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 with small rewards for large efforts.
After two years of learning language, we started a church for the deaf, perhaps the first ever in Germany. The church met in our house. It took over a year for us to discover the German 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 a new location. In a couple of years the church was finally growing. We were excited to have 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 we had failed as missionaries. 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. As we traveled, I asked our team members to pack their belongings in their carry-on bags. 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, Reeses peanut butter cups and cream of mushroom soup. They were met with delight and tears of joy!
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 thirteen guitars in hard cases to give to pastors of churches on the reservations of the Ngobi-Buglee people. 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. Every trip ended with the same lament:
They wished we could stay longer.
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 and answer prayers.
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.
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.
Tricia and I began praying more earnestly about returning to full time missions and doors began to open. In August of 2016, a missionary in Liberia contacted us through a friend asking us to come and help him reach the deaf. Invitations began coming from missionaries all over the globe. God has answered the prayer of our hearts. He wants to use us to reach the deaf with the gospel worldwide.
“Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart,“ Psalm 37:4