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Hero in Anybody’s Book

Good Morning Friends,

This morning I’m sending you an article I came across some time ago.  I think many of us can relate.

I’ve been talking about heroes the last few weeks, and one of the things that really speaks to me is the faithfulness of those men and women, even when faced with difficult or even dangerous situations. In fact, it seems to be those times of testing in the midst of the unknown that sets those people apart. The hero I want to show you today is Dr. William Leslie, a missionary in the Congo around the turn of the last century.

Just to stay alive in that place and at that time was a miracle in itself. The average life expectancy of a missionary to Africa back then was around six months. Dr. Leslie survived for 17 years, carrying the Gospel and treating the sick. The sad thing is, he finally went back home to Ontario, Canada, a broken, discouraged man. If he spoke of his time in the Congo, it was in terms of defeat and discouragement.

We could stop there, and gladly give this man “hero status” just on the basis of his faithfulness. But there’s more. Here are some excerpts from a magazine I came across awhile back. Unfortunately I’ve lost the name. But the article bears repeating:

“In 2010, a team led by Eric Ramsey with Tom Cox World Ministries made a shocking and sensational discovery. They found a network of reproducing churches hidden like glittering diamonds in the dense jungle across the Kwilu River from Vanga, where Dr. Leslie was stationed. With the help of a Mission Aviation Fellowship pilot, Ramsey and his team flew east from Kinshasa to Vanga, a two and a half hour flight in a Cessna Caravan. After they reached Vanga, they hiked a mile to the Kwilu River and used dugout canoes to cross the half-mile-wide expanse. Then they hiked with backpacks another 10 miles into the jungle before they reached the first village of the Yansi people.

“Based on his previous research, Ramsey thought the Yansi in this remote area might have some exposure to the name of Jesus, but no real understanding of Who He is. They were unprepared for their remarkable find. ‘When we got in there, we found a network of reproducing churches throughout the jungle,’ Ramsey reports. ‘Each village had its own gospel choir, although they wouldn’t call it that,’ he notes. ‘They wrote their own songs and would have sing-offs from village to village.’

“They found a church in each of the eight villages they visited scattered across 34 miles. Ramsey and his team even found a 1000-seat stone ‘cathedral’ in one of the villages. He learned that this church got so crowded in the 1980s – with many walking miles to attend — that a church planting movement began in the surrounding villages.

“Apparently, Dr. Leslie crossed the Kwilu River once a year from Vanga and spent a month traveling through the jungle, carried by servants in a sedan chair. He would teach the Bible, taught the tribal children how to read and write, talked about the importance of education, and told Bible stories.”

It was 84 years before his story of told, and he died never hearing it. But praise God, he now knows what his faithfulness accomplished.

Dr. William Leslie, a real hero is anybody’s book!

Every Day Heroes

Well, it’s been quite a weekend around here.  Good friends and brother-in-law to our daughter Nicki got married “again”…… to each other.  Last year about this time, in a small outback town, they stood in a church in front of a minister and no one else except for parents while they tied the knot. The whole country was in Covid lockdown, so all we could do was tune in on Zoom and wish we were there. At least their friends in town were able to swing by the church for a “drive by rice-ing”, but otherwise it was a pretty lonely affair.  Now, a year later, restrictions have eased, and we thoroughly enjoyed ‘Wedding: Take Two’. Tony even got to officiate this time, so he was quite pleased!

Then, seeing as how lots of relatives had come to town for the event, we threw a Baby shower the next day for Nicki. Such fun.

On the “heroes” theme this week, I wasn’t able to think too lofty, but as I hurried from kitchen to hair, to vacuum cleaner, I remarked to myself that we’re ALL surrounded by so many heroes in our lives.  Maybe you’d call them ‘Everyday heroes”.

Case in point: we had a friend in 1991 back in San Francisco.  I remember the time well because that was the terrible year when Tony’s Mom had a heart attack and proceeded to drop into a five-month coma, leaving us wondering if she’d ever wake up. She did, by the way, but that’s another story.

It was our year of “Stateside Assignment” from the mission, so Tony was teaching at Golden Gate Seminary. Our church had a weekly Bible study, and we always enjoyed the interesting people who attended. One of the guys was very quiet, usually sat over in the corner, and went by the name of Marcus Uzilevsky. Little by little, we learned his story, and what an amazing story it was!  Back in the 60’s, he was a lead singer for the New Christy Minstrels (If you’re in our generation, you’d know them immediately. If not, look them up), and even wrote and sang with Bob Dylan.

Our time in San Francisco was almost over. The last night of our Bible Study, we were sharing thoughts, and (believe it or not) I was too shy to say how I felt and how my heart was pouring over because of their love for us, and the thankfulness we felt because we thought that we were back on track with our lives.

