I can hardly believe that we have been back in the United States for close to two months now. It was my desire to be back in Talamanca during the last weeks of October. When we left Costa Rica, it looked as if we may receive some funding from the government there to proceed with one of the bridges that we have started. As it turned out, the funding was either held-up or misdirected in the process of working through channels. Whatever the reason, the result is the same, no money for materials or flights. So we find ourselves here in North Carolina waiting to see what God will do.
Since being back, we have enjoyed the blessing of being able to attend worship services at various churches in person, instead of watching online as we usually do in Costa Rica. However, on occasion, I’ve found myself reacting to them in a very much unexpected manner. Here is the normal routine. I get up on Sunday morning and usually watch two or three preaching services on television before we leave the house for Sunday school. Sunday school is always a joy in that it provides an opportunity to discuss and question aspects of God’s Word both new to us, as well as long held beliefs. Then comes the worship service. A choir or instrumentalist is usually present for our entertainment and to help us enter the proper reverential frame of mind. Then corporate praise is manifest through song which hopefully focuses our thinking on the things of God. Corporate prayer is engaged in as we make petition to the Throne of Grace as the body of Christ and the Church of Living Stones. We learn of opportunities in which we can be light and hope to the lost and hurting both in our community and to the uttermost parts of the earth. And of course, we get to hear the Word of God expounded upon in order that we might learn how to live out our faith and embrace our individual calling. There is no arguing the fact corporate worship is vital for our spiritual health and growth.
As we were driving home one Sunday several weeks ago, after a particularly moving time with God, my heart was absolutely filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit. The communion with God and with the body of believers congregated together had been marvelous and seemed to erase all the cares of this world. The fellowship meal after the service conjured up images of the early church and the manner in which the New Testament describes their meeting and sharing of meals together. Nearing the house, I unexpectedly began to feel a deep sense of guilt. I had spent most of the day immersed in a sense of joy and totally assured of the promise of eternal life with my creator. Now, while reflecting on and basking in my great blessing, I am interrupted by a creeping shadow of guilt. How could that happen? I didn’t understand at first. Allow me to illustrate if I can.
Imagine being stretched out in a lounge chair on the deck of a luxury cruise ship. You have just had an exquisite meal consisting of all your favorites cooked to perfection. Now you are basking, eyes closed, in the warm sunshine with a cool breeze blowing across your face. The motion of the ship, the background noise of laughter and your favorite music playing softly somewhere all conspire to envelope you in a state of total blissfulness. You are at peace, no cares, no worries all is right with the world. Then for some inexplicable reason you detect another sound. The sound at first is barely audible as it mixes with the laughter and the music, but you sense it doesn’t fit the setting. You at first dismiss it and go back to concentrating on the sunshine and cool breeze, and how really comfortable the cushions on those deck chairs are. Soon however, the sound cannot be ignored any longer; you tell yourself that you are going to have to either leave the deck, or sit-up and see, what it is that is disturbing the peace of such a perfect day. As you hesitantly rise from your rest and stand by the rail, the source of the sound becomes clear. Gazing across the surface of the water you can see them, a seemingly endless number of people struggling and drowning in the ocean of hopelessness. Their only hope is to get them aboard the ship. Standing by the rail, we are faced with a choice; go back to the lounge chair because it is safe and comfortable and turn up the music or launch out in a life raft and see how many we can save from destruction.
The past year has been a particularly difficult struggle for us. Financially, from the very beginning the ministry has operated on the very edge. Personally, for many years, I and my family have lived at a level below that which the government says one is in poverty. We have done so because with our level of funding it was the only way we could continue to minister. Then this year, with all of our vehicles needing major repairs and many of our necessary tools ceasing to function, the unanticipated expenses soared. For the first time, we have ended the year in the red. Were it not for the generosity of a few unknowing individuals we would be even deeper under water. Needless to say, the sum of all this had the tendency to add to a sense of discouragement.
However, we are in Costa Rica for one reason. We are not there because you can make a “good living” as a missionary, it is not because there is any fame attached or because it is a particularly easy way of life. We are there because God has called us to man a life raft in the jungle of Talamanca, where people are drowning in a sea of hopelessness. They are in the midst of eternal damnation and their only hope is to climb into the raft Jesus has provided and someone has sent. Evangelize and disciple; first, get them in a raft, and then teach them how to row and to demonstrate compassion for those still drowning. That’s why we are in Costa Rica.
