Rite of passage parenting: Parts is parts
In my travels to teach and preach, people often ask me, “How many countries have you been to?” I have a hard time answering this question. I don’t know, and I’ve never stopped to count. I don’t even know if I could count. But let me explain.
Recently, I received a Facebook message from an Awe Star alum on her way to study in Russia for six months. As she connects with fellow students, she’s asking God to give her opportunities to share the Gospel. And in that same Russian city serve two missionaries I’ve known since their teenage years.
This young lady had a layover in Amsterdam, where she had her picture taken at Dam Square, the very spot where I’ve taken many students to present the Gospel and the same spot where I’ve stood to preach the claims of Christ. I remember fighting off the pigeons and the gifts they left behind as our students did chronological Bible storying through the performing arts using a drama called “Freedom.” I’ve poured out my heart to share the Gospel in that square without seeing one person come to Christ. When my young friend sent the photograph, little did she realize I had already left a part of me in the place where she stood.
I call it a God-thing when a little part of you meets up with another little part of you and you’re not even there. Most of the time, the parts don’t even realize they’ve crossed.
I’ve tried to pour my life into every student who has come with me to do Jesus ministry. When these students leave, they take a part of me with them. I haven’t been to the city where my young friend will study in Russia, but a part of me is already there, and another is on its way. Little parts of me are scattered all over the world.
A short time ago, I saw another picture in which a part of me from the Middle East met up with another part of me from Latvia for a family reunion. And I recently got reacquainted with one of my former youth from 38 years ago, Larry Pittman. He just returned from preaching the Gospel and encouraging the church in Tanzania. This summer, I’ll head to Tanzania for the first time, but through Larry, I’ve already been there. In August, the whole of me will join the part of me.
I remember the old Wendy’s commercial. A customer at another fast food restaurant asks what parts this competitor uses to make their chicken nuggets, and the man behind the counter replies, “Parts is parts.” He continues with a funny patter about they take the chicken, divide it into little parts and reassemble them into one big part, “And then the one big part is cut into little pieces parts.” And as the man behind the counter says once more, “Parts is parts.”
Almost every week, I hear from parts of me in Peru, Hungary, Venezuela, Mexico, Cambodia, China and more. I’m just beginning to catch a glimpse of the way God has allowed the least of these to touch the world. And this side of Heaven, I know I’ll never fully understand.
Parts is parts—but my parts are not the only ones that touch the world. The parts of every parent and grandparent who has invested in these young lives do the same thing. And so do the parts of every Sunday School teacher, R.A. and G.A. leader, preacher, nursery worker, youth worker and schoolteacher. And so do your parts. Through the lives of others, parts of your life are being passed on to the world.
Isn’t that why Jesus had to die? His parts—in fact, all of Him—are instilled in his followers. And the Jesus in me encounters the Jesus in you to produce the family of God.
Although I’ve spent almost 40 years of ministry pouring myself into the lives of others, I never intended to implant myself there. Instead, I’ve tried to instill Jesus in them. As the Jesus in my young student friend meets the Jesus in the two missionaries to Russia, we see the body of Christ at work. And when the Jesus in one part of me meets someone who doesn’t have Jesus in them yet, that part of me comes alive to share the Good News of salvation. True Jesus ministry doesn’t end because I’ve left a country, or because I haven’t been there yet.
So if you ask, “How many countries have you been to?” I have to figure out which of my parts you’re talking about. That should explain why I usually answer, “I have no idea.” When it comes to Jesus, “Parts is parts” has a whole new meaning.