It is telling of my boxed-up imagination that it took me eight years to start praying for Bubba with the missionaries instead of with the inmates. He is in prison, that’s a fact, but he is God’s man in prison, full of the Word and leading men to Christ. Someone will cavil that he didn’t get himself behind bars for good behavior, but which of us got where we are out of a practically perfect past? For my money, Bubba is an evangelist with portfolio, dispatched to a specialized mission field.
When my son wanted to join the French Foreign Legion I was not thrilled. During his own incarceration three years ago, fervent letters home spoke of God’s total claim on his life. After his release I threw out a few suggestions about Bible institutes or phoning a man I knew with a car ministry to Belize. Instead he took work in a hardware store and then a landscaping business. But most notably, he got involved in the church’s youth group. Soon his life revolved around the junior high and reading the Bible. I myself enjoyed a new status at church as the mother of C. Adults I had never said boo to came up to talk—to him, not me.
Now I had it all mapped out: C. would surely apply to Bible school, get ordained, go into full-time professional ministry, and live happily ever after. But what I have not told you yet is that C.’s other passion is the military. Here is where God’s jail plan put the kibosh on C.’s soldiering plan. So C. spent one and a half years researching the French Foreign Legion. A lifelong history buff, he knew of the valiance of the 13th Demi-Brigade at the Battle of Narvik during World War II. More relevantly, he knew that the former French colony of Mali was the new Islamic terrorist hot spot. He booked a flight for France.
It was the sight of C. at the airport carrying nothing but a backpack and a well-worn Bible that birthed a new thought in me: “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him. … And he said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. … Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road’” (Luke 10:1-4). Why couldn’t God do another out-of-the-box missionary assignment?
C. passed the physical trials with flying colors but failed the interview portion for reasons we may know in heaven if we’re still interested. (He was forthcoming about both jail and Christianity.) Though surviving the transfer from Paris to Aubagne, he found himself in the usual ratio of 20 to 1 dismissed without explanation.
Back home the names tumbled out: “Christmas” (from Russia), “Waffles” (from Belgium), Kowalsky (from Poland), “DJ” (from Kenya). My C. they called “Priest.” Among the 30 were also an Algerian, Albanian, Serb, German, a few South Africans and Italians, and a kid from Alabama (“Bama”). They all had stories. Waffles had done two tours of Afghanistan and couldn’t readjust to life where the biggest concern was who stole your parking space.
Thin uniforms against the February chill left everyone with colds, but Christmas got sick as a dog. On the fifth night C. put his blanket on him. Other men sacrificed their coverings. C. laid hands and prayed over the Russian and the next morning he was well. Another time C. read his Bible out loud and drew a crowd. It’s not like in America, he told me: In the Legion when you pull out your Bible, men come and ask questions. “Everybody there is looking for something.”
“I still trust God’s ways but I don’t understand why He didn’t keep me in the Legion when I was telling men the gospel,” C. said. “I guess your mission was accomplished,” I said. “He wanted Christmas to get prayed for. You planted seeds. Someone else will water.” God is not “cost-effective” in missions the way men count cost-effective.
Once an Ethiopian eunuch struggled to read Isaiah in a chariot on the Gaza road, and God airlifted Philip for an ad hoc hermeneutics lesson. My understanding is that Philip had no formal Bible training.