In 1946 a 22-year-old homeless Italian-American was sleeping on a bench. A policeman came by and hit him on the feet with a stick, called him an insulting ethnic name, and told him to move on. Desperate for warmth and shelter, he found refuge in a Catholic shelter, where a volunteer asked his story. A Normandy veteran, he explained that he had recently left the army and was looking for work. The volunteer gave him a cup of coffee and, in an act of sheer grace, gave him an incredible opportunity. She was on the board of a junior college, and though the young man had no academic qualifications, she offered to help him get into college because of his service to his country. The young man worked hard, advanced to a four-year school, and one day became president of a banking corporation.
That man was my father.
I preface the following story with that story of my dad for good reasons. Though my parents do not share my spiritual convictions, they did teach me that everyone, given the same opportunity, has the capacity to succeed. On my own I learned that the gospel is the great leveler. We are all God’s image-bearers. We are all equally loved. We are all equally fallen. The same price was paid to purchase each of us back. We are all called to be disciples. No one is incapable of being a disciple because of their country of origin or their status in society. We are all equally able to follow and imitate Christ, and no one (other than the person who looks back at us in the mirror) can stop us from doing that.
When we went to Papua New Guinea (PNG), I never doubted that God could and would use His Word to touch people. However, I did encounter something I did not expect. I came to realize that there was a sense among the people of Papua New Guinea that they were not really equal to the white missionaries in the eyes of God. No one teaches that, but it is an implicit understanding. We have so much more than they do. Even if I live as a missionary in a tin-roofed house without electricity, I am still wealthier than my neighbors. It not just wealth—it is also health, and education, and the reality that my son or daughter have opportunities they will never have.
In 2004, I began a Bible study for teenagers who were struggling with Christian faith. There were many missionary kids in the group, but one young woman was a Papua New Guinean. One evening the kids got to talking about what they wanted to do in the future. When we got around to the young woman from Papua New Guinea, she did all she could to divert attention from the question. I sensed an opportunity and asked, “If you were not a Papua New Guinean—if you believed you had no limits at all—what would you do?” She replied that she would be a helicopter mechanic and pilot.
The group got very quiet. That was not something she could do in PNG. However, as a group, we had gotten to the point where many had been baptized. As a next step, I had laid a challenge before the group to ask God for something that was impossible—in order to understand discipleship, people need to know that God does the impossible. For this young woman to reach her goals would require thousands of dollars and a miraculous set of circumstances whereby she could go overseas, be trained, and return to her home country. God would have to move in a way that was beyond what we could do on our own. This was a God-sized challenge!
The months that followed were difficult. We researched and found many dead ends. We faced resistance from other missionaries who felt it was wrong to send a “national” overseas for training lest others believe we would do it for everyone. We worked hard to raise money. After five months a man came for a three-month volunteer opportunity in mission aviation. He was an instructor at a community college in the United States that trained pilots and mechanics, and he met and invited this young woman to his school. She applied, was accepted, and all we needed was…$29,000! So the group prayed. We prayed God-sized prayers. The final day came. At 10:00 of the morning when we had to give the final “yes” to the school, we were $25,000 short. As the hours ticked by, gifts started to pour in; by the end of the day, we had every cent needed!
Last week, a leading newspaper in Papua New Guinea published the story of the first woman helicopter mechanic in the history of that nation—our Bible study member. Many people reading that news story do not know that the miracle of her story was born in a Bible study of teenagers who dared to believe that God is as big as He says He is. I am sure that none of them know that she is just like the Italian-American man who slept on the bench.
At some point, we train people and launch them because we trust that the Lord has good plans for all His people and that He called us to make competent disciples, not dependents. We trust that the God who made us made everyone with an equal capacity to be all they are capable of being. The gospel is good news of salvation, first and foremost. Wherever it goes, though, the gospel also should teach people that God is able to do the same for them as for anyone else. They can then in turn give back and give out and move on to the good works He has prepared for them.
© 2013 Thrive.
Questions to Consider: What are the God-sized challenges in your life? How do you stay encouraged while waiting to see Him meet these challenges?