My Life Testimony & Being a Missionary

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When I was very young, going to church every Sunday was the normal thing for our family to do.  I should qualify this by saying that it was my mother who would bring the kids with her to church.  My father wanted nothing to do with religion.  By the time I was in Grade 6, my older brothers were in High School and we were not really serious about God.  Only my sister seemed to like going to a Youth Group at another church.

My sister invited me the next year when I was old enough, and I started to see that not all Christians were boring.  In that Fall of 1972, our Youth Group went to a Youth Conference in northern Alberta, and I was surprised to find hundreds of young people getting “excited about Jesus”.  It was at the banquet night, when a girl sang the song “For Those Tears He Died”, that I suddenly found that I too was crying, for Someone was starting to melt my toughened little heart.

    

I started to attend this church in Calgary with keen interest and I would listen to the messages each week.  Afterwards, I would go up to the preacher and ask lots of deep questions.  I also started to read through the Bible to see if the same answers could be found within this Book.  For six months I searched for the Truth, and by the Spring of 1973, I was ready to give my life over to Jesus.  I was baptized then at age 12, and I committed to making Jesus the Lord of my life.

Within two years, I felt the strings of my heart being tugged by the Holy Spirit as He began to call out to me to walk toward the path of becoming a missionary.  I would go to many evening services at church and listen to the missionary stories and I knew that someday I would also be a missionary.

The next step forward in my life happened when I was just 16, serving a year in the Canadian Naval Reserve.  The ship that I was stationed on had traveled from Victoria, Canada to Lima, Peru.  While docked there, I was given permission to go up to the mountains of Cuzco and visit a family that I had heard about.  They were missionaries which our church supported, and they were doing Bible translation work.  After spending a few days with them, I knew in my heart that this was the kind of ministry that I would want to give my life for.

    

Over the next four years, while finishing High School and entering University, I sought out mission groups and was able to do some short-term mission work with Teen Missions Int’l.  I enjoyed that so much that I actually stayed past the summer mission and became part of the staff of TMI, allowing me experiences in Brazil, Honduras, Scotland and doing mission presentations across America.

I became convicted though that my zeal for the Lord did not match my understanding of the Scriptures. In 1981, I entered into Bible College and worked diligently at learning the Bible and being involved in church life and ministry.  I found preaching hard at first, but as my love for God and my knowledge of Scripture increased, I found that 30 minutes was often not enough time to express the truths of God.

I still hungered to go work in overseas missions, but it seemed that so few people around me had any concept of what that was all about.  There was one person though with whom I would spend long hours into the night talking about the things each of us would like to do for the Lord in missions.  We developed a great friendship, even having good arguments too about how life ought to be lived.  But our friendship prevailed, and our passion for missions led us to become husband and wife one week after I graduated from Bible College.

Wedding Pic

Jill and I both felt strongly about being well prepared to serve overseas, so I pursued a Master’s degree in missions, while at the same time, Jill pursued one of her heart’s desires, to become a nurse.  We felt like we would make a great team together for the Lord.

Married life and education bring with it financial responsibilities, and so we found that God led us through a winding path of nursing jobs for Jill and church preaching experience for me.  And we also started a family in this time with God blessing us with two wonderful sons.

Always the mission field beckoned though.  And after some good advice from a friend, I returned to do a little more study of Greek and Hebrew at a Seminary in Illinois, and that is when we found out about Pioneer Bible Translators.

    

The moment I met some of their leaders in Dallas, I knew this was the mission group we were looking for.  In 1994, we moved to Texas to get the linguistic training I would need.  And then in 1997, our family stepped off the plane over in Papua New Guinea and began our five year ministry among a tribal people group there.

In that time, after learning the language and culture, a team of national men and I were able to translate the book of Mark for the people.  That is the beginning of what is now almost 20 years of ministry with PBT, first in PNG, then across Canada while our son underwent some cancer treatment, then to East Africa for 18 months, and now for five years of travel back and forth to PNG to do Bible translation consultant work.

This adventure of serving the Lord began 40 years ago, and I find that it is still just as exciting to me today as it was the first time that I stepped out of North America and into a different culture group.  I look forward to what the next 20 years will hold.

25th Anniversary Pic

Overcoming Discouragement By Our Faith – Pt. 4

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Previously, I mentioned that from an early age I felt a strong sense that I would be involved in mission work.  (Read it here.)  At the beginning of this series, someone asked me how I dealt with discouragement, realizing that it took me 20 years until I became a Bible translator in PNG.  Putting it that way, it does sound rather discouraging.

And yet I believe that God was working within me to prepare me for all that I would do for Him in the future.  Even bad choice I believe can come around to be important building blocks in our life-long goal of becoming godly.  But you must believe that God is with you, and will not abandon you as you search for the path of life that is best suited for you.

In Deuteronomy 31:6, as Moses was approaching his death, he gave instructions to Joshua who would lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.  Despite the obstacles, the fortified cities and fierce armies to fight, Moses said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

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Let me now reflect on a few decisions that I made when I was 18 and 19.  I had finished one year of studies at University, and even though I pursued some courses which could lead me towards Bible translation work, I was quite discouraged by the extreme humanism that was being taught.  Even though I had won four different scholarships that would have paid for my four years of University, I didn’t have the heart or passion to continue those courses.

