I began this journey of faith nearly fourty years ago. I'm overwhelmed as I think about how God has taken care of me over these last four decades. I invite you to share in the blessings of God's sovereign hand as He has guided my life. I submit this account to you in order that you might rejoice with me and glorify our Heavenly Father together. All glory and honor goes to Him because it's His faithfulness that has seen me through these many years. "Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!"
Jehovah-Jireh -- God Will Provide!
In Genesis 12:1 God told Abraham, "Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you." Thus began Abraham's journey of faith. Much like Abraham, my own journey of faith began in 1973 on the campus of Oregon Institute of Technology. Little did I know back then when I accepted Jesus' free gift of salvation where that journey would lead me.
Abraham learned many lessons of faith in both his victories and defeats along life's pathway. Both tears of joy and sorrow had prepared him well for his ultimate crisis of faith. When his dearly beloved son inquired about the sacrificial lamb, Abraham responded, "Jehovah-Jireh ... God will provide!"
As God began to direct my life toward a ministry in missions, He impressed upon me the truth of 1 Thessalonians 5:24 "Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass (NASB)." Time and again He has proven the veracity of that statement.
In the Fall of 1982 I headed off to the training course of New Tribes Mission. I had saved up a nice little "nest egg" which I had thought would see me through 2 years of training. However, Jehovah-Jireh had other lessons of faith that He desired to teach me. God led me to give that nice little "nest egg" to a friend who was headed off to Bible College at the time. So with no visible means of support, I packed my car and headed for the NTM training program in Baker Oregon. Jehovah-Jireh faithfully saw me through the first year of my training there. It seemed like I always had just enough money to pay my school bills and put food on the table. A year later, I found myself heading toward Camdenton Missouri to take the language acquisition course that NTM offers.
Upon arriving at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri my excitement quickly turned to despair. My car broke down about 200 miles from my destination. I used all the money that I had (which wasn't much) for parts to fix it. I finally made it to Camdenton, but I was flat broke. Then to make matters worse, I found out that my monthly rent and school bill was going to be much larger than what I had faced a year ago. Like Hezekiah of old, I laid out my bills before God and in tears cried out, "Lord, you just barely got me through the first year of my training in Baker. Now, just look at this bill! How on earth are you going to provide for this?" Looking back now, my discussion with Jehovah-Jireh sounds kind of silly, but that's exactly what poured out of my heart at that time.
During my "quiet time" God smacked me between the eyes with His Word. Have you ever read a familiar verse over and over and then all of a sudden you saw it in a different light? Well, that's exactly what happened to me. I was reading in Hebrews chapter 13. I knew the last half of verse 5 well, which says, "... I will never leave you nor forsake you." I had always thought that verse was about eternal security. But for the first time I saw it in its context. The verse begins, "Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said ... (NASB)." The application was clear! The same Jehovah-Jireh that saw me through the training in Baker Oregon would also see me through the training in Camdenton Missouri. And do you know what? He did!
I Can't Do It!
Like Abraham, tears of joy and sorrow along this amazing journey prepared me for my next major step of faith. The words seemed to echo in my head, "would you consider teaching at New Tribes Language Institute?" As a baby Christian, I told God that there were two things that I could never do. Since I dreaded public speaking, I could never be a pastor or a teacher. Could Jehovah-Jireh actually be asking me to do something that I felt that I was not qualified to do? As God told Moses long ago, so too He confirmed to my heart, "I will be with your mouth"! Not only did God give me the ability to teach, but I actually enjoyed it!
Most missionaries spend time raising support before going to their field of service. However, there was no time for that in my case. I was asked to jump into the fray without that luxury. Today, those early years of ministry seem somewhat bleak by comparison, yet Jehovah-Jireh faithfully saw me through once again.
Not only did I have enough to meet my needs, but I found that I really enjoyed the teaching ministry.
Saying good-bye to NTM!
In the Spring of 2001, I faced my own "crisis of faith". Jehovah-Jireh had indeed provided these many years, but looking at present circumstances gave one reason to wonder.
The year of 2000 was pretty rough for me personally. During that time I saw three families leave the ministry at New Tribes Language Institute because they lacked financial support. I had taught with my good friend and coworker, Sam, for over 10 years and now he and his family were leaving due to lack of finances. To make matters worse, my largest individual donor informed me that he would no longer be able to support my ministry. The future was not looking very bright. My friends were saying good-bye to NTM and I realized that I was not above the same problems that they were facing. Would Jehovah-Jireh continue to provide even though that provision was nowhere to be seen? Only time would tell.
