearing or lockdowns. It was all familiar but yet very different.

Our next posting is Uganda,
and we’re looking forward to a new challenge, working with a new team, developing our service. Also, some sunshine. We want to enable the team members to walk in all that God has called them to, so that we can serve those that rely on MAF to our very best.

I love what I do, and I’d like to keep doing it for as long as possible.
I love the Middle East, so perhaps I could work there one day, or move to more of a regional-manager role.

I’m happiest when I’m with my family,
but also when I’m leading a team and watching them understand who God has called them to be, and flourishing in that.

My favourite sound is laughter.

Only Jesus can give us real hope for the future.
Everything else will fade or let us down. My hope is in him alone, and it is a real and strong hope.

I pray for my family and friends;
for direction and God’s leading; to walk in his presence and experience his fullness.

I’d choose to be locked in a church with my husband, Duncan.
He’s my best friend and soulmate. He knows me better than anyone and lays down his life for me daily. If not him, then Mel, a friend and colleague based in the Arnhem Land team. Mel is the family-support worker there, but she’s also an incredible worship leader who loves Jesus and is as hungry as I am for more of him. We regularly worshipped together, sometimes for more than two hours.

Ruth Jack was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.


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