One of my first memories of missions was in March of 1978. I was only three years old, but my dad went with a short-term mission team from our church on a trip to Guatemala following a massive earthquake there. My dad was part of the second team from our church that went to help Guatemalans rebuild after that tragedy. The first team worked alongside our SBC Foreign Mission Board (now the IMB) missionaries to rebuild Damascus Baptist Church in Guatemala City. The second team (that my father was on) went to the village of Santo Domingo Xenaco outside Guatemala City to help rebuild homes for those who lost family members and homes in the earthquake. Following a hard day of construction, the team would gather for evening services, where they would worship and share the gospel with locals.
Obviously, being three years of age, I do not remember much about my dad being gone, nor do I remember much about the trip. What I do distinctly remember is what happened to him upon his return home and how it impacted our family and my life. Not long after his return my dad became very sick. We soon discovered that he had contracted an infectious form of Hepatitis A from the drinking water in Guatemala. Even as a young child I remember being extremely concerned over his health. It was scary to have your father home from a long trip and for him not to be able to get out of bed or for you to be able to spend time around him. As I reflect back on this years later, I am struck by the fact that I never heard my father complain about getting sick, nor have I ever heard him talk poorly about his mission trip experience. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that it never slowed him down from taking more trips. He is now 71 and is still actively engaged in international mission trips every year.
Not only did his active participation in missions make a lasting impression on me, but the commitment he and my mother had to financially supporting missions did, as well. When it came time to give to Lottie Moon, he and my mother always gave joyfully. I remember my parents talking often about why we gave to Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong. I remember them sharing stories about missionaries they had met while serving and why giving sacrificially was so important to them. As they would share these stories, my mind would often drift back to my father’s illness. I would quietly wonder why someone would give a week of vacation, get extremely sick, and yet still be passionate about sacrificially giving to the work there through the Cooperative Program and the various missions offerings? It would not be until I stepped off a plane in Namibia, Africa, as a 21-year-old on my first international mission trip that I would understand what my dad knew about the joy of living and giving to the Great Commission in 1978.
The joy that I discovered in Namibia was the joy that my parents had modeled for me throughout their lives. It was modeled through their faithful and consistent giving to their local church. Each Sunday when they would give through their local church, a portion of their giving would go to fund missions in their state and around the world through the Cooperative Program. Now that I am a pastor and a dad, I am trying to model this same faithfulness. I want my kids and my church to see me going into the world, loving others, and sharing the gospel. I want my kids and church to see me sacrifice my time, talent, and treasure for the cause of Christ. I want them to know there is something more important than safety, than health, than wealth, and the American dream. I want them to see that we can accomplish more for the Kingdom together as Southern Baptists than we can alone, and that is why I believe that the Cooperative Program is the best way we have to accomplish this task. It has been said that more is caught than taught, and while I’m not promoting anyone catching an infectious disease, I am suggesting that we as parents and pastors can model what it means to cooperate for the sake of the cause.