Instead, I went after an idea I’d heard in the previous summer.  There is a mission group called “Teen Missions, Int’l” and they accepted youth from 13 to 21 years old, to go to their Florida “Boot Camp” training to learn how to be a teen missionary.  Now that sounded exactly like what I was interested in.

So I applied to go on the team that would help build block houses for a mission down in Brazil, just off of the Amazon River.  WOW!!  What a fabulous experience that was for me.  And when I got back to Florida at the end of the summer, I decided to stay with the mission for four more months to join a young adult “Travel Team” that would visit churches and Bible schools all over the country to promote the mission.

Teen Missions

That summer and fall of 1979, I felt like I was in Heaven on earth.  I got to follow my dream of doing overseas mission work.  I realized that I had just thrown away three years of free tuition at University.  But I decided that following after God and the passion of my heart over-ruled a possibly wise choice to finish a university degree.

At the end of my six-month mission experience the mission leaders approached me and asked if I would be willing to join on staff with them as part of a year-long “Staff Travel Team”.  I immediately jumped at that chance.  There were six others who also accepted this invitation, and after a brief orientation, we toured through much of the United States.  We became Assistant Leaders to teams the next year, and I went to help lead a team of teens to build a mission hospital wing in the interior of Honduras.

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Now all this sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?  But let me share the difficult side of this experience.  It surprised me that I found I was missing home and my family.  I had been going on “adventures” and doing travel around North America on my own for some time already.  But being away from home for another year, and going all the way to Honduras in July/August, and then to Scotland in November, made me feel the distance from home.

What compounded this was the fact that our Travel Team of seven young adults (from age 18 to 24) had a tremendously hard time getting along with each other.  We seemed to argue about things all the time.  I had never dealt well with tense relationships, so I felt even lonelier and cut off from my family and people back home.  I remember crying on the phone and saying I wanted to come home.

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It was at my lowest moments that God reminded me of the things that were most important.  First, He showed me in a variety of ways that He truly loved me and would be with me through this experience, just like He had been with Joshua.  Secondly, He reminded me that what I was doing was very important work for Him, which included what was going on inside of me.  I turned to God more in prayer, and I was building character through a tough time.

God also would remind me of how incredible it was that I was on this Staff Travel Team.  As a Canadian, I had to enter back into America and be allowed by U.S. Customs to stay for six months to be with this team.  But at the airport in Calgary, I was detained for almost an hour and a half answering all kinds of questions to try to prove that I was not coming into the country illegally, or that I would work at a job while there.

One Supervisor, “I wouldn’t let this guy through, but that is up to you.”  The man I talked to flipped through two six-inch Immigration Rules and Policies books to find all the reasons why I shouldn’t go through.  But suddenly an odd expression came over the man’s face, he closed those big books, and then said, “Oh go on, get out of here.”  I literally ran all the way to the airplane and got on just as they were closing the door.  So why was I on that Travel Team?  Because God wanted me there.

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God Opens Doors and God Closes Doors – Pt. 2

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 16

At the end of Max Lucado’s book, “GOD’S STORY, your story“, there are study questions and activities to consider that relate to each chapter.  I invite you to read the book, and look over the entire question and application section.  In my articles, I will usually only pick up on two or three questions and relate them to my own experiences.

                                          

Chapter 8: When God’s Story Becomes Yours….
THE RIGHT DOORS OPEN

Question #1: What blocked doors have you encountered in your life?  As you look back on them, how might God have been protecting you by blocking your path?

I have no doubt that God was watching over me to help place before me the right woman to marry.  There had been three other women I had given serious thought to about marrying, but a number of circumstances and differences in personalities were revealed to me to stop me from making a poor decision.  The funny thing is that Jill had been in front of me all along.

You see, while I was away from home doing mission work, my parents had taken Jill in as a room-and-board person.  When I came home from the mission field, I ended up in our dusty downstairs bedroom.  (We still laugh about that.)  I tried and failed to date these other young women, until Jill asked me one day, “I thought you were interested in me once.”  With our passion for missions, and then focused interest in each other, it wasn’t long before we became husband and wife.

The other event that certainly had to be from God, was how Jill and I ended up being with our current mission Pioneer Bible Translators.  After attending a month long recruitment retreat led by Wycliffe Bible translators, it was clear we were not ready to go overseas yet.  Two years later when we had our finances and other issues taken care of, we applied again, but heard no answer.

God led us next to Illinois so I could do further work on Greek and Hebrew.  That is where we first learned about PBT.  We saw this as God’s direction, so we wrote to Wycliffe to have our personnel file sent from them to PBT.  The women we had worked with said yes she could do that, but asked why we had not accepted their invitation from Wycliffe.  Somehow that letter never found us as we moved.  We were approved by both missions, but God had wanted us to be with PBT.

Question #2: On the other hand, has God opened a door in your life?  Explain what happened and how you could see his hand at work.

Twice, while I was with Teen Missions, I saw God’s hand move and do the impossible for me.  To go on my first TMI team (to build a church in Dominican Republic), I had to have all my support of about $1,400.  But by the beginning of May I was still quite short and it was getting close to the deadline for the final payment.

I looked to the Lord and pleaded with Him to allow me to go to Brazil and serve Him there.  Incredibly, a final check came in for me and it was almost the exact amount of money I would need to pay for the whole summer, and even lasted into the Fall.  I knew that I was called by God to serve Him that year in Brazil.

