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For a book that was never meant to be a text or commentary on Christian mission, my memoir has been a failure from the start. 

A reviewer’s commendation pronounced it a “hard-hitting and humble mission memoir . . . a must-read for mission students”.

Ascent, Crest, Perspective: the making of a bamboo camel was never meant to elicit such judgement.

 The dominant theme was an account of my total dependence on Providence during a 20-year Ascent of preparation and wondering, What next?, then arriving at a Crest of certainty and purpose that drove another 20 years of focused ministry in various parts of Asia. 

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My intention was to determine a narrative of my life gleaned from 40 years of journaling, however, the journals imposed their narrative on me. And so Perspective was a necessary reflection on the Ascent and Crest in an attempt to understand how Providence turned preparation into purpose, particularly in the years when undiagnosed clinical depression accompanied operational mission work. The story swings between despair and hope, sadness and joy, discontent but also fulfilment as Providence guided me through various mission-related contexts involving journalism, media, community health and development, academia, research, and training development. 

But readers’ comments were quick to focus on it being “such a different story! It’s not often that we get a memoir with the professional, family and personal struggles of a missionary”; “a gritty story, warts and all”. 

 A pastor insisted the memoir was in fact a mission textbook that “exposed your vulnerability and humanity” because missionaries visiting his church when on home assignment were uncomfortable talking about their family or personal troubles or problems with the mission or on the field, for fear of being judged as being weak or unsuited for the mission life. 

Such responses have forced me to accept that the account of Providence in my life can be of value to mission leaders, mission students, and perhaps missionaries, but I insist my memoir is not a missions text with prescriptive and linear mission themes. Rather it reads as an unfolding drama with subplots and twists, tension and release, conflict and solution journaled across four decades with readers to connect the threads and reflect on them. 

And, just like a good drama, only do the last pages provide the cathartic reveal of what it is to be a bamboo camel. I like to think it gives permission for missionaries to embrace the reality that when it seems the pieces are falling apart, they are actually coming together. Would that missions be better at giving their field workers permission to embrace such realities and the support they need at such times?


*Please find a summary of Ross James' book "Ascent, Crest, Perspective: the making of a bamboo camel" here.


Ross James

Ross James

Dr Ross James has lived and worked in Asia, and supported the design and development of projects in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. While still a missionary with SIM, Ross founded Health Communication Resources, a not for profit organisation that equips health and community development practitioners and communities to improve health and wellbeing through community-centred media. He is an associate of Amplifying Voices.

Ross describes himself as a pracademic because of his practical role in translating academic research and communication theory into tools and strategies that can be applied by communities in their own contexts. He participates in projects that involve the design and development of training, health communication strategy, and research. He has written research papers and training manuals related to these areas. 

Ross now lives in Western Australia with Jill. They have two daughters and six grandchildren.  

 

TransitionWriting a Different Story: A letter to the Mission Board

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