"They still bear fruit in old age" (Psalms 92:14)
“GLUE FACTORY NEAR ME”
That’s what I googled this morning. I felt compelled.
I remembered an old joke: There was a famous jockey that never lost a race. When asked how he achieved this, he replied, I whisper in the horse’s ear:
Roses are red, violets are blue.
The joke came from an ugly reality. Horses that no longer raced—or could not work as they once did—were often rewarded with one final trip… to the glue factory… lots of good collagen in horses… they made great glue.
The reason for my search? During the last year or so, I have received a few “Dear John” emails. You see, for some, once you move back to the United States, after 41 years of full-time service on foreign soil, you no longer qualify for continued monthly support.
I assumed my Internet search would produce some hits for glue factories designed to process missionaries no longer living in a foreign country. I couldn’t find any. I guess we don’t even qualify for being made into glue.
Of those who have terminated my support, no one has yet to ask… “Greg, will you be ok if your supporting churches drop you?”
I received the most recent “Dear John” email this week… and I am in Mexico right now. I write these words this morning as I sit at my son’s dining room table… in Cancun, Mexico. I have spent the last 10 days in intense fellowship, counseling and encouraging… capped with the high honor of preaching Sunday in two of our churches… and in my favorite language… Spanish.
We are already in prayer about our next trip to Cancun and how to plan for it. This will continue to happen, Lord-willing, as long as I have means and health.
But I sense a deeper problem…
Linda and I started full-time ministry when I was 26 years old. We landed first in El Salvador, Central America. Linda went to heaven from Cancun, Mexico in 2015. I just turned 70 years old. My entire adult life has been about church planting, discipling, and transitioning out of leadership as newer people transition in (something most US pastors would not dare to attempt).
Do I still need to justify my existence… to prove to supporting churches that I am productive and still present in a foreign country? At this point, I should have the choice—if I wanted it—to buy some camping gear and find a quiet fishing hole in the mountains where I could live out my final days… like some retiring pastors… (including a few who find me unworthy of sustenance now that I am “home”).
The problem with writing like this is you can’t see me smiling, but I really am 🙂. And smiling wide, too! God’s got me. He takes care of me. He will continue to take care of me. Assurance of his provision has been forged in the hardest of circumstances. He keeps me tranquil and thankful and joyful.
My reason for writing has everything to do with a love for God’s kingdom work... especially for his kingdom workers. Have we set in motion the most viable and honorable ways to nurture and care for families who transition for the long haul… giving their lives to the cause in faraway and difficult places?
Starting out in our kind of churches, I heard—ad nauseam—about the all-encompassing authority and sole responsibility of God’s local churches regarding their missionaries. Sadly, the outgrowth of that wonderful preaching does not always live up to the hype.
For years, the weight and extreme expense of caring for Linda’s serious health needs were shouldered week by week, year by year through generous, loving believers… in Cancun, Mexico. I will be eternally, lovingly thankful for their testimony of love and grace lived out before our eyes. But the original message and theory had been: we—your supporting churches—have got your back. It didn’t work out that way. It was more like… “well, sort of…”
Camping gear and a quiet fishing hole are not on our bucket list. Remaining actively engaged in Gospel kingdom work is. Writing for the benefit of younger generations is… Challenging people about long-term, boots-on-the-ground church planting is.
Carol and I are not ready for the glue factory. We have stories and experiences to share which we think should be heard. In some cultures there is a high regard for white-haired folks like us… not so true in your US culture… not so true in some churches either. We seem to no longer have a voice.
In Carol’s words:
Is the amount of miles we travel in a day the measure of a man’s worth? Activity slows us all as we age. But what price tag do you put on wisdom born of experience? What is the value of the counsel of one who has journeyed ahead on the road yet unknown to the younger disciple? Mature disciples, although less “active” are invaluable as counsellors, prayer warriors, encouragers… as Paul was of the younger Timothy and Titus.
"suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope," (Romans 5:3-4)
What is God’s heart toward His children when they grow old?
12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green,
15 to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
Discontinuing support of returning veteran missionaries? It feels like an attempt to muffle our voices… to make us feel rejected… to discourage our involvement… to put a higher value on productivity than on the wisdom and profound mentorship potentially available through us.
Today, more than ever, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;" (Matthew 9:37) For all the big splashes and grandiose plans we come up with to bless people around the world, there is still no substitute for a long-term, boots-on-the-ground commitment to a particular place and to a particular group of people by a particular young family or team.
Typically, new families need 8-10 years to begin to feel dug in… at home… and comfortable in a new language… accompanied by a sense that any contingency will have been anticipated by the folks back home who are holding the rope.
We wish we could encourage university kids and fresh, young married couples to consider a life sold out for Christ… young folks who embrace the Galatians 2:20 thing when they receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in their hearts.
"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." (Galatians 2:20)
Let HIM dominate THEM until they die. Danger is reIative. Creature comforts are a spoiled American thing. Living for Jesus and the kingdom is everything!
We pray for new families that will reach further and do it better than we did.
AND… we pray MUCH for their supporting cast. May they be everything their precious Gospel kingdom workers will need… and are so worthy of...
until they come home...
until they die.
Special, heartfelt thanks once again to so many of you who are so amazing with your prayers and so faithful with your support… just as you have been for so many years.
We love every one of you…!
Greg grew up in Menomonee Falls, WI. His ministry began in 1976: 5 years in Central America, 36 in Mexico. Church planting and discipleship have been his passion.
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." -Matthew 13:44
Concise devotions in Spanish and English, along with some lengthier essays… Designed for personal spiritual growth and to help anyone studying English or Spanish as a second language to improve their skills… Rev 14:6
To highlight one essential facet of the eternal Gospel of Jesus Christ... Rev 14:6; 2 Cor. 5:18