The second event with Teen Missions happened less than a year later.  I had received a letter from their mission office asking me to join a newly formed Staff Travel Team to minister to churches and advertise in churches about Teen Missions in hopes of recruiting some more young people to come on a summer mission trip.

When I got to the airport, the Customs Officer came to the conclusion that I must be hiding the truth and that once I was let into the United States, I would try to work for pay, which is not allowed   Two supervisors argued about me and I tried to calmly reassure them that I would not be taking a job while in the States.

The supervisors finally left and the Officer wondered what to do with me.  Finally, he said he couldn’t see that I would be a threat, and even though it was going against his supervisors’ opinions, he still decided to approve my US entry visa.  I ran to the plane as they were literally shutting the door.  It was a “God-thing” for sure, and it was a reminder to me all year long that I knew I was where God wanted me.

Questions #5: What blocked doors are you facing right now?  Pray for one another that God would blast them open in his perfect timing.

A door that has been closed to us for many years, but still is within our hearts to do is to actually make the move over to PNG and live back there again.  We have not heard God say “Yes” to us, but He also has not said “NO” either.  It has been assumed by others, and by us I think, that it would be too difficult for us to live in this under-developed country with the health needs that I have.

But I think we need to look at this carefully and consider which is more powerful: the discouragement and sense of defeat which Satan can throw at us because my health has been seriously compromised with this muscle disease, or the power of God and the stripes that Jesus took on our behalf to free us from spiritual death and the diseases of this world.

We leave this decision in God’s hands, but we ask you all to pray for us to have wisdom in this matter.

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God’s Traveling Team Pt. 4

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God’s “Little Rascals”

For those who are keeping track of my articles, it is easy to see that Teen Missions International is a mission group that had a very big impact on my life.  This is the seventh time I have written an article that is about or refers to TMI, and this is the fourth in my little series that describes what life was like being part of a traveling mission team for God.  This article is specifically a follow-up to the last one where I talked about my year with the TMI Staff Travel Team.

In that last article, I wrote primarily about all the places we traveled to and some of our experiences along the way.  But I think it is worth going back to that year and telling some stories about the people who were the members of that team.  Just like I have fond memories of the people who were part of the Fall Travel Team and how we had special nicknames for each other (read here), so I have also decided to compare the Staff Travel Team to some funny characters.

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Now our Staff Travel Team was a little different from the Fall Travel Team in that while we did have a few nicknames given to some members, we did not have a clear parallel like being the Seven Dwarves.  We did call Henry “Amigo” since he was from Mexico.  Julie was called “Jules”, and Bill Rambo was called “Rambo” (which fit seeing as he is big and tough like Sylvester Stallone…haha).

As for me, I was called “Stormy”.  Now when I tell people this, one of their first thoughts is that I got this from my last name “Weatherhead”.  But that is not the case.  (Actually, my dad was also called “Stormy” and it was because of his last name.)  And when he heard that I was being called “Stormy”, he was a little upset that I had “stolen” his nickname.  But I assured him that was not the case.

No, my nickname of “Stormy” comes from a shortened form of my full nickname “Stormin’ Norman”.  And you know it is actually quite funny that I should be given this full nickname, because for those people who know me, I have a personality that is anything but loud, turbulent, or fierce weather.  (Now I’m not saying I don’t get angry at times, but generally I am an easy-going kind of quiet guy who does not want to ruffle feathers.)

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But I can still hear “Rambo” calling out my name when I would come into the room.  “STORMIN’ NORMAN”, he would say.  And then when he felt like he needed to do some exercise, he would yell over and say to me, “STORMY, come here.”  And I knew what would come next.  I would stand up real stiff and Bill would grab me with his two massive hands and he would literally lift me up and do arm presses with me up to the ceiling.  (Say, maybe I should have called him “the Hulk” or “the Thing” from Fantastic Four.)

But we all had so much fun together in that 12 month period of living so close together.  In fact, some of us really bonded well with at least one other member of the team.  So “boisterous” Bill always had “perky” Paul chumming around with him.  I tell you, those two were always up to something. 🙂 And Julie and Joni were inseparable at times.  Henry (the Mexican) and I (the Canadian) bonded as the “foreigners” of the group.  And then we had a romance go on during the year between Henry and Sandy, the leader of the girls, and who started as the leader of our group until we were assigned an older couple to lead our group.

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So given all this information, I sat down a few weeks ago and I decided that our Staff Travel Team needed a special kind of nickname, just like we had for our Fall Travel Team.  And after a period of reflection, it came to me.  I now know what to call our group.  Just like the Fall Travel Team was called “The Seven Dwarves”, so now I am going to call our Staff Travel Team “God’s Little Rascals”.

Now I realize that I am starting to get a little old, but I am not so old that I really remember the original TV series “The Little Rascals”.  But I knew enough from the 1994 movie version (which included great adult actors like Mel Brooks, Daryl Hannah, Whoopi Goldberg and George Wendt) that I knew I had hit it on the nail.  And this is how the team parallels the movie:

  • Spanky is the man’s man and the president of the “He-Man Women Hater’s Club”.  He later learns to like the idea that girls are “okay”.   (Bill)
  • Stymie is the club’s vice-president who stands beside the president and supports all the plans and ideas of the president.  (Paul)
  • Alfalfa is the very good friend of Spanky, but who secretly loves Darla, something forbidden by the club rules, but in the end, he gets his girl.  (Henry)
  • Darla is the leader of the girls, who causes all kinds of mischief around the boys, and is the object of Alfalfa’s affection.   (Sandy)
  • The Twins are two girls who follow Darla and who think all boys are silly.  (Joni & Julie)
  • And then for me, I would be Froggy who has a high-pitched croaking voice, but is one of the boys who comes up with good ideas for the club.

