My grandfather was a most unlikely missionary pioneer. He came from a broken home, left school at fourteen and got a job in London. Somehow, though, from an early age he had a profound faith in a God He could not see. His faith led him to make choices like taking a lower paying job so he could get home in time to participate in activities with his local youth group. At each major step in his life, he depended on God in a way that always that demonstrated one major thing – He believed that God was alive and well and active in His life. God was not a distant deity who had created him and then left him to fend for himself. He believed that God would do what He said, meant the promises that He had made and was faithful and trustworthy.
In the early days of the CLC ministry, my grandfather connected with men like Norman Grubb who also believed in a big God who was capable of more than he could imagine. It was Norman who inspired that idea of 200 Christian bookstores up and down the British Isles like a “Christian Woolworth’s”. Neither one, however, envisioned a worldwide literature mission that would eventually be in over fifty countries with hundreds of workers and thousands of people coming through the doors on a daily basis. They simply believed that God was calling them to a specific plan for that time and place and trusted God for the increase. As word got out about the fledgling literature arm of WEC International (of which Norman Grubb was the leader), people responded and miracles happened. Store after store opened in the midst of World War II and its immediate aftermath.
Over the years, this idea of believing God for big things became a part of the DNA of CLC. At a time when Christian organizations were struggling to make much headway, CLC started a work in Japan with a man that did not even speak Japanese. Many of the teams started the work in their countries with extremely modest means and very limited personnel. Despite this, they persevered and saw the work grow and prosper. Nothing was impossible if God was the initiator.
For many years, one of the main prayer goals of the CLC ministry was the to get literature into the Soviet Union. My grandfather knew Brother Andrew personally and our family regularly prayed for his ministry. I remember reading books about his daring attempts to cross into communist countries with books and Bibles and praying for the eyes of the border guards to be blinded to what was in his vehicle. Time after time, he got through and was able to distribute thousands of pieces of vital life changing Christian literature. Once in a while we were even bold enough to pray for a CLC store to be started in one of these countries at some distant point in time.
Little did we know that in 1989, the Berlin Wall would come down and that in the early 1990’s, the Soviet Union would completely collapse. By then my grandparents had gone on to be with their Lord and it was the responsibility of a new generation in CLC to respond to this incredible turn of events. Once again, with limited financial resources or personnel, many pioneering people in this ministry took up the challenge and saw miracles take place as store after store was opened in these former communist countries. It was my great joy to be able to attend the grand opening of the CLC store in Moscow in 2006 and realize that I was witnessing with my very own eyes the results of decades of prayer and the work of generations of people before me.
In our time, there seems to be another “insurmountable” obstacle represented by global Islam. For our generation, this challenge is every bit as great as the communist threat to the world of my parents and grandparents. Humanly, it seems impossible to imagine Christian bookstores sprouting up in the Middle East. In fact, just this past week, two Bible Society bookstores were targets of violence and destruction in southern Egypt. As the threat of the Soviet sphere began to diminish and the communist countries opened up in the 1990s, CLC and Brother Andrew’s organization recalibrated and saw Islam as the next major prayer emphasis. We have been praying about this now for nearly twenty years.
So what can be done? From where I sit, it seems so hopeless and frustrating. As I was thinking about this reality this past week, I needed a reminder of God’s faithfulness and commitment to my generation. If He is the same God yesterday, today and forever, I wanted a sign and I wanted it soon. I was struggling with a cold on Sunday and debated even going to church. On the way to our church, I turned to my wife and pondered what responsibility I might be called upon to perform in the service as an elder as there seems to be a need for this on many different weeks. Sure enough, I looked in the bulletin and realized that we were having a commissioning service for Paul and Lynn Leary. Paul is one of my best friends and is going to study French before he learns Arabic and is deployed to a country in Northern Africa – an Islamic country! Once again, God is using unlikely people to accomplish His purposes. Paul and Lynn are not young people and are nervous about learning two more languages. They are veteran missionaries, but have never served in a predominantly Muslim context. Despite that, they are making the ultimate sacrifice to leave behind their family and friends to travel thousands of miles to reach a people that have never heard the gospel. God is still at work and I am still learning to believe that He is faithful every day.