Friday the 13th of June, 1997, I turned in badge and keys to the district manager and resigned as an area director of Wal Mart. It was time to pack our container, say goodbye to our families and, along with our two young sons, fly to Togo, Africa, our future home for the coming several years. We had become missionaries heading to a new life in Africa. How ironic after my bold declarations of nine years before that I would never be a missionary and would absolutely never by a missionary in Africa. What in the world would have led us to such a risky and somewhat bizarre change in our lives?
A tribute to my wife – Louise
All who know her love her. She is undoubtedly the most talented woman I have ever met. She is a fine artist, a gifted seamstress and designer, a graphic designer, a professional photographer, an exceptional teacher, an amazing wife to me and mother to our four sons, and a deep lover of God. She is truly a beautiful woman. She had married me assuming I would be a physician and an Olympian. After the injury, though, I had assessed my direction and realized I would make a proper physician but would likely be a poor husband and father while doing so. She was in a solid career in advertising but was supportive as I transitioned out of grad school and a future in medicine to working in retail for Wal Mart. She knew what I did not. We were destined for missions in Africa. So, in 1993, while on a visit to Memphis, she dined with some future missionaries heading to Togo in West Africa and confided in them, unbeknownst to myself, that we as well had some interest in missions one day.
Three years later in 1996, many things had changed. I had become successful in my new career and had matured considerably, by God’s grace. Nothing like walking into a 200,000 square foot Wal Mart with 600 employess and 20,000 visitors a week; being handed the keys and wished good luck, to grow you up a bit. We had moved to the beautiful small town of Remington, Virginia and were part of a vibrant church in Warrenton. Over the previous years my faith had taken hold and permeated most of my life (would love to say all but am trying to be honest!). Our preacher quit and I began, alongside my 80 hours or so with WM. After five months of dueling works, a businessman and his wife took us out for a meal, looked across the table and asked, “Why don’t you quit what you are doing and do what God has called you to do?” With a start, we said, “Excuse me?”. He then said, “Why don’t you quit Wal Mart and go to Africa and be the missionaries that God has called you to be?” We wept, right there in Jerry’s Pizza. It was time.
Two days later, we were encouraged to call a missionary who was home on furlough from Togo, West Africa. I did and brought him up to date. He then asked if I was sitting down. I was. He then informed me that since Louise had visited them three years prior he and another teammate had been praying for us daily that we would quit our jobs in the US and come to Africa as missionaries. We wept.
How could God love me that much that he was so patient to “wrestle” with me for those previous eight years? Amazing. Just call me Israel (one who wrestles with God), bum hip and all.
Later, just before leaving for Africa, someone approached me and remarked how great our faith must be. Immediately I responded that with all that God had shown us, and even with a repeated “calling” after eight years and all the answered prayers, it would be a greater show of disbelief in God to stay in the US than a show of belief to go.