Long ago and far away during a different life (as I call it), I spent a year in a little town in northern Wisconsin with the sole purpose of building a fellowship. There were three of us sent to this little town of 12,000 people and none of us had ever spent any amount of time away from home. It was late September when we arrived and we spent the first few weeks staying with a family who was our contact in the area while we looked for jobs.
Part of the program demanded that we were to work 4 hours per day at a job. We were to spend 8 hours per day "witnessing" and conducting fellowships. The one girl in the team immediately got a part time job in her profession, which had something to do with nursing. The one guy and I got jobs washing dishes at a restaurant for awhile. We found two cheap apartments and all looked like it was going to work out just fine.
Within two weeks both John and I got "laid off" from our jobs and ordered out of our apartment. I was 18 and John was 19 at the time. We applied at every place that had a "help wanted" sign, but no one wanted to hire two kids from out of the area. We finally went to the local bakery in town and persuaded the owner to let us split an 8 hour day. I would work 4 hours and then John would work 4 hours. Our job was general clean up and washing baking trays. Our pay was $1.25 per hour.
Meanwhile, we located a huge house with five bedrooms and a gigantic living room near downtown. In our excitement, we signed a lease and moved into our new home. The rent was $150 per month. Hmm. Both John and I made all of $5.00 per day which amounted to $25 per week. To us, we had everything covered just fine. We both made about $100 per month and the rent was only $150. Ahh, the innocent days of naïve youth.
We actually did what we were sent there to do. We were "witnessing fools". We went all over town and told everyone under 20 we met that God loved them. We started holding fellowships on Sunday evenings and within a few weeks we had 70 kids jammed into the living and dining rooms. We would play our guitars, sing together, pray for each other and teach a little of the Bible. The hunger to be with people who loved with the love of God was incredible. People didn't come for the meetings, they came to "hang out" with other kids who were learning about the love of God.
We actually had some of the guys move into our house and pay rent. For awhile there were 7 of us living in that big house. Those were some of the sweetest days of my life, as they were for many others also. By Christmas time of that year, many of the original people had become so heavily involved they left town and went out on a special second wave of what we were doing. Just before these people left, we had actually split the group into three fellowships. In three months, we had developed three fellowships and furnished I think 6 people to the second wave of the program.
The reality of a northern Wisconsin winter hit us with its full force in January. None of us had ever experienced -25 degree weather. It was a very cold winter. One night it got down to almost -40 degrees. It was so cold, the oil froze in John's VW bug. I will never forget watching him try and heat the oil with a small fire in the garage. Thank God for the miracle of no big fire! The oil remained frozen and we thus had no car, so we walked everywhere during the two coldest months of winter.
As the weather turned atrocious, people suddenly quit coming to our fellowships. Within a week we had to consolidate the three back into one. The only people who ever came were the three of us. January of 1972 will always live in my heart as the worst experience of my young life. Everything about that month was pure torture.
Also during that month we received our first winter gas bill to heat that big house. The people had all left who had lived there and now it was just the three of us scattered among the many empty room. I believe the bill we received was for something like $300. We immediately turned the heat down to like 55 degrees and spent all our time bundled up in layers of clothing and sleeping under a pile of blankets. We used just about all of our money to pay the heat bill. We lived on macaroni and cheese and beans, literally. Of course John and I ate as many doughnuts as we could at the bakery, but the only meals we ever ate were the cheapest on earth.
Everything within us wanted to quit and go home. It was just too hard to handle and it was cold. In an ironic twist, many of our friends were at the same time suffering through the unbelievable heat while being shot at and some even killed in Viet Nam. Neither John nor I had been drafted, but many of our buddies were and many never returned home again. We would talk about this and it actually served to motivate us to "hang in there". Amazingly, we actually did stay and it was so good we did.
We decided to plaster the town with flyers advertising a "Big Doo" on a night in early March. We had no idea what this "Big Doo" would be, but we knew it was the key to our survival and success. For weeks, we faithfully talked to people and kept reminding them of the date. When the time came, people really did show up and within a short amount of time, things were as they had been when we first arrived.
