Last week when I was sitting in the small reading room of the retirement home in which I live, a man selling Fuller brushes visited. It was a hot day, and the man was invited in for a glass of water. He looked to be about fifty years old. There were several of us in the reading room, and as the salesman approached and awkwardly began to show us his great variety of brushes - nailbrushes, hairbrushes, toothbrushes, scrub brushes, whisk brooms - I heard his difficulty with English, and because he was oriental I asked if he spoke the standard language, Mandarin. He nodded and I began to speak in our shared tongue, and when he asked my Chinese name and I gave it, he stared at me in wonder.
"Mu shih," he said urgently, Mandarin for shepherd-teacher - pastor - "you baptized me and took me into church fellowship when I was a young man. I am your son."
I am retired now, and while at the age of eighty-one I know this is as it must be, it is strange not to be involved in active ministry; gone are the responsibilities that filled my life for so many years. I continue my work by praying for those who still serve, which I am able to do as my mind is sound. My physical health is also good; my nephew, John, a medical doctor, keeps careful watch over me, and I am well taken care of in these years, measured and monitored as never before. My niece, Madeleine, and my great-nieces and -nephews and their children also visit, and I am doted on by these younger generations.
I am also in the good company of many who have placed the Great Commission foremost in their lives. I live at Glenwood Manor, a home for retired missionaries in Claremont, California, a small town some thirty miles east of Los Angeles. With its parades on the Fourth of July and Homecoming Weekend, its parks, and its tidy downtown, Claremont is wholesome and wholly American. From my room I look out on a small vegetable garden that thrives despite my come-and-go attention. Beyond the garden are the city's eucalyptus-lined streets, and beyond them citrus groves and the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and Mount Baldy. Each morning I walk to Memorial Park and the Public Library, and afterward I answer letters and read a daily Chinese newspaper and books to which I had no access during my years in China. Once a week I read a newspaper in German, the language of my parents and my childhood. At the start of the day when I read the Scriptures, I see truths I have never seen before, even after several decades of preaching the Gospel. And I dream of Chung-Kuo, the Middle Kingdom: China.
I am an ordinary man and an unlikely missionary. The talents I have been able to offer my Lord are small and few and far outnumbered by my faults. I am often slow in getting things done, and at times I exhibit a marked willingness to avoid work. I have never considered myself an intuitive person, and I am inexperienced in many of the ways of modern life. I have, for example, never learned how to drive - I gave up after twice failing the required test - and I know little about the world of finance. I am absentminded and I often misplace things, and while I struggle with pride, I am rarely angry. Nor am I greedy, for which I have my heritage to thank; I am the son and grandson of Mennonite farmers who came to America for religious freedom, and I was raised to aspire to a simple life of farming the land and following Christ. But despite my ordinariness and the smallness of my talents, I have led an extraordinary life. This is God's grace, His unearned favor.
When I was twelve years old, a missionary spoke at the small schoolhouse in Washita County, Oklahoma, where my three brothers and two sisters and I were taught weekdays for six months of the year. We spoke English at school, but at home and in church we still spoke the mother tongue, low German, though our parents had been in America for more than twenty years. German must be God's language, my uncle told me with great seriousness, because that's what the Bible was written in. He did not see the humor in this.
Excerpted from City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell. Copyright © 2010 by Bo Caldwell. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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