The first time I ever heard about foreign missions has faded away in time. Whether from my mother or the pastors of my childhood, I seem to have just always known there were faraway people, boys and girls included, that needed to hear about the Jesus we loved and worshipped.
We were the blessed ones...but we also had a responsibility to others, especially those distant ones, who didn't know they could have Jesus as their best friend and protector. They needed desperately to hear about Him.
As I grew and became a preteen, our pastor invited many missionaries to come and share their hearts. I would be moved by the need of the lost ones, and would linger at the altar praying for them. Sometimes I felt God wanted me to go also. What a frightening prospect! Most of these lived in jungles, or "the bush," thousands of miles away from everything familiar to me.
"Someday...God is going to ask me to go," I would think. Usually, I would eventually say "Yes, Lord," but then the feeling would lift and I would forget about it until the next missionary came!
Time passed. I became a young adult, and married. In nearby Tulsa, we found a tiny apartment and both worked. God had called my husband Everett to be a minister of the gospel. He studied a course, received his license to preach and was active as a youth leader in our church. He felt the need of studying more, so we moved to Texas where we got jobs and both enrolled in a Bible college.
We were studying for upcoming exams and had both read the book by Elizabeth Elliot, "Through Gates of Splendor" the true story of five missionary men to the then primitive Auca Indian tribe in the jungles of Ecuador. It was a compelling account of their martyrdom; not the kind of reading to encourage recruits for missionary work!
And yet I could not help but feel the desperation of those who were unaware of the great love of the Savior. I felt the strong tug of Christ on my heart as never before. Naturally I shared my impressions with Everett, only to discover that God had been tugging on his heart as well! We both got very quiet, realizing the implications.
Always before, when I thought God might call me to missions work someday, I felt like I would resign myself to it. I would have to say yes. Instead, now I felt a deep closeness to my husband and to our God. This was our destiny, our shared destiny to which God had called both of us.
There was a quiet, sobering realization that God had been orchestrating many details in both our lives to bring us to this point.
"The call" didn't come to us suddenly. We neither had visions or dreams. It was rather an intense interest, a deep empathy building within, and even something that had surprised us both; a fascination for the Spanish language we now heard around us at times when Hispanics were present! We had both enrolled in Spanish classes and discovered we had an aptitude for its pronunciation and comprehension.
Decades have passed as we have labored in many Latin American and Caribbean countries. We've raised our three children in South America, and now have eight grandchildren. God has faithfully protected us, provided for us, and blessed us in ways we wouldn't have even known to ask of Him.
Oh, sure! The sacrifices were real, particularly those of leaving our parents and siblings behind. As grandparents, our perspective now of the heart rending sacrifice these decisions forced upon our parents causes us to shudder. It was our decision and our call. But it cost them great pain and separation.
Our children made sacrifices as well. Again, it was our decision and our call, not theirs. Once we even had to leave our two eldest children behind in university as we returned to do missions work abroad. How little we were prepared for the emotional pain this would cause! Those factors, considered now as we look back, have the [possibility] to cause us intense feelings of guilt and even remorse.
Deep abiding faith in the unfailing goodness and mercy of God is required for us to have peace of mind, along with the assurance that He compensates our losses and those of the individuals we most love.
His word comforts us in this, "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life." Matthew 19:29, NKJV.
Heaven will be sweeter for obedience.
Would we do it all again? Was it worth it? Are there things we would do differently? Mercifully we don't have to answer any of those questions, for only the Father knows the answers anyway. We can say we are deeply grateful for the life, ministry, marriage and family that we share.
We will rejoice to reach heaven's shores and reunite, not only with our parents who bore a heavy burden, with our children and grandchildren whom we love more than our own lives, but we will thrill to the sight of all the ones we served in Latin America and the Caribbean. We will never again feel the piercing pain of saying farewell to precious ones, nor will we feel the stretching strains of dual allegiance to homeland and our adopted home abroad.
In conclusion I would say with assurance to any who want to follow Christ, do it with all your heart, soul and strength.
Listen to His voice carefully.
Follow in His steps closely.
Give your best efforts to the advancement of His kingdom, beginning with the children He entrusts to you; they are His little lambs just as surely as those faraway ones He is calling you to. Listen as much as you talk to them. Let Christ minister validation through you.
Most of all, let God clean you frequently as a mirror; reflect His light and His blessed example to the ones around you.
Count the cost, take a deep breath and tell yourself it's not about you.
Be glad your name is written in the Lamb's Book of Life. Your faithful efforts will ensure many new names will be added!
A LITTLE THOUGHT FROM HEATHER:
Growing up one of the most interesting things about Aunt Carolyn and Uncle Everett was the fact that Christmas where they lived was tropical! Tropical! I didn't quite understand what all they did, but the information that they could swim during Christmastime was amazing! Simply amazing. As well as listening to them speak Spanish to each other while doing the most mundane tasks, like washing dishes at family gatherings. They were so intriguing! But what was more amazing was gaining a deeper understanding as I grew older of their activity in South America. I'm not sure what age I was before I realized Uncle Everett, who was my Grandpa's baby brother, and his incredibly precious wife, my Aunt Carolyn along with my cousins, Brad, Natalie and Tiffany, were living in South America, far, far away because of love! They left the comfort of their family, the conveniences of America, and the familiarity of their home and native language, all because of love. I'm grateful Aunt Carolyn shared their story with us here on our online home. I pray each of us realizes the moments to share that same love and hope with those we've been given the opportunity to minister to, whether at our schools, our job, in the beauty shop or sitting at sporting events. Maybe it's getting involved with outreaches in the community. Maybe, like my aunt and uncle, it is saying "yes" to the call of foreign missions. Whatever it looks like, we are the hands and feet to a hurting world. Thank you Aunt Carolyn for your gentle spirit, your compassionate heart and your genuine love. What a gift to my life! I pray I'm the same to others. ❤ Heather
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