It was the summer before my Junior year in High School that God used this verse to confirm that He was calling me into a life in the ministry. When I responded to the Holy Spirit’s drawing at a youth camp that summer, I knew from that moment forward that I would be working with youth the rest of my life. I had been praying and asked God to confirm that calling to me through His Word, and one day that scripture “address” popped into my head, and when I looked it up – well, you can see why I would take that as a confirmation.
Over the 25+ years as youth pastors and pastors since then, we have had so many young people come and go through our lives. It’s been an awesome privilege to see so many grow in their walks with the Lord, and especially in seeing those who have responded themselves to that same call into ministry. Now – don’t get me wrong, those who are now studying law, or who are teachers, soldiers, store clerks, nurses, firefighters, moms, dads… I am equally proud of each of them, too! But to deny that there is not some sort of kindredness with those called into ministry would be a lie. I guess you could compare it to being a Marine and knowing other Marines… sure you admire the Navy, Army, and Air Force – but you really feel connected to another Marine. I hope that makes sense.
Maybe if I thought hard enough I might be able to remember the first young person I prayed with who felt that calling, or maybe not. I can tell you though, that I can point to a number of our teens who are now serving as pastors with youth and children. And then there are the missionaries. THEY are ones that I share an even deeper connection with, because during my Senior year of high school I responded to another call on my life – this time to go to Paraguay, South America for a year to help plant a church in a town that hadn’t been touched by the Gospel.
These are the words that a young William Borden wrote in the front of his Bible in 1904 when he decided to lay aside his family’s fortune and become a missionary to the Muslims living in China. After graduating High School, his wealthy parents had given him the gift of a cruise around the world, and it was while on that trip that God began to open up William’s eyes and heart to the multitudes of unsaved people around the globe. He wrote home to tell his mother and father that he wanted to be a missionary. When he returned home in 1905 he enrolled at Yale University and immediately started a prayer meeting that eventually turned the campus upside down in revival. Despite opposition from some of the professors, by his senior year, 1,000 of the 1,300 students at Yale were meeting in Bible studies or prayer groups. It was also during that first year of college that he traveled to Nashville for the 1905 Student Volunteer Movement conference. While at that conference, William felt the more specific calling to work with the Muslims in Kansu, a remote region of China that was considered to be one of the most difficult assignments on earth. After graduating Yale, William had several lucrative job offers, including the opportunity to take over the family business. He turned each of those down, instead, choosing to pursue the call on his life. Again, he opened his Bible and wrote another two words:
It was on December 12, 1912 that William set sail for the first step on his journey to China – language school in Egypt. Just as during his time at Yale, he held nothing back and within just the first two weeks in Cairo, he had organized seminary students to distribute the Khutbas (a booklet by a converted Muslim) to the entire city of 800,000 people! But within three months of his arrival, the young missionary contracted cerebral meningitis, and on April 15, at the age of 25, William Borden died. Charlie Campbell, one of William’s college friends, received William’s Bible after his death. When he opened it he found what William had written in the flyleaf. In addition to the words “No Reserves” and “No Retreats” that William had jotted down during his college days, he found two more words that William had written before he died:
In the past 20 years of ministry, we have sent a LOT of young people on short term mission trips around the world. Some of those I led myself, to places like Mexico (yes, there are still places in parts of Mexico where people have never heard the Gospel before!), Belize, Haiti, and even back to Paraguay. Others we’ve laid hands on as they went off to places like Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia, and China. More recently we stood at the airport and waved goodbye to our son Caleb as he went off to spend 3 months in Fiji to help strengthen a church already planted there, and at the same time to his now fiance, Shelby, who headed off to spend what she hoped would be several months in Mexico. This turned into a difficult several weeks, as the pastors that she worked with discovered that there were actual drug cartels in the area interested in getting their hands on her, most likely to traffic her as she is a beautiful young woman. Because of this, instead of being able to freely roam the streets or take part in the day-to-day life as a missionary (which had been her dream for that specific location for years), she was shut-up in the home wondering what was going on and what God was trying to teach her through it all. She hasn’t let that deter her though, and right now they are both praying about where God will call them to after they marry. Their passion is to bring worship to the nations, encouraging the Church on every continent with the love of God.
During that same time, two more girls we minister to, Taylor and Alex, both went to Haiti on separate trips after the devastating earthquakes that shook that tiny nation. Along with a handful of teens in Taylor’s group, each day she helped pick through the rubble of a missions compound, clearing away debris and discovering the remains of those who were lost in the earthquakes. Taylor then spent some time at Teen Mania’s Honor Academy preparing for a life of serving others. Alex spent her time ministering in an orphanage and has fallen in love with that nation and wants to someday return. Having been to Haiti a few times myself, I can tell you that it HAS to be God to feel called to such a dark and hurting place.
