Over the past few months, we have marked a series of important historical milestones…
• the 80th anniversary of those heady days in which we created the South American Mission Prayer League;
• the 150th anniversary of the famous “Ebenezer Stone,” and the dawn of the Santal Mission;
• the 500th anniversary of Luther’s wonderful theses, and the breakthrough that made us evangelical “sola-ists.”
This month our milestone takes a very personal turn. Twenty years ago this month, I was installed as Director of the World Mission Prayer League. Twenty years later, again in the month of November, I will “pass the baton” to my successor.
Together we have stood on the shoulders of giants.
Some of their names you will already know – the generations of our founders, leaders and directors. You will recognize Anna Onsum (1838-1870), I should think, or maybe her husband Lars Olson Skrefsrud (1840-1910): they laid the “Ebenezer Stone” in Benagaria, north of Calcutta, in 1867. You will remember John Carlsen (1899-1963), I do not doubt, made President of the newly formed South American Mission Prayer League in 1937, then sent straight off to Bolivia. You may remember Evald Conrad (1905-1978), the Chairman who guided us through early rancors and divisions to eventual healing, and the incorporation of the World Mission Prayer League in 1945. Many will no doubt remember Paul Lindell (1915-1974), who became Director in that very year and served until his untimely death. And if you don’t remember Paul, you will surely remember Margaret – who remains with us, and turned 100 years old this year! No one in our fellowship has contributed more to the character and structure of the World Mission Prayer League than Paul and Margaret Lindell.
You will remember Leonard Patzold (1924-1975), I am sure, who became our Director when Paul died – then served too briefly (just over a year). And you will surely remember Ruby (1925-2013)! I remember sitting in Len’s old office in Dera Ismail Khan, some years following his death in Minneapolis. A few of Len’s books were still on the shelves. I remember, so distinctly, the sense of entering holy ground.
Al Berg (1913-2008) became our Director upon Len’s sudden passing and served until 1980. And if you knew Al, you will not have forgotten his Vallie (1912-2001). I visited Al’s old office, too, some while after his death. This took me to a place called Mirik, near the border with Nepal. Al and Vallie’s spiritual footprint is still discerned there.
Jonathan Lindell (1917-1985) became Director in 1980, and at his side, Evie (1921-1989). If ever you received a letter from Jonathan, you may remember that it was (very likely) signed, “All for Jesus…” This is how the man lived, and served us.
Then came Bob Andrews, my immediate predecessor and dear brother. Bob (1932-) and Joyce (1932-) entered the office in 1985, and guided our fellowship through a period of much growth and expansion. Bob and Joyce remain an inspiration to me. Bob is also the only Director in our long history, I do believe, who knows how to make a cedar-strip canoe.
There are many more names than these, of course – names that may be less familiar to you. Do you remember Frannie and Berit, for example? How about Sam, Bernice, Edmundo and Bunny? Fritz, Dixie, Theodore and Ken? And Edner, Betty, Sanfrid, Inky, Leigh, Lydia, Almer, Ramón, John, Dave, Karen, Mike, Bill, Deb, Pat, Hildegaard? …and so very many more! I think of hundreds upon hundreds of giants who may not have made it into our history books, or been given the title “Director.” Each one of them is a giant, and each act of daring and obedience a genuine milestone. Without friends and predecessors like these, my own service would amount to nothing.
Yet none of these friends are “giants” of course, because they are so very “special.” (I have known them too well to harbor any illusions.) They are special, if they are special at all, because of the One whom they serve.
Many years ago, while still a student at Fuller Seminary in California, I simply fell in love with dear Abraham and Sarah, and their extraordinary Old Testament journey. They were old. They were worn. They were “past the age” and “as good as dead” (Hebrews 11:11, Romans 4:19). (I identify with the particulars even more these days than when a young student at Fuller.) Abraham and Sarah, in short, were thoroughly and finally ordinary.
Yet they served One greater than themselves. They served a design deeper than they had imagined. They were made beneficiaries of the very promises of God, and participants in his wonderful mission in the world. And then! – they “plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what he had said” (Romans 4:20,21 MSG). For the thoroughly ordinary, this is the only way forward.
So, yes, I will call my colleagues past and present “giants.” And I have no problem in saying that I stand on their shoulders. They are “the great cloud of witnesses,” after all (Hebrews 12). But I will not call them “special.” They are nothing out of the “ordinary.” I would have a problem with that.
They are people, in the end, precisely like you.
And now you will see what I mean, in this last in a series of editorials: the cat is out of the bag! This month’s “personal” milestone is about the dependable promises of God at work! In you…