My dad sang like Pavarotti, my mom accompanied him as if she could read his heart. Because they were so talented, we sang. A lot. Evenings we often gathered around the piano and harmonized. We reached heaven often, but dad, who had perfect pitch dropped us to earth just as frequently with, “You’re sharp on the G.”
“B-flat, that’s b-flat.”
“The tempo is all wrong. 1-2-3 beats, see?”
Still, I think I can safely credit those nights for the enthusiasm that propelled me over and over to my stage, a stack of hay bales on the farm. The closest neighbor lived two miles away.
I’d climb to the top of the straw mountain, and belt out one song after another into the country airwaves as hard and as passionately as I could. Occasionally a car passed, billowing dust like a cloud.
One of my favorites was a hymn, “Give Me a Passion for Souls.”
The lyrics vibrate with the composer’s raw pathos for the lost.
“Jesus, I long, I long to be winning
Men who are lost, and constantly sinning…” (music Foss L. Fellers; words Herbert George Tovey)
The hymn spoke to my heart. Beauty of the music with its yearning watered seeds of a missionary call already planted inside. The need for Jesus in the world surged in me. Lost and found. Dark and light. The dot to dot connection of surrender to mission’s calling tracked a straight path in my mind. And it still does.
I grew up and left the farm. My husband and I with our three children landed in Italy and plunged into language learning and church planting ministry.
Italian culture is sophisticated, intellectual and refined. I felt so naïve and inadequate. I didn’t know how to explain what I did, why I was there. It made no sense to any of them.
We became good friends with our next door neighbors. We laughed with them, ate pasta in their home and they ate American in ours. We shared Jesus as ineptly as children.
Maria, my friend next door, had a sudden medical emergency. She nearly died. I visited her in the hospital several times. After a series of such incidents, each worse than the one before, she came home, weak, but on the mend.
“Maria, how are you?” I asked.
She smiled, a sober ghost of her former vivacious self.
“I know who to call to ask how to make my pasta sauce,” she responded.” I know who to ask about clothes, and I know where to go to find out about my children’s schooling needs. All of my friends have their places in my life, but,” a tremor made her pause, “I don’t know anyone else to talk to about my soul.”
Real love cares about the state of one’s soul.
I can still feel the overwhelming passion of that moment. I remember the resolute knowledge that I was there, that day, in that country, in that house, for that purpose.
“Maria,” I answered, a soprano vibrato in my tone, “How could I love you and not love your soul. How could I love you today and not care about your eternity?”
“O may this hour be one of beginning
The story of pardon to tell.”
Missiology has taken shifts and turns, its definition blurred and elastic, like a fast-food Biblical mandate.
But surrender requires whenever, whatever and wherever.
It isn’t easy.
Loving Jesus may make us appear just a little crazy, not normative, like a fish swimming upstream, or a missionary trying not to look out of place. Yet, in those uncomfortable contrasts our message is most recognizable.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…”
Much more than a sentiment, God’s love is a sacrifice.
“…that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16) ESV