(Henry, Joni, Bill, Julie, Paul, Sandy, Norm)

So there you have it folks.  You now have been included into the special group of the TMI Staff Travel Team.  What a great year it was to live our lives together and both serve the Lord as a team, but also become such great friends and brothers and sisters in the Lord.  And after 30 years, we are still in touch with each other and consider each other very good friends.

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God’s Traveling Team Pt. 3

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Who Am I? Part 6

In the last two articles in this series, I talked about the great times I had being a part of Teen Mission’s Fall Travel Team.  You can read about them here.  That three-month period of traveling from city to city, church to church, home to home and presenting the outstanding ministry of Teen Missions International was such a great experience for me.  It helped me to grow up, being away from home, and it taught me a lot about trusting God.

In fact, the experience was so great, that when our team returned to Florida again, and I was approached by the TMI staff about the idea of coming back, joining the Staff and going on a one-year tour (which would include being an assistant leader on a summer team overseas), I knew immediately that was what God would have me do.  And so I became a member of the 1980 TMI Staff Travel Team.

What is interesting about this team is that it was the first time TMI had decided that it would have a full-year travel team.  So that made it unique.  But even more so was the fact that our team was truly an International team.  Of the seven members on the team, five were American, one was Mexican and I was the Canadian.  And although this brought out some cultural differences from time to time, it was wonderful to see that our unity in Christ made us one family, regardless of our origin of birth.

We did a lot of work and a lot of traveling in that one year.  You could say that there were five distinct blocks of activities for us as follows:

East Coast Tour: After some training and orientation in January of 1980, our team went up the east coast of the States.  We toured through Georgia and the Carolinas, we went though Virginia and managed some sight-seeing in Washington, DC, and did a number of presentation in Pennsylvania.  We lost count of how many churches and schools we visited in that three-month period.

One of my funniest moments was when we got close to Bill’s home town area in Pennsylvania.  For weeks he had been telling us, “Wait till you see the beautiful Pocono Mountains.”  So on that chilly morning, as we drove more into the state, suddenly Bill exclaimed, “There they are!  Ain’t those good-looking mountains?”  To which I innocently responded, “What….those hills??”  (He forgot I grew up in the Canadian Rockies.)  And for that comment I was given a strong head “noogie”. : )

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Boot Camp Work: By May, we all had to be back in Florida to help get the Teen Mission Boot Camp ready.  You can read about the fascinating training that TMI gives to all its teens and leaders in my article “Get Dirty for God!”  But before the teenagers can get dirty in the Everglades swamps, our job was to fight back the undergrowth again, set up tent areas, erect the big top tent, repair Greyhound buses for their pickup routes, and much, much more.

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Summer Mission Team: So now that the “Lord’s Boot Camp” was ready, close to 1,500 teenagers and leaders descended upon our camp in Florida and trained for two weeks before being commissioned into the mission field to about 50 different summer projects in about 30 different countries.  I was assigned to be an assistant leader on a team to Honduras.

At the time that we went to Honduras, I was only 19 years old.  And here I was, along with four other leaders, taking charge of about 20 other teenagers to build an extension wing to a small, rural mission hospital that was a concrete block building that had about 20 beds for patients.  An appeal had been sent the year before for Teen Missions to help enlarge the facilities.

The location of the mission was quite a few hours up into the hills away from the nearest city.  So there were always way too many patients for this clinic to manage, and after a procedure, or during recovery days, the poor patients were housed in a run-down building, with grass and bamboo beds and dirt floors that crawled with all kinds of bugs and critters.

You know, it is amazing what teenagers can do, if they are given the challenge to reach out to others beyond themselves, and are given some good guidance and leadership.  So in about 5 weeks of hard work, mixing concrete with shovels, laying sun-baked bricks for walls, and building trusses according to a blueprint, we were able to double the size of this rural clinic.  What joy and pride we all felt when the last nail was pounded and the cement sidewalk was poured.

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West Coast Tour: Once our summer overseas mission teams were finished, our Staff Travel Team gathered back together in Florida.  Then we set out in September for our two month tour which took us up into the Midwest of Missouri, Illinois and Kansas, over through the arid states of Nebraska and Wyoming, and ended with presentations in California.

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Good Ol’ Scotland: to round off a very busy year, our team headed over to Scotland.  Unfortunately due to a serious family health matter, one member did not go with us, so only six of us went on this last part of our TMI experience.  Teen Missions had an old estate there (purchased for very little due to being run down) where they were starting to train European youth each summer.

Our main job there was to repair the rotting roof of the one building so it would not fall apart over the winter.  (Have you ever tried working on a corrugated roof in near freezing temperatures with a constant daily drizzle?  Yikes, it was dangerous, but no one got hurt.)  In a month it was all done, and then time to head home.