I sat there mute, and then Marcus picked up his guitar and sang out a song he had written, (and we knew) from Psalms 30:11.  I couldn’t stop crying.  I’d sing it for you at this moment, but I have neither the voice nor the technology.

Here are some of the words he sang:

Arise ye people of the Ancient of Days

In Christ forever we will sing

For God is love and love is here to stay

The chimes of Heaven ring

And you have turned my mourning into dancing

You’ve taken away my sadness

From glory to glory, singin praises unto you

For you have covered me, with gladness

Again and again, over the next year, our world really did fall apart, between my mother-in-law’s heart attack, my dad’s failing health and to top it all off, our son’s eight-month losing battle with leukemia. Everywhere we went, it seemed, from hospital rooms to cheap motels, even in a government agency office where we were trying to put together our daughter’s adoption (the one, by the way, who as we speak is having a baby shower in our house), we’d run into Marcus’s paintings. Besides singing, he had discovered a passion for art, and you can find it today in just about every art shop in the country. Each encounter surprised us, but we could laugh and say that God hadn’t forgotten us and the influence this man had on our lives.

When you Google his name, you’ll see that he passed away in 2005.  We had contacted him a few times in the ensuing years and he was always happy to talk about the great things God was doing in his life, even though, as always, he seemed to be quite humble and in wonder of it all.

We all influence each other.  Can you think of someone who may not even know what a blessing they’ve been to you?  Have you told them?  I’d love to hear your “Hero” stories.

Hang on to your hats and realize that you ARE somebody’s hero!  Marsha

Perseverance

I still have a lot of heroes that I want to talk about, and today I want to tell you about two.  I can’t recall a lot of details about them because I only met them once for an afternoon about 48 years ago. But the fact that I do still recall the experience says something about the influence they had on me.

I’ve been rummaging through my “Africa Mementoes” for a picture of them, and finally remembered that, on that day in Zambia, I felt like I was in the presence of saints, and so taking a picture seemed somehow inappropriate. I do have a picture of their front yard and the wreckage of an old two-engine plane they had dragged in from the bush and set in cement like some sort of memorial.

The plane, they reckoned, was one of several that had been part of a challenge in the 1920s to fly from Cape Town to Cairo. This particular plane obviously didn’t make it, and there was no sign of the pilots, since by the time the wreck was discovered, nearly 30 years had passed.

Tony and I were short-term missionaries in Zambia from 1973-75.  We signed up and were sent from our affluent middle-class American families to ‘deepest darkest Africa”……. Well, not really. Our families weren’t that affluent and Zambia wasn’t all that dark, but these two old ladies stood out like beacons of light.

While living in Luanshya, Zambia, we made friends with a British guy named Keith.  Again, no last name comes to mind, but I’m sure he had one. How I wish I’d written more details, maybe even kept a journal…….. but alas,  the foolishness of youth. Keith was an engineer working on some sort of government project.  He came to our little church and we hit it off right away.

As it turns out, Keith was a pilot as well, serving as a volunteer with the Flying Doctors.  One Saturday he dropped by and said, “The doctor I was taking up has been taken sick himself, so would you two like to tag along for the ride?  I’ll be taking supplies and the all-important newspaper up to “the ladies”.

Of course we couldn’t resist.  Up we went, and within minutes were out of touch with all evidence of humanity, flying low over the African Savanna.

The way to get to “The Ladies” as they were known, was to fly north until you reached the Kabompo River, which marked the border between Zambia and the Republic of Congo, called Zaire at that time. Upon seeing the river, Keith turned east and started following it. “Wanna see some hippos?” he yelled over the engine noise, then immediately put the plane into a dive, leveling off just above the water. Sure enough we could see plenty of hippos, an occasional crocodile, and the frequent islands rising up from the middle of the river. Every time, Keith seemed to be surprised to see them and pulled the plane up sharply while Tony and I were clawing the padding out of our seats.

Skimming along over the water, looking at hippo tonsils, Keith suddenly sat up straighter and with the dignified voice of a pilot, announced, “Here we are”. We could see nothing different in the landscape, except for a crowd of ant-sized people running and shouting. With a quick “fly by” to make sure there was nothing on the airstrip, we banked back around and set down in what looked like a very small clearing, chopped out of the jungle. We learned later that the people, knowing we were coming, had given the area an extra cleaning, insuring there were no debris, animals, fires or children.

Rolling to a stop, we were surrounded by hundreds of people, happily shouting, dancing and singing.  We untangled ourselves, unloaded boxes and bags and followed the surge to the edge of the river where stood two outstanding double story brick homes.  They looked like something you’d see in Mother England.