Why do I constantly beat the drum for a helicopter? It is not about flying in and of itself. It is not about simply making my work easier. It is not about helping with the bridge building or the medical clinics. It is about making the work of discipleship possible. As things stand now, it is impossible to have a plan for discipleship in Talamanca. We have no way of spending adequate time in the villages to do so. A helicopter is the only thing missing from the equation to make discipleship possible. Finding a helicopter is easy. By tomorrow I could have one located. The thing that stands in our way is nothing more than a simple lack of money. I can’t provide it; I’ve already explained how deeply I’m invested in the work now. But somewhere there is someone who can. Maybe they can’t buy the helicopter outright, but they could become more deeply invested in Talamanca. “Why do you keep talking about helicopters,” you may ask, “when you can’t even pay your bills on time.” My wife in her practicality asks me the same question often. My answer is always the same. It is about fulfilling the calling. It is about holding on to the answer even in the face of how ridiculous it may sound.
I must admit at times it would be easier to give in to expediency. To just accept that no one else sees or feels the urgency and necessity of having a helicopter, so the need must not really exist. Why not just shelve the whole idea as being over-the-top if not completely crazy? Then, a certain man comes to mind. He was told to build a boat. And not just any boat, a very large boat. Furthermore, it was not just the building of a boat that may have seemed strange, but the reason for the building of a large boat. He was to put at least one of every kind of animal in the world on that boat. I have pondered what the people living close to this man must have thought. I have wondered at the ridicule and possible moments of self-doubting this man must have endured. And he endured them for what would be a life-time for us. Ridicule and self-doubt, but in the end, vindication.
It was a wonderful Sunday several weeks ago, a blissful few hours in a deck chair. But we cannot and we will not stay there. The sound of the lost struggling against the tide of darkness is ever present in our ears. We know that just over the deck rail a life boat is needed in the tempest that is Talamanca. A little shadow of guilt for wanting to stay where it is comfortable urges us back into the fray.
I understand the reality that Talamanca is not very high on most people’s priority list. The thought of lost Indians in some mountain village probably does not keep many of you up at night. That fact is not necessarily good or bad, it just is. The lost in Botswana do not keep me up at night but I pray for the missionaries there when they are brought to mind. I am very grateful to those of you who make room in their budgets to provide us some support, which in turn, allows us to be a voice for the body of Christ in Talamanca. I am sure many of you support the work of Christ in multiple locations not just Talamanca and I applaud you for it.
There is a conclusion I have reached and it is one which brings a request for help. In Matthew 28, we are told the last thing Jesus did on earth was to give His believers their marching orders. The Church was to get people saved. Notice, I did not say the Church was to save people (that’s Jesus’ purvey), but rather to get them to become believers. In Romans chapter 10 we are given the equation for people being saved. That equation is Wc = m + p + s = b. That is (the work of the church) = (message) + (preacher) + (sender) = believers. Each factor in the equation is necessary and I might add is the product of a calling. If there are to be believers there must first be a message to believe in. The message was Christ and it was demonstrated by Christ. Jesus’ calling, the very reason He came to earth, the priority in all that He did, was to make the message manifest. The second factor if there are to be believers is a preacher to deliver the message in word and deed. In our case, we have been called to be a deliverer of the message to Talamanca. Because we were called to Talamanca and it was not a simple choosing of something to do, delivering the message to Talamanca is the priority of our life. The third factor in the equation and equally important as the first two is the sender. If there are to be believers, there must be senders called of God to insure that the message is carried by the preacher (missionary) to the lost.
Notice if you please, there are only three factors. In fact, there are only two of the three factors in which we might identify ourselves. Therefore, if you are a member of the body of Christ, you must either be a purveyor of the message or a sender of the purveyor. I believe that if you are a sender, you should have a calling to a particular place or people equally as strong as the calling of the purveyor to that people or place. I have seen nowhere in Scripture evidence that would lead me to believe otherwise. Why should the calling to send be less demanding than the calling to purvey? I understand that our calling is not exclusive. When I have the opportunity to carry the message to some place other than Talamanca, I am eager for the chance. When I have opportunity and means to participate as a sender in giving to other missionaries or ministries, I do so, not using my calling to Talamanca as an excuse not to. But, the labor of my life is invested in Talamanca where I’m called.
Now, my aforementioned request for help. In order to purchase a helicopter and have the money necessary to operate it and the airplane effectively in Talamanca, our funding must greatly increase. I ask that you would not only pray for us, but that you do it fervently. Please pray that God would direct our path and the path of whomever He is intending to call as a sender to Talamanca, so that those two paths might soon intersect. As I said, I am very grateful to those of you who because of opportunity and means have supported our effort. It has kept us going. But opportunity and means change, which is evidenced by how many people over the years began to support us and then stop. Nothing wrong with that, we can and should give or speak wherever we feel led at the moment. But if we are to initiate a ministry on the scale necessary to be effective in remote jungle areas, we must have senders who believe their giving is a calling. A calling they cannot deny or set aside. Which means Talamanca becomes a priority in their life and thinking of the lost in jungle villages keeps them up occasionally at night.
May God’s abundant blessings engulf you and may they drive you to a life raft with which to seek the lost and not to the comfort of a deck chair.