A young man starting out in life was given a key to a treasure house. The room was filled with piles and piles of gold coins. Some of the coins were counted and neatly stacked, others were in bags, but many more were just piled in the corners. He soon discovered that he could cover a day’s living expenses, entertainment, food, and lodging with a single gold coin, though he sometimes spent more. On long trips, he would take a hefty bag of coins and exchange a coin for each day of his travels. He lived year in and year out just as he pleased, and without much thought about anything for many years. One day, he opened the treasure house door and noticed his sacks of gold coins were nearly empty, the neat stacks of coins on the shelves were long since gone with dust gathering in their place. As he looked in the corners, he realized that while he had been thoughtlessly exchanging coins for the days of his life, his wealth was now three-fourths gone – his piles of coins were much smaller. As he considered his remaining coins, they were now so precious to him that they seemed of inestimable valuable. He wondered what he had done with all the coins he had been given at the start. He realized for seemingly the first time ever, how casually he had been exchanging his coins for each day of life without really thinking seriously about it. Now, he so highly valued the few that were left to him that he determined to spend them wisely, making sure to get as much as he could out of each one.
That is the story of all of us; everyone is like that. We begin our earthly pilgrimage without much serious thought about how many days we will live. Our carefree days of youth are spent running, playing, making silly mistakes, and starting over again with a fresh do-over every day. But the day comes when we realize that our days are not as plentiful as they once were, and that more sand has run through our hourglass than remains at the top. Many suddenly panic and want to somehow stop their sand from running out, others determine to pamper themselves in their remaining days before time runs out, but others hear with clarity the words of Moses in Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.” This is my fervent prayer.
This year, 2017, brings several important milestones in my life: I am turning 60 years old, my wife and I will celebrate 40 years of marriage, and I have been involved in international missions for 30 years. While God shaped, moved, taught, and led us down many twisting roads in our missions career, it all started for me thirty years ago.
An Invitation Accepted
“Want to go on a mission trip to Ecuador?” Never having gone on such a trip, I nervously accepted the invitation from my fellow church members, Phil Posey and Shirley Fulton. That 1987 Partnership Evangelism trip to Manta, Ecuador was my first international mission trip. The Foreign Mission Board had begun facilitating short term trips to countries around the world to allow SBC church members to spend a week with FMB missionaries to do evangelism, preaching, singing, share testimonies, and see first-hand what missions was all about. Charles Shelton, a layman from South Carolina, was organizing one of those trips to Ecuador and some from our church wanted to go, in part to visit a former pastor and his family who were FMB missionaries there.
My Life Changed
God changed my life, plans, and career path as a result of that trip. I had only been a believer for a few years in 1987 and really did not know what to expect. God opened my eyes, heart, and mind to missions on that trip, and I have not doubted His call on my life ever since. The Lord knit my heart together with hearts of missionaries, other team members, and national believers, both those who were part of our team and those who came to Christ during that week.
A national believer named Aída de Plua from a town called Jipijapa had prayed for years for someone to come and help start a work in Puerto Cayo, the small fishing town where she was born. She worked there with us all week and then invited us into her home for a meal after our week’s work. She shared through our missionary interpreter, Tommy Larner, how God had spoken to her through Paul’s writings in Romans 10:15 and through the teachings and example of Jesus in John 13, then she abruptly left the room. I assumed she was just overcome with emotion but she returned with a pitcher, a basin, and a towel. She came and knelt before each of us, removed our shoes and socks, washed our feet, dried them, replaced the socks, emptied the basin, and started with fresh water on the next team member. As you can imagine, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Unable to communicate with words, she looked into my eyes after washing my feet and saw a man whom God had changed forever.
A Call Confirmed
I am so thankful that Phil and Shirley asked me to go, that Briarwood Drive Baptist Church was supportive, and that the Foreign Mission Board was willing to risk allowing thousands of untrained short-term mission volunteers to participate in their work. I wonder how many people I will meet in Glory who heard of and came to Christ through Partnership Evangelism trips. I am especially thankful for Charles Shelton, the layman who organized the trip. That wasn’t his first trip, and it would not be his last – not by a long shot. He contacted me the following year and invited me to go on a trip he was leading to Puerto Rico. Manuel and Berta Sosa, FMB missionaries who worked with us in Manta, were home on furlough and would go with us on the trip. Mary went with me this time, after hearing me go on and on wondering whether God was leading us to missions. As we walked down the road to the Puerto Rican church service one evening, she looked at me and said, “I think we could do this.” My heart soared.
On the last day of that trip, Charles was sharing the final devotion time with us. He read the team roster and mentioned a verse for each person. For Mary and me, he said, Acts 16:9, 10. “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
The next year we eagerly accepted when Charles invited us to return with him on another trip to Ecuador, this time to work Guayaquil on the coast. We began making plans to participate, but he called back and said there was an opportunity to split up the team and let some work in the mountains. We opted for that location and it was there that we heard God’s call to go and minister there as missionaries.
Leading Short Term Teams
Some people wonder why I like taking teams, even teams with some unlikely participants, and I always think back on Charles and smile. The Lord called us, but He used Charles Shelton powerfully in the process. The Lord called Charles home before I could tell him that, but I try to say thanks by keeping his work going of casting vision through short-term trip volunteers. Thank you, Charles. I pray that your “Welcome home!” included hearing about how many lives you impacted for the kingdom.
Do you know how many coins you have left in your treasure house to exchange? No, I don’t know either. But I do know that the piles are getting smaller, and night is coming when no man can work.
Who wants to go on a mission trip?