I am in the business lounge in the Dubai Airport on my way home from a great 17-day trip to Kenya. I had 16 other people with me who got to experience what I regularly encounter from the people, sights, and presence of the Lord in Kenya. As I was preparing to speak for the thirteenth time this morning in the last 17 days, I could not help but reflect back on my early days of ministry.
In the past, I have written about how to I learned to speak by not speaking. In the 11 years I was in ministry in Mobile, Alabama, I spoke exactly two times in those years. You can say that I averaged one message every 11 years. That's a lot of time to prepare between messages, don't you think? What's more, in those 11 years not one person in leadership ever asked me what I felt God wanted me to do. I was there to serve them and their vision, and even when I traveled with them, I was relegated to watching them do their thing. There were times when I went to leadership meetings and since I was not in the inner circle, I was passed over when the men there gave reports on their ministries and what they were doing. It was humbling, sometimes humiliating, but I tried to be faithful. Truthfully, I would not have had much to report.
During those 11 years and 600 Sundays, I watched carefully to see what those preaching were doing. I saw the good, the bad, and the ugly, but I learned from them all. I had a small home group, and I was faithful to lead that group as best I could, ministering to their needs and teaching them as the opportunity arose. There were times when I went out to other churches, who would give my leadership a good report, but they never felt inclined to give me a chance to minister back home.
When I moved to Pittsburgh in 1995, more speaking opportunities opened up for me, but my work in Africa was always a source of tension with leadership. They wanted me to stay home, but I wanted to go. When I went and returned, few on staff and no one in leadership would ask me how it went, what I learned, or how I felt it could add to the church's missions ministry. I felt like I had to operate and do what I was doing under the radar.
Finally, in 2001 at the age of 51, I said I had had enough and decided to launch out on my own, starting PurposeQuest to help others find their purpose as I had found. To say that all hell broke loose when I left would not be an exaggeration. I had to start over with no money, no relationships, and no ministry opportunities. I remember making a trip to Africa in 2001, a trip that I charged on my already overloaded credit cards. I did so just to make a statement to principalities and powers that I felt Africa was in my future and I was going to find a way, by God's grace, to be there as often as possible. God in His mercy did open doors for me to be there, but I found myself staying for three or four months at a time, trying to make ends meet back home.
I have often said that from 2001 to 2008, I was in exile in Africa. I traveled while based in Zimbabwe, but even that opportunity in Zimbabwe ended in a relationship fracture that to this day has not been healed, and I doubt if it ever will. Our leadership philosophies differ too greatly to bridge the gap. In 2009, I decided to focus on Kenya, where the people were acutely in tune with the purpose message, and God has opened many doors for me there. Sunday morning's ministry, my thirteenth speaking engagement on this trip, was a testimony to God's faithfulness. I did not quit, and He did not quit on me, opening doors that no man could open and granting me favor with the people.
Today when I preach and teach, I relish every chance I get. I will never forget those lean years, and I always pray that God will help me help His people. Since no one ever asked me what God wanted me to do, I try to equip people to find and fulfill their purpose. Next month, I will be 67 years old. I don't know how many days I have left, but I want to make every one of them count. I have paid a high price to do what I am doing today, and I don't intend to squander the chances, while at the same time equipping others to do what they are called to do and helping them do it.
So, this Memo is just a note to the Lord to say "thank You" for His help and grace. All that was going through my mind as I got ready to preach this morning, and I just had to share my thoughts with you. If you find yourself far away from what God has called you to do, perhaps my story will encourage you not to give up and remind you that God is indeed faithful. Have a blessed week!