On this page, John and I want to post some sneak previews of the best stories from our upcoming new book ... Come & See! Stories compiled from 38 years of following Jesus on His mission field. We hope you enjoy them and that God uses them to inspire you to follow Jesus and prayfully consider if He might be calling you to serve Him as a missionary. Keep checking back ... there is more to come! :)
SECTION ONE: WHO IS THIS WE ARE FOLLOWING ... AND WHERE IS HE GOING?
Chapter 1: King Jesus
I was on the island of Crete to train North African ministry leaders. I had never met Makrum before, but he was going to be there.
I felt a little nervous about my job. In a staunchly Muslim country, Makrum's team had been seeing people come to Christ in droves. Here I was, brought in as the "expert" from America to train them in evangelism methods. I couldn't help but feel that Makrum should be teaching me.
Boy, would he!
It was the winter of 1998. Though I had already served as missionary staff for 20 years, and seen God do many miraculous things, it was hard to push away the notion that Makrum was a spiritual superstar.
For the first meeting of the conference, I came early and tried to spot him. I had never met him before, and I wasn't sure what he looked like. So, I watched as people filed in. Surely, I could pick him out of the crowd ... the glowing halo over his head would surely give him away. :)
Each time the door to the conference room was opened by the friendly, older hotel doorman, I would carefully scrutinize the person who entered. Was this Makrum? Person after person came in but I couldn't tell which one was him. As the room filled up and the time for me to present approached, I asked a friend to point Makrum out to me.
What is greatness in the Kingdom of God? I had been overlooking him the entire time. The friendly older man greeting everyone as they entered was not a hotel employee ... it was Makrum. He was there to serve.
My First Lesson
A few days into the conference, I managed to get some time with him. I sat down with him over dinner. We had gone into town to enjoy several courses of wonderful Greek food at a local restaurant. The conversation was even more delightful.
I very much wanted to hear his story. I had to coax him, but he began to tell me about how he came to be a follower of Christ. He told me about his family, shared how together they had started the literacy program in order to share the gospel with his countrymen.
Now, I have never been cast into prison and tortured because of my faith. But Makrum had been. I was gripped as he related the story of being put in front of a firing squad who fired blanks at him in order to intimidate him into silence. "You will stop telling our people about this Jesus", they had demanded. It was so different from my experience as a believer. I had to ask him more.
"Makrum ... what was that like? You nearly lost everything for Jesus!"
I was surprised to see Makrum's face scrunch up with a look of confusion. He looked as if I had just earnestly asked him if 1 + 1 = 2.
" Well Jim, you are the teacher here. You know the answer to that question."
"That's okay, tell me again anyway", I pressed in.
He obliged, "Jim ... Jesus is my King. He's given me His great commission ... what else is there?"
The Second Lesson
What else is there?
My question had seemed bizarre to Makrum because he wasn't living with any illusions. Jesus was his priceless pearl. Jesus was his inestimably valuable hidden treasure.
Makrum lived in a place where truly following Jesus and taking His great commission seriously made it very likely that all he had ... including his life ... would be forcibly taken away. Gaining Jesus and receiving a new life in Him that would last forever, could literally cost him everything.
He had carefully counted the cost and found Jesus exceedingly worthy. Having already surrendered everything over to Him, what was left that a firing squad could take away?
Jesus said to his followers that if you want to save your life, you first have to lose it. Christians who live in the West ... in the First World ... tend to think of that as a nice story, with a dash of hyperbole for spice. In many other places in the world, for many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, it's just reality.
The illusion we tolerate is that Jesus would make a nice addition to our lives even though his asking price is "everything else I have." Yet we think we can haggle him down to some other price. Can we really? Fitting Jesus somewhere into your life is a long way from hiding your life inside His. It's hard to imagine that anyone's greatest possession is a yard sale Jesus.
