Saturday, April 11, 2009

Turning points

A few weeks ago, in response to my post Regrets, my friend Todd Nettleton suggested perhaps I should “follow this one up with a "highlights" post...the things you look back on with the most joy and satisfaction.”

It was a great idea, but I  didn’t take the time to act upon the suggestion. Then Todd went ahead this week and did this for his own life on his blog.  Guess it’s my turn….

As I look back on my 47 years of life, I can identify several turning points, events that changed the course of my life in a way that I wouldn’t trade for anything.  In chronological order, my top ten are:

1. Stockades. From the age of 8-11, I attended Stockades, a program of Christian Service Brigade (kind of a Christian version of Cubs/Scouts).  My hero as a boy was the Stockade leader, Merle Dippel. Under his leadership, I learned to channel my energies into accomplishing something that no one in my unit’s history had ever done - to earn every award that Stockades could offer.  I believe that I still have my Stockades shirt somewhere in storage with it’s eight Blockhouse and eight Sentinel Trails badges.  As I was recognized one Sunday morning at church for my achievement and then had an article and picture of me appear in the local paper, I think I realized for the first time that I really could do something significant in my life.

2. Bowing the knee. While my years in Stockades gave me a solid understanding and acceptance of the truth of Christ and His work on the cross, it was at age 18, after four tumultuous years of teenage rebellion, that I bowed the knee to Christ and acknowledged that He was Lord. Amazingly enough the man that led me to Christ would later become my father-in-law!

3. Going to Europe. During my first semester of Bible college during a presentation by a missionary from European Christian Mission during chapel, I really believed that God was asking me to go a short-term mission to Europe.  I had never traveled much before (just to the States a couple of times on vacation), my father had just had a farming accident that had left him paraplegic, and I was just engaged to Denita.  It made for a summer of dreadful homesickness and culture shock, but my love for eastern Europe and missions was born.

4. Marrying Denita Sherick.  No one on earth (and I mean no one) has impactedSAMSUNG DIGIMAX A503 my life like my wife has. I definitely married up on May 28, 1983!  We were so young (she  was 19 and I was 21, though we did date for four years).  This beautiful lady has been part of my life for 30 years now.  And to think that we started dating by skipping out on a weekday church meeting and I kissed her for the first time in the church parking lot!  Guess we were destined to be involved in Christian ministry!

5. Joining The Voice of the Martyrs. I will always be grateful to The Voice of the Martyrs for taking the risk in the summer of 1997 of hiring me as their Development Director.  I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I guess they saw something in me that I didn’t and my life has never been the same.  I found my calling without a doubt, the ministry that God had prepared me for during my years of theological training and pastoral and mission ministry.  I can only marvel at God’s working all things (even some very bad things) together for good.

6. Sudan. My first taste of ministry with the persecuted with VOMC was to southern Sudan in 1998. My heart was broken at a refugee camp called Camp 10, where I witnessed the desperation of hundreds of men, women and children who were being persecuted by their own government.  I was emotionally crushed by being asked by community elders to choose some of the children with us to the hospital in Yei after it had taken us three days to travel the 40-odd miles to get there due to the virtually impassable roads.  How could I make such a decision as to who would live and who would die?  We also knew, in all likelihood that some of the kids would never survive the trip even if we did take them. Added to that, the supplies we had brought were so insignificant in the face of such need.  As we drove away from the camp, I burst into tears, overwhelmed with the sense of helplessness and frustration of being able to so little.  This was a turning point in that from then on, I was determined that as mission, we would always seek to do one thing well, even if we couldn’t do everything.  This has since become known, informally, in our mission as “The One Thing Philosophy.”

7. Finding Focus.  I was working on my first mission brochure. I thought it was brilliant.  It told the reader all about The Voice of the Martyrs and the work that we were doing on behalf of persecuted Christians.  I thought it was well-written, attractive, and informative without being overly wordy.  I sent it off to Steve Cleary in the US who was overseeing the development work at VOM USA at the time to get his advice, since he had been at this longer than I had.  He gave me a call and gave me advice that I have taken to heart ever since. Focus on the persecuted, not on the mission. People don’t want to support an organization; they want to support people.  Most people could not care less about the organization, but they can and should care about their persecuted brothers and sisters.

8. Diagnosed with Cancer.  Yes, this was admittedly a turning point as I was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in October 2002. It as the time when I was forced to apply what I had really learned about suffering from the Scripture and to put my life in God’s hands as I told Him on the evening of my diagnosis that I did not want to dishonour Him through this but to show the same faith as my persecuted brothers and sisters.  He has been faithful!  He has given me the grace to be faithful too.

9. Say Something. It was a spring evening in 2003. I was staying at the home of Dina Paris who, at the time, was working at VOM USA.  She and her husband were terrific hosts and good friends.  I credit them for introducing me to CSI, as we were watching it that evening.  Earlier that day, Tom White and Jim Dau, leaders at our US mission, were telling me about an opportunity they had to establish a persecuted church program at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.  Having had a little teaching experience at a college level and having developed a training program for persecuted church leaders with VOM Canada, I already had a lot of the pieces in place for such a program. But I was busy enough without getting involved in this kind of a program as well, or so I thought. I also wasn’t sure that they would really listen to me and I can’t stand not being taken seriously when I know what I am talking about. I mentioned all of this to Dina who proceed to bawl me out and told me that I had to say something the next day!  She would not accept any of my excuses.  Well, to make a short story long, I did say something the next day and the rest, as they say, is history. I ended up leading the program for three years, teaching as a visiting professor and writing my theology of persecution during my time there.  Without Dina demanding that I say something, I doubt any of that would have happened.

10. Stem cell transplant. On December 20, 2006, I underwent a stem cell transplant (with my brother Jim as a donor) for my CLL.  This procedure undoubtedly extended my life, even though it did not ultimately cure me.  Still, it was a turning point and I have always been grateful to Jim for his gift.

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