We all said goodbye to each other at Heathrow Airport in London.  But we have kept in touch with each other.  And in fact, we just got together last summer for our 30 year reunion.  But that my friends, will have to wait until another day to tell that story.

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God’s Traveling Team Pt. 2

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Who Am I?  Part 5: Which Dwarf?

In my last article, God’s Traveling Team Pt. 1, I mentioned the difficult choice I faced, to return to University, or to join the Teen Missions Fall Travel Team.  And as you now know, I believed God had led me to join the Travel Team and promote Teen Missions.  What a huge disappointment it was then to be turned back at the Canadian border and have the team broken up.  The team went back to Florida and I returned to Calgary.

I kept my hope alive though, that we would still get the team together and we would carry on where we left off.  And in fact, shortly after I got back to Calgary, the Florida office called to say they were hoping to get a new itinerary set up in British Columbia and the northwestern States right away.

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The plan that they had was to send the team back my way in about three weeks and I was to meet up with them in Vancouver, BC.  Not one to sit around and waste time, I decided that in those three weeks that I should get my Driver’s License.  Now you may think it strange for me to be almost 19 years old and still not have my license, but it’s amazing all the places you can go to with a good city transit system, or a Greyhound ticket. : )

So I got the Driver’s Manual, read it and wrote and passed the Learner’s Test in the first week.  I signed up for a two-week Driver Instructor class, took it, drove it, passed it, and by Day 22, I was the proud owner of a new Driver’s License.  Now I was ready to rejoin the TMI Travel Team.  (It turns out that being one of the youngest on the team, that they would not need me to drive, but hey, it was still worth it.)


It was so neat though, to be a part of this team.  It felt good to be wanted, and to believe that the others both valued me and even liked me as a member of their group.  We spent close to three months together on this team, the seven of us packed into the Ford Caravan van, traveling from place to place, never knowing for sure where we would be sleeping the next day, but always seeing God provide safe harbors for us to land at and be received by wonderful Christian hosts.

I do find it interesting now after more than 30 years that many of the details of the places we visited and the people we met have pretty much faded from my memory.  Actually, it was such a whirlwind tour all over the northwestern States and BC that I think I probably forgot many details even before the trip ended.  But one thing I have not forgotten all these years is the names of the seven of us on the team.

Each person was so unique, for which we came to love and appreciate them, that we soon had adopted special nicknames.  It shouldn’t take you long to guess where this story is going to head, in terms of the nicknames we gave each other, but I think you will see why we choose what we did.  There were four ladies and three guys on the team.  And the following is what happened on a regular basis.

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After our visits or presentations at a place were done, we would load up the van with all our luggage and supplies and squeeze everyone in and get ready to go.  But just as we were about to leave, Becky would suddenly sneeze.  Not once, not twice, but at least four or five times.  We never did figure out if she was allergic to leaving a place or allergic to going on the road again.  But then we would start driving, and even before we got to the Interstate, Gloria would slump over and fall asleep.  And she would sleep the entire distance, whether short or long, then wake up and say, “Are we there yet?”

Then we had quite the contrastive pair between John and Linda. It rarely mattered what the topic was, but whenever we got into a discussion about something, Linda’s face would light up about something she found interesting, but John would find some way to “shoot it down” and have a scowling look on his face.  It didn’t help that he had big black bushy eyebrows like Groucho Marx.  : ) And yet we loved them both the same.  They were equally our brother and sister in the Lord.

Now Barb was our leader and the oldest of the group, but I think she was just two years older than Greg.  We could all tell that Barb, being in her mid-twenties, was kind of hoping that her “friend” who sent occasional letters wold be her “prince in shining armor”.  So when we got to a new destination and we were able to beat her to the mailbag, we had lots of fun waving around her nicely perfumed letter.  Needless to say, Barb would turn beet red in the face, and even mentioning his name in public would cause her to immediately blush.

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On the other hand, Greg was a 3rd year scholar from Wheaton Bible College, and being a man and the second oldest of the group, you would expect him to be a little more on the serious side of life, having great words of wisdom and sophistication.  And occasionally, he was able to pull off that mannerism.  But the rest of the time, he was cracking great jokes and putting on the silliest of faces to get us all to laugh.

So that leaves just me.  And if you haven’t figured it out yet.  Here is who we traveled with for three months:  Becky = Sneezy; Gloria = Sleepy; Linda = Happy; John = Grumpy; Barb = Bashful; and Greg = Dopey.  That left only me, and the only name left for me was Doc. I was so disappointed when they first called me Doc because I always thought about him as the near-sighted bumbling and stuttering old Dwarf.

But then I was told that they thought highly of me as Doc, because as they said, he was the smartest Dwarf of the group who had all the main brainstorms for ideas and inventions.  Often they would say I was so wise and knew my Bible well, and so they did look to me as a spiritual leader, even though I was close to the youngest on the team.

So there you have it, the Teen Missions Fall Travel Team was made up of the Seven Dwarves and I was given the honor of being named Doc.  I miss those good friends and those good old days. : )

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God’s Traveling Team Pt. 1

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Who Am I?  Part 5

1979 was  an exciting year as well as a transitional year.  I had finished one year of University, and at the same time I was preparing to go on my first real missionary experience with Teen Missions International (TMI).  I was going to go to Brazil for a summer and help build a school extension and a guest house for a New Tribes Mission base up the Amazon river.  That will be the content for a future story.

