Olivia Ann Stuart-Cox is a sister, a daughter-granddaughter, a B.Com Entrepreneurship graduate from the University of Johannesburg, a free spirit, humble and gentle soul, a friend, a good servant, but to me she is simply a beloved Sister in Christ. As we kick of this year with the title “it’s a new season” I chose to interview her about her somewhat unusual choice for this season.
It’s 2013 and while most of our peers are finishing varsity, getting their honours or starting at work, Olivia has taken the more unusual approach and has volunteered her services for the year as a missionary in the Ukraine.
It is down to final preparations and goodbyes before Liv departs for Montana, USA, where she will undergo final training before her mission to the Ukraine. After having a braai with some friends, I attended both Sunday morning services at her church (Rosebank Union) where she is prayed for and church members get to engage with her one last time. We then we’re off to say goodbye to a bright 8 year-old girl she use to au pair for, before we meet some varsity friends for an intimate lunch. Later in the day Olivia has a women’s fellowship group she was running to attend to before she goes to the evening service.
Mist this busy schedule, I slot in our interview on our commute over to the au pair family.
Ntsiki: After watching person after person wish her luck and overwhelm her with such love and her aunt cry moments before we leave the church and get into the car, first things first; how are you feeling?
Olivia: “I’m feeling really excited, I’m feeling really nervous, obviously because it’s something so foreign that I’ve never done in my life and a part of me is anxious, but it’s cool because the anxiety is forcing me to rely on God and not on my own strength…but over all very excited” she chortles.
N: And how has it been seeing people crying-like your aunt this morning, or even those who didn’t think you were really leaving, like you’ve had all year to prepare, but for some people it’s only hitting them now?
O: Shoo! That was hard. Coz my parents were in denial for really long and they didn’t accept it as truth until recently-these December holidays-and it’s difficult for them to accept and even seeing my aunt emotional this morning, it just made me realise how much my family depends on me mostly for that Godly concept coz I’m the only Christian in my family. It’s very difficult for a lot of them to see me go- it’s foreign and different because we’ve never had anyone in my family do this, especially on my mom’s side of the family, you don’t just get up and go. You stay, get a degree, get a job and get married and life continues. It’s scary and hard sometimes to have people be so emotional, because I’m ready and I’ve been dealing with these emotions all year and preparing. I know ‘no eye has seen nor ear has heard what Christ has prepared for those who love Him’.
N: Yea, you have that trust…
O: Yes, not being able to conceive the year ahead and God’s plan is just nervously exciting.
N: That’s great, and why the Ukraine?
O: Well I did a lot of research, I knew that it was God’s calling on my life to do missions and I didn’t know where He wanted to send me, and I did research on countries and where I’d be best suited. the message about how God has used every life experience-our personality, our hearts, our lives, our spirit, our gifts, our relationships, God uses everything for the calling He has given us. I looked at all these options and prayed to God and asked Him to reveal to me, what I’d be suitable at and I narrowed it down to Thailand and Ukraine. I chose Ukraine because I’d be working with young people (18-25), teaching them English through the bible, loving people, running bible study and training other missionaries as well as just being around like minded youths and sharing the gospel and advancing the kingdom Plus I ran youth at my church, so I’ve been preparing for this.
N: It’s like God has always been moving you to this place, where you have always been able to deal with your peers, now you’re going on a mission-leading your peers, just in a different language…
O: Exactly! And that’s what I want to be doing in the Ukraine, building friendships-I’m not there to covert anyone or to change people, I’m there to build friendships and love them and God will do whatever He needs to do in their hearts. I’m there to show them what a life of Christ is; it’s about love, outrageous-unconditional love, and we treat them with compassion like Jesus would if He was a 21-year old.
N: So do you feel like preparing for this trip has opened up your eyes more to the love of God?
O: Definitely and I feel like it’s forced me to step out my comfort zone and not rely on my own understanding of love or my own supply of love, as you could call it, I’m forced to be filled by God every single day, because if I’m not- I’m empty, then I’m relying on myself and I run out of that very quickly (*chuckles*). It forces me to run to God and be needy and ask Him to fill me and use that supply of love to fill others.
N: Just going back to what your peers will be doing this year, they’re either starting to work or they going to do their post-grad, do you find this trip to be a compromise to your studies?
O: Not at all. And actually I’m so excited that my friends are doing that and that so many people are pursuing their dreams because this is a part of what God has for us. I’m pursuing my dream, essentially I’d like to own my own business and I feel this is a really good step for me because I want my business to be focused on giving and love and not always taking and making profit. I don’t want to only think of me- and I think this year will help me to think bigger, maybe even prepare me to run a non-profit organisation.