We approached with our troupe to the nearest mansion and there, on the porch, struggling to stand out of their wicker chairs, were two of the most wizened and sweet ladies you’d ever meet.  They were the missionaries.

Ushered into the cool interior they showed us a table literally ‘groaning with food’ and as we gawked, they grabbed the newspapers from us. We sat and talked, laughed, prayed, sang and ate. Then we ate some more.

Too soon, but with an eye on the sky, it was time to repeat the plane trip home. The waiting villagers, who had been sitting in the dirt outside, jumped to attention and escorted us to the plane, again dancing and singing, reaching from all sides to stroke our arms and seemingly marvel at our whiteness.

What we learned in the having of the tea, was that these ‘girls’ had given their lives to this tiny tribe.  Long ago both husbands (the doctors) had died, but still the girls, who must have been in their 80’s by then, carried on, each living in their own house, ministering to the tribe and all their medical and spiritual needs.  They had no complaint whatsoever, especially if someone (like the Flying Doctors) dropped in with a newspaper and supplies now and then. They laughed that they hadn’t been back to England in 17 or 18 years; they’d lost count and really, “Why would you have any need to go?”

They mentioned having occasional trouble with ‘rascals’ who would boat over from the Congo side of the river with the intent of pillaging, but they always found that the villagers were way too protective of their treasure, so they slept well.

What selfless heroes.  Nameless except to the village that loved them and the God who gave them all their satisfaction. For these ladies, life was not a challenge, but a delight. In a way, they echoed the words of the Apostle Paul, in Philippians 4:11, “…I have learned to be content with whatever I have.”

I’m sure these “heroes of the faith” have gone on to be with the Lord by now. I’d love to know the rest of their stories but I guess I’ll have to wait until I see them in Heaven. But one thing I can be pretty sure of is that the village where they lived is still a better place because of them, and generations from now, if the Lord tarries, there will be men and women whose lives were changed because these two ladies poured out their lives there. I’d be willing to bet they’ll have some nice ‘mansions’ up there too!

Next week I’ve got a more documented story about another ‘hero’ missionary. As you may have picked up, I can go on and on about this.

Stay tuned, Marsha

A Happy Man

This last week we said goodbye to a wonderful young German couple who have been renting our downstairs apartment.  They are strong Christians, well versed in the Bible, and they have been ‘stuck’ here in Australia for over a year because of COVID. We believe that God sent them to us because the timing of their coming was such a blessing! Tony had been suffering from severe back pain (He’s only just now getting over it after five months of misery), and was unable to do even the simplest tasks, like mowing the lawn. Paul saw his predicament and said, “I would consider it a privilege if you would let me mow your lawn.” Tony agreed, so from that day on, Paul handled the lawn while Tony and I looked on and thanked God for this answer to a prayer we hadn’t even put into words.Sadly, their time here has come to an end. They have decided to try and “escape” Australia. First up to Cairns, where they hope to enjoy the beach for awhile and then pick up an airplane ticket to some country where they will be able to “hop scotch” around until they reach their homeland. We’re trying not to pray that they will be unable to leave and have to come back, but I know God will guide them wherever they go.But a comment that they mentioned several times about us brings to mind another hero I want to post below. His name was Billy Bray.  Here’s J. John Philo to talk about him:
“One of my heroes is the Cornish evangelist Billy Bray. Billy was born in 1794 in Cornwall. Despite growing up amongst a Christian faith, he soon began living a life filled with drunkenness and violence. He married a woman who had been a keen Methodist but who had let her faith lapse. Nevertheless, his wife’s memory of a happy former life challenged Billy and in 1823 he became desperately aware that he needed to ‘begin again’. He eventually found peace through Christ, and not long afterwards his wife returned to her faith. Billy’s conversion was radical and profound and a sense of wondrous deliverance never left him. In the next four decades, Billy’s life was marked with an extraordinary and exuberant joy that he continually expressed in spontaneous jumping, dancing and shouting, whether at work down the mine or in preaching. He lived simply and served his needy community. Billy gave away money without any concern for how it was to be replaced, raised orphans and built chapels. Many people came simply for the spectacle of seeing him, only to return home converted.”Billy Bray died in 1868, and the final word on his lips was ‘Glory!’”I find four things that speak to me about Billy Bray:

1. I’m challenged by Billy’s joy. Life was tough in the mining communities of early nineteenth-century Cornwall and Billy was always a poor man living amidst bitter poverty. Yet every mention of him speaks of his extraordinary joy, happiness and cheerfulness.

2. I’m challenged by Billy’s witness. For many Christians, sharing the faith is something that has to be encouraged. There was nothing of that with Billy Bray: he was a man who simply couldn’t help telling other people about Jesus.