What I can say is that the summer mission experience was life changing for me.  From the very beginning of the training we received in the swampy Everglades of Florida, until the summer mission project was finished, I knew that I had discovered a mission that I could believe in and put my energies into.  You can read about the Boot Camp training we received before we went to our overseas country in another article called, “Get Dirty For God“.

During the Boot Camp time, I did hear something that caught my attention.  Some of the TMI staff told all of us about a marvelous opportunity to serve the Lord after we had finished our summer mission.  What they wanted to do was to form one or two small teams that would travel all over North America to visit churches and Christian schools to do recruitment and advertise for Teen Missions.

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And so as my summer time in Brazil came to a close, I thought about my two options: go back to the university in Calgary, or travel around North America and do mission presentations.  Hmmm….tough choice, right?  Well, actually it was.  Considering that I had received enough scholarships to pay for four years of university training, the idea of giving that up and trusting God to provide enough money for me to buy my next meal was quite a staggering idea for an 18-year-old.

But I felt the leading of God’s Spirit to say yes to the idea of joining a Teen Missions Travel Team.  And part of my personal confirmation of this was the fact that at the last minute, while I was raising support donations for my summer mission work, a donation came in that nearly doubled what I needed for the summer.  (You can read that story here.)  And that was enough to carry me through part of the Fall.

And so when I came back from Brazil, I asked the leaders of TMI if I could join one of their travel teams and they said yes.  I had a few days in Florida before the training started, and I phoned back to Calgary to talk everything over with my parents.  Just like with my decision to go off with the Navy, my parents once again gave me their blessing to follow my own decision.

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The Travel Team training was conducted at a camp in New Jersey and lasted two weeks.  There were enough volunteer members that we were able to form two teams.  During this time, we learned a number of important skills for doing presentations, like short dramas, puppet skits, musical arrangements, working with stage props and becoming familiar with the TMI promotional materials.

Once we finished our training, we immediately hit the road and started driving toward our first places to do our presentations.  The other team headed toward a different state, while our team headed toward Canada where we were  going to do some presentations in Ontario and then head west across Canada.  I guess they figured I would be their personal tour guide across the country being the only Canadian on the team.  : )

We went through the state of New York and crossed the bridge at Buffalo, NY to enter Canada.  The Customs Officer there asked our leader lots of questions about what our Travel Team was going to do and I think he got nervous and started telling a whole lot more than he needed to.  So when he got to the part about how we would visit churches and they would take up an offering, immediately the Officer thought this was a form of “work” and denied the team entry into Canada.  : (

Although we tried to convince the Officer we were not coming into Canada illegally to do work, we still ended up going back to Buffalo in the middle of the night.  And what a night that was!  On that night, God showed His hand powerfully in both providing for our team and also protecting my life personally from a life threatening situation.  And that unfortunately will also have to wait until a later posting.

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Now to make a long story short, the rest of the team went back to Florida while I went back to Calgary for a few weeks until we could come up with a new plan and a new travel itinerary.  It worked out that our team was able to come back together to do a tour of schools and churches in the province of British Columbia and the states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho.  (We had a new leader this time and so getting across the border into Canada went well.  Hurrah!!)  : )

Stay tuned for many more stories about my adventures with Teen Missions.

“Get Dirty for God!”

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Teen Missions International

This is the symbol that changed my life.  As you can see on top, they have a great logo: Training Tomorrow’s Missionary Today. This ministry, Teen Missions International , has literally trained and sent thousands of teenagers around the world to do missionary work.  It was the belief of the early founders of TMI, such as Bob & Bernie Bland, Gayle “Widder” Will, and Bob & Betty Lane, along with others, that it was not necessary for young people to finish college before God could use them in His Kingdom Work.

And so TMI was born in 1970, and within a couple of years, the first team of a few leaders and about 15-20 teenagers went down to Mexico for a summer and did a construction project to help the local missionaries and nationals living there.  And God blessed Teen Missions so much, that by the time I went on my first summer mission with TMI, they were sending out about 50 teams made of up usually 5 leaders and up to 30 teenagers to places of ministry all over the world.

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It was 1979 when I decided to go on a Teen Missions team.  I was only 18 at the time, and I wanted to go on a construction team to Brazil.  (You can read about how my faith grew even before I started the trip in the article “God Will Supply.“)  As much as the logo mentioned above caught my attention, i.e. “Hey, I’m a teenager and yet I can still go do mission work,” it was their other more famous motto that sold me on wanting to be involved.

The motto was, and still is, “Get Dirty For God“.  And every teen who went on a team received at least one T-shirt with this motto printed on it and would wear it proudly.  Now whether a person who saw this was just curious or possibly offended by this saying, one thing for sure, it caught everyone’s attention.

My understanding was that this motto had two mains ideas within it.  First, it was saying that there is work for God to be done, and we all must roll up our sleeves and pitch in and get the work done.  And then secondly, the isolated locations and the hard work involved in most of the projects resulted in each and everyone getting dirty from head to toe.  And as budding and growing Christians, we did not mind “getting dirty for God”, as we saw churches, orphanages, airstrips, etc. been built and lives changed through the evangelistic outreach which TMI also promoted on all of its teams.

