Compliments of Jonah's Travel Agency
Recently, I have had some attitude changes about the character, Jonah. First, I have become more convinced that God wanted his story to have an impact upon countless numbers of readers of the Bible, including me.
I was saved as a teenager of 17. Two weeks after I was saved, I surrendered to a definite call to be a missionary. Finishing High School while at the same time being given a pretty good grounding in my Christian faith, I bussed my way to Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. By the time I graduated, I had gotten a college grounding in the faith, met and committed myself to the love of my life on this earth and learned to love the Lord, who first loved me.
Doing all the preliminaries of becoming a full fledged missionary to Ethiopia, I stepped off the plane in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in October of 1966. Wilda and I entered the language school together and finished in April of 1968. By May we were moving up to a mission station, 94 miles north of A.A. I assumed the duties and expectations of a former missionary and got down to business of missionarying. In December of 1967, I received a hand written letter from my former youth director of my home church. The letter told me that Pastor Walter Miller had taken his own life. Pastor Miller had led me to the Lord. As a Christian, as a called servant of God, as an approved missionary, that news hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. Much of the year of 1968 in Ethiopia I went through some of the most mental and spiritual struggles a man could go through. I as a Bible College graduate was questioning practically everything. I made up my mind to make sure that my faith was not based upon a man or men in general. I had met and befriended missionaries of other denominations and faiths at language school and through mutual association had debated with those beliefs. I was never enticed by their doctrines, but now I thoroughly examined mine.
We stayed and worked on the mission station at Gubre Guracha until 1972, when I decided to leave that station. The government of Ethiopia had placed restrictions upon me and required me to finance things I could not afford. We gained approval of the missions’ director, Jack Bridges, and moved lock, stock and barrel to Jaranea. Lyle and Rosie Yarnell had invited us to work with them there. Dennis Herring took responsibility for Gubre Guracha from a distance rather than close down the station.
The government of Ethiopia did not ease up on their personal demands from me, so in March 1973 we decided to leave Ethiopia. God marvelously blessed and we were able to spend 8 days in Israel for $128. It was in our direct path from Ethiopia to the states. Communism succeeded in taking over Ethiopia in 1975 and seemingly all our missionary efforts came to an end. For years, I heard nothing from Gubre Guracha, Jaranea or anyone in Ethiopia. Gone!
Before leaving Africa, and not wanting to return to the Bible belt, a previous burden surfaced for New England, and Connecticut in particular. A pastor hosted us when we arrived in New York and helped me see the need of the area 1 and a half hours from New York City in Connecticut. Reporting to supporting churches and settling affairs with the BBF, We moved to Connecticut in February, 1974. Everything we had was in a Ford station wagon dragging a medium sized U-Haul trailer. I could not bring myself to raise support for the work, so found a job and started inviting people into my home for services. For the next 11 years we devoted ourselves to building a church in Naugatuck valley. Actually I (emphasis 'I') built 3 churches in the same building; get a crowd, split, get a crowd, split etc. In 1983 we lost a loaned building and moved into a school. Eventually, that last crowd weakened and with my leadership lost their desire to continue. We instructed about 20 people to join with some new works in the area and closed the doors in January, 1985. Neil Zronkovic and the Barkers maintained contact with us, but virtually everyone else went on with their lives. Gone!
We loaded everything we had, then left in a Plymouth Horizon and a medium U-Haul truck, busting out for Springfield, Missouri. In July of 1985, Bro. Bob Perryman asked me if I would fill the pulpit in Macon, Missouri for an ailing pastor. I agreed and did so. On that Sunday, that pastor asked if I would return the following week. I agreed. At the end of that day, Bro. Gerald Hall asked me if I would consider moving up to Macon and helping him. I agreed. So from July to December, we were able to help and feel we were able to serve the Lord. On December 20th Bro. Hall was taken to glory. We waited until the following February and I accepted a 100% vote to become pastor of the Faith Baptist Church in Macon, Missouri. For almost 28 years we labored in Macon doing what we could and depending upon the Lord for what we could not. God blessed in spite that there were six other Baptist churches in the greater Macon area. We were the only fundamental, independent Baptist and the town was happy about that. We won people to Christ, 14 in 1986 but none stuck. Few and fewer in ensuing years and none stuck. We struggled with about 40 in attendance. These were faithful people and dedicated enough that we supported up to 80 missionary projects by 2010. One of those projects was an evangelist.