3. I’m challenged by Billy’s simplicity. Literacy and learning are good and I’m all in favour of theological colleges. Yet, in thinking about Billy Bray, I can’t help but wonder if we have not paid too high a price for the pursuit of academia. Billy preached the simple gospel: because Jesus died for us, we  should put our trust in him. It served him well in his day; I see no reason why it shouldn’t serve us as well in ours.

4. I’m challenged by Billy’s authenticity. I think it was the secret to much of his fruitfulness. Authenticity attracts and encourages trust.

J.John While Tony and I didn’t grow up illiterate and drunken, somehow, Paul and Isabella have observed that we’re happy people!  We don’t dance much these days, but they said they saw in us a love for God, for each other, and for life in general.I thought their observation was interesting. We’ve been told that kind of thing before (Praise the Lord!), but lately we’ve been having some trying times, mostly in the form of aches and pains which I supposed are associated with increasing age. But then last week, our son Nathan was diagnosed with Viral Meningitis. He’s slowly recovering, but it’s been so hard to watch him suffer, and also to see his wife and children watch him suffer. And yet the Germans think we’re happy.Well, truth be known, we ARE happy, when you get to the heart of the matter. God is still on His throne and we are so very blessed, how could we be anything but joyful? It might be my prayer, what is noted further down in Billy Bray’s story, “Many people came simply for the spectacle of seeing him, only to return home converted.”Hope this finds you happy as well.  Marsha

Daniel

As we continue examining some of the “Heroes of the Faith” that I’ve come across either historically or personally, this week I want to focus on some long standing friends of ours, who are among those who would definitely qualify.

A few weeks ago, their baby died.   He was actually almost forty, but because of a freak event where his mother revived him from SIDS and some pretty random genetic stuff (less than 25 known cases worldwide) he ‘grew up’ functioning at the level of a 6 month old.

The reason we knew this family was because for many years we worked together with them on and off as missionaries to the Japanese.  Daniel, as well as their other two kids were a part of our lives and we have some great memories together. These always included Daniel, usually smiling and cooing from his backpack or stroller.

You cannot say Daniel was not an individual, with likes and dislikes, opinions and personality. If you’re a parent, I’m sure you can remember the joys of having babies around. But part of the joy is in knowing that those adorable kids will move on and grow into toddlers, teenagers and adults. Daniel, tragically, never moved on.

The heroes I mention today are the parents as well as Daniel’s brother and sister who each made their own sacrifices.   At one point in time, Mom told me that not a day passed when she didn’t cry.  But she laughed as well.  She loved her family, she loved us and the Japanese with whom they worked. She loved God, and still does, even though the road has been tough and often very difficult at times to understand.

Daniel’s dad even today looks like a teenager, always enthusiastic and ready for the challenge. I remember marveling when I’d see this couple from a distance. You’d never know that they had a care in the world. Together they’ve made a real difference in everyone they touched.

When our own son went from healthy to dying rather suddenly at 16, Daniel was about 12 and, as least in our minds, more than ‘ready to go’. His mom and I cried together about our inability to understand God’s timing.  We both agreed that we’ll never know God’s mind……. but then, that’s why He’s God.

As I sat bereaved after Trevor died, I tried to feel sorry for myself, (and I confess that I did).  But I kept thinking of all the unsung mothers out there who had “lost” their babies, but not to death.  Those precious children somehow slipped off the rails and became a source of grief that never seemed to get any better. I felt so sorry for those families, whose burden was made all the more horrible because it seemed that no one came by to see if they were all right, or how they now felt about God and his Sovereign will. These are the real ‘left behinds’ in a grieving world.  My heart went out to them then, and still does now.

Daniel’s in Heaven now with a perfect body. We firmly believe that, even though it sounds like a trivial ‘pat answer’ to help a grieving family.  But that’s the “Hope of Heaven”, after all, and made all the more wonderful because it’s true.

Real Heroes do it tough, even when people don’t even seem to know or understand. Maybe that’s what makes them heroes, at least in my mind.  I want to thank God that I have these people in my life.

Please pray for this family as they adjust to their ’new normal’.

Marsha

Lessons from a Cow

Good morning to all,

Hope you had a super BLESSED Easter. We really did!

Today, I’d like to borrow again another “Heroes of the Faith” by J. John, the English Vicar. Some would call it blatant plagiarism, but first, I think since I’m attributing it, I’m okay, and second, I hope you’ll understand my desire to share these thoughts from someone more eloquent than myself.

I find this article interesting for a number or reasons. Who would think because you were impoverished by your father’s death, you’d have to give up the ministry and become a doctor?  Times have changed.

