It was a call of God, I was quite sure. I first felt it growing in me when I was in the jungles of Vietnam. And even when I returned to the states and tried to resume a normal family life, the inner urging to work with troubled kids just wouldn't go away. The tenacity of these thoughts and a string of unexplainable coincidences made it all but impossible to dismiss it as mere happenstance. And then there was the call from a national youth ministry asking if I had any interest in starting a new program in Atlanta with the juvenile courts. I had heard of others being called into ministry but this was all very new to me. After much tossing and turning and listening to an inaudible but persistent voice deep within, it eventually became clear that this was indeed a calling of God. Then it was merely a matter of saying "yes" and walking through the doors that God was opening before me. But there was one major obstacle. Funding! The work to which I was being directed had no financial backing in place. I would have to raise the funds needed to launch this program. The concept of raising personal support was a foreign and threatening one to me. "Many missionaries do it," the organization's director assured me. "It's called faith ministry." But the thought of an adult male with a good job and a family to support asking friends and relatives to underwrite him financially brought perspiration to my palms.
My first attempt at fund raising was a nightmare. Had it not been for this inescapable sense of call that God seemed to be imposing upon me, I would have never mustered up the nerve. The little rural Presbyterian church where Peggy and her parents and their parents before them had been members graciously offered to host an evening ice cream social so that I could make a presentation. A handful of kindhearted folk gathered in the church basement where I had set up a screen and slide projector. After an awkward introduction, the lights flipped off and I began to stumble through a script that I had received from the ministry's national office. I could barely make out the words in the erratic light of the carrousel. The slides didn't coincide with the script and the script didn't describe the ministry I would be doing. It was an absolutely awful performance. After fifteen agonizing minutes, the lights came back on, illuminating my burning face. I made fumbling attempts to answer a few questions, handed out brochures with response cards, and thanked everyone for their indulgence. Mercifully the meeting ended and I slipped quickly out of the rear of the building.
I was nursing my humiliated ego in the cover of dusk when I noticed two older gentlemen approaching. They had endured my presentation and they too had slipped out of the rear of the church. I noticed, when they came close enough to see their faces, that they were wiping tears from their eyes. I knew I had been bad but I had no idea that I was bad enough to make grown men cry. They said they wanted to talk to me for a minute.
"We don't know how much money you're going to get out of this church," they said. "This isn't the way our church normally supports missions. But you go ahead and make your plans to move to Atlanta and start your ministry. We'll make sure your first year is covered."
It was almost more than I could take in. What had caused these virtual strangers to make such an extravagant offer? Certainly not the power of my presentation, that I knew. At that moment I began to learn about a truth that has become foundational to my spiritual journey: God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply. These two men, touched by something far deeper than my faltering words, became agents of the Divine to expedite a call to ministry that none of us knew much about. And they continued over the years to support my work as it grew and changed. One of these men, who is still alive and in a retirement home, has for 27 years - every month without fail - sent a check in support of the ministry!
I confess that I have never learned to enjoy raising money. It is somewhat less humbling to ask for funds for a worthwhile cause when my personal self-interest (like my salary) is not directly tied to it. But to solicit personal support remains to this day a prideless chore. The benefits, however, are enormous! To have a group of committed friends standing with you in regular prayer, believing in you when you are struggling with self-doubt, sharing from their abundance in good times and sacrificing in the lean - these are benefits that far outweigh the discomfort of the ask. This kind of support provides security like no other I know. And when one's children, through personal witness, come to know how utterly dependable is the provision of God, I can see the wisdom in the humility that accompanies His call. It is a high privilege to live in this kind of dependency, though I suspect few (including me) would choose it if there were an acceptable alternative. I have grown to understand that there is no more secure or fulfilling place one can be than in the center of God's plan for his or her life. With the songwriter of old I resonate: "Hast thou not seen how thy desires e'er have been granted in what He ordaineth?"