From a very early age, I remember when pastors would come to our family home to spend a night at the end of their missionary tour. You see, I didn’t grow up in a classic setting. We had no church nearby; it was only my family—one grandmother, two aunts, my parents and my three brothers. Our church was in our living room. We lived a simple, isolated country life. I didn’t have friends that I could take to church with me. Since we were homeschooled for the earlier part of my life, my brothers were my best and only friends.
I grew up in France, about an hour away from the city of Lyon, close to Switzerland and Italy. When I was a kid, our only pastors were traveling from Germany and would come once or twice a year to France on mission tours. They would visit all the places where there were church members and finish off their tour at our home. We were the last ones to be visited on their way back to Germany. I always felt so blessed to receive these important visitors to our home. We would make sure that the best food was cooked, that their beds were ready when they arrived and we would even gaze outside the window waiting for them to drive up the long uphill road that would lead to our home. What excitement! Somebody was coming to our home!
My hopes of being a violinist were crushed one day. My parents had purchased as a birthday gift a violin from a good family friend. You should have seen the smile on my face! I was probably 10 years old. This was my dream! I started to play that day and was trying to learn on my own. My parents could not afford to pay for violin classes; I was only able to take some music theory classes. I loved it! I attended these classes for three years and was getting good at the theory. But one day, my dad came to me and told me that due to him having lost his job a few months back, we had no money. We were going to sell all of our valuables in order not to lose the house. Among these valuables was my dear violin. I remember walking away from the store with a sobbing heart. I would never become pastor-violinist.
Twice a year, we would travel to attend conferences that were held in Saint-Vert, a former flour mill that had been transformed successively into a bar/restaurant, then into a meeting hall. Isolated in the country, this place still holds lots of great childhood memories for me. On these occasions, the German ministers would often give lengthy sermons, doubled with a translation. Instead of being bored, I would try to understand as many German words as I could and convince myself that I understood everything they said—until the translation came and I would realize that I was completely off.
We were taught respect for the elderly and the holy things. I remember one day wandering behind the church pulpit and being rebuked for that. It taught me the difference between things that are sacred and things that are common.
I was always a “good” boy growing up, reserved and shy. I don’t think that my parents were worried about me. I always knew that one day I would be baptized, but had not actually made my decision. At age 16, after starting to work during summer holiday, I had purchased the Conflict of the Ages series with my first salary. I was attracted to knowledge and loved to read, but had not yet invited God into my life.
As a teenager, my desires changed completely. I liked helping people and dreamed of becoming an osteopath. It is similar to a chiropractor but with a higher medical training and more holistic skills. The best schools in Europe were very expensive and required 6 years of university level studies—plus they tended to be very elitist. Only a select few could hope to enter one of those schools, and only after very difficult selection tests. The school I was considering received 500 applications and only 20 would be selected. Coming from a poor family, with only slightly above-average school grades, I had low chances of being among the chosen few. But I decided to take the test anyway.
Just around that time, three ministers from Germany came to our home. I was 17, going on 18. After dinner, my brothers went to their bedrooms but I remained with my parents around the table. The ministers were telling about their recent visits and the experiences they had made while travelling. I was always fascinated by their stories about how they were able to bring the gospel to struggling families and clear away all their doubts. At one point in the conversation, the ministers noticed me. They asked how old I was and if I had ever considered giving my life to Christ. I will always remember that night. Each of the three of them gave me two verses as an encouragement:
“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”
“Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.”
“Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. ”
“Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.”
, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.”
“But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Two of these ministers have now passed away. They probably never realized how much impact they had on my life.
You probably wonder how I remember these verses over 18 years later. They are written in golden letters in my heart. You see, what nobody knew or even suspected is that, just as they were talking, I had a pack of cigarettes in my pocket. I had struggled for a month with the desire to be just like everybody else in school (by that time I was in the secular school system). I was trying to erase the education my parents had given me in an effort to be accepted by my peers in the crowd at school. But my conscience was not allowing me to have peace. When the ministers came to the last verse, I had silently crushed the pack of cigarettes and inwardly begged God to forgive me. There were no external signs of that struggle, but that night I gave my heart to the Lord. I felt miserable for who I had become but also realized that Christ had come to call me to repentance. That night, I spent the longest time I had ever spent on my knees beside my bed.
The next morning, unbeknownst to them, I was a new man. They asked me if I ever had considered going to missionary school. The only missionary school I knew of at the time was in Brazil and I decided to consider the idea. (Years later, the ministers told me that the purpose of their trip on this particular occasion had actually been to find potential students for a prospective missionary school in Germany.)
This was my last year of high school and it was time to choose my future career. I decided to put God to the test, as Gideon had done many years ago.
I told God: “If you want me to be a missionary, make me fail my entrance exam to the osteopathic school.” I had only a 4% chance to be selected, so I was pretty sure that God would not enable me to go. I took the entrance exams, which included general knowledge, science and anatomy tests as well as psychology and motivation interviews. Waiting for the results and knowing that I had only a very slim chance to be selected, I decided to make plans to attend the missionary school in Brazil. As days turned into weeks, my expectations of making it among the 4% grew weaker and weaker. My determination to make plans to go to Brazil grew stronger. I was almost certain that God wanted me to be a missionary. My old memories of wanting to be a pastor-violinist came back. . . .
That’s when I received a phone call: I was accepted into the osteopathic school! Suddenly, all my certainty disappeared. I had been so sure that God wanted me to be a missionary! Now, here I was back to square one. Did God really want me to be an osteopath? Had He answered my prayer or was it a test I had just set on my own, by myself?
So many questions were flying through my head. Both futures were possible. I knelt down and asked God to bring me a deep conviction. He showed me the verses in, “Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.”
You see, there was no question for me after this point. I would go to missionary school, not just to learn more about God and our church beliefs, but to work for Him! The call became crystal clear.
While I waited for the school in Brazil to accept my application, I started to work in a factory in order to save money for the trip. I waited a year and a half. Eventually, in the meantime, a missionary school opened in Germany. I was the first applicant. I have never looked back.
An observation has been made:
Do you like being in charge? Start your own business.
Do you like talking while others listen? Become a college professor.
Do you like arguing theology? Start a blog.
Do you like church buildings? Become an architect.
Do you like church history? Become an archeologist.
Do you like visiting the sick? Become a chaplain.
Do you like marrying people? Become a county clerk.
Do you like burying people? Become a funeral director.
Do you want to be in a position of authority? Run for public office.
Do you like making money? Get a higher-paying job. Like a public school teacher. (Seriously. As poorly as they get paid, they have a higher average than pastors. With summers off.)
Accepting God’s call to be a missionary is one of the best decisions I have ever made. It was not what I had anticipated. But working with God is, in my view, the most rewarding position one can have. I’ve had a front-row seat to see lives changed, marriages healed and prodigal sons return.
You have to love Jesus. You have to love people. You have to be willing to sacrifice an otherwise prosperous career. If you are looking for something other than that, you need to look elsewhere. You will suffer. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. It is the hardest job you will ever love.