But what didn’t change is the persistence of using sound thinking and not giving up just because people find your reasoning contrary to theirs.  I think this story also carries a rather important message for us at this time as COVID drags on and on.  We seem to face daily yet somehow new ‘wonders’.  We wonder what is happening or we wonder about how our life is going to look in the future if we can’t get this world pandemic under control. Life is hard right now for a lot of us, physically, mentally and especially spiritually.

So I hope you’ll take a moment to read the following and understand with me that many of our problems are not new, in fact they’re very old, and yet our God is eternally the same.  What we need to do is just have courage and soldier on.

Have a great week!

Marsha

Heroes of the Faith: Edward Jenner

It has been said of Edward Jenner that ‘his work saved more lives than any other man on earth’. It’s an extraordinary claim for someone who spent his entire life as a country doctor, but it may well be true.

Edward Jenner was born in 1749 in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, England, the son of the local vicar. His family had a long tradition of sending people into the church, but the death of Jenner’s father left the family impoverished and forced the young man to take up another career. From an early age Jenner had a great interest in science and the natural world and was apprenticed to a doctor. Learning the trade, he went on to work in London where his skills both as a physician and a scientist were soon recognised. He was invited by Captain Cook to be part of the science team on his second voyage to Australasia. Jenner, however, had no love of either travel or London life and soon returned to his home village as its doctor.

Jenner’s reputation as a caring and wise doctor grew among his community but he continued to pursue his long-standing fascination with nature. He was particularly interested in birds and his careful studies of cuckoo behaviour gained him such respect in the British scientific community that he was elected to the prestigious Royal Society.

The great medical curse of the age was the killer disease smallpox. In Europe, around 400,000 people a year died from the disease. Typically, when smallpox swept through a village 20 to 50 per cent of those infected died. A third of the survivors of smallpox went blind and many more were scarred for life.

People were so desperate to avoid smallpox that they sought to be deliberately inoculated from sores of those who had a mild form of the disease in the hope that this would give them some immunity. It was a risky procedure with limited success: the great American preacher Jonathan Edwards died as a result of it. It was a disease without a cure.

In thinking about smallpox, Jenner pondered a dairymaid’s intriguing comment: ‘I shall never have smallpox for I have had cowpox.’ Cowpox was a mild infection of animals which could be caught by humans with little harmful effect. Jenner concluded that there must be a possibility that smallpox could be prevented by inoculating people with cowpox. Yet as a scientist he knew that to be of any worth, any experiments had to be conducted carefully. When an outbreak of cowpox occurred locally, Jenner deliberately inoculated a young stablehand with it. The boy suffered only mild effects and when, a few months later, he was inoculated with smallpox, he failed to catch the far more serious disease. Encouraged, Jenner persisted with more inoculations and in 1797 sent a short communication to the Royal Society describing his results. His paper was rejected on the grounds that it had only 13 samples. Disappointed but not deterred, Jenner went away and carried out more work, eventually publishing his results at his own expense.

Jenner called his new procedure vaccination after the Latin word for cow, vacca. Despite controversy, his method spread rapidly throughout Britain and was soon taken up across the world. Jenner refused to make money out of his discovery – he inoculated the poor for free – and in encouraging the careful use of the new technique he bankrupted himself.

There is very little to say about the rest of Jenner’s life. He continued as a doctor and consultant, kept up his interest in the natural world and died in 1823. His old adversary, smallpox, outlasted him but not for long. Increasingly confined to remote parts of the world, it was finally eradicated in 1980.

Despite the turbulence of the times in which Jenner lived – the Napoleonic wars were raging – his fame became enormous. He was soon considered one of the most famous men in Europe and honoured everywhere, even by Napoleon, who had his entire army vaccinated.

Edward Jenner was a committed Christian. He was typical of many believers in every age who demonstrate their faith through the way they live their lives. An amiable, quiet, warm-hearted Christian, ever ready with the appropriate Bible verse, Jenner was anxious that his discovery would be used as widely as possible. He was particularly concerned that praise should be directed not to him, but to the God who had made and used him.

I find many challenges in the life of Edward Jenner.

First, I’m challenged by what Jenner achieved. In Christian circles, it is still sometimes held that the highest calling that anyone can have is that of being a full-time minister of the gospel. Circumstances demanded that Jenner never made it as a preacher but it’s hard to imagine a life of greater value than his.

Second, I’m challenged by how Jenner let his Christianity guide his work as a doctor and a scientist. His faith supported and regulated all that he did as a doctor and scientist. His science – apparently still impressive two centuries on – overflowed with virtues: enquiring, accurate and honest.

Third, I’m challenged by his determination. Jenner’s first efforts at publishing his results were rejected. Instead of giving up, he simply went back and got more data until his work was accepted. Vaccination then, as now, was controversial and Jenner had more than his fair share of criticism. Nevertheless, trusting in his knowledge, his studies and his God, he stood firm against his critics.

