By Engage on Nov 2, 2011
David and Jodi Cooper are the Africa Regional personnel coordinators. Their work involves assisting missionaries and long-term Mission Corps volunteers with needs pertaining to Home Assignment, education, contracts, medical and family needs. David also works as the Regional W&W and Partnership Coordinator.
Previously, they served as missionaries in Central America from 1992-2002. In 2002, they began working at the Global Ministry Center in Lenexa, Kansas, in the U.S., as the mobilization coordinator (David) and in Mission Services (Jodi). They left those ministries and moved to South Africa on July 5, 2011.
They have two children: Sarah (23) and Stephen (19).
Engage: How did you first recognize God’s call to be involved in missions?
Cooper: Both of us felt God's directing us toward missions on different Work & Witness trips. It was overwhelming to be in a country that was not our home and yet feel like it was home. God gave both of us peace on different occasions that His purpose for our lives was to use us in His work outside of our home country. Neither of us are your typical missionaries, but God has once again proved that he is more interested in our willingness to serve than our abilities.
Engage: What is your favorite aspect of what you do in your present assignment?
Cooper: We enjoy the aspect of helping missionaries with the issues that can keep them from focusing on their work. Life has many circumstances that can become obstacles for ministry. Our role is to get the answers that are needed to keep things moving. It may be as simple as transferring resources and approving their children's education for the next year. There are times when medical issues come up or uncertainty with visas; we try to help resolve those things so the missionaries have the answers they need.
Engage: What are some of the challenges that you face in carrying out your work?
Cooper: The greatest challenge is working from a distance in most circumstances. Email and phone calls do not always give the entire picture for what is going on. Our hope is to understand each situation enough to provide the right answers that are needed. Every family is unique, as well each country. As our missionaries face difficult times, we want to be able to support them as best we can.
Engage: Please share a story of a significant event or moment that has happened in your current assignment.
Cooper: We have only been at our current assignment for 2 months, so the most significant event has been getting settled in a new country. We were able to travel recently to Zambia and to Swaziland and be a part of two events that are having a significant effect on the work. It has been amazing and confirming to experience God's presence wherever we are. In Swaziland we attended a conference of pastors and spouses that was geared toward the church addressing the AIDS/HIV pandemic. God moved in a mighty way during the times of worship and prayer as the altars were filled with church leaders asking God to fill their lives in such a way that they can make a difference in their communities. We are a part of a church that cares about the whole person.
Engage: How do you maintain a close relationship with God in the midst of the demands of missionary service?
Cooper: We have been visiting the various Nazarene churches around us. The services have reminded us that we serve a living God that does not change anywhere in the world. This has made our conversations and devotional life have new meaning as we now have new people and congregations to pray for. We also are getting to know our missionaries throughout the Africa Region. We now bring these families before the Lord as a reminder of the importance of staying connected to the source of our strength.
Engage: What are the rewards of what you do?
Cooper: The rewards are countless for the work that we get to do. We are privileged to be a part of a Church in Africa and around the world that has its focus on reaching the lost and being change agents in our world. In our roles we get to see a big picture of God at work through hard times and great times. What a joy it is to serve with leaders in the church who know firsthand the sanctifying grace that God has to offer.
Engage: What are some aspects of the culture where you live that you have come to love or embrace?
Cooper: Language is always fascinating. We now live in a country where we can communicate in English, but there are 13 different heart languages in South Africa and many more over the continent of Africa. We love to see people worshipping God in their own language. The freedom of worship is something I have loved to embrace for all of the years we have been involved in missions.
Engage: What do you like to do for fun?
Cooper: We love to see things and travel. We are hoping to become familiar with much of the country where we live as well as other countries. We also enjoy fixing up our house to be a home, which has included planting a garden for the first time in our lives. We also love to spend time with other missionaries and new friends that we are making.
Engage: What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
Cooper: Neither of us has ever pastored a church and neither of us have a call to preach. We enjoy sharing what God is doing, but preaching is not a gift either of us feel led to do. We do not enjoy being up front, but would rather lead from behind. We are much more comfortable in smaller groups.
Engage: What advice would you have for others exploring a possible call to missions, or embarking on their first missionary assignment?
Cooper: It is always best to find ways of testing the waters. Begin with shorter amounts of time of getting involved in cross-cultural ministry. This can happen on short-term mission trips like Work & Witness or it can happen in the community where you live. Look for ways to let God work in you to confirm the call. As the call grows, stretch yourself in volunteering in another country for a few months. This will be another way in which God will solidify his call for you and your family. It is also important to build a missional foundation with education. It is difficult to minister to others if one does not have the education and background needed to relate to others.
Once education and experience are in place, there is now a foundation that will keep your call firm for many years to come. Without it, the spiritual warfare and the cultural changes will probably cut the call short and make it end prematurely.