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I need to back up though and tell you more about the beginning of each summer mission experience.  And after you read this part of the story, then you will understand even more how appropriate is their motto, “Get Dirty For God.”  Each teenager and leader must first go down to the swamplands of the Florida Everglades and make it through the two week Boot Camp orientation training.

Everyone lived in little two-men pup tents in their team designated area of the swampland.  That wasn’t too bad….until it rained and soaked everything and everyone.  (I actually saw one tent that had been set up on a 4′ x 8′ plywood board float part way though the Boot Camp.)  Revile was announced with a bugle over the loud speaker and you immediately got up and got ready to run the obstacle course.

There were the tires to jump through (the plagues of Egypt), a mountain of tires to climb (Mt. Sinai), go over a small end of a little lake on a rope netting (crossing the Red Sea), climb straight up and down a rope net that was about 30 feet off the ground (Jacob’s Ladder), swing across a moat, into which many fell in (the Slough of Despond), and other bizarre challenges.  The most daunting one was the last one, climbing over the “Walls of Despair”.  They were 12 feet high and you had to just use your bodies to get your entire team over the wall.  It was to help teach “teamwork”.


We found that the Obstacle Course developed team building, team bonding, and trust, as well as got out of shape teenagers back into shape.  There were of course many other courses given during these two weeks.  We learned how to have a Quiet Time with God, and were taught great spiritual truths by fantastic youth speakers and preachers.

The other main things that we learned were specific skills related to the work we would do for the other mission once we got to the field.  These included classes like steel tying (to make the reinforcement bars hold a shape until concrete was poured over them).  There was also wood-building classes, cement class, and other ones that gave the basic understanding of how to do construction.

Probably the most exciting part of Boot Camp was the evening rallies.  After we had cleaned up for the day, all the teams and leaders, plus staff members and visiting family would gather under the giant circus big top tent.  We were able a few times to pack almost 2,000 people in that tent, 1,500 of them being teenagers who were jumping up and down with joy as they worshiped God, and counted down the days until their team would leave and go fly to their country where they would work.

I’ll never forget those wonderful days when I was a kid and worked hard, and “got dirty for God”.  I had the privilege to do this four times: Brazil-Amazon guest house construction in ’79, Honduras-Country hospital wing extension in ’80, Dominican Republic-church building project in ’84, and Mexico-Christian camp expansion project in ’85.

What can I say to God except, “Thank You”.  Yes, thank you God for granting me these experiences and in each experience I found myself growing more in my faith and in the depth of my understanding of who God is.  Those commissioning services that sent us out from the Big Top Tents in Florida truly sent us with the power of God’s Spirit so that we were able to do some great Kingdom work in all different corners of the world.

Pictures Taken from TMI Official Website:  http://www.teenmissions.org

The Leading of God’s Spirit

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“Does God Speak Today?”

I have heard this question, and been asked this question, many times.  Often when someone asks this question the person is really asking, “Does God speak audibly to people today?”  And that is somewhat of a loaded question.  If the person asking the question has not had this experience and is skeptical, then if anyone says, “Yes, God speaks to people today,” the questioner might yet just write that off as simply “poppycock” or think that those who say God speaks to them are more likely fringe or fanatical Christians.

On the other hand, if the person asking the question has not had this experience and is asking it as a sincere question, then if anyone says, “Yes, God speaks to people today,” the questioner might ask, “Why then is it that God has never spoken to me?”  And from this perspective they can get the sense that there must be something wrong with them, that they are in some way an inferior Christian to those who claim that God has actually spoken to them.

Personally, I believe that the question itself or at least the interpretation of the question is wrong.  That is, to hear the question, “Does God speak today?” and to interpret it so narrowly to mean, “Does God speaks audibly to people today?’ is misleading.  We do know from Scripture itself that God speaks to His people, but He most often does it in ways other than just audible form.

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We accept this as true, for Scripture says in Hebrews 1:1-2a,

In the past, God spoke to our ancestors many times and in many ways through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son.

The writer of Hebrews is referring to the fact that God came down in human form in the person of Jesus, and through His teachings, recorded by the Gospel writers, God has spoken to us, and continues to speak to us through His written Word.  Scripture even says about itself that God’s Word is interactive within people, and thus we can say that God is still speaking to us today:

The word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It cuts all the way through, to where soul and spirit meet, to where joints and marrow come together. It judges the desires and thoughts of the heart.    Hebrews 4:12


And then we also accept that we have the Holy Spirit within us (1 Corinthians 6:19 ) and by means of His Spirit, God communicates with us today:

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.    John 16:13

What a wonderful promise this is to know that the Holy Spirit that lives within us can communicate with us on important issues of truth and life.  Isn’t it wonderful that God’s Spirit can teach us truth to live by, especially with regards to the meaning of Scripture.  But I believe that the Holy Spirit can also lead us in day-to-day activities of life.

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Let me give you an example from my life.  When I was 19 and living in Florida and working with a group called Teen Missions, I woke up out of a dream and had a strong impression that I should go visit the Bible bookstore that was nearby.  I didn’t really know why I had this impression, but I followed what I considered to be the leading of the Spirit.

So I was walking up and down the aisles of the bookstore and finally a woman came over and asked if she could help me with anything.  I said no, and that I was just “browsing”.  But within my spirit I felt that it was very important that I find the “right” book and buy it that day.  I think I spent over two hours wandering all around the store.

