As a child returning to school in the fall, I almost always had to write a paper titled, “What I Did with My Summer Vacation.” Since our family did about the same thing every summer, I turned in the same report year after year. Now that I’m older, I know I could have made things much more interesting. If had to do it today, I’d describe my summer on the mission field by the numbers. Here goes:
Infinity and beyond: Questions I’d rather not answer. Here’s a sample: As the bus pulls into a church parking lot and stops, someone almost always asks me, “Is the bus stopping?”
I have so many responses ready. “I hope so. I sure don’t want to drive around the church for an hour.” Or “I’m not feeling any forward momentum; therefore I deduce that the bus has come to a stop.”
Often, a team travels to an area that’s new to me. I tell the students, “I’ve never been to this city. I don’t know anything about it.” As we pull into the downtown area, we see a statue and someone invariably asks me, “What is that statue?”
I now have a standard answer: “This is the statue to the unknown god mentioned by the Apostle Paul in the book of Acts.”
“Cool,” the student responds. The next thing I know, he’s telling the rest of the bus. Before I know it, they all pull out their digital cameras to take pictures of the famous statue.
I always wonder how this goes over when they go back home and give their mission reports. Do they tell the church they found the statue of the Apostle Paul’s unknown god in the middle of Panama? Someday, I’d like to sit on the back row and listen.
12: Extra pieces of luggage I had to pay for coming home. Nowadays, with only one bag checked free, we could put another person on the mission field for what it costs us to get supplies in and out of the country.
11: Islands where I preached. If you’d like a good lesson for your children, see if they can find the island of Carti Mulatupu, my home base, on Google Maps.
10: Times I drove to the DFW airport to send or receive missionaries. I know that airport better than my own home.
9: Articles I wrote from the mission field. The Messenger wants my article submitted by Monday of each week. Sometimes, I intentionally wait until Wednesday. I like to see them sweat.
8: Days left on my malaria prescription. When working in the jungles, a host of God’s bloodsucking creation welcomes you. Each night as I laid under my mosquito net and looked out, I was reminded of the angels around Jesus’ throne: “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands” (Rev. 5:11).
7: The number of times per hour I was asked, “Where are we going?”
6: Average hours of sleep I got each night. Between howler monkeys, snapped hammock cords and interruptions from eager team members, this was the year of little sleep.
5: People groups I served. These included the Emberas, Wounaans, Kunas, Panamanians and Guyamis. If you count Americans, I ministered to six different groups.
4: Times I got to call my wife. When I’m out in the jungle or on an island, phone calls are difficult. Even though our calls were sporadic, I had a better connection in Panama than on our vacation at Beaver’s Bend State Park.
3: Times I took students souvenir shopping. For me, that’s the worst day on the mission field. I’ve taken students to the Indian Market in Panama City so many times that the people who work there think I’m their manager. I’d much rather be out teaching the Bible than trying to find a handcrafted pot holder for Aunt Beatrice or a machete for Grandma.
2: Times my hammock broke. In all my years as a missionary, I’ve never had my hammock snap until this summer, when it happened twice in one night.
1: Times I took a student to the hospital (just to check out a spider bite).
0: Ways to get to Heaven without Jesus. That’s the reason I do what I do. As you teach your children to live by the numbers, don’t forget to teach them the importance of the number zero. And while you’re at it, teach them 4 and 12: 4+12=0. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under Heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).