N: Like seek God and He’ll take care of all your needs…
O: Exactly! And it’s interesting how you use the word compromise, because in my mind there’s no sacrifice too big, because of what Christ has done for us. the pastor said that quote from that guy, that: ‘if Jesus is God, and He died for me-no sacrifice is too great that I can give back to God’, it’s not a compromise at all, because it’s God, I mean, how much more can we give to Him? Like we can give our whole lives and it’ll never be enough! I’m happy to love God and obey His commands and He has commanded me to go.
N: What would you say is your biggest fear?
O: Motion sickness! (Laughs) I’m so nervous about this flight, like my Dubai flight when we went to see my grandparents in England (London via Dubai) I was very sick and throwing up so much. I just struggle all the time with motion sickness, but once God has gotten me through that, my biggest thing is leaving my brother and my sister, because I feel like I’ve been almost like in a motherly position. It is just the three of us and my dad and I sometimes feel it’s my job to look after them and my job to take care of them and make sure they’re okay, but I realise I’m not in control of their lives – God is. I’m excited to see how this year goes for them.
N: Yeah, and even in that motherly position, you are more prepared to go on this mission.
N: So what are you most looking forward to?
O: I’m mostly looking forward to meeting new people, building new relationships and making new friends. I just love everyday contact with people and I can’t wait to use this gift of easily making friends to lead people to the Christ that I know and love. New purpose and meaning in my life is exciting – it sounds weird, but I’m very excited to see the frozen waves. It’s so cold in winter that the waves freeze mid-wave and you can actually go touch the iced sculpture of a wave, it’s apparently breathtakingly beautiful.
N: so amazing, so what will you be doing exactly on your trip?
O: First I’ll be in Montana training and completing courses on theology and counselling, cross cultural adaption, prayer, discipleship, leading the bible study. I will be learning a lot of Russian and how to teach English to Russian speaking people; that’s very exciting for me because I have a passion for teaching. Then when I get to Odessa in Ukraine (Eastern Europe) I will be helping with the church planting they have already begun, teaching English at the English evangelistic camps and local English clubs in the community, running bible study, building relationships, one-on-one discipleship. I will also be helping with the training of missionaries that are coming from Asia and going out into Europe, as well as outreach programmes such as jail ministry and other interesting ministries I’ve never had the chance to be involved in.
N: how have you been preparing for the Ukraine and in that, what was the most important part of your preparation?
O: I went to a training course earlier in 2012 called “the Kirosk course”, it’s a very helpful missions course for about 8 weeks- that was preparing my mind. Preparing my spirit, I enrolled myself in a part-time bible college course, I had lectures twice a week and that helped me to grow and understand God and the bible and appreciate it more. The most important part has been my quiet time with God in my room and just reading His word and communicating like that.
N: How would you describe your support system?
O: As a missionary you have to have a sending cell which comprises of people that “send you”, who support you with financially and with prayers. About ten who are financial supports and one of whom gave an anonymous R 66 000 donation – which is just an amazing display of how God works. I also have about five of my closest friends in my prayer group and ten other people from the church-elders and other mission’s team people (staff) and other missionaries I know, it’s really great!
N: From all your preparation and life in general, what is the one lesson you take with you?
O: The one thing I’ll rely on the most and what I remember from this year is how God is so in control of our lives. He loves us more than we can ever imagine. His grace is sufficient for everything and I look forward to putting that into practice in the mission field and completely depending on His word and the body of Christ to lift me up, to correct me and rebuke me when I’m doing wrong, but in love. His love is enough and it covers everything, we don’t have to try gaining it.
N: Is this a once off thing or would you do it again?
O: Yeah I would! I’d like to spend the rest of my life doing missions work. I’d love that to be a part of my business – whether I have a hotel or a spa, I’d like to take it into the missions field, especially to countries like Cuba or Korea where it’s very difficult for Christians. Countries where they are persecuted and the business would act as a vehicle for missions in spreading the gospel…like a secret Jesus organisation loving people around the world. The cool thing is that those countries seek economic growth and invite businesses, but their doors are closed to missionaries and you could do one with aid of the other.
N: What are you going to miss most?
O: I’m going to miss five roses tea and apparently there’s no Stoney in the Ukraine and America! Ahh I’m going to miss Stoney, it’s like my favourite drink. I’m also going to miss my friends and family, I’ll miss them the most. Besides the obvious, I am going to miss South African food, Trevor Noah (laughs) and our accent.
N: What is the one truth you hold on to?
O: It would be God’s love, He’s unfailing love and how it covers us. The truth of the gospel of how Jesus came; He was God and lived a perfect life with no sin and died for us so that we can have a relationship with God.