“I remember you talking about how you knew, at a relatively young age, that you wanted to be a missionary, and that’s what you ended up doing. You had a big dream, a chosen career path early and it came true. What I don’t always think about or remember is what it took for you to get there. You’ve certainly told some stories of life in those years, at the very least I haven’t always connected them.
Would you be willing to share with us some of your story of the difficulties you had on the journey to PNG, the doubts or discouragements that came up in those years? How did you keep “the big picture” in view while being a pastor, a youth leader, a “regular employee”, a student for years in different cities? How did you deal with having that dream interrupted when you came back to Canada?”
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I received an email today that included this portion that I have placed above. I felt very honored by some compliments given in it. It has also caused me to look back and reflect on my life and how things have all turned out. The person who wrote this is very perceptive, in that he knows it has not been an easy road that has brought me this far.
Now I’m wondering how I can adequately answer the questions he has raised. It’s true that I believed in my heart from a very early age that I would end up doing mission work. And many people today who know me, probably also have this picture that I have always been on “the missionary track”.
But that would oversimplify the truth. More precisely, I had the desire to become a Bible translator from the time that I visited a missionary couple in the mountains of Peru when I was just 16 years old. But it was 20 years later in 1997, when I was 36, that I finally stepped off the plane in Papua New Guinea and I really began my career as a Bible translator.
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This brings us back to the questions that were asked in the email portion at the top. What happened during those 20 years? How did I handle ups and downs and discouragements during those years? Perhaps I should begin by reflecting upon those early thoughts of “I want to become a Bible translator.”
To be really honest, this thought of becoming a Bible translator was just exactly that – a thought. Now it was a good thought, and just like a little seed that gets planted in the ground and watered over time, it grew to become a life-dream for me. But that did not really happen for many years.
The primary focus I had when I was a young person, was the thought “I believe that God wants to use me in full-time mission work.” Now that’s a BIG idea, and also so very broad that it can include most anything I would do, as long as it was ministry work for Him. I also felt strongly that this ministry work would be cross-cultural in nature and very likely to be outside of North America.
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In the early years of my adult life, I had many thoughts about what my mission life might look like. I developed a passion for reading everything that I could find about missionary work. I read the autobiographies of George Muller, the German missionary who founded orphanages in England, and of Hudson Taylor, the man who opened up China to missions, and of William Carey, the father of modern missions who lived in India and other S.E. Asia countries and brought Bible translation to dozens of language groups there.
I also read about modern mission efforts. For a while there, I was fascinated by the stories of Christians who were persecuted behind the “Iron Curtain”, the Soviet dominated countries of Eastern Europe. I kept reading the book “God’s Smuggler”, about a man who they called “Brother Andrew”, and how he would smuggle Bibles into the Soviet Union in the trunk of his car.
These ideas captivated me as a young person, and I felt I was ready to give my life for Christ, to serve Him and even to suffer for Him if necessary behind that Iron Curtain. As I look back now, I smile at my youthful passion that I had back then. Now, was I wrong about this passion? Was I supposed to go to Eastern Europe, and then other interests or “cares of life” came along and distracted me? It’s hard to know now.
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What I can say is that the desire to serve God in full-time work, most likely in overseas cross-cultural settings, was the beacon that burned within my life. How to flesh that all out was something else altogether. I will write in my article next week more about what happened in those late teen and early twenties years for me.
So in part, I can answer the question up above, about the “big picture” path of life. I do believe that there are some basic facts that are true about each one of us and we must discover to see “how God made us”. From the time I was 12 years old, and pretty much ever since, I have been a traveller by heart and in life itself. That has made me a good missionary.
What each person must do (that includes you!) is to find out some of the basics of what they enjoy and want to pursue in life. Are you a “city boy” or a “country girl”? Do you work well with people, or like to work on your own? Are you more of a leader, or a good follower? What motivates you in life? Answer some of the basics, but make sure you include God in your thought processes. Because He may have a plan for you that you need to discover yet. We’ll talk more on this in one week.