Andy Merrick's friends had a pool going that he wouldn't see his 18th birthday. But that just makes the story more interesting. For God.
I wouldn't have met Andy except that my car got totaled on Oct. 26, whereupon I learned of Christian Missionary Technical Services (CMTS) through a series of tenuous events. The upshot was a '94 Buick and a testimony.
When he got saved, Andy thought Bible school was where God wanted him next. His professors didn't see it that way, and he and wife Nancy ended up in Peru where he had a different kind of revelation: "I thought that everything would be really cheap because the people only make two dollars a day. That's not the way it is. A wore-out VW, no fenders on it, just a piece of junk you'd buy for $50 here-sold for $2,500." A ministry idea was born.
They began in a three-car garage in New Jersey, but neighbors helped them realize that the sprawl on their lawn was not permanently feasible. The Merricks and the vestiges of their Peru mission supporters started a prayer meeting, and after two years of fervent intercession, a property came to light. Someone stepped forward to finance it, and the zoning variance (the parcel had been farm land) looked like a shoo-in.
The day before the township meeting, a man named Jim Jones persuaded roughly 900 disciples in Guyana to squirt cyanide into their mouths, and the Jersey community balked and denied the variance to this religious car-guy of unknown pedigree. The Merricks drove home stunned, only to learn on their answering machine that their major financial backer had just suffered a heart attack and was pulling out.
Nancy kept her faith but lost her enthusiasm. Two or three days later, however, Andy was on the phone again and learned of an upcoming auction. He and a man named Bob, from the board, went to see it, and it was like Miracle on 34th Street-52 acres rather than 20; and whereas the place they had lost was only land, this one had buildings. A gymnasium on one of the lots was set up for overhead garage doors. "All we had to do was knock out the blocks and hang the doors; the lintels were already there."
Nancy told me: "God does not let us down. It may not work the way we think it's gonna work-and that we've seen a lot."
There was the time Andy was at an auction, and it was getting late in the day, and he was tired. "There was a 2-year-old Nissan came through. And it said on the window, 'bad brakes.' The guy was asking $750 for it, and I'm thinking, 'Man, brake jobs are not that expensive.' So I bid on the thing, and here I got it. And they took it outside, and I went out a little while later to move it out of the auction. And here I looked at the other side, and the whole other side was just wiped out. And I'm like, 'Oh, my gosh, what did I do?'"
"But at the same time that I was buying that car somebody was dropping off a Nissan that was the same exact body style, that was hit on the other side and had 240,000 miles on it. So what we did was we took the side off the one and put it on the other one, and had a 2-year-old Nissan for a thousand bucks by the time we were done. . . . That's just one example of how God takes my mistakes and makes blessings out of them."
My friends and I had arrived at CMTS in Bernville, Pa., at about lunch time, so they threw another rock in the soup and we sat with the guys, men God catches in the middle of their stories-and then flips the script. Andy takes them down to Mexico twice a year: Lately they worked on a home for battered women. I wondered aloud if he thought short-term missions trips were cost-effective, and learned that my question had missed the point. The road trips, Andy said, are about planting ideas for ministry in the guys' heads.