It feels providential that my first journey abroad for Samaritan’s Purse is taking me through South Korea. I say that because my journey in missions began here thirty six years ago. I arrived in 1979 for my second trip to Korea, that time to preach for the Jeil Baptist Church in Kwang Ju. I was nineteen years old and had sensed divine direction to preach from the time I was sixteen. I had gone to Korea two years earlier with a group from my church, but this time I was on my own, save for an aged chaperon affectionately known as Momma Tipps. She was a legendary missionary figure in our circles, having traveled innumerable times to San Andres Island in the Caribbean to share the gospel, almost singlehandedly reorienting Trinity Baptist Church towards the world. Momma Tipps and I traveled through Los Angeles, toured Hollywood, made the walk of stars in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and then landed in Kwang Ju, South Korea. We spent nearly two weeks together. I’m not sure what she thought about me, but my awe of her grew exponentially.
Our last Sunday afternoon in Kwang Ju, we were invited to join missionaries from various Christian denominations for the missionary worship service held in Bell Chapel on the mountainside in rural Kwang Ju. In certain respects this was just one more worship gathering; in other ways it was extraordinary. God spoke, at least I understood him say that this was his calling for me. The “this” meaning cross cultural ministry. I returned to the U.S. determined to serve Christ as a foreign missionary. My path since then has taken me through a decade of service in Africa and India, dissolution of marriage, losing everything only to gain far more in return, and now this new opportunity to fulfill God’s call to missions. That looks differently today than it did all those years ago, but it is no less fulfilling. I am grateful that God never forgets his call, even when we lose sight of it or make choices that obscure it. Grace is more than a means to salvation; grace is a way of life.