“When is it OK to put me first?”
This was the question presented to my wife, Saundra, and me in a recent conversation. Our response? Our lives are not our own to do with as we wish. We were meant for a much bigger purpose than accumulating things and simply enjoying ourselves.
“You shall be my witnesses … to the uttermost parts of the world … ” (Acts 1:8). These words have echoed in my heart and mind since I was a young teen, even before I had assurance of salvation. Salvation, the call to pastoral ministry, marriage to Saundra, the joy of my earthly life, years of fruitful pastoral ministry in three pastorates—we’ve been blessed. But I always had the nagging sense that God had something beyond for us to be involved in.
While serving as a pastor in 1993, I visited Russia on a mission trip. As I returned home, I called Saundra and tearfully whispered, “We have to go back to Russia.” She and I made two more trips to Russia and saw the world through new eyes. We believed that our lives and the gospel could make a difference.
Being appointed Global Partners district director for the Dakota District (now Northwest District) gave us opportunity to make numerous mission trips to Cambodia and see what a long-term relationship with a mission field looked like.
Participation in a trip to Haiti two months after the devastating 2011 earthquake enlarged my sense of God’s heart for the world. Then, in August 2014, I was invited to join a team visiting Nepal.
The Nepalese national church was in need of someone to help re-ignite its discipleship emphasis so as to maintain an evangelistic focus. I encouraged one of the men from our home church to give a year of his life for that work, but it was not to be.
The need became more personal following the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal. Global Partners (GP) leadership asked Saundra and me to consider giving at least one year of our lives for this young, exciting work. At the same time, we sensed our pastoral ministry in Mitchell, South Dakota, drawing to a close. I announced my plans to retire.
Preparations at the church were set in motion to begin the process of a transition out of that pastorate by summer 2016. I returned to Nepal for 10 days in August 2015 to take a closer look at the work. While on that trip, GP leadership asked us again to consider giving a year to assist this young association of churches. I began to sense that this may very well be the next chapter in our lives.
Since Saundra had never visited Nepal, and her agreement to this call was essential, we arranged for an exploratory month-long ministry visit in April 2016. During that month, we taught, talked, prayed and we observed.
On our last weekend, a pastor took us on a grueling three-day road trip to visit a number of the churches scattered outside Kathmandu. As we returned to Kathmandu amidst dust and fatigue, Saundra whispered through tears to me, “I just want to go home.”
That, to me, sounded like the door was slamming shut on returning to Nepal! We had agreed that the last two days in Kathmandu would be devoted to prayer and fasting for clarity in discerning God’s will if we were to return for a year. The next day, Saundra and I each separately sought the Lord—and we heard almost the identical message.
The Lord’s question to the Apostle Peter in John 21 is, “Do you love me more than these [other things]?” seemed aimed directly at our hearts. There were plenty of reasons for us to stay put in the United States: children and grandchildren, comfortable home with good friends, over 40 years in ministry. Wasn’t it someone else’s turn to give? None of these responses seemed worthy in response to the Savior who had left all to rescue us from our lost condition. So, together, we said “yes” to God’s call for us to give the coming year to live and serve in Nepal.
We returned home to share this sense of call with our children and church family. The next four months was a whirlwind of activity—attending Global Partners’ training sessions, setting up our own support team, visiting churches to share our vision for Nepal and completing our 32 years of rewarding pastoral ministry at Mitchell Wesleyan Church.
On September 17, 2016, we found ourselves in Kathmandu to begin 10½ months of service alongside a team of dedicated leaders for the Emmanuel Wesleyan churches of Nepal. We returned home in 2017, but our call to serve Nepal remained.
This past year, Saundra and I have made three return ministry trips to Nepal and have experienced some of the best ministry of our lives: at least eight churches built, several pastors provided with motorcycles for ministry, 500 sets of Bible story teaching sets completed (all in the Nepali language), and most recently, sufficient funds donated to build a pastor/church leaders’ training center in Kathmandu. All of this has happened as God has moved, and the work continues to advance in spite of us being flawed and weak vessels (see 2 Cor. 10:2-4).
In many ways, these last two years of ministry in Nepal have been some of the best and the most difficult of our lives, but we wouldn’t trade these years for anything. We have received far more than we have given, and we are grateful to God.