Go east, young man

Africa | You don't have to be a superman to help. You do need to roll with the punches, sleep sometimes in cold rooms, and calmly say when things go wrong, It's Africa

Issue: "Superheroes strike again," Aug. 6, 2005

Last of a series by Marvin & Susan Olasky in Zambia, Namibia, and South Africa. Read Part I, Part II, and Part III.

Nineteenth-century New York editor Horace Greeley is most famous for words he may never have said: "Go west, young man." But even if the words weren't his exactly, the message was: New York City was crowded with people chasing the same American dream, so the adventurous should head to the frontier.

Africa, as previous articles in this series have noted, is the newer frontier. Some people go there to apply demonstrated strengths. Some go there to overcome career mismatches or disappointments. But the Bible emphasizes God's sovereignty, which means (among other things) that every experience moves those He calls to where He wants them. There are no accidents.

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Look at Mike Jones (see "The other venue," July 16), who grew up on a farm in North Carolina but from 1984 to 1994 worked as a computer engineer: This man who exults in being outside in the Zambian bush country spent 10 years wearing a coat and tie and peering at mainframes in D.C.-area office-building basements.

Career mismatch? "That was a little strange," he acknowledges. God blessed him and his wife with four daughters, and his supervisors gave their blessing by making him a manager, but then his company was bought by another. He was demoted to a regular engineer again, with a 10 percent pay cut and the loss of a week of vacation, although his manager unofficially gave it back to him.

In the midst of this professional mismatch and disappointment God also gave him a vision for Africa. Does it take away from Mr. Jones' calling to note that a better white-collar corporate job wasn't calling? Not in the least. The fine movie Chariots of Fire notes that God made Eric Liddell for missionary work in China, but God also made him fast. God gave Mr. Jones the ability to work with computers, but a look at the joy he takes in helping Zambian farmers and orphans shows that God made him for Africa.

The Ezra to Mr. Jones' Nehemiah in Zambia is Jerry Beall, 59, a pastor for 33 years. The first five of those were in the United Methodist Church, but he left that denomination as big parts of it moved toward embracing homosexuality. He pastored at several Holiness churches within three different small denominations but was concerned with legalism in those situations, as he had been concerned with liberalism in the mainline denomination. (He smiles and says, "Choose your blessings and choose your battles.")

By 1993 Mr. Beall had pastored for a decade at Damascus Wesleyan Church just north of Washington, D.C., and had helped to increase attendance from 15 to 450-500. Quantity was good but he wondered about quality and "was looking for a vision for the church." He believed the church should become mission-oriented but didn't know where; Albania, Colombia, and Spain were candidates. But after he and Mr. Jones visited Zambia in 1993, "Mike came back breathing and talking Africa all the time."

Meanwhile, a church split in 1995 and two more splits in 1998 left Mr. Beall wondering what was next, so he started annual trips to Africa. Standing in a Zambian village late in June, he said, "In the States, people have so much already. I enjoyed preaching there but people have so little here. They have less so you want to give them more." If his church had been trouble-free Mr. Beall might not have had the opportunity to visit Africa so often or the personal incentive to see if he could be of more service on the frontier.

God also providentially orders lives of short-term volunteers. One afternoon at Mr. Beall's Zambian orphanage, three West Virginia Wesleyan students helping out for the summer were as enthusiastic as Merry and Pippin in The Lord of the Rings, and with longish hair looked the parts. The oldest of the three, Jacob Schwertfeger (he quickly explained that his name means "sword carrier" in German) played on his guitar, "Lord I Lift Thy Name up High," and the other hobbits were lifting up laughing toddlers. A 3-year-old strummed on his Road Warrior T-shirt.

Later, Jacob described his high-school years: "Got into some major sin. Sexual immorality, the drunken party scene. That was my life through high school. . . . One day I realized I had nothing. I was bawling my eyes out . . . and God said He still loved me." He "came to college all fired up" and also started thinking, "How cool it would be to travel for the Lord." Two of his talents make him particularly well-suited for work in Africa: "Pull out a guitar and a soccer ball [he's on his college team] and you have a crowd around you wherever you are. It's awesome that God gave me that."


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