A Friend On A Mission
By: Jeff Lukens
Most people in America focus on gaining ever more money, power and status. Once in a great while, you come across someone who could have these treasures abundantly, but chooses not to seek them. Instead, he or she strives for a higher purpose in life. This is a story of such a person.
About five years ago, I would journey across Tampa every Monday night to the Seminole Heights area to attend a Bible study with about 100 other men. I had been doing this for a few years, and over time I had become the treasurer of the group.
One night I was in front of the class giving the treasurer’s report, and asked for a volunteer to be my assistant treasurer. Out of the crowd, one person came forward. His name was Jim Smith.
After I explained the duties involved, I asked Jim what he did for a living. “I’m the Finance & Administration Pastor at a church in Brandon,” was his reply.
This surprised me. I asked, “Why would you want to be here with a group like us? You already know the Bible.”
“I just want to be some place where I can be one of the guys,” he said. “That’s not always easy for someone in ministry.”
“I can understand that,” I said, and we quickly became good friends.
Jim always had a smile and a warm greeting to share. As I got to know him, I could see he had an extremely sharp mind, and a very humble spirit.
He volunteered helpful bookkeeping tips without comment or fanfare. His organizational skills were exceptional. Over time, he revamped the treasurer’s records far better than they had ever been before.
He humbly confided in me that he had once held a dream job as Assistant to the CEO of an established company. Eventually, he was traveling first class around the world overseeing the company’s international market and military contracts.
I could see why. He was a very talented person, but this line of work was not his calling. He later quit the job to go into the ministry at his church.
One night as we were doing our bookkeeping, the conversation turned to a missionary family who had recently returned to our area from a Muslim county. They had been injured in an attack. I asked, “Why would anybody even go to such a dangerous place?”
Jim just smiled and said, “They were following where the Lord has led them.” I was having trouble understanding or agreeing with that reasoning, however.
“In fact,” he continued, “our family is praying about becoming missionaries. We are hoping to go to Africa.”
He often spoke of how God was leading him in one direction or another. Now, he declared, God was leading him into the missionary field. For a person of his talents to do such a thing was amazing to me. Such hardships weren’t worth it as far as I could tell. But Jim was looking at it differently.
Perhaps this is what the apostle Paul meant in Romans about offering your body as a “living sacrifice.” Paul said, we should be transformed by the “renewing of our mind,” and to “test and approve” what is God’s “good, pleasing and perfect will.” The mind of Christ is like that of a servant, of sacrifice, and of yielding your life.
Heavy stuff. Missionary work certainly was a sacrifice, and this seemed to be where Jim was heading in his decision to become a missionary. He was putting aside what people call success, for what God values.
Soon afterwards, he, his wife Hope, and their four children began to travel the U.S. to search for funding sponsorship for their ministry. We continued to stay in touch by e-mails.
I try to imagine myself being in his place, and how I would handle the challenges he faced. I am always amazed at how gracefully he manages his trials.
Their first of their many visits to Africa was in 2003. Their decision on where to settle, and the relocation process itself, were big steps in faith. They made the final move in September 2005, settling in the southern province of Zambia.
Though English is the national language in Zambia, there are more than seventy tribal dialects spoken. Jim and his family remain committed to learning Tonga, the principle dialect in their area, but a translator is still necessary as they minister in more remote areas.
Zambia was once a British colony. By American standards, it is a primitive country whose principal industries are cattle farming and copper mining. Christianity is one of many religions in the country.
In e-mails, Jim has written: “The longer we live here and observe the attitudes of the general population of the Tonga people, the more amazed Hope and I grow over the tremendous sense of contentment and personal gratitude most Tongas have…… In some respects, it’s easier to live for and proclaim Christ here without the influences of materialism.”
But life is not easy. Last June he wrote: “Since April, we have endured several more bouts of Malaria, two simultaneous computer crashes, further financial challenges due to the weakening dollar, emotional lows from being distanced from loved ones, and the everyday strain associated with living in Africa.”
“Simultaneous to these valley moments we experienced, we saw God answer countless prayers, save nearly two-dozen souls, baptize fourteen new converts, expand our family’s ministry outreach in ways never anticipated, provide new friends for each of us, and supernaturally meet some critically urgent needs.”
He also says, “One of our primary responsibilities here in Zambia is to provide leadership to ‘A Refuge of Compassion’ (ARC), a ministry working within the African churches to help national believers biblically respond to the physical and spiritual needs of the destitute.” ARC is a part of Baptist Mid-Missions, Inc., his primary sponsor.
Each week, “I ride my motorcycle 40-60 minutes into the bush villages of Siankope and Chilongo, taking paths which are inaccessible by truck and questionable in some places even by motorcycle. These are the days I most feel most like a missionary, taking the Gospel into an unreached area.”
Since beginning his “motorcycle ministry,” he has led dozens of men and women to Christ from the Siankope and Chilongo villages. One such person was Samuel Muloongo (pictured).
On New Years Day, 2007, Jim was on his motorcycle again going to Chilongo. The bike was loaded with gifts and supplies for the people of the village. On the way, Jim lost control of the bike on a muddy road and severely broke his leg. He lay on the side of the road for about 30 minutes until help arrived. A nearby hospital could only set him in a temporary cast, and gave him morphine for the acute pain.
With Hope at his side, and the children cared for by friends, the next day they drove him five hours to Lusaka, the capital city. He had to wait until the following day for the surgery. “Every ‘move’ during this time was excruciating,” he wrote. “X-rays revealed both bones in his lower leg were broken in three places. The surgeons took bone from below his knee and grafted into other areas, inserted a steel plate and seven screws.”
Jim is now at home recovering. He is encouraged by the greetings of local well-wishers, and by many e-mails from his friends back in the United States.
“I think I’m improving each day. The pain is lessening. Today, I’ve not taken a pain pill for almost 12-hours…… and I’m not crying . The leg and my toes are still swollen, bruised, and sensitive, but I am encouraged by the apparent progress that’s being made. I know this is a result of the many praying for us.”
Yes Jim, you are in our thoughts and prayers. Godspeed to you, your ministry, and your recovery. You are truly a servant of God.
Jim Smith can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeff Lukens can be contacted at www.jefflukens.com.
Jeff Lukens is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.
Jeff Lukens is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets. He can be contacted at www.jefflukens.com