The invitation came by phone call at 3:00am. This friend always called at that time, because he never remembered that we were eight hours earlier than his Ukraine time. He invited us to go with him to Russia and evangelize in small villages. We did, and the experiences were unforgettable. We entered each village and spent a few minutes passing the word around, then Stephanie played her trumpet to help draw the crowd. Someone told a children’s story and led some songs, then I preached. Interferences included blasting music, a blow from a fist, “help” from a witch, and rain. God silenced the obnoxious music, protected us from harm, restrained the witch, and held off the rain every time we prayed. Most importantly, at the end of most services, people came forward at the invitation and knelt on the ground to pray.
We probably all have moments when we wonder about our calling. I had such a time in the early 1980s, wondering if God had a place for me in Hispanic ministry.
Invited to preach in a camp meeting in Mexico, I enjoyed a special week. The people teased me a lot about not liking jalapeños and made it a point to smilingly offer them to me at every meal. It was a delight to be with them.
In one evening service I preached about holiness from Matthew 5:48. God helped in an unusual way that night, and when I gave the invitation more than twenty-five people came to pray, seeking God for a holy heart and life. All I could do was walk back and forth across the platform, weeping and saying, “Lord, you do have a place for me in Hispanic ministry!” It has been a precious affirmation to this day.
The church was packed for our very first candlelight Christmas Eve Service. It was electric! The smell of the tree, the candles, the lights, the sound of the organ, and the story of Christmas. Deanna, a former prostitute from the streets of Detroit, HIV positive with a one year old little girl, living in a homeless shelter, slowly stepped to the microphone. After living through twenty plus years of sin and pain, she had come into the grip of grace. In her powerful soprano voice the words rang, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, until He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth…” As the strains of “O Holy Night” died away, I wept at the incredible paradox that is Christmas in urban America - incredible pain meets God’s love, tragedy meets hope, the darkness meets The Light, and it cannot be extinguished. No one is beyond His reach.
A very fulfilling missionary experience was working with our potential replacement as missionaries at Black Point, Exuma, Bahamas: a spiritually established, pastorally trained, national male leader. My wife Joy and I worked with him [Henry] when he was home on school breaks. Communicating confidence and trust in him, we discussed issues relating to ministry in general and to the church specifically. We emphasized the need for stable, trained pastors to lead the Bahamian churches. Joy and I prepared the mission house (which would become the parsonage) and the other portions of the property for his eventual leadership. Although the timing of our transition needed adjustments, Henry and his new bride, Bev, moved into pastoral leadership after we had stepped aside. Henry’s stable leadership and his wife’s deep, steady character, combined with the Lord’s anointing, helped the church to blossom in its impact on the community. They pastored the church for 14 years! Praise the Lord!
Many experiences come to mind: trekking the jungles, wading through rivers, enduring heat and humidity with fellow missionaries, just to arrive at a remote village that was so hungry to hear the Word of God; observing over time as Bible institute classes, Christian text books and godly professors transform willing, but inadequate, nationals into powerful preachers and effective pastors; working alongside national workers as they plant churches and minister to the hurting in their culture; but nothing compares to preaching the gospel and witnessing as people place their trust in Christ for the very first time. Their joy and peace in that moment reminds me of why I do what do.