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Tomika Finch’s missionary calling has her in the Land Down Under
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Courtesy Photo: Tomika Finch loves her work as a missionary in Australia, where she has now lived for more than 10 years. She also loves kangaroos.

Friday, October 25, 2013

By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer

When Tomika Finch was 14 years old, she had an epiphany.

She knew, without a doubt, what she wanted to do with her life -- be a missionary.

For the past 10 years or so, that's exactly what she has been doing, but in a place many may not associate with missionary work.

Finch, the daughter of Franklin County native Betty Finch and granddaughter of Dorothy Cundiff of Penhook, lives and works in Melbourne, Australia.

Maybe Finch had a hint of the direction her life would take when she was very young.

"When I was little, I was always interested in missionary stories," she said, which fit in with where she attended school -- Roanoke Valley Christian School.

When she was 14, she attended a Missions Conference sponsored by Word of Life Ministries, a non-denominational group that is active in worldwide missions. During that conference she learned that she could travel to New Zealand and Australia to see missionary work first-hand.

"I wanted to go, and my friends said they would go as well," she said. "But none of them actually went. I was the only one."

However, getting permission from her family was a struggle since she was only 14.

"Mother prayed about it for three days and concluded that, yes, I was too young, but it was okay to go, cause God was going to do something in my life" she said, adding that one of the reasons her family consented was because she is "feisty and stubborn," like her mother and grandmother.

She spent five weeks in the two countries.

"That was the trip that changed my life," she said. "I knew I wanted to do mission work."

Finch ran into a bit of family opposition when she was ready to go to college, too. Knowing she was interested in only one college, Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, that was the only one that received an application from her.

She said her aunt, Barbara Humphreys, a long-time educator in Franklin County, was particularly displeased that she had not at least considered other options.

"I knew that's where I wanted to go," she said, not being shy about her stubbornness.

And it was the right decision.

"I loved it," Finch said, adding that the college is inter-denominational and emphasizes intercultural ministries. She had a double major -- cross-cultural studies and the Bible.

While there, she taught English as a Second Language (ESL) at the University of Chicago as part of a requirement to work, and to find ways to do "whatever it takes to get into people's lives."

The teaching did just that, paving the way for her to do what she does now, working with an international community from Southeast Asia, China, Nigeria and the Middle East, who come to Australia seeking a new life.

Most Australians are not religious, and there are few Christian churches around, she said. So that makes the need greater than Americans may realize.

But she had to overcome the stereotype of what Australians, and most Americans, think of when they hear the word "missionary," and that is a lady who works with children and plays the piano.

Overcoming it was not too difficult a task for Finch because she rides a motorcycle, loves kangaroos and uses puppetry a lot in her work with kids.

She has also immersed herself in the culture and eventually even adjusted to meat pies, a traditional Aussie dish that is similar to the American chicken pot pie and the English shepherd's pie.

"There is little fast food here," she said, as Aussies also eat a lot of vegetables and lamb. Typical meals are colorful, she said, with something green, like peas, orange (sweet potatoes) and various other colors.

The area where she lives in Melbourne is famous for its international food, she said. "If you go into a Thai restaurant, you eat real Thai food."

Even with all of the work that she loves and the country that she has called home for more than 10 years, Finch still misses her family. That's why the trips back to the states every two to two and half years are so important to her. Although she is here for about four months during those visits (only three months on her current visit), not being around her family is "the hardest part."

And while she is here, her time with her family is limited because, as part of her mission, she travels to many churches and organizations to speak of her work.

Some family members have visited her in Australia, though, and that has helped.

What has also helped is one of the cultural elements in Australian society.

"Relationships are more important than the task," she explained. "It's all about people."

Australians value those relationships, she said, and will put work aside to make them a priority. A natural companion to the importance of relationships is home, she said, as so many activities are concentrated there and people constantly visit each other.

"That is one of my favorite things here," she said.

Finch does not know what the future holds for her and will return to Australia next week. But she does know that she is doing exactly what she was called to do.

"As sure as she tells her yarn, this story is Dinky-di, about the missio and her work fair dinkum. So Bob's your Uncle, she'll be right, from the Land Down Under, G'day and no worries, Mate!"

Translation: Yarn (story), Dinky-di (true), Missio (missionary), Fair dinkum (genuine, authentic), Bob's your uncle (it will all work out), She'll be right (all's okay), Land Down Under (Australia), G'day (Good day, hello or goodbye), no worries ( worries, be happy), and Mate (friend).

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