Finally, I’m challenged by Jenner’s immunity to fame. Here is a man who became quite literally a household name across the world, yet his celebrity status left him unchanged. Jenner remained to the end of his life a man who was gentle, humble and gracious.

So at a time when the word vaccination is widely heard, spare a thought for Edward Jenner, the man who started it all. A true hero of the faith.

J. John
Reverend Canon

Crosses in the Sky

So here we are on Easter Sunday. We’ll be sending it out a little early today because thru a set of unforeseen circumstances, Tony will be preaching 3 times today (once in Japanese) and that doesn’t include the dawn service or the evening celebration, which of course we’ll try to attend as well.

I hope you’re looking forward to a wonderful day, hopefully COVID free.  This last week, we had only a five-hour notice before a surprise “Lock Down”, much like a pop quiz. It was imposed on anyone who’d been in the Brisbane area in the last week!  The self-imposed lockdown was only for three days, but we’d gone up to Brisbane (an hour away), last Sunday for the Japanese Church that meets there. For a moment, we considered just not fessing up, but then remembered that we had “logged in” as per government rules, so big brother was watching.

All this came about because of an unexplained CoVid outbreak, with four people testing positive. The authorities panicked and shut everyone down.  It didn’t hurt us as much as our grandkids, (who’d also been up there for a basketball game).  They were in the last week of their first term of school, which was brought to a screeching halt.

Now, as I’m writing this, we’ve been ‘released’ for Easter and the school holidays, as long as we wear masks.  This is a first for us, but I don’t think we’ll get much sympathy with all you readers who have been subjected to this for over a year now.

But this morning I’m here to talk about Heroes.  Of course the obvious one today would be Jesus, don’t you think?  What would we do without Him and His wonderful Resurrection!

But I’d also like to mention a guy from 312 AD.  He was the Roman Emperor Constantine.  You may or may not have heard of him and I’ll let you decide if he was a hero or not.

As most of you know, in his role as Emperor, he was gearing up for a big battle. On the eve before he would be meeting the enemy at a place called the Milvian Bridge, Constantine looked up in the sky, and saw what he was convinced was a cross glowing out of the sunset.  Then that night, he had a dream where he claimed he saw Jesus. The message he heard was loud and clear: “Carry the Cross into Battle”.

The dream, along with the heavenly vision, convinced him. Royal flag makers were rousted out of bed, and told to replace his elaborate war banners for ones with a large cross on them. The next day, Constantine had an unprecedented victory.  This convinced him to become a “Christian” immediately, and furthermore to put an end to Christian persecution.

Researching his story might leave you wondering if this was a good or bad thing for Western Civilization in general and the Church in particular. Imagine a world where one day you were meeting in small groups while hiding from the law, and the next day those lawmen were coming to your church and telling everyone that they had to be baptized!

But the fact is, this event opened the way for the acceptability of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire.  Constantine’s mother actually became a true believer, and set out for the Holy Land, in search of all the places mentioned in the Bible where Jesus lived and worked. Using all that was available, the 300 yr old oral tradition, she identified many of the places that are still popular, so if nothing else, the tourist industry owes her a huge debt of gratitude. We all believe the things actually occurred in the Holy Land and it’s nice to have an idea where it could have possibly happened.

Constantine is also credited for initiating the 326 AD Nicene Creed, a convention of over 300 reigning church fathers,  which we still recognize today. That declaration of belief states that Jesus is both ALL God and ALL man, not created but begotten.

And one more thing….. he started the first recognized Christian ‘event’ we call Easter. Now, without prejudice or persecution, we all can celebrate Christ’s resurrection!  Aren’t we happy about that?

Hopefully you can gather with others today and thank Jesus again for dying and resurrecting so that we can have eternal life!

And maybe we could have a little shout out to the Easter bunny, totally pagan but much loved, who in Australia at least, shuns the real eggs and focuses completely on the Chocolate ones!

Till next week, hopefully with no surprise government edicts,
Marsha

Chasing Needles

I’ve been enjoying writing this little self-made series on “Heroes of the Faith”.  I love sorting thru my mind to see what (hopefully) God will bring to it.

Several of our friends have been scurrying  around here getting “The Jab” as Aussies call it, to immunize themselves against the Corona virus.  We are sitting in the back, verrrry quietly hoping that more time and research will pass before we’re required to line up.

But all this furor made me remember something that happened a long time ago. And instead of avoiding the Jab, we were trying to get it!
It all started when our mission asked us to run over to Hong Kong for three months to pave the way for the arrival of another missionary family who would be taking on the Japanese church there. It was good timing, since we needed to pull away from our ministry in Japan long enough for them to call a Japanese pastor, something they might never have done if we had stayed in the area. So we were delighted to go. Son Nathan would keep up his home schooling and 6-year-old daughter Nicki would enter the Japanese school there. There were operating on the same curriculum as Japanese schools in Japan, so she never missed a beat.

