I sat across the table from my childhood friend and his wife last week, 25 years after I had seen them last. The Army moved them around until a recent retirement, and I was traveling in Texas for work where they live now.
Rob said, “My parents are still in Illinois.” Sitting in the restaurant, my mind skipped to some of my very first memories, as a child, sitting in a small kitchen in upstate New York with Rob’s family and mine. I see yellow wall paper and avocado green appliances. Wet snow suits. I remember laughter, always laughter.
I have scattered memories of those days–Rob’s parents would babysit, and my parents reciprocated. Rob’s dad was an avid hunter and fed me my first venison. Every time we drove by their house, we would look for the flock of wild turkeys that frequented their yard. Long hours sledding down their hill. Memories of dress-up and board games, of music, church talent shows, and Awana Olympics.
Anyone who has heard my story has heard me say, “There was a missions administrator who lived in our tiny town, and missionaries coming home on furlough came to meet him. Those missionaries often stayed with us.” That administrator was Rob’s dad, Bob. Over the years, Bob walked with my dad, then a new believer in Jesus, encouraged my parents’ involvement on a missions board, and was a good friend to our family.
I was maybe 5 or 6 years old when they moved out of New York, but Bob and Sally’s engagement with our family set the trajectory of my life. Those missionaries they brought to town gave me a taste of the world, from Taiwan to Bangladesh, from Brazil to Zaire. Kenya, Liberia, the UK, Alaska. I learned then that much of the world did not know who Jesus was, and that, to this day, is intolerable to me. Even now, the missions anthem from those days rings in my ears: “Untold millions are still untold. . .who will tell them of Jesus’ love and the heavenly mansions awaiting above?”
After finishing college, I raised support to serve in Alaska as a missionary, and when I got to the field, the letters started to come. Over the next years, Sally wrote to me regularly, encouraging my walk, telling stories of her kids and their growing families, and always ending with an plea to come visit her and Bob. A few years later, I was only too glad to do so. And that was 25 years ago.
So, here we sit in Texas, speaking of faithful parents and a faithful God, of memories past and ministry future.
Who would have guessed then the impact that Bob and Sally had on me? I was too little to really know them. And yet, without them, I would not be the same person today. What a blessing! What a challenge!