Their booming voices would raise the roof at the Mponela Bible School in central Malawi. Dad was training men, young and old, to become pastors of that tiny African nation sandwiched between Rhodesia and Mozambique in the 1960s, and they were so full of zeal that they would sing all night long. Dad’s missionary work kept him at the school for weeks at a time, leaving Mom to deal with us four kids in a land where the largest city had only one traffic light. It was tough, but we would never have traded those 12 years for anything.
I was an American, a foreigner, a stranger to that culture and country – but I was completely at home. Sacrifice for the gospel was our daily life. Though my parents felt the pain of it more than my siblings or I, it was clear that sacrificing one’s life for God was not an option. It’s what real Christians do. And in that limitless joy of the young Bible students and in the village churches made of mud and straw, it was easy to see how sacrifice brought new life. Sacrifice resulted in joy.
Then the tide changed and we were suddenly back in the US. The wealthy churches in Texas that had supported Dad’s missionary work were stranger to me than I had been to the Africans. It wasn’t just culture shock, it was a shock to our spirit. Instead of raw faith, joy and gratitude for God’s amazing love, it was luxury cars, expensive homes, social status, back biting and church politics. The few Christians who were sincere were hard to find.
But Dad and Mom were determined to never let the fire of faith die. They accepted the call to spread the gospel among immigrants in New York City, teaching English with the Living Bible as a textbook. Dad led a church in a rundown corner of the Bowery District in the lower eastside of Manhattan in the 70s, holding services where drunks, beggars and conmen considered churches as soft spots for handouts. Once, after a long day of helping other people, Dad was given a black eye from a beggar who refused to take no for an answer. But Mom and Dad stayed, they served, they cared for the lost, they changed lives, and I watched and admired their every move.
I wanted to serve too, but becoming a traditional pastor, majoring in Bible and Psychology to be ordained in a church as dry and unspiritual as the American churches I’d known, was something I just couldn’t bear. I dropped out of a Christian college in Texas to seek another path. Where were the Christians with the same quality of faith that I saw in Mom and Dad? Why did no one value the joy that comes from sacrifice?
The answer came years later in such an upside-down manner, that only God could have orchestrated it. With my newly earned degree of Doctor of Chiropractic, all set to open my practice in New Jersey, I was called to give it up and go into the ministry. I did. I left it all to serve in a church that was completely unknown in the United States, but had impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands in Brazil and South America. I learned Portuguese, I submitted to the church leadership of a totally different culture. I learned spiritual warfare, to confront witchcraft, to heal the sick, to cast out demons, to preach a radical faith, and to fight against the forces of hell to save souls. I witnessed the healing of my wife’s blindness, the raising of my infant son from the dead, and the transformation of thousands of lives that no one could deny were from God. Not only had I found sincere Christians, I had found the First Century church active and alive, and the God of the Bible revealing Himself in my everyday life the more I surrendered to Him.
This has been my life since 1987, in both North and South America, in Africa, Europe and Asia, planting churches, preaching, teaching, counseling, healing and learning more each day about the joy that comes from sacrifice. Funny thing is that it was Dad and Mom who led the way for me as they gave up 30 years of ministry in their old denomination to serve in this new church. Again, they were my examples as they left behind the comfort of their home and family to go back to Africa decades later. Mom was buried on the mission field in Bloemfontein, South Africa in 1995, and today, well into his 80s, Dad reaches out to prisoners and ex-cons in his home state – giving demons black eyes instead. I have seen firsthand that yes, sacrificing for the gospel is what Christians do, and from it springs miracles, healing, deliverance, salvation and pure joy. There’s no other option.
“For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 16:25