As we were making plans for Hong Kong, we were also setting up for a three-month assignment in Ethiopia. It had occurred to us that our children had become way to “citified” and needed to be exposed to REAL missionary work in a jungle somewhere. But that’s another story.
So there we were in Hong Kong.  We were on a very restrictive budget as the whole Ethiopia-jungle-encounter was not covered by mission funds, and we’d have to foot the bill for the experience. We’d be working in a refugee camp 500 miles from the nearest asphalt, so we figured saving money while there would be a cinch.

We began re-thinking that idea when all the lists of required vaccinations started coming in, but hey! This was what real missions was all about, we told the kids.
Our first Sunday in Hong Kong, we met the nicest Chinese couple. He was a prominent doctor (and still is) and they had such a heart for the Japanese people in Hong Kong that they attended our service every week.  They also hosted a Bible Study in their home. The number of people they continue to influence for the Kingdom is legendary.
He, being a doctor, as soon as he heard we were headed for Africa announced, “I’ll provide your immunizations so you won’t have to worry about that expense!” We were greatly relieved, because that alone would have cost us most of our budget.

But then we hit a little snag.  The Yellow Fever immunization, because it is a live virus, can only be administered by the Health Department in Hong Kong.  We didn’t say anything to our friend, but we found out that it would be hundreds of dollars.  We asked the Lord again about the wisdom of this adventure, and continued on, looking right and left for a ‘sign’.

We didn’t say a thing to anyone else either.  It’s mostly better not to let everyone know you’re on a fool’s errand, especially if it’s at the cost of normal living. And then one day at the Bible study, the Dr’s wife handed me an envelope. I didn’t have time to look at it as we hurried out the door to catch the train, but standing on the platform, I teased the envelope open.

Tears blurred my eyes as I read the note.  “Here’s a little something for you to be able to enjoy a bit of Hong Kong.”
How did she know that the amount she put in the envelope was the EXACT amount we needed for the immunizations? And as for “enjoying Hong Kong”, there was plenty of that, thanks to the doctor, his wife, and all our new friends at the Japanese church.

We went to Ethiopia.  I think it grew all four of us in our faith, because it wasn’t safe and sometimes it wasn’t fun, but God was with us in amazing and obvious ways like only He can be! One of these days, I’ll share that chapter of our lives with you. Or, if you can’t wait, read about it in our memoirs, Weaving Sunlight.

Years later, we talked with the doctor and his wife, telling them about the amazing “coincidence” that day when our needs were so fully provided, thanks to their generosity. They insisted that she just opened her wallet and didn’t even count the wad of cash she put in the envelope.

Isn’t living a life with God fun?? Unknown, even to themselves, Heroes of the Faith………

Heroes at the Sushi Shop

Hello from Rainy Sydney!

Today I want to tell you about a couple of heroes that are actually alive.

The first one is our friend, more like a brother since we go way back to college days.  His name is Bob Gierhart.  We met him over 50 years ago right after we were married in Colorado, where we both grew up.

Soon we were off to see the world together, in a group called “Journeymen” which is a short-term branch of our mission with the Southern Baptists.  He went to Japan and we were sent (where we hadn’t asked, but were thankful in the end) to Africa.

Three years later, while attending the same seminary, Tony was Bob’s best man in his wedding.  Several decades later our son was their son’s groomsman.  As you can see, we’re related.

But Bob has a vastly different personality to us.  He has principals that he is willing to fight for.  He is steady and faithful.  Dare we call him a ‘prudent non-adventurer”? He is happy to stay at home and think lofty thoughts, work incessantly without a thought of personal needs, and never forget (with the help of his wife) the least of all of God’s creatures.

By what some would call a ‘twist of fate’ but we prefer ‘God’s call”, we both landed in Sydney Australia in 1998, tasked with establishing a ministry with the Japanese living here.  By now, we’d both been in Japan for 20+ years and had fallen in love with the people.

Getting here was a story in itself, and they’ll be happy to tell you, but we both went to work in a struggling little Japanese church. We settled in and made friends, did our bit to attract people to church, helped with the preaching and teaching……… all the stuff most missionaries do.

Bob and Gail settled down and didn’t swerve.  He didn’t take days off.  They were not tempted by ‘days out’ even when we tried to lure them into irresponsible behavior. If no one showed up to a meeting, Tony and I packed up and hit the road.  Bob and Gail stayed for another hour.