Makrum's Jesus was his beloved King and his greatest treasure, He couldn't help but tell people about Him. In fact, that very night on the way to dinner, Makrum made sure to tell our taxi driver about Jesus. The taxi driver trusted Christ that night with Makrum and became a follower of Jesus. That week, I watched as Makrum continued to tell anyone who would listen about his good King Jesus. He lead the front desk clerk to Christ. He lead the bus driver who took our group to Nicosia to do evangelism to Christ. I learned again by watching him that we can't help but speak about the things we love, and I reflected on so many times that I have been embarrassed to talk about Jesus.
Our plates at the restaurant had long been cleared away and the dinner crowd had thinned considerably. But, we talked on as the candle on our table burned dangerously low. One of the things I asked about that night was the numbers. Rumors tend to stretch numbers, so I wanted to hear from Makrum directly about how many people they were reaching with the gospel in his country. I'd asked him specifics about how many full time missionary staff were on his team. How many people had heard the gospel in the previous twelve months, and how many did he think had placed their trust in Christ and begun to follow Him?
Makrum guessed that he had personally seen more than 300 trust Christ in the previous year. This no longer seemed odd to me because I had seen him sharing with anyone who would listen all that week. I might have doubted that number before I met him and watched him, but in just a few days on Crete, he had scores of spiritual conversations and 13 or 14 had trust Christ through his witness.
Their team of 30 full time missionary staff had shared the gospel with more than 11 million of their countrymen over the previous twelve months, and seen thousands come to Christ. So many had trusted in Christ that they simply no longer could keep count. Makrum wasn't bragging or prideful, the Holy Spirit was moving among his people and he simply loved that so many people were finding forgiveness and new life in Christ. I rejoiced with him over what God was doing and remembered again you can't help but speak about the things you love.
In turn, Makrum now wanted to celebrate with me what God was doing through my ministry. So, he reciprocated and asked me the same questions I had just asked him. And, that's when it got awkward. "How about you, Jim?" How many students came to Christ last year through your ministry in the United States?
Up until that moment, I had been fairly excited about our numbers. But here, with Makrum, it felt paltry. In the Mid-Atlantic region that year we'd seen a little more than 400 students come to Christ and begin to follow Him.
When I shared this with Makrum, he sat back in his chair and cocked his head a little to the side. He looked perplexed. There was no judgment in his eyes, just bewilderment. This made no sense to him.
"Well, how many staff do you have?"
Makrum had just 30 staff on his team. I was growing uncomfortable, but I told him, "We have 180 staff working on the campuses in our region."
"But how many people did you share the gospel with this year?"
We'd arrived at an incredibly awkward moment. He wanted to be kind, but this was the opposite of what he had expected to hear. Unlike in his homeland, in America, we were completely free to share our faith with others.
After a long, and rather uncomfortable pause, Makrum's confusion turned quickly to urgency. He leaned all the way forward in his chair reached across the table and grabbed my hands. His eyes locked with mine and he said, "Jim, you need to pray and ask God to enable you to share with more students next year. A lot more. You need to trust Him for a million."
I nearly laughed. A million students!? A million? Impossible!
But what could I do? How would you have responded in that moment? Makrum had far fewer resources, humanly speaking, and he lived in a far more hostile country. Yet, he trusted God for the impossible in an impossible place.
This was now all quite beyond me, so all I could think to say in order to graciously extradite myself was, "Well Makrum ... I'll believe Him for that if you will believe Him with me."
He agreed, and promised to pray for it to happen. He made me promise to call him when it did!
We prayed together, left the empty restaurant, and went back to our rooms at the conference. A million people? How? Over the next few weeks, I let it slip back into the "wouldn't that be nice" part of my mind. I nearly forgot about this very uncomfortable conversation.
I didn't realize it then, but the third lesson of the night had begun. It would take 6 months to brew and be fully ready for me to drink. First it had to be steeped in the prayers and the faith of a little old man from the deserts of North Africa, who simply loved for people to hear about the Good, Infinite, Omnipotent, Eternal King who loved them.
What else was there?