Finally, just before it was closing time, I slowed down in this one section and carefully read the title and back cover of each book on the shelf.  Then suddenly, when I picked up this one book, it was like an electric shock went through my body and I knew that this was the book I was supposed to buy.  I knew within my heart that God was directing me by His Spirit to make this purchase.

The name of the book was “Explore the Book” by Sidlow Baxter.  In one volume, it gave a good summary and background information on every book of the Bible.  I bought the book and began to use it along with my devotional reading of the Bible.  For at least the next two years I used this book as an excellent companion to the reading of each book of Scripture.  It was amazing how much I learned, and I used the book as foundational background material for many Bible study groups that I led over the years to come.

I still have the book in one of my boxes.  And every time I come across it, I think about how the Holy Spirit “spoke” to me and guided me to find it in that Christian bookstore.  I learned from this experience from an early age to recognize the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  So I believe that I can honestly say that God still speaks today.  But it may be in ways that we may not expect.  We must remain ready though and be attuned in our spirit to see His hand and to hear His voice in whatever form it may take.

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My Bucket List of Countries

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The Plinky Question for this week is:  “What 3 countries would you like to visit?”

In some ways, I feel like God built me to be an explorer.  As early as age 12, I was on the road with youth group trips at least a couple of times a year.  When I was 16, I was in the Canadian Navy and sailed all the way to Peru and back.  (That story will be published in the next Post.)  My first mission trip was to Brazil in 1979 with Teen Missions when I was only 18 years old.  And I have been traveling the world ever since.

So being a traveler, it’s quite natural to have a sort of “Bucket List” of countries I would want to see one day.  I suppose most of us have this kind of list, but many do not have the privilege and opportunity as I have had to see the world.  In fact, I have been very fortunate to have accomplished the following stats.  I have:
  • lived in 6 out of the 10 Canadian Provinces, and visited 3 of the remaining 4
  • lived in 3 States, and visited all 48 USA continental States
    • (Alaska & Hawaii here I come! : ) )
  • set foot on 6 out of the 7 world continents (not interested in Antarctica)
  • been in 26 countries of the world, 13 of which I have done ministry work for God

I certainly do not want anyone to think I am boasting about all my travels.  Heaven forbid!  No, I stand back in awe and amazement that God has chosen to use me, and it has been by His grace that I have been able to be His servant in some of the remotest places on earth.  And it amazes me even more that He can still use me and allow me to travel so much, in spite of my muscle disease.

And so, being the dreamer that I am, I do play around with my “Bucket List” of countries that I would still like to see.  I do recall that during my teenage years that one of my goals was to visit a tropical paradise island, say like Fiji, or Tahiti.  And while I was with Teen Missions, I had this strong pull to go to Vanuatu.  These kinds of countries bring up images of white sand, palm trees swaying, and aqua-marine blue waters.

Well I may not ever make it to Tahiti or Fiji, but God certainly allowed our family to experience some great moments in the beautiful and tropical island of New Guinea, specifically living on the eastern half of it in the country of Papua New Guinea.  For most of the time from 1997 to early 2002, we lived in a small village tucked deep into the lowland jungle, and then paid visits to the majestic highlands and to the idyllic coast lands of that country.  And in 2001, I spent a week in the fabulous country of Vanuatu to attend a nation-wide church centenary celebration.

So then my second choice I think of a country I would like to visit is Germany.  This country has such a fascinating history and has showcased both the very best and the very worst of humanity.  Some of the greatest minds, especially theologians, were from Germany.  And of course, one of the world’s worst tyrants ruled in Germany.

If I was able to actually visit Germany, the one thing above all else that I would want to see would be the remains of the Berlin Wall.  This wall, which separated East from West, Communism from Capitalism/Democracy, is symbolic to me of what lies within the hearts of all people.  Part of being human is the desire to conquer and control, but no matter how oppressive the regime can be, nothing can ever stamp out the desire of the human heart to be free.  And thanks be to God for tearing down this wall and bringing freedom (even with all its problems) to the people of Eastern Europe.

But if you were to ask me what is still probably my number one country that I would most like to see, it would have to be Israel.  Not only would I like to see Israel because I am a historian and a theologian, but simply because I am a Christian.  So many of the events recorded in the Bible took place in such a small geographical part of the world.

It would truly be amazing to me (if I could do it) to see places like Jericho, where God brought down the walls, or the wide lands where Abraham dwelt and David kept his sheep.  But most of all, to see Nazareth where Jesus grew up, to walk along the shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus taught, to see Jerusalem where men from David down to Jesus our Lord are hailed as kings.  And then to see the Garden where Jesus prayed, and the hill where He was crucified, and the tomb from which He arose victorious over death.  Oh yes, now that would be my heart’s desire, to see the Holy Land.

So these are the countries that I have thought about for many years.  Each one fascinating in their own way.  But one more country that I long to see, and one day I will, is Heaven itself.  To walk the streets of gold, to drink of the pure living water, to eat of the fruit from the Tree of Life, to walk side-by-side with my Lord Jesus and to see God face-to-face.  Now that is definitely something to look forward to.

My prayer for you, my dear Reader, is that you too have put your faith in the Lord Jesus, so that when He returns one day to gather His followers, I might see you in Heaven one day as well.

“Even so Lord Jesus, Come!”

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