Then came along a Christian Korean wife with a Japanese husband who lived way out in the western suburbs of the city.  The husband somehow indicated that he would consider a Bible study but it had to be tailored to his needs because he owned a sushi shop and it didn’t close till 10PM…….. every night.

Of course, I’m guessing if we’d been asked to do this, we’d have stopped listening when we heard the address, much less the hour, but Bob took the bait.

Off he went.  FAITHFULLY for weeks……..then months, and before anyone knew it, it was a year……  once a week, every week, arriving at closing time and coming home in the wee hours.

Gradually, the world of salvation opened up and this man became genuinely interested in what was being said.

Finally the day came when he opened his heart to the reason he was created and became a Christian.  It wasn’t long before he exchanged the sushi shop for Bible school. Today, he’s the pastor of the very church where the Gierharts and we had invested some of our lives.

And largely the reason we came down to Sydney this weekend was to visit this church, and what a visit it was!  The church was FULL, the people were engaged, the singing was wonderful.

Really a huge blessing to us, but most of all to see it so capably led by someone we might have looked over if it hadn’t been for a true hero of the faith who was willing to do whatever it took to bring this man to salvation.

God uses us all according to his purposes, and we’re glad for our peer-heroes, Bob and Gail Gierhart.

A Unique Hero

Hello Friends,

Today, getting back to my theme of “heroes of the faith, I want to share with you the biography of a man who seems to qualify absolutely. In the words of my grandson, who insisted on his own vow of poverty, here was one who embraced the simple life because accumulating wealth would mean “having too much stuff to put away.”

I’ll be borrowing from one of my favorite guys, Reverend J. John, who is a Vicar in England and who has inspired me more than once. To my knowledge he has no “bad press” against him, and furthermore, what he is sharing has really meant something to me.  In the interest of space, I’m going to paraphrase J. John in places, but if you want the original in its entirety, drop me a line and I’ll send you the links. Here’s what J. John has to say about this “Hero of the Faith”:

“One of the fascinating things about Christianity is how very different the great men and women of God are. George Müller (1805–1898) was not just different; he was unique.

Müller was born in what was then the Kingdom of Prussia (now Germany). He was no stranger to the local jails, having been involved in a variety of petty crimes and scams. However, in 1825, he attended a prayer meeting where he encountered Christ. With a call to mission work, he ended up in London working amongst Jews. But it soon became evident that he was a gifted preacher and evangelist, and so became the minister of a chapel.
Soon he and his wife moved to Bristol where they became involved in creating Christian schools and supporting missionaries. Müller established 117 schools that offered Christian education to tens of thousands of children.
However, he is remembered above all for his extraordinary achievements with orphans. In the Britain of the early 19th century the combination of large families, extreme poverty and a high level of adult mortality had resulted in many orphans, most of whom ended up on the street. The state ignored them and in 1836, Müller and his wife began taking them in. Soon, a home for 300 children was built. By 1870, five homes housed 1,700 children. By the end of Müller’s life, he had housed, clothed and educated over 10,000 orphaned children.

This achievement alone would justify Müller’s hero status, but what is astonishing is that in doing what he did he never made requests for financial support. He simply prayed that God would supply all his needs and left it to him to supply them.
And in fact, God did just that. Müller was a meticulous administrator and his detailed accounts reveal that in his lifetime he received £1.5 million pounds in money and gifts; a figure that today would be over £100 million. But always astonishingly generous, he refused donations for his own well-being and died in near poverty.

These figures disguise an astonishing reality. There are many well-attested accounts of how, when he and his staff seemed to be on the point of running out of either food or money, last-minute unsolicited donations or gifts arrived. On one occasion, Müller found himself with 300 orphans assembled for breakfast and no food at all. He simply sat them down at the table and confidently said grace. At this point, a knock at the door occurred. It was a local baker who had woken up at 2 o’clock in the morning with a feeling that he needed to bake more bread than usual and take it to the orphanage. Shortly afterwards a milkman arrived to say that his wagon had broken down outside the orphanage and he wanted to offer his milk to the children. Along with his orphanage work, Müller spent 17 years as a missionary, traveling over 200,000 miles teaching and preaching. His funeral in 1898 brought Bristol to a standstill with tens of thousands of people standing along the route.

Two things must be said. First, Müller was a unique individual and it was his personal decision to never ask for money. He felt that this was what God wanted for him and that it would demonstrate that a miracle-working God still existed. It may also have been due to his pre-conversion tendency to raise money through fraud.

I am reminded of my favourite George Müller quote: ‘Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man’s power ends.’ Indeed that was true then and continues to be true today.”

This next weekend Tony and I will be in Sydney visiting our original Japanese Church.  We are very excited about seeing everyone after about 2 years thanks to Covid.  We’ll have a more ‘current’ hero story for you next week, so stay tuned!

Always, Marsha