The Elders were recently asked to write about three pivotal moments in their Christian formation and many have generously offered to share them in the newsletter. Look for a different story each month. If you would like to share about God at work in your life, contact Mary Grimm.
Many people, experiences, and authors have influenced my Christian formation, but I remember three particular pivotal moments early in my life in which people who gave generously of themselves caused my faith to grow and shape around the significance of sacrificial love. First of those was the friendship, teaching, and models of faith I gained as a result of the countless hours young adults volunteered to lead me and other high schoolers in our ecumenical Christian youth group in New York City. Their example of living out their faith by investing in our lives, sharing with us about living life with God, and coming alongside us to help with whatever issues we faced shaped my understanding of God’s love for us. Secondly, I think of my parents, who loved us well and frequently gave of their time and energy to provide not just for our family, but also for others in need that they met in their church or community.
The third pivotal experience came when our college Christian fellowship began to pray for a Wycliffe Bible Translator missionary, 29-year-old Chet Bitterman, who was kidnapped in Columbia and held hostage six weeks while the guerillas demanded all Wycliffe Bible translators leave Columbia under the threat of his death. We prayed for his wife, daughters and the mission community through their anguish, decisions, and his eventual martyrdom. I was struck by the faith of people willing to give their lives for God and by the pain and difficulty they faced. Though deeply tragic, God used this experience to open my eyes to that level of faith and waken a desire to support those in ministry.
I had an opportunity when I was 24-years-old to serve Wycliffe Bible Translators for one year as their computer center director in Togo and Benin, West Africa, a role for which I wasn’t really trained since I was a physics major with expertise in semiconductor research. Probably because I was young, naïve, and early in my faith God provided for me in extremely concrete ways that helped me learn to trust further in him. He exceeded my financial needs for the whole year by about $30 without much fundraising effort on my part. He provided miraculously (and I do mean “miraculously”) seven times for me in the two weeks during which I left North Carolina and arrived in Togo. (In order to be brief, I won’t describe those miracles here, but I’d be glad to tell you if you ask.) And, I felt deeply loved and blessed by the many members of my home church who faithfully and generously wrote to me and prayed for me during my time in Africa. Their faithfulness and God’s continuing response convinced me of the importance of ongoing prayer support and God’s desire to respond to it. That year in Togo helped me realize the humanity of missionaries and the limited resources available to them as they serve in remote locations facing physical, emotional, and spiritual dangers.
Altogether, these experiences and relationships led to my sense of calling to serve those who give their lives in ministry and resulted in my retraining professionally into psychology and theology. Frauke and I now share this vision through our ministry involvement with Barnabas International providing care for missionaries and pastors. Those pivotal experiences also taught me how important it is to God that we give and receive love sacrificially and generously in the manner He has loved us (Mt. 22:36-40).