Back in 1972 there were no regulations concerning having prayer meetings in high schools. We started having lunch fellowships in the two local high schools. Within a few days, we had over 100 kids crammed into a room wanting to hear about the love of God. The schools did "freak out" and made us go outside as the weather warmed, but the kids kept coming. There was so much hunger to be loved with the genuine love of God.
Times were far simpler back 35 years ago. There were no electronic games and little on television that interested teenagers. Kids were bored and looking for something that would provide meaning in their lives. All we knew at the time was that God is Love and we loved those whom we met with all the love of God in our hearts. The result was a love explosion that helped a whole bunch of kids get saved in due time and do really great things with their lives.
As unbelievably difficult as that winter was many years ago, I would not trade that year of my life for any before or since. I learned more about life, relationships, trusting God, loving people and maturity in one year than if I had gone to 5 years of college. I grew up real fast that year in many different ways. Those who saw me after that year barely recognized me. I had changed because I had grown spiritually. I was no longer a 18 year old who knew nothing but what high school had taught me; I was a 19 year old who was wise beyond his years.
What do 18 year old kids have available now, to see the kind of quick growth that I had the chance to experience back in 1971-72? Short of going into the military, I don't know where programs exist that force a kid to grow up fast and right. There are tons of excellent short-term mission programs that provide stimulus for growth for the 1-4 weeks of the trip. But, even a month long mission program will never allow for the kind of growth a one year program would provide.
I honestly do not know how we made it through that horrible winter in frozen northern Wisconsin. I do not know if I had to do it again now if I could make it through almost 10 weeks of relentless cold, snow, ice and darkness. What I do know is that if I would not have taken my stand and done what I knew God had placed on my heart to do that year, I would have never grown spiritually and would have probably become as most other kids my age became.
There are times in one's life when you have to throw caution to the wind and walk out on faith on a matter. There are times in one's life when you must force yourself into situations of growth or you will stagnate. There are times in one's life when you must deliberately prove the Word of God is true to yourself. There are times in one's life when you must cut the strings of worldly comfort and go, stand and speak the wonderful works of God.
I truly admire missionaries with all my heart. Those who leave it all behind to go to some God forsaken land to live among the people and learn their language, customs and culture are a rare breed. Those who are willing to live without the modern conveniences we can't live without just to be able to help someone else get saved and learn about God are the true heroes of our time. If there are any people living on this earth who deserve our prayers and our support it is those who serve around the world as ambassadors for Christ.
Rarely do I highly recommend a book as greatly as I do "Always Enough" by Roland and Heidi Baker. As much as I love George Mueller and what he did with the orphanages in England through faith unparalleled before or since; what the Baker's have done in Mozambique Africa is beyond description. I would gladly give an arm or a leg to those who have willingly devoted their entire life to living in and helping those who live in conditions so horrid and uninhabitable I cannot imagine in a million years.
Christians need to grow up. Christians need to stop whining and start living outside themselves. There is a whole world of need out there, both here in this country and around the world. Churches need to quit spending all their time and resources on themselves. Benevolent giving and giving to missions needs to be at least 10% of a church's giving, not the 2% as it is in most. Christians need to allow God to work in their heart what it is He needs them to do for Him, and then DO IT.
Brothers and Sisters; there is no subject I am more passionate about than reaching out with the love of God in our hearts to bless someone else who is hurt, lonely or at their wit's end. Other than praising and worshipping God, our very purpose in life is to reach out and share what God has so graciously given to us with others. The Dead Sea is dead because it is all inlet and no outlet. Christians are lifeless when they do not give.
I pray we all rise up and go where God leads us and do what He needs us to do. I pray we cast off the fears and laziness that hinder us from acting on the commission God lays on our hearts. I pray we slap apathy in the face and become the compassionate army God needs so much.