I've never been fully supported as long as I've been with NTM, and yet my needs have always been met. In recent years God had increased my support level above the 70% mark. But with the recession of 2001, it looked as though it was on the way down again. In fact considering the loss of support, I was projecting that my financial level for 2001 would be around 37% of the recommended amount for a single missionary serving with NTM. I was facing a 30% decrease in my support over 3 years. Things were not looking too good.
If I've learned anything along this awesome journey of faith, it's that Jehovah-Jireh is the source who meets all of our needs. Bolstered by the help of praying friends, I once again laid the need at His throne of grace to see if He would provide.
I've never had the opportunity to actually go on the road for any substantial length of time in order to "raise support" for my ministry. However, I have been able to speak in a few churches as I've visited friends and supporters back in Oregon. The summer of 2001 looked like the ideal time to do some traveling in order to help raise my support. I had saved up some vacation time from the year before and I was making plans for a trip back to Oregon. But God had other plans and more lessons of faith to teach me.
New Tribes Mission was presenting a 5-week seminar on tribal church planting at their Bible Institute in Jackson Michigan. Each of the NTM training institutes in the United States were suppose to send representatives there. Allen Swenson was suppose to represent New Tribes Language Institute at this seminar, but a brain aneurysm kind of put a damper on those plans. NTLI needed a representative and they asked me to do that. Logic seemed to say that my own financial needs should be considered first. Yet that "still small voice" seemed to whisper, "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you"! Going against my "better judgment" I decided to represent NTLI at the seminar in Michigan. Looking back now, I'm convinced that was the right decision. It was not only profitable for me personally in what I learned there, but it has been invaluable to our training program here at NTLI.
Jehovah-Jireh -- God DOES Provide!
The downside of that decision was that I did not get to work on raising my support. But sometimes God seems to say, "just sit back and watch Me take care of your needs!" Jehovah-Jireh did just that.
God Uses His People!
God used ravens to feed Elijah and He used a squirrel to feed missionary David Brainerd. But in my travels along this remarkable journey of faith He has always used His people to minister to my needs. I suppose that the largest percentage of support for most missionaries come from churches. But since I did not have the opportunity to officially "raise support" God has chosen for the most part to use friends and family to meet my needs. I am certainly thankful for the churches that do support my ministry. But without the support of individual donors, I could never do the work that God has called me to.
The Warrior is a Child!
As I've spoken with friends over the years, I often hear things like, "You must have great faith. I could never do the things that you have done!"
I just smile and respond with, "My faith has nothing to do with it. It's the faithfulness of the One in Whom I've put my trust that makes all the difference in the world."
One of my favorite songs was written by Twila Paris. It's called "The Warrior is a Child". The words describe perfectly this journey of faith that God has lead me on:
Lately I've been winning battles left and right.
But even winners can get wounded in the fight.
People say that I'm amazing … strong beyond my years.
But they don't see inside of me, I'm hiding all the tears.
They don't know that I go runnin' home, when I fall down.
They don't know who picks me up, when no one is around.
I drop my sword and, cry for just awhile.
`Cause deep inside this armor, the warrior is a child.
Unafraid because His armor is the best.
But even soldiers need a quiet place to rest.
People say that I'm amazing … never face retreat.
But they don't see the enemies that lay me at His feet.
People have a tendency to put missionaries on a pedestal. Please don't do that. We're just normal human beings too. It's not my faith, but His faithfulness that counts!
God has raised up a team of supporters that have made it all possible. Without that team behind me, I could never have accomplished all that I have.
It Takes Teamwork!
One of my favorite authors is Charles Swindoll. He made some very insightful observations about geese:
Winging their way to a warmer climate, they often cover thousands of miles before reaching their destination. Have you ever studied why they fly as they do? It is fascinating to read what has been discovered about their flight pattern as well as their in-flight habits. Four come to mind.
1. Those in front rotate their leadership. When one lead goose gets tired, it changes places with one in the wing of the V-formation and another flies point.
2. By flying as they do, the members of the flock create an upward air current for one another. each flap of the wings literally creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. One author states that by flying in a V-formation, the whole flock gets 71 percent greater flying range than if each goose flew on its own.
3. When one goose gets sick or wounded, two fall out of formation with it and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with the struggler until it's able to fly again.
4. The geese in the rear of the formation are the ones who do the honking. I suppose it's their way of announcing that they're following and that all is well. For sure, the repeated honks encourage those in front to stay at it. As I think about all this, one lesson stands out above all others: it is the natural instinct of geese to work together. Whether it's rotating, flapping, helping, or simply honking, the flock is in it together ... which enables them to accomplish what they set out to do.
There is no such thing as a "Lone Ranger" missionary. The only way this job is going to get done is through teamwork. It seems to me that we could take a lesson from our feathered friends.
Perhaps God would like to use you to help spread the goodnews of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. To see how you can help out in this wonderful work click on the link below.