The First Story
Last week Jo and I were invited to the 125th anniversary of Innisfail Baptist Church. We started serving as pastor there fifty-eight years ago just before we left for Brazil. When introducing me as the speaker after the evening banquet, the current pastor told the audience that I had been the first missionary speaker he had heard after he started following Jesus as a teenager. The experience impacted him so strongly God used it to lead him into a life of full-time ministry. That happened during our first furlough in 1971-72. We didn’t know how we had impacted him until he told us last week.
The Second Story
This reminded Jo and me of a time several years ago when we spoke at a missions’ conference in central Alberta. A couple took us to their home for Sunday lunch during which I asked them to tell us their story. “I went to Bible school full time to prepare for cross-cultural missionary work” the husband said, “and my wife took classes part-time.”
He then told us about serving in several different ministries and about some startling ups and downs in their lives during which they experienced one astounding answer to prayer after another.
Jo and I were surprised when they told us that their call into full-time Christian service came one Sunday in a small mountain town in British Columbia when they heard us speak about our ministry among the Canela. Since they were new Christians, I was the first speaker they heard in church other than their pastor. God used our missionary stories to lead them to get training and begin a life of ministry. This event also happened in our first furlough many decades earlier! We had no idea that God had worked through us to point the way to ministry for them.
The Third Story
As Jo and I drove home talking about this story, I remembered the day I was waiting for my flight at a Canadian airport many years after we had completed the decades-long ministry among the Canela. A man sitting nearby leaned over and asked, “Are you Jack Popjes?”
I admitted I was, and he said, “I last saw you in 1966 when you spoke at a church telling us you and your family were about to leave for Brazil to learn an indigenous language and translate the Bible into it. I was a teenager at the time, and after I heard you, I gave my life to God for ministry.”
He went on to tell me that he had gone to seminary, had just completed twenty-five years as a pastor in one church and was now on his way to start ministering in another church. He had kept track of Jo and my translation work among the Canela through our newsletters. Again, Jo and I had no idea that God had worked through us, three decades earlier, to call this young man into ministry.
How Many Others?
I wonder now about the other occasions when God chose us to impact people to make major life decisions. It appears God had another, more hidden ministry for Jo and me to do besides the obvious one of translating the Bible for the Canela people of Brazil.
One of the joys of eternity for God’s sons and daughters will be when we meet people who were blessed by God through what we said, what we did, and how we lived our lives.
And what will be just as exciting is to finally meet people whose words God used to impact me for good. I have, of course, thanked those I know personally, but there are also authors of articles and books I want to thank.
I especially look forward to thanking the first Bible translators, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They not only recorded the life of Jesus and all the stories He told so that the whole world could learn about Him, but they also translated everything from Aramaic to Greek. And the principles of translation that they practiced are still followed by Bible translators today.
The Final Take-Away
It’s exciting and a bit scary to realize that you and I are constantly influencing people—by our passion, by our words, and by our actions—yet most of the time we don’t even realize it.
May we all be the kind of people through whom God works to challenge others, to inspire, and impact people in positive ways.