Moved by Compassion: A Heart for World Missions
one to one
How I "Gage" a Missionary
One to One is a regular feature of ONE Magazine. Written by Keith Burden, executive secretary of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, the column explores life, ministry...and grandkids!
I do not recall the exact moment I met my first real, live, foreign missionaries, but I’ll never forget the impact they made on me. As a young boy living in a small community, I attended a church that was off the beaten path. Other than the evangelists who conducted revivals fairly regularly, our congregation didn’t hear that many visiting speakers. Needless to say, my curiosity was aroused when I arrived early that Sunday evening and saw the various artifacts the missionaries had on display.
One item in particular caught my attention. Neatly draped across the communion table was a gigantic snakeskin. It must have been more than ten feet long! Other articles included a crude bow and arrow set, handmade earthen pottery, and photos of the mission field.
Everyone in attendance sat spellbound as missionaries Howard and Willie Gage told of their experiences at the medical station in Doropo, Ivory Coast, West Africa. I could almost smell the smoke from the camp fires that dotted the African landscape and hear the distant beating of tribal drums as they spoke. I remember wishing the service wouldn’t end.
I was especially impressed by the ease with which missionary Gage shared his story. His homespun humor and Eastern Oklahoma colloquialisms didn’t seem to fit the persona of an international missionary. He appeared to be more at home in work clothes than a suit and tie.
The Gages were some of the most approachable, humble people I ever met.
Fast-forward more than a decade. I was attending college and serving as minister of music and youth at the Free Will Baptist church in Pryor, Oklahoma. The Gages had retired from missionary service and were members of that congregation. We had the privilege of visiting in their home on different occasions and getting to know them better. In the years that followed, I had the opportunity as a young pastor to work with Brother Howard in various denominational settings.
I learned a lot from the Gages. What I learned helped shape my perspective on missions and how I gauge those who serve the Lord through this unique calling. I learned that you don’t have to be exceptionally gifted to be a successful missionary. God is more interested in attitude than aptitude. You can use something as simple as a hammer and saw to fulfill the Great Commission.
I learned there is no statute of limitations when it comes to answering God’s call to the mission field. Howard and Willie were more advanced in years than most missionaries when they left for the Dark Continent. When most would have argued, “I’m too old,” they said, “Here am I; send me.”
I learned there is no way to calculate the impact your life can have for the kingdom. The Gages had no idea that Sunday evening that they would be speaking to a young boy who would one day serve as executive secretary. They were simply being faithful and obedient to God’s call on their life, and He used their influence to shape the future of our denomination. That’s why they will always be the “gauge” by which I measure all missionaries.