I went to an event last weekend called the World Missions Workshop. Not only that, they even let me participate in a couple of the classes. Ha! It was hosted at my alma mater–funny, I never thought I’d use the phrase ‘my alma mater’–so it’s not that just anyone thought I’d be a good pick for teaching missions related stuff. I guess they think highly enough of their own degree to trust me with the task. Anyway, I was really glad to have the opportunity, and since one of the classes was on missions in Peru I got a chance to do some research I needed to do anyway.
I ended up trying to get a handle on the history Church of Christ missions in Peru, and since my school’s little library has a room devoted to CofC missionary newsletters from aeons past, I was able to sit down and learn a bit of relevant information. The short of it is that reading those newsletters turned out to be a profound experience. If you’ve ever read a newsletter from any given missionary, you know it is not all that impressive an experience. At least I’ve never read one that just really got my blood pumping. What I did in this instance, though, was somewhat different than reading the month’s international mail. Now, our history isn’t all that rich, meaning we just haven’t had all that many people in the country for all that long. But there have been some key families there, and one in particular. As I read their newsletters, then, in chronological order, it was something like reading the book of Acts for the first time. No, I don’t actually remember what that was like, but I can imagine. All I mean to say that is that it was a moving spiritual experience. What I read was a story of the lives of people, just ordinary people, who had made an extraordinary commitment to live their lives out in sacrifice for the Kingdom. Though often summary in form, the scraps of information in those letters let me piece together a view of the successes, failures, disasters, unexpected blessings, sicknesses, longings, joys, comings, and going of the missionaries in this one country. Reading the whole story at once I could see the dance of these missionaries’ faithfulness and God’s faithfulness. It was a wonderful thing to do accidentally.
Then the unexpected happened (again). I received word that the wife of that key family was going to be at the WMW. It occurred to me that even with me teaching the class she was more than likely going to come, given her obvious interest in the country. I realized immediately that I was going to have an emotional time of it, talking about this history that had so moved me while looking into the beautiful aged face of a woman who had been there all those years. The day before my class I asked Mrs. Kramar if the team could take her to lunch. Obviously it would do us good to know her and hear what wisdom she might have to offer. Not knowing exactly what I was getting into inviting an elderly former missionary to lunch, I was delighted to find that she is one of the rare people whose keenness of mind can still manage in later years to capture the attention of young Americans who have a despicably low appreciation for age. I, perhaps more than anyone else because of my newsletter reading, was totally drawn into the conversation. I hung on every word.
Lunch conversation did not prove an adequate inoculation, however, and as I began my class the next day I introduced Mrs. Kramar. I still feel some frustration that there was no way to convey to the class the significance of her presence. The workshop was teeming with missionaries, and it was not great honor (sadly) simply to note that she had gone before us in the work. The words certainly did not get my point across, but perhaps the silence in the room when I couldn’t continue talking for the knot in my throat communicated something. Not enough, I’m sure, but maybe something. It wasn’t long and I regained my composure, cleared my throat, and forestalled any threatening tears. Class went fine, blah, blah, and life goes on. What is left now is only to express how I cherish the chance to meet her. To me, the story is so rich, and I thank God for the chance to be a part of it. We will have our own comings and goings, and while no one is likely to weep over our newsletters in a musty library some day, many will weep over the story. To be even so small a part of it is good.