Sitting in the largest room in all of Gatlinburg, 45 minutes from my childhood home, with a group of Senior Adults I had brought from my church to a senior adult convention, I felt convicted that I should take a foreign mission trip.. As a matter of fact, a well-known author had invited/challenged the whole room to have a foreign mission experience sometime in the next year. I had responded to his invitation personally and looked forward to what spiritual adventure God had in store for me.
I waited and listened for an opportunity to go to some foreign land to serve people and tell them about the love of Jesus that had changed my life. The days became weeks, and weeks became months and still no word from God. No one I knew mentioned a trip. There were no perfectly timed mission travel brochures to Africa that came across my desk at the church. So, I wondered if I had somehow missed God’s call. Maybe it was just the full stack of flapjacks from the pancake cabin that had given me a sugar rush or perhaps I had been hypnotised by the taffy pulling machine from the Smoky Mountain Candy Kitchen and I misinterpreted it as a call to a short term mission trip across the pond somewhere. Maybe my Sevier County prediabetic indulgence had affected my ability to clearly hear God’s Great Foreign Commission on my life.
At the time I had four children between the ages of 7 and 11, so obviously my wife was curious about this call to abandon my post as taxi daddy, bicycle fixer, homework helper and home missionary for 10 days to 2 weeks and go somewhere else to minister to someone else’s kids in need. She certainly would have been willing to accept all parental duties for those days, if I could show her any real tangible plans that God had given me about this Jesus journey to the African plain or Amazon Jungle.
So, eventually, I had actually written this calling off as my mistaken interpretation of a call to missions from a funnel cake hangover. That’s when God in His infinite sense of humor, showed me that my foreign mission experience would not involve travel more than a few miles from my home.
My son came home one day in the middle of the school year and said that a new kid had come to his school and the teacher wanted him to help tutor the new student in math and whatever other 6th grade classes they had together. My son also said he had invited him and his family to our church and the new student said he and his family would be there the next Sunday.
As a pastor, I had heard promises to come to church before, by well-meaning potential guests I had invited to join us for worship on a Sunday morning. So, I was guardedly optimistic about this family coming. But sure enough a family of 7 showed up that next Sunday. Their sparkling white teeth blasted out beautiful smiles from their dark Sudanese faces and their broken english with thick accents with lots of laughter expressed a joy that was infectious. They didn’t look like anyone in my largely homogeneous suburban white church. We quickly found classes for 5 kids and two adults. We also learned they had another child on the way.
My son and the oldest boy were soon doing everything together. My son taught him American football. We would take him to practice and make sure he had cleats and equipment for the middle school football experience. They threw the discus and “put the shot” together on the track team. After ballgames and track meets they inhaled Hardee’s thickburgers and fries and soft drinks together, but his tall thin Sudanese frame never got much thicker.
Since his family only had one car, we frequently took him to the doctor or came pick him up when no one from his house could make it to the school. He stayed in our home often. He also frequently came to our house to eat our after-church lunch meal, which we called “Stir Fry Sunday”. It was a mix of stir fried rice and whatever leftover meats and vegetables we had chopped up from the last week’s meals with a fried egg and soy sauce added in. Most of it he enjoyed, but when shrimp was in the mix he always opted for something else. He thought is was strange that we would eat such an ugly creature on purpose.
We soon began to hear his family’s story about their escape on foot from Sudan to Egypt to avoid those who wanted to kill them. They had left family and friends in hopes of safety and a new life. We learned about how his younger brother’s twin had died from illness and how they had to watch as their uncle was murdered. They had to learn Arabic in Egypt and then English when they got to the U.S.. But this young man and his family were amazingly positive in spite of the misfortunes they had endured.
He learned how to plant a garden, drive a four wheel drive 1974 Scout, and shoot a rifle while at my dad’s farm a couple of hours away. He and his younger brother played on our church basketball team and they surprised the whole team when they clearly articulated the Gospel of Jesus Christ and encouraged everyone to accept His Salvation. They went to church camps and mission trips and studied God’s Word in Bible study every week. .
And when this family was moving to Colorado, we offered to host the oldest boy so he could stay with his friends, his church, and complete high school here. His family said they needed him to help raise the youngest brothers and he knew he needed to go with them, though he wanted to stay.
Needless to say my family’s four year Foreign Missions experience with this young man and his family was far more of an adventure than any 10-14 day mission trip I could have taken somewhere by myself. God called us to a long term friendship with a young man and his family. He called us to share our food, our transportation, our love, and our Jesus with him and his family. God taught me that when He calls, it doesn’t always look like we think it should.
This young man is now in a Colorado college finishing up his football eligibility and making plans for the rest of his life. The thin young man with the million dollar smile is now a jacked, 6 foot 7 inch, 270 lbs. of muscle and he is in a relationship with a young lady from Colorado.
I encourage you to say, “yes” to God on any mission He invites you to be a part of. But keep your mind and heart open to the unique ways he may use you and your family in His service.