In January of 2010, I received a call from that evangelist, a widower. He asked if he could come up and preach for me as he would be on his honeymoon. I agreed. Then he said he needed to let me know that his new wife was black. I still agreed for him to come. That was saturday night, the next morning as I began to announce the plan, there was mixed response. That night, I arrived at church to find a men's meeting in process. The song leader had tried to stop me from allowing a white preacher with a black wife from coming. I stood my ground, believing it was the scriptural ground and the church split. Half walked out within two weeks and some of the others were very unhappy with me. That first Sunday the pianist played her offering special. She chose the one with the lyrics, "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen..." The next week, the new song leader led the congregation in the hymn, "Travelling On."
For the next two years I stuck, because it was right and because the Lord wouldn't let me go. The half church that was left took two sides and hung in there. Of course we made no progress and the shadow of that cloud stayed in place. The crowd that left, kept in contact with the remaining members, but ignored me. So, I just preached the word of God and actually felt the power of God in my messages. It was so evident that many times I would up preaching a message that I had not even prepared for. Only God knows the reason for that. Those who publically stood with my decision, were a strength and an encouragement to me. I had made the decision to cut my salary in half, yet the Lord provided for my wife and I.
By now you may be asking what has this got to do with Jonah? I personally do not feel that God has called me to a place I have refused to go. I do not feel that He wants me to return to Connecticut or Ethiopia. I have perfect peace in my departure from Macon and will always be amazed how the Lord worked that out. My kinship with Jonah is His nature. Strong headed and self motivated. His thinking that he knew more than God. Especially his not understanding the compassion of a Holy God. Specifically when he finally preached to Nineveh fully expecting God to rain down fire and brimstone. He was so confused when God's grace was revealed to Nineveh. He complained when God didn't do what he thought He ought to do. He had preached his heart out on what he believed God was going to do, and God didn't do what Jonah had preached. One thing is true about preachers. They need to be personally related to the God they preach, or they may find themselves preaching a message that has nothing to do with who God is; even if they are using verses and passages from the Word of God. I believe I have preached the Word of God and I know personally the God of the Bible. What I am dealing with is similar to what Jonah dealt with, "What has my ministry meant?" No I am not questioning God; at least I don't think I am. I am not thinking I was a total failure, even though, before God, I am a total failure. If it wasn't for Him, I would have no ministry, period!
For the past few months I have literally lived under a proverbial gourd vine. My wife and I rent a small house in Springfield and are adjusting to the fixed income syndrome. God gave us a mild winter, low heating bills and now he is giving us a cool summer, lower cooling bills. God is blessing and we are comfortable. We belong to an outstanding church. I don't believe I have ever seen such unity and commitment in a people. The church enjoys the ministry of a young (to me) man. He has a keen insight on the Word of God and a burning desire to be exactly what the Lord wants him to be. He is not intimidated by a former pastor being a member of his church and he freely uses me whenever and whereever he needs me.
So why do I have Jonah on my direct dial? Because, prophets all through the Bible and prophets since, by their biographies, are by nature introspective. They are inherently unable to see things like God sees them. They may only see bad things or they may have forgotten all the successes and achievements. At least on the verge of questioning God they feel useless and that they have only made a mess of their life. Here is the sum. I present it in the form of a proposition. When Jonah entered and passed through Nineveh, did his preaching turn Nineveh over or was it a higher power?