As we were training for the mission field, we were instructed to always be ready to preach, teach or pray on a moment’s notice.
That turned out to be good advice on a recent evening in the Bahamas. We had been invited by the man who rented us a car to attend the Wednesday evening Bible study at his church way back in the bush in the middle of Abaco island.
He didn’t mention anything about teaching in his invitation, but along the sand and gravel road that led through trees with chirping birds, banana farms, scrub land and occasional squatter villages populated primarily by Haitian immigrants, he asked if I was ready to teach.
Well, I had brought my Bible along!
Upon arrival at a hot and humid town site, we were greeted by children, teens and adults who slowly drifted into the abandoned building that the church was using. As far as we could tell there was no electricity, certainly no air conditioning and little if any breeze.
But, there were plenty of bees. Yes, bees had taken over a portion of the building two years ago (one reason it had been abandoned) and swarmed around the front and down one side. The pastor told us not to worry, the bees wouldn’t bother us. We had to trust that he knew his bees and that the Lord knew our needs.
Besides, I had selected as my text Philippians 4: 6-7 (Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus).
Once again it was an opportunity to live that passage as I taught it to over a dozen brothers and sisters who paid close attention, nodding their heads, and completely ignoring the bees who buzzed back and forth overhead.
(By the way, this wasn’t the first time I used that passage at the last moment. Around three years ago I spoke about anxiety when I was asked on short notice to preach in Spanish to a local Baptist church in La Ceiba, Honduras.)
The evening ended with yet another spontaneous moment as the pastor called on Polly to close the service with prayer.
It was good to be back in local ministry again. And the setting, the warmth of the people, their hunger to learn and pray and their desire to know and serve the Lord reminded us of so many other locations where we have served and worshipped in unusual, out-of-the-way places.
I thought back to the first church where I preached, East Mountain View Presbyterian Church at Walland, Tennessee. It was made up of mountain folk who raised their own food and drank water piped in through hollowed-out tree limbs which brought it from a mountain stream. They worshipped in a small wooden building beset not by bees but huge wasps that one person or another would kill from time to time by smashing them with a hymn book right in the middle of a sermon. Good folks with a love for the Lord and a desire to know Him better.
Then there was the church in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador where we were asked to arrive early so they could sound a siren which would notify parishioners two hours away by foot that they should start the long trip down the valleys and across the rivers. The church filled up each time we were there, and we knew that when the movie we went to project was over, those dedicated folks would need to hike the two hours back in the dark of night.
We didn’t always show films in church buildings. More often than not they were projected onto a sheet strung across a street with people standing on both sides of the “screen” to watch the Jesus film (which, by the way, we have seen numerous times, but never in English—always in Spanish).
Other times we would set up in a public park or on a street corner. Perhaps a parishioner would open his or her home. One night we assembled with people in an upstairs room above a garage/gas station.
We’ll never forget the Christmas film we showed in an auto repair lot in a large, poor urban neighborhood of Quito. Food was served, people came and went, children played during the evening, babies cried, roosters crowed and we felt that in those humble surroundings, we had been closer to the “setting” of the birth of Jesus than ever before.
And, we’ll always remember the night we showed the Jesus film in Atacucho, a desperately poor squatter town set high up the mountain in Quito at nearly 10,000 feet (1,000 feet higher than the city). It was cold, very cold. But people came anyhow, wrapped in sweaters yet children in bare feet and torn T-shirts, running, playing, watching the Jesus film and hearing a message from a local pastor. That evening launched a major ministry there, starting a clinic, providing Sunday school teacher training, initiating a women’s Bible study and other forms of outreach in Quito’s poorest neighborhood.
It is those kinds of worship, teaching and evangelistic experiences that we treasure. That’s why we so much enjoyed teaching the people recently in the Bahamas, singing with them in a mixture of English and Haitian Creole, praying for and with them, answering their questions, presenting the Gospel, and, oh yes, dodging the bees.
One final note: The admonition to always be prepared to preach, teach or pray doesn’t just apply to those of us who are missionaries. It applies to everyone, you and me. In 1 Peter 3:15 we read: …in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect….
Those words are a challenge and a call to faithfulness for each of us who claim the name Christian.
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