I always smile when one of my students tells me that he can’t wait until he graduates and can read only what he wants to read. That day never comes. I know that he has this image of free time, rest, and endless days with his only major decision being which game to watch, or which book to read. Unfortunately, for those in any ministry, reality always maintains a demanding stack of books and articles that must be read. Sorry, but that’s how it is. I even imagine people walking into heaven and receiving a stack of books to read (no, not really . . . but then again, it wouldn’t surprise me). All that to say, imagined free time is usually simply that, imagined.
I am on my first sabbatical this semester. For the last seven years, I think I imagined being able to spend it holed up in a cabin in the mountains, fly fishing in the early mornings, writing during the days, and taking Mary to local restaurants in the evenings (or eating some of the trout I caught that morning!). At least, that’s how I imagined it. The actual reality is not terrible, but it has not been anywhere near the slow lane in a mountain retreat that I imagined.
In the last few months I have led a mission team to the Peruvian Andes, mentored pastors in the Ecuadorian jungle and mountains, taught IMB missionaries in Lima, taught Ecuadorian national pastors in Patate, taught IMB strategy-coordinator REAP churches, led BSU summer missionary orientation in Peru, finished writing Ministering among Animistic Oral Cultures: Reaching and Teaching the Highland Quichuas, and tried to exhort, edify, and encourage missionaries.
I leave again on Saturday for two more weeks. Two pastors will be joining me in Ecuador as we travel to a predominately indigenous area of Ecuador to teach them basic Bible and Church history courses. The next week they will return to the USA and a team from my home church will come to pick up the teaching where those brothers leave off, teaching the basics of systematic theology to these brothers who are so prone to aberrant doctrine and syncretism. Thanks to Jeff Love and his team, each of the brothers will receive study Bibles. And thanks to Desiring God International Outreach, they will also receive three of John Piper’s books in Spanish. More than that, they will receive the fellowship and edification that always comes when God’s people gather in His name to worship and praise Him.
After a couple of weeks there, I will return home to my bride (of 33 years this past week!), my precious daughter who is getting married in December, and my son, daughter-in-law, and the smartest, handsomest, most wonderful grandson in the world. After two weeks of spoiling them all, I will travel with Mary to Costa Rica to lead Spiritual Emphasis week at the Spanish Language Institute. I am so looking forward to preaching and mentoring during their Spiritual Emphasis week again this year; they encourage me more than I ever could them. I will only have one day at home when we return to the USA before I head back to Ecuador to teach national pastors for two weeks to then arrive home a couple days before Thanksgiving.
Some have said to me, “Hasn’t been much of a sabbatical, has it?” Others have said, “You haven’t been able to rest much, huh?” In one sense, it reminds me of the delusion that you can read only what you want after graduation. Don’t count on it.
However, in another sense, it really is restful and renewing. For me it is such a blessing to travel internationally and help folks to fulfill God’s call on their lives, to meet missionaries and listen to their stories, encourage the hurting, challenge the complacent, remind the downcast of God’s promises, and hold out hope to those who so desperately need it. I find I am animated, refreshed, and constantly reminded of the greatest needs everywhere I go—to evangelize evangelists, disciple disciplers, teach teachers, and train trainers. A strong church makes for a prepared mission force that can reach, plant churches, teach, and lock arms to fan out into the world with God’s Word held high as our banner.
Pray for me and those who send me, go with me, and welcome me back home at the end of each trip. I’d love to take each of you with me to see and meet the many needs around the world, but you only have enough time to do what God wants you to do. What is that? Are you doing it? You’re either a sender or a goer. Whichever God has called you to be, do it with all your might, as unto the Lord. Grace and peace.