In my years of service to the Lord I have had many wonderful opportunities. My wife Tricia and I served for eight years as missionaries in Nuremberg, Germany under Baptist Missions to Forgotten Peoples ; I served as a pastor for seventeen years over the deaf ministry of Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida; and for many years I have taught classes to the deaf and the hearing at Trinity Baptist College. While I have thoroughly enjoyed all of these experiences, through the years I have had a persistent desire to encourage missionaries so they can stay on the field and continue the work of the ministry.
As a missionary, I found missions work could be very lonely, especially for me as a deaf man. It was difficult trying to manage taking care of my family, setting up a home, learning the language, setting up a church, studying for sermons in a foreign language and caring for the needs of the church people. We worked long hard hours, often for little reward.
After two years of learning language we started a church for the deaf, perhaps the first ever in Germany. The church met in our home. It took over a year for us to discover the people felt they needed a personal invitation to our home so they only attended on the weeks we invited them individually. They also felt the need to reciprocate so the frequent services were burdensome. We located a facility we could rent and moved the services to that location. In a couple of years the church was finally growing. We had fourteen in attendance one Sunday. The next week we had twenty-one. Then we had zero. For week after week no one came. We continued visiting but no one would come. The state church had threatened the deaf would lose their living assistance if they continued to come. Finally, the deaf asked us to leave because our presence kept them under careful watch of the state church. We were broken hearted and felt like failures as we answered a call to the pastorate from our sending church. We did not know how to appreciate the value of our experience then, but we know now it was part of a much bigger plan.
As a pastor, I had the privilege of bringing teams to various mission fields. My difficulties on the mission field had given me insight into the everyday life of missionaries, the things they never write about in prayer letters. I wanted our trips to make a lasting difference.On our trips, I asked our team members to pack their belongings in their carry-on bag. We filled their checked baggage with supplies and goodies for the missionaries. We did a little homework and discovered which items the missionaries missed the most from back home; things like peanut butter, chocolate chips, Reses peanut butter cups and cream of mushroom soup.
On one trip to Peru we took thirty–seven suitcases packed with items for the missionaries. Together they weighed nearly a ton. On a trip to Panama, we took 13 guitars in cases to give to Pastors of churches on the Indian reservations. On every trip we completed at least one project that would assist the missionary with his ministry and we purchased something the missionaries needed; a stove, a dishwasher, flooring for a church. The trips were rewarding and every missionary reported our team had been a blessing. From every missionary expressed the same sentiment:
They wished we could stay longer.
As a pastor, I had the privilege of bringing teams to various mission fields. My difficulties on the mission field had given me insight into the everyday life of missionaries, the things they never write about in prayer letters. I wanted our trips to make a lasting difference.
I well understood their pleas, and desired to help more, but as a staff pastor, I could only be gone from my own congregation for a short period of time.
On a trip to Peru in 2009, I discovered a way we could be more effective in missions from home. Missionary Joe Kotvas revealed his dream of obtaining a container of goods to help in his ministry, Efata’ located in Lima, Peru. With all the demands of his multi-faceted ministry, he did not have the time to organize such a large undertaking. Still, he needed educational supplies, office equipment and items such as sheets and towels to maintain the dormitories for their residential school for the deaf. . After hearing his burden, I helped our deaf singles ministry initiate The Big Box Project, an initiative to send supplies to missionaries to the deaf. Our first project resulted in sending over $100,000 worth of supplies to Efata. The project took longer than we anticipated but we learned valuable lessons along the way. In the end, the shipment was an encouragement not only to the school but also to the missionaries and their church as they saw God supply.
About ten years ago, Missionary Bobby Bonner proposed that I go with him to Zambia for a summer and help him train national pastors to work with the deaf. I was thrilled about the opportunity but my request for a leave of absence was denied. Before long, similar invitations came from Australia, Portugal, Panama and Peru. The desire to answer these requests burned in my heart. I still remembered the challenges I faced in missions. I began praying God would make a way for Tricia and I to do more for missions.
In August of 2016, Trinity began a financial restructuring of the ministry and determined they would no longer employ a full time pastor to the deaf. When I first received the news, I suspected right away that God was ready to open the door for us to return to missions. Tricia and I began praying immediately and God has confirmed in our hearts that he wants us to go reach the deaf of our world with the Gospel.
“Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart,“ -Psalm 37:4