Another of the teens in our life, this one a girl named Anita, spent a month in Zambia this summer. She turned right around and went back to Africa, and just came back after spending 3 months at Roland and Heidi Baker’s “Iris Ministries Harvest School” in Pemba, Mozambique. She fell in love with the people there and has felt the call to return in a few months to stay for an indefinite period of time and work with the orphan girls there. In her words she wants to “be their mentor – not their leader, but their big sister to lead by example. To be the one saying, ‘Follow me as I follow Christ.’ To see their IDENTITY and show them what it is. To give them special, individual attention and love. To lay down my life. To LEARN from the missionaries on base and do what ever they need me to do!”
I’ve also recently reconnected with Jennifer, a girl that we had in children’s church and youth group several years ago. Now in her late 20’s, she had lost her way for a while, but came back to the Lord simply by an invitation to go to a college bible study with a freind. At that study she heard about something called “The World Race”, that takes the participants to 11 countries in 11 months to work with local missionaries and pastors, doing whatever it is that is asked of them. In that moment, she knew God was calling her to it and decided to go. Now, this is not the normal process, is it? Someone who has been away from a committed life for so long, to just up and plan to become a full-time missionary – and to do it so soon? What? No Bible schooling? No spending years on staff at a church being a pastor? No itinerating and traveling, preaching and pleading for funds? Nope. That’s not how God did it for Jennifer. Oh, and she leaves TODAY for that 11 month trip around the world.
In a way, I was like Jennifer. After that summer of being called into the ministry, I spent a few months in confusion and it led to a time of living on “both sides of the fence”. In youth group, I was a leader. On the weekends I would go to parties with my friends. It was New Year’s Eve when I found myself a mess and hanging out at the beach with them… feeling empty and wondering if God would forget the call that He placed in my life. A few days later as I was sitting in my English class at school, I silently prayed and asked God to forgive me. I told Him that if He’d still have me, I wanted to give my life fully to him. In that moment another scripture “address” popped into my head and I wrote it on a piece of notebook paper. As soon as I got home, I ran to my room and grabbed my Bible to see what it said:
“Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.” – Matthew 12:18
These were the same words that God had used to confirm my call that previous summer – yet this time it was from the Gospels where Jesus was quoting the words of Isaiah. Jesus. I knew that He was saying, “Barry, it’s Me. I am personally reminding you of your call.”
I wasn’t able to complete my year’s assignment when I was in Paraguay a few years later, because like Borden, I got sick. Except mine wasn’t as nearly as fatal – I got a serious case of parasites. Yes, it did affect me in a big way… I lost close to 50 lbs in about 2 months time. Being a young missionary, I didn’t have the money needed to stay and go to a hospital there that could take care of me, so instead I came home just 2 months shy of my year’s commitment and let the doctors back here deal with me. But having been on 11 mission trips outside of the U.S., I still understand the words that William wrote in that Bible.
Why on earth would someone want to give up the comforts of home, to go live somewhere half-way around the world? Why would they want to give up the ease of our Sunday-morning church culture with all of it’s bells and whistles, to take on the difficult task of sharing the Gospel with people who you may not speak the language of, and who most-likely will only tolerate you and not accept the Message you bring? Charles Erdman, one of Borden’s professors at Yale summed it up very simply when he said:
“Apart from Christ, there is no explanation for such a life.”
Many would say William Borden’s life was “wasted” – that it’s a tragedy to be taken at such a young age with so much future and so much promise. Or they would question why God called him, only to allow death to take him even before he was able to actually reach China. Well, in 1912 the story of William Borden’s death was printed in just about every paper in the country, and memorial services for him were held literally all over the world. A biographical sketch of Borden’s life for Muslim readers was published in five languages. Thirty-five thousand copies of the Chinese edition made their way into every province of China and even opened doors for mission stations in previously unreached areas – yes, even into the Kansu region he had been heading to. So, you see the story of his life and even the tragedy of his death did more to impact that area of China than maybe he could have done had he lived. According to Dr. John R. Mott, “The story of William Borden at the 1913 SVM conference was the most powerful appeal for missionary service ever made by the Student Volunteer Movement.” His family would receive several letters from young people telling them that William’s story had inspired and in many instances confirmed to them their own callings into a life as missionaries.
I pray that God continues to call the William Bordens – and the Calebs, Shelbys, Taylors, Alexes, Anitas, and Jennifers who are just now getting started in this life of service that God has compelled them to. And I pray that no matter what happens along the way – whether it be an adjustment to their vision, a set-back like sickness or disease, or even if just the reality that sometimes life can overwhelm us – that they live their lives just as William did, with a simple determination along their way.
“No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.”