MOUNT VERNON, Ark. (BP) — I was privileged to hear the greatest missionary report I have ever heard not long ago. This report convicted me to my inner core, even though the missionary had a mission field of only one.
That’s right, just one, and he hadn’t even shared the Gospel in the six months he’d been on the field.
His mission field wasn’t even an exotic place, just a mid-sized city in the Bible Belt. He wasn’t even a vocational missionary, but his story will continue to challenge me.
A midnight prayer meeting began with introductions, and midway through them a man from Hawaii introduced himself and shared his pressing prayer burden. He had a powerful testimony of God’s grace and had been blessed with a great career and now was enjoying retirement. There in Hawaii, he had a seemingly perfect situation — a beautiful house on the beach with just a quick walk to surf each day.
Life was good. Retired. The beach. Surfing. Three of his four children nearby. Several grandchildren to teach to surf and enjoy time with on the beach. His whole family was heavily involved in church there.
In the midst of all this, he received a call many parents have received. His youngest son, whose career had brought him to this particular city, told his father he no longer believed in God. This missionary’s son declared himself an atheist.
The son’s admission is a statement that has and will continue to bring many parents to their knees, but this man took his prayers a step further. Right then and there, he told his son he was moving and they would work this out. His son replied that he’d love to see his dad, but he didn’t want to be told about Jesus. The father told us he didn’t have to talk to his son about Jesus, he could talk to Jesus about his son.
So this man, the one sitting right across from me in that prayer meeting, had jumped on a plane, left the beach, left his three children, left his grandkids, left his big house, and left a dream retirement in Hawaii to travel to the Deep South to live in a small apartment.
This missionary doesn’t have a timetable. He doesn’t have a plan. No strategy. He has already renewed his lease. He is just going to love on his son until his son is healed from the only incurable eternal disease — unbelief.
Parents regularly take time off work and make major adjustments to their lives when their adult children are sick, having surgery, or receiving medical treatment, but we don’t always recognize the most dangerous sickness — the sickness of the soul.
After spending several years in ministry, I have heard hundreds of testimonies from missionaries. I have heard from missionaries who faced persecution; missionaries whose lives were on the line each day; missionaries who had led thousands to the Lord. I have also read the heroic tales of William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Jim Elliot, Lottie Moon and others. But it was this man’s story — his is the greatest story I have heard. For I believe each believer’s first ministry is their family.
Over and over again I have read and heard preached that if a pastor succeeds at a church but loses his own family, then his ministry is a failure. The missionary endeavor of the man I met targets his number one ministry — his family.
This missionary left the 99 sheep in the pasture and is chasing that one lost sheep. When he heard the woman had lost her valued coin, he dropped everything to help in the search. This father is not merely the father of the prodigal watching down the road, but he has jumped into the pig pen. If we all would love our family so. If we all would see a relationship with Christ as one’s greatest need.
So in visiting with the greatest missionary I have ever met, I asked what he had done that day in his field. He replied that he was so thankful the prayer meeting didn’t start until midnight. He had gone out to eat with his son and spent the night playing pool with him. He had loved on his son and now would be on his knees at the altar from midnight until dawn. He had kept the conditions of his missionary trip — he hadn’t talked to his son about Jesus, but was about to spend all night talking to Jesus about his son.