In life and ministry there are some things that just stay with you. It could be because of the people involved, or the place where it happened, or the significance of what took place. Each of these things, or any combination of them, has the potential of making an event memorable. In this article I thought I would share one of these stories, one in which I was involved. I became aware of the details in 2013, but the history regarding this event goes back to years earlier.
I pastored from 1990-2010, all of my pastoral service was in one church. In 2001 I received word that my father had passed away in a neighboring state. In view of this I needed to leave and go back to my home town. Before I left I felt I needed to arrange for a speaker to cover the upcoming Sunday morning service. It was about 10:45 pm on a week night when I called a man in the church to ask him if he would preach for me on the next Sunday. Normally I would not call someone at that late hour but this was a special situation and I was confident that he would still be awake. Since this man already attended the church it would be convenient if he could preach in my absence. I was confident that he was capable. He was a PK (Pastor’s kid), he had the knowledge and zeal necessary to do it. It is important for you to know that he was also an international student, he was from a country in Asia. He was in the United States studying business. Thankfully he agreed to fill in for me during my absence.
About twelve years later I was in this man’s country. In addition to having a degree in business he was also an ordained minister and he had made arrangements for me to minister in a church there. Because I do not speak his language he was going to serve as my interpreter. This was my first time preaching at this church. Before I got up to preach he began to speak to the congregation. I was not sure what he was saying. I assumed he was explaining who I was or how he knew me. In other words, I believed he was introducing me to the church. As he spoke I noticed that he began to get emotional at one point. He began to choke back tears. As a result of seeing this I found myself also becoming emotional, though as I have already stated I did not know what he was saying. After his words, we went on with the service. I preached and he interpreted.
After the service was over I asked this man’s wife what he had said at the time when he became emotional. She told me that he was telling the people that I was the first person who ever asked him to preach in English. When I asked him to preach for me in 2001 I was asking him to help me. I had no idea of the impact that this would have on him. It became clear at that time that this meant something special to him. It was a first, a milestone. If I had not asked about his emotional response that day I might never have known of the impact of that experience on his life.
As I reflect back on my history with this man I suppose in some way I “owed” his first English sermon to him. When he was a student in the United States he arranged for me to speak to a group of Asian Christians that met at one of the historic churches on the East Coast. The group was non-denominational. He told that I was the first Pentecostal to ever speak to this group. So my friend and I have had a couple of “firsts” together. And we have each been present for the “first” of the other. Our friendship has now spanned approximately twenty-three years.
In ministry we do not always know everything that is going on. We may think that one thing is being accomplished when in reality multiple things may be taking place at the same time. We can only see part of the picture. In 2001 when I asked the man in the church to preach for me I thought my friend was helping me. In truth, he was. But I may in some small way have helped him. God puts these things together (without us even knowing about them). Sometimes we find out about them later, at other times we may never find out about them. But we can rest in the confidence that God knows how to meet the needs of His people and how to strengthen and encourage them.
About the author
John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Zion Bible Institute and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written articles and book reviews for a number of publications including the Pneuma Review, the Africanus Journal of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Christian Trends Magazine, in India, and Berita Mujizat and Jurnal Jaffray, both in Indonesia. He is also the author of four books.