Liz Parker, author of Immeasurably More, talks to 10ofThose about serving God alongside her husband Andrew with Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) in Africa for the last 12 years.
When did you realise that God was calling you to mission work?
I think it was a gradual realisation that God’s work happens all over the world. From being very little I had seen pictures from my mum’s mission work in Uganda, but it wasn’t until I was in my 20s and was praying very specifically with Andrew that we started to feel like actually we could go overseas and be available and serve God in another country.
You moved to South Africa for Andrew to train as a pilot, but with no guarantee that MAF would accept you. Was that difficult?
Definitely – to go to South Africa, using up all our savings and trusting God to provide more, was terrifying. I was really very afraid. I’m not a naturally bold person and I did get quite anxious at times, and there might have been a few tantrums with God along the way. So it was scary, and at times I was very much struggling with those big doubts of what we were doing, especially when Esther and Ben were born: “What are we doing with our children? What are we doing in South Africa?”. So there were moments of doubt, but also great moments of gratitude and being overwhelmed in a positive way when God did provide for the training, and Andrew’s job as an instructor, and all the ways that He opened doors when we didn’t know how it was going to work out.
Working for MAF you have moved around to five different locations. Do you enjoy the change of scenery?
Yes, and no. It’s always exciting to move, but it’s always terribly sad to say goodbye as friendships and relationships are extremely important to me, and there’s always a grieving process at letting go of people. So yes there’s an excitement, but I definitely struggle with the reality that I’m probably not going to see those friends ever again.
Is there a natural cycle for MAF of moving on to a different project, or is it your choice to move on to different locations?
With MAF UK we have a 4–year contract, and at the end of that 4 years you revisit how it’s going and where the best place might be for you to be, and it also depends on the needs of the country where we are serving. There’s not a fixed rule, and it’s very much dependant on the circumstances of the country, and the family at the time.
Where are you in your 4 year cycle?
We’re coming up to the end of our 3rd contract. We pray our 4th will be in Uganda as we’d like to stay there for now for a bit of stability
What has been the most challenging cultural difference you have found?
I think the most challenging cultural differences are the ones you don’t expect. Moving from Tanzania to Kenya I was absolutely floored by how difficult I found it. I was moving within East Africa, from one country to the next door country, and yet Dodoma and Nairobi couldn’t be more different. It shocked me because I really struggled to adapt my mind–set, that I was still in East Africa but I was in this thriving metropolis, and I’d been in East Africa next door, but in a very sleepy, undeveloped town which didn’t even have a traffic light! Those are the most shocking.
For my children, if I can speak for them, it’s coming back from Africa to England. There’s an assumption that they feel English, but they’ve been brought up in Africa, so reverse culture shock is difficult for them.
How often do you come back to the UK?
Every few years for a few weeks. Coming back to England is like a big playground with cream cakes, chocolate biscuits and fun days out. We’re only here for a short time and grandparents and aunts and uncles want to treat them, so when we go back to the normal reality of school England seems like this big sparkly playground. They wouldn’t know what it’s like to do that routine of school in the UK.
What does a day in the life of Liz look like?
At the moment I’m teaching full time in the school our children are at.
Up at about 6am, out of the door about 7.10am, and school starts at 8am, and we teach until 3pm. Lots of admin jobs and meetings around school, and we probably get home about 5.30–6pm. It goes dark by 6.30pm so the evening settles in.
We’ve had a curfew since March 2020, and I’m so used to my night starting at 9pm – that’s it, all the doors are locked, we’re all in.
That’s a typical workday for me, teaching Year 2, which is adorable. I taught secondary age refugees in Uganda for 2 ½ years as a voluntary teacher, before I was ready to go back into full time work, and I absolutely loved it. I taught in London before I met Andrew.
What does a day in the life of Andrew look like?
A day in the Life of Andrew starts early – pilots often have to be at the airport really early, so he’d often be getting up at 5am, and out the door by 6am to get the plane pre–flighted. I cannot say that there is a typical day for a pilot, because it depends where they’re flying, who they’re flying, and what the freight or non–freight might be. They have a system where they would find out your flight between a day and a week before, but it’s constantly changing. For a MAF pilot, flexibility and the ability to adapt and to change on last minute plans is very much part of your brief. Thankfully in Uganda most evenings he’s home by 6pm, but it changes day by day, so as a family we’ve had to learn to be adaptable.
Do MAF work with a wide range of missionary organisations?
Yes, the missionary organisations and NGO’s can really vary, but some of the more well–known ones are Tearfund, Wateraid, Christian Blind Missions. They provide flights for 2000 aid, development and mission organisations to enable them to transform lives.
If you were on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, and you had to be locked in a box with either scorpions, rats or spiders which would you choose?
I’d choose spiders. I’m not afraid of spiders, and I know I can squash them. Scorpions, I know I can squash them, but I know they could kill me if they were the really poisonous ones, but I cannot abide rats, and I can’t squash them with my shoe. I’m terrified, I hate them, and they pop up lots in Africa – that’s why I have a cat.
What Bible verse keeps you going when you struggle.
There are a lot, and as for anybody we have different struggles at different times and God’s word is always the thing I turn to, to help me, and God speaks different words into different seasons. This verse encourages me to keep going:
“Now may the God of peace…equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13 verse 20–21
Your parents had a huge influence on your Christian life. Do you think your children will continue in missions?
That’s a very good question, and very difficult to answer. I think what Andrew and I hope and pray for our children is that they love the Lord, are open to his leading whether it’s in missions or it’s in another specific capacity, but whatever they do that it is to serve the Lord, but only time will tell.
What made you write your biography?
When we were evacuated during the troubles in South Sudan I had such gratitude for the way I had encountered more of Gods character, and learned more about His grace and His kindness. When we got to Uganda, there was so much evidence of God’s grace and kindness in my life, and I kept coming across Bible verses over and over again, ‘Do not forget’, ‘Write this down’, ‘Pass it to your children’, ‘Don’t forget what God has done’, ‘Tell of His deeds in the assembly’. It was in the Psalms, the Old Testament and the New Testament. I love writing, and I thought “What was the best way to remember?”, so I thought it would be really nice to remember it, to write it down for our family for the future, and for our children to remember God has been so faithful. When I started doing it I found it so helpful to look back and see all that He has done.
You have said you are going to give away any royalties from the book.
Yes, any author royalties will go to help refugees in Uganda. I was involved in volunteering at a centre in Kampala, which exists to educate refugees and give them access to English language and vocational skills, so some of the proceeds will go there, and there are also individuals we know who are refugees. When we left Juba, we left in a privileged position, with MAF, under the umbrella and protection of an organisation, with family back in the UK. A lot of refugees have nothing, and I felt traumatised after that, but how much greater is the trauma if you leave your county when you have nothing and no safety net. This is the story for individuals who we’ve met, and I will use the royalties to bless those families. It’s God’s story and I hope that it can bless His people.
What advice would you give to those who feel they are being called into missions?
My advice for people who are thinking of going into mission is to focus on who God is, and how reliable His word is, and how He will speak to you, He will uphold you, lead you, and guide you. That doesn’t matter if He’s calling you to work in your home town, or calling you to work far away. He will uphold you, He’s so completely trustworthy and faithful to His word. I think the most significant thing we can do is be reading our Bibles and holding onto His truths, and asking Him, “Where do you want us? What do you want us to do?”, and trusting He will do it in his way. It often doesn’t look like the way we envisage, but He always works things out.
If you would like to get a copy of Liz’s book you can do that here, and if you would like to support the work of the Parker family, who rely on the gifts of their supporters for the work they do, you can do that through the MAF website here.