When I was about age 15 Dad asked some of my siblings and me to go with him to a presentation of a missions film about a Hindu girl becoming a Christian. The story of a teenage girl being cursed by a witch doctor who blew fire from his mouth to burn homes and a father who chased his own daughter out of the village with a machete disowning and banning her profoundly touched my heart. For a season of my life my ambition was to be a missionary. God, I think, was sitting back laughing. He took my footsteps by a path without my knowing the next step. I married Laila. She too loved God passionately. In our seventh year of marriage we assumed pastorate of a small congregation in Southwest Virginia.
In 1974 a missionary phoned me. "Would you consider having a missions service on Saturday night?" "Sure," I responded. "Do you need to consult your Elders?" he asked. "No need to do that," I responded. "We are only a few people."
Saturday came. It was cold, very cold, and snowing. The missionary phoned: "Are you planning on calling off the mission's service?" "No," I responded, "Do not know how many will be present, but my family will be there and the doors will be open."
He came. Counting the missionary there were 23 people. He had the wisdom not to be pontifical. He came down out of the pulpit and shared his heart. An offering was received. We counted. It was $2,300, i.e., equal to $100 per person. Wages for the parishioners was $1.10 to $1.70 per hour. It was a shocking amount for a few people that included several children.
Oh the missionary was happy. But what it did for us was more than the $2,300 offering. We grew up that night. We stopped measuring ourselves by how poor we were. We started thinking big. We began to dream. We realized that together we were powerful.
Later a hurricane roared ashore in South Carolina. I approached a trucking company. The owner agreed to run a tractor trailer of goods to South Carolina if we would fill it. We became the community focal point and made the front page of the newspaper.
Time passed. Laila and I and our children came to Covenant in 1981. Worship attendance was about 60 persons. My youngest sister Phyllys and her husband Wayne were educational missionaries in the Dominican Republic. They had started a church but had no building. We tackled the project and in six weeks raised $20,000!
Time passed. We were in a building program at Covenant and needing a loan. A banker kindly shared that if we would stop missions giving for a couple of years the bank would look favorably on making a loan. I shared with him that we would just have to trust God and look for another bank. Giving to missions is not an option.
Time passed. God brought to us people from many different cultures and countries. People we love. People who are precious. People that God loves!
One day I smiled when thinking about God sitting back in heaven and chuckling. I wanted to go to the field to be a missionary. God chose to plant me in Charlottesville and bring the world to Covenant for me to be a missions pastor. He sends us the poor and broken from around the world and we give them our hearts and love. We also give and send. God's plan is always better.
More than 30 years now we have been having missions conferences. This weekend we begin on Friday, March 3rd, at 6:30 PM. Missionary educator Wayne Wozniak will be presenting a creation seminar. With slides and stories from jungle hikes and mountain climbs he will point out how all creation testifies of a Creator. Ernie and Ellie Deomampo will present slides of their recent unique trip to the Philippines. We will introduce missionaries for the weekend.
Saturday, March 4th, at 5:30 PM will be the missions banquet. Folks dressed in ethnic dress and bringing foods characteristic of their cultures. Decorations speaking of God's love for his world and people. Music by Covenant Ensemble and Filipino Choir. I guarantee you will be delighted with the evening, including speaker Wayne Wozniak’s presentation.
Sunday AM, March 5th, missionaries will be speaking in the morning services [one in each] and in Bible classes. Missionaries will also be helping with children's church.
We set our hearts to minister to the missionaries. When they leave we want them refreshed. We want them to take our gifts and prayers and go to places we cannot go.
Once a famous artist was hired to paint a portrait of a poor church. He did his work in secret. The day came to unveil the masterpiece. As the cloth was slipped off the painting there was a gasp from the audience. A fabulously beautiful cathedral was revealed. In shock the benefactor asked how the artist could argue for such a painting to represent a poor church.
"Look closer," the artist said.
When they looked closer the doors of the church were open and offering plates could be seen in front of the pulpit. The offering plate for the mission had cobwebs over it from lack of use.
Currently we face the challenges of a building program. I am absolutely confident that consistent with the promise of Jesus if we "seek first the kingdom and God and his righteousness all these things [we need] will be [pdivinely] added to us" (Matthew 6:33, paraphrased).
I look forward to seeing you this weekend. Come celebrate with us at this Vintage Covenant event!
Much Love, Pastor Bare Matthew 28:18-20