On a warm, summer South African January evening in 1994, I realized something. Three quarters of my two year missionary term was complete. Only six months remained. I was entering the fourth quarter of ministry with a people I could not now imagine leaving so quickly.
If God would grant any request, if I could do anything that would make a lasting difference beyond my too short two years, what would it be?
Officially, with the then Foreign Mission Board now International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, I was a Regional Youth Worker Missionary. Responsible for strengthening youth ministry in our 40 partner churches in the sprawling Johannesburg area of four million people, I had developed some amazingly close relationships with a handful of people.
What would be my legacy? What difference had I made? Had I done the missionary’s work as I been advised upon arrival of “working myself out of a job” since I’d raised up others to do my job?
Frankly, on that night, fourth quarter ahead, and difference made in question, I grieved. I knew in arriving that I’d be leaving. But I hadn’t enough life experience to have discerned how quickly I could grow to love folks so deeply. Leaving would be harder than I’d imagined. Yet, what would I be leaving?
I fretted. I wondered. I prayed. I wrote. And, yes, I cried. “Oh, God, would you be so gracious as to show me that my time here has been worth it? Would you let me see I made an eternal difference?”
In the days that followed, I muddled half-hearted through my commitments and must have seen not-so-much-myself to those who knew me. Then a meeting that changed my heart and opened the way for even greater things.
Our regional youth council was planning it’s next quarterly youth rally that would occur just six weeks before I was to return to America. They wanted me to preach. Four sermons. Would I be willing?
“Of course, yes, I am honored,” I replied while immediately praying in my spirit, “Oh, God you have to help me know what in the world to preach on.”
Jonah. A four sermon series, What Does God Ask of Me?, on the reluctant prophet is where God clearly led me. Our regional youth council had identified that few young people were answering the call to ministry, and all our pastors, though wonderful men, were older. I’d countered that in a year and a half I hadn’t heard a sermon or even an invitation inviting youth to surrender to vocational ministry. Jonah, in addition to confronting pride and sinfulness, allowed that invitation to ministry.
Jonah was a prophet. He had been for some time by the time God called him to go preach to Nineveh. He knew how to recognize God’s voice. He knew how to deliver God’s message. He knew that God was gracious to save. And he knew that he didn’t like the wicked Ninevites and he wanted no part of their salvation.
In disobedience to God, Jonah went the other way. Instead of overland to Nineveh to the east he boarded a ship to the way out west port of Tarshish.
You know the story. Storm struck. Who you? Chucked overboard. Fish swallowed. Three days. Fish spewed. Repentance preached. Wicked turned. Preacher pouts. God rebukes, “Nineveh has more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left hand... Should I not be concerned about that great city?”
God’s grace extends even to the lowly likes of Nineveh.
God’s grace extends to you. No matter what you have done. No matter where you have been. No matter what has been done to you. God loves you (John 3:16-18)
And, let me not forget to finish my Africa story before you finish dealing with God’s message from Jonah for you. At that "six weeks to go what it God going to do" youth rally, six youth committed their lives to Christ for eternal salvation and SIX young adults surrendered their lives to vocational ministry! God was so present. So good to me. So strong among my dearly loved African friends. One dear brother who surrendered to ministry then, Thabiso Chapole, is still in touch today. What a blessing!
I thank God for extending His grace to me and my South African friends. He will extend that same amazing grace to you. Consider these questions:
- How many times have I sought to run from God’s plan?
- How has that worked out for me?
- What did/will it take for me to get back to obedience to God’s plan?
- Am I willing to do obey now?
Pictured above is Matshepo Chapole, the wife of my dear brother, Thabiso, and founding member of the world-renowned Soweto Gospel Choir. Be sure to read or even listen to Jonah this week. And, of course, freely share this post and your comments with others. Extending Grace is the fifth post in a 12 week Minor Prophet series.