I still feel the sizzle of burning flesh when Talid, my Turkmen Christian brother, had his feet branded with a white-hot iron. He narrowly escaped and limped across a scorching desert to safety. My dear friend, Iranian pastor Anoush, was forced to witness his captors raping his wife. He didn’t recant and neither did she. My precious Ellen was a Harvard professor who left her lucrative career to serve God in Uzbekistan. The secret police split her skull with an axe and left her for dead. Fictitious tales? No! I have countless friends who lay down their lives every day for the gospel. I burn with passion for missions.
Passion is a fascinating two-pronged concept. Passion can mean affection, ardor, animation, ecstasy, fervor, fire and joy. Conversely, it also means agony, devotion, fury, intensity, suffering, vehemence, wrath and zeal. Jesus turned over the temple tables and said “Zeal for my house has consumed me.” (John 2:17) Paul writes to the Philippians in Philippians 3:12-14: “I do not consider brethren, that I have captured and made it my own (yet) but one thing I do…(It is my aspiration) forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the supreme and heavenly prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward.” The craggy-faced apostle also wrote “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Such singular focus defines a passionate life. My little flame began to flicker when I was six. Every December I received a plastic mayonnaise jar with a hole cut in the top and a label marked “Lottie Moon.” I figured her Mom must have named her “Lottie” because she wanted a “lottie money” for the children overseas who hadn’t heard about Jesus. This brave lady who crossed the ocean to tell boys and girls the Gospel made me cry every Christmas. I pictured myself beside her, reading Bible stories and hugging those skinny little children with slanted eyes and open hearts. Week by week, we sang at the top of our lungs the lyrics “…red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” I knew who they were, and I gave them my quarters, pennies and dimes.
By the time I hit high school, Lottie’s voice was faint in my ears, but I still heard her haunting tune. I was preoccupied with impressing teachers and chasing boys. Lottie, Hudson Taylor and William Carey were fairy-tale characters in my estimation. However, I had a fondness for Spanish and spent five years rolling my “r’s” and eating guacamole-the green goo I proudly pronounced “guadakamockee.” The summer of my sophomore year was spent in a quiet casita in Saltillo, Mexico. The jalapenos were tasty, and the teenage guys were cute and extremely friendly. Even though my hormones distracted me, living in the Latin culture warmed my heart for missions once more.
My senior year of high school was spent serving as state president of the Pan American Student Forum of Texas. I ran for office because I knew Mrs. Moreno (my politically-minded Spanish teacher) would give me an easy “A.” To my shock and surprise, I announced in my annual address that I wanted to be a missionary to South America. There it was-bare naked, the truth deep in my heart emerged for all the world to see. I had been outed-I was eager, ecstatic and excited at the prospect of crossing the border to share my faith.
So why didn’t I immediately leave the hallowed halls of Baylor University and take up residence in a mud hut in the Amazonian jungle? Why didn’t I don my serape and guaraches and head south of the border? Well, God had other plans…Roger walked into my life. It was love at first sermon and God called me to be his wife, a pastor’s wife. Our call from God to serve Him was clear. We applied to the Foreign Mission Board of our denomination to serve overseas, but our request was denied because of Roger’s health issues.
We were devastated. How could this happen? The smoldering embers of passion for people across the globe still burned brightly in our hearts, unquenched by disappointment and disillusionment. During the ensuing days, God led us to the wild, wild west in Tucson, Arizona. You have to understand that when we came on the scene thirty some-odd years ago, the smell of gun smoke still filled the air, and onery gunslingers were a not-so-dim memory. Tucsonans were tough, independent and scrappy. Arizona was still a faith-frontier, miles from the southern Bible belt where we grew up.
Planting, sowing seeds of the Gospel and watering the hard ground took many years of cultivating the desolate desert soil. Would Roger ever go to foreign fields and live the life of a jungle pilot or itinerate preacher? The answer was an unsuspected no. But to our amazement, God gave our church an abundant harvest-an army of missionaries sent from our church around the world. Casas Church became a launching pad. Our call from God was to give money, recruit man-power and sow seeds of fervent prayer. Countless members now serve abroad as beacons in dark countries still waiting to hear the message of Jesus.
In spite of Roger’s physical challenges, we have had the privilege to speak to thousands of missionary pastors and leaders in thirty-two countries around the globe. I still cry every time I hear about God’s work across the ocean. When I eat a meal or shop at the grocery store, I ask myself how many hungry children would these dollars feed? When I walk through the doors of elegant American homes, I wonder how many people could fit into these rooms to house a church? I remember the icy room where Russian believers gathered as Roger preached. No room for chairs, we stood nose-to-nose and arm-in-arm.
We retired from full-time church ministry after thirty-five years. Was our ministry over? No! God has given us a worldwide missions venue. Preach It, Teach It, our website that provides free resources for pastors, missionaries and Bible teachers in 227 countries around the world. Every day we counsel hurting servants of God who have nowhere else to turn. We’ve chatted, counseled and prayed with Indian, African and Chinese pastors this week alone. My vision of a mud hut and a single tribe in the boondocks seems so far from the scope of what God has done. Every day I wake up, excited to encourage and teach my brothers and sisters around the world. My heart beats with them and for them.
I am wearing a tiny pearl necklace some lovely Peruvian ladies gave me as a thank-you for teaching them the Bible last fall. These precious women, poor in worldly goods and rich in faith, scrimped and saved a portion of their grocery money to give me this priceless thank-you gift. Yes, passion’s fire is both agony and ecstasy. I agonize that I am apart from all of my loved ones worldwide, but I rejoice in the part God has given me to play in their ministry and in His mission.