Six of us sat in the Asian-accented hotel room this past Saturday night from 9 PM till midnight. We had just participated in six days of strategic gatherings to partner, learn and develop new ways to share Christ to the ends of the earth.
Our hosts, Carol and Calvin Conkey, had created a warm setting for a quiet celebration over what God had done in the prior week. Soft lighting, candles, drinks, popcorn and sugar cookies waited. We were ready to "partay."
We had just wrapped our two-day "Visual Media Strategy Forum" in Chiang Mai, Thailand where 90 participants adopted 45 of the least-evangelized people groups without indigenous evangelistic media (22 of these were previously unadopted).
We wanted to thank and honor Steve Baughman, the SIL member who is the beauty, brains, and brawn behind the Eurasia Media Distribution Consultation. He generously partnered with us and helped make the VMSF a bigger success than we anticipated.
The other participants were my friend and mentor Jim Green of the JESUS Film Project and my friend from Maryland, Tom Dalpini.
Once we were all comfortably settled, Steve moved us to a sacred story mode when he asked, "Carol and Calvin, I don't know that much about you guys, how did you meet?" That was all it took to start us on a three-hour roller coaster ride.
We found our selves leaning in with anticipation and rocking back in laughter as we heard how two twenty-somethings were brought together. They were both on staff with Youth With a Mission and had been influenced by Dr. Ralph Winter's new idea of reaching "unreached people groups" with the Good News of Jesus. Carol had many suitors but confided in a friend one week after meeting Cal, "Oh no, I think he's the one."
Cal was on a 10k run around the new US Center for World Mission campus when he felt the Lord had a word for him about Carol. "I thought I had done something wrong and that God was going to rebuke me" Cal recounted. Instead he heard, "You need to propose to Carol tomorrow." "I thought this wasn't of God so I rebuked the devil" he shared with a grin.
Eventually the message persisted and Cal understood it was from above. After three weeks of dating they were engaged.
Steve Baughman was a radical for Jesus who was passionate about translating the Word of God for North Africans. He met Jennifer, a young woman who was on a mobilization team with the founders of a new organization called Frontiers. Steve was interested in Jennifer, but made it clear his call was unwavering. She wasn’t sure their calls overlapped enough. One evening she announced, “I’m ready.”
“Uh, ready for what?” “Ready to join you in your calling.” “Oh. Ok then. Let’s get married on Saturday.” “That's fine” she said. The next day Steve got a call from Jennifer’s mother, “Is there anyway we can have a little more time to prepare the wedding?” Cooler heads prevailed, the wedding was delayed and they were married a whopping five weeks later. In their first five years of marriage they had three kids, lived on three continents, studied three languages and moved 17 times. Not exactly a page out of your "How to Build a Stable Marriage" handbook.
At this point in the conversation, I had to interject, “Are you people crazy?! I’m a big proponent of short engagements...like three to six months...but a few weeks? You guys are nuts!”
I guess there are exceptions to my rule because thirty years and eight kids later, Steve and Jennifer seem to be doing quite well thank you very much. The Conkey’s have 26 years of marriage and ministry behind them and are still going strong.
The conversation shifted to Jim Green who recounted how he met Nan. Jim was one of the first 100 staff members with Campus Crusade for Christ (now there are 25,000). Back then Bill Bright did all of the new staff interviews. Jim decided to leave the ‘Placement Preference’ blank so he could be certain the Lord put Jim where he was needed most. When Jim was assigned to Michigan State University, he felt he needed to disclose to Bill that that was only a one-hour drive away from Nan, his girlfriend at the time. At that time, CCC only had staff on four campuses east of the Mississipi. When Bill heard, he slapped his knee and said, “this is of God, this of God.” Jim and Nan have been married for 50 years and have seen all three of their daughters serve in full-time ministry.
As the hours wore on, we took turns telling stories of God’s miraculous leading and mighty hand at work in and through our lives.
I was humbled to be in a circle of saints who are changing the world. I love that I have the privilege of experiencing extreme joy knowing that my life is well-invested. One of my greatest joys is knowing that my story has intersected with the story of these great saints as well as many more.
As I woke the next morning, I felt a profound burden that my children and my niece and nephews experience the same joy when they hit my stage of life.
So I dedicate this to Quinn, Elena, Sage, Zachary, Justine, Matthew, Benjamin, Logan and Max. May you experience the extreme joy of serving the God of the universe and co-laboring for decades alongside other passionate believers.