Monday, August 13, 2012

On the Origins of our Missionary Calling

 There is no space in this journal to tell all the factors leading to our becoming missionaries. To save time I will say that Debbie and I met at Southeastern University (then Southeastern Bible College), Lakeland Florida in 1976. We were both missions majors. Which means we both felt a call to missionary service before we came to college. We both felt a call to work with Hispanics, and in fact both worked together, starting the first semester there, in an outreach program to migrant workers. We had both lived

overseas previously to attending college, and so had some experience already in communicating cross-culturally. We both spoke Spanish; Debbie was more fluent then myself. What we lacked was ministry experience. After graduating from SEBC, we attended two semesters of Wycliffe Bible Translators' Institute of Linguistics. This was an intense program to prepare missionaries for working with unreached people groups (UPGs) with no written language, or no Bible in their language. At the end of our year there in Dallas, Texas, we decided that our call was to work with Spanish speaking peoples. We moved to New Jersey, near Debbie's family, and worked to provide for our growing family (2 kids by this time), and immediately tied in with a Hispanic church that was starting in the basement of a pastor's home (Canaan Christian Church in Jackson, NJ). We began working with children, organized a children's church, a Royal Ranger scouting program, taught children and youth in the Sunday School program, and even had the opportunity to preach every once in awhile. Meanwhile, I had a year of my educational benefits (the GI Bill) left, but these would run out soon. After seven years in New Jersey, we sold our home, packed up and moved to Columbia, SC to study at Columbia International University (then Columbia Bible College and Seminary). We were excited about this school as it had a tremendous missions emphasis. I worked on my Master's Degree there in Bible, and Debbie on hers in Education. It was 1985 then, and we had three children when we arrived there. After a year of studies there, we began a Spanish speaking fellowship called Fuente de Vida. We felt there was a great need for this ministry. The 1980 census showed that there were over 5,300 Hispanics in the greater Columbia area. Today this church has over a hundred hispanics attending. We pastored this church for seven years before moving to the Dominican Republic.

  So how did we get to the mission field? In 1990, an evangelist friend, Pastor Roy Porter, mentioned that he had been going into the Dominican Republic to
Pastor Roy Porter from Greenville, SC
The 2012 Liberty Ministries Team 
minister for a number of years. He mentioned an upcoming trip in September and Debbie's heart began to beat rapidly. She really wanted to accompany the team. By then we had five children, and it was no easy task for Debbie to find free time to get away for an afternoon, never mind a whole week. I volunteered to take care of the family while she accompanied this team from Liberty Ministries, SC. She had a wonderful time of ministry, and her fluent Spanish was an important contribution to the team. That trip had a profound impact on Debbie, who now felt sure that God wanted us in the Dominican Republic. Of course, I reminded her that as head of the home, it was a decision we needed to be agreed on, and not hers to make by herself. Evangelist Roy Porter made it easier for me to arrive at a decision, he paid my way and Debbie's way next year to accompany the team as translators. We actually took Ruthie our oldest daughter with us on this trip also. I had never experienced such a reception in ministry. Everywhere we went, people responded to the message. We saw hundreds of people come forward to express a commitment to the message of Jesus Christ in services. As we handed out Christian literature on sidewalks in towns, people received the tracts gratefully. We had people coming to our hotel asking if we had New Testaments. One day, Debbie and I took a walk to a local park in Barahona, where we had been ministering for three days. As we were sitting on a park bench, two young men came up to us with a question. "He says the world will end soon, what do you say?" I told him that the Bible teaches that no man knows the hour or
the day that the Lord will return to judge the earth. The important thing is to be ready for his coming. I asked them, are you ready? They shrugged their shoulders. Would you like to be ready? Jesus wants you to be ready. Yes, they would like that. We prayed a simple prayer with them. Their face lightened up and they said they would be at the service that night. As they left, I became acutely aware in my spirit that it was harvest time in the Dominican Republic,and the Lord was calling for workers for this great harvest. At that moment I knew we had to return. God was calling us to work in this wonderful nation. "El pais de las maravillas", a popular Dominican spanish phrase that says, "The nation of marvels". Harvest time is a very critical time for farmers. There is a narrow window of time when the harvest has to be brought in. Once that time is over, the crop will begin to spoil, or will no longer be marketable. It is a time when farmers help each other to get the harvest in. Sometimes there are moments when a nation is more open to the message of Christ than other times. Times of struggle, or great pressures can create a hunger for inner strength. Yes, as Christians we are called to share our faith irregardless to the receptivity of the audience. But then there are those times when the spiritual climate of a nation is ripe for harvesting. We are still seeing much fruit here in the Dominican Republic.

  Finally, so how did we get here?  That missions trip was in September 1991. By July of 1992 we had packed all our belongings and our 5 children (1900 lbs total) into a small chartered plane flying out of Fort Lauderdale (at 5 am). We arrived around 10 am into the Santiago airport, loaded up a truck with our goods and followed a missionary van into the city of La Vega, 30 minutes to the south, where we would live for the next 20 plus years. The story of how we raised our support, how God provided a pastor for the church we had started, how he provided a missions umbrella organization for us, and how our kids were convinced of our decision is material for another entry. [The photo below is of our current missionary mail plane, flying out of Venice,FL. This organization is called Agape Flights Intl., they fly in once a week with the mail for over 300 missionary families in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.]

The answer to the question of how we became missionaries, is that God, put missions in our hearts before we met at college, and every ministry we worked in, until we left for the mission field, we considered preparation for our calling. In a way, we were home missionaries before we became foreign missionaries. When the time came, we were ready. It took awhile though, it was 15 years between the time we met at college, to the time we actually settled in the Dominican Republic. So don't be discouraged if you are feeling a call to work cross-culturally and the door does not seem to have opened yet. Wait on your calling. Perhaps the vision seems dim and uncertain, hang in there. Keep growing spiritually, and keep growing in ministry experience. Always make yourself fruitful for the kingdom of God, in this there is great value!
Agape Flights 

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