So in January of 2005, the Holy Spirit impressed on both of us His desire for Patrick to go with a team of people from our church to the Philippines. They were going to help Chris and Lynne, a missionary couple from our church, get their jungle home ready to move into. We gave up our vacation and a good bit of money for this trip that would take place in July of 2005.
In late February or early March of 2005, Patrick’s employer announced that he was selling his small company to a much larger conglomerate. This would mean some changes, but the greatest immediate effect was a sizable check made out to Patrick. Every employee owned some percentage of the company, a system of bonuses and award points the president had worked out from day-one. Some of Patrick’s co-workers bought new cars or invested in a new business or made a large down-payment on a new home. After a lot of discussion and prayer, we decided we would use nearly all of this money to pay off our debt, other than our home.
It felt good to be rid of all the stupid-debt we had acquired. It felt good to cancel credit cards and greatly reduce our monthly budget. We thanked God for this great unexpected blessing that freed us in so many ways.
Then in early April our church was having its annual missions conference. We were scheduled to have a dinner on Saturday evening during which we would hear from a missionary, a former Muslim who trains and teaches Christians from the Middle East so they can return home and lead churches. Two other couples preparing for the mission field would be at the conference as well. On Sunday morning, all three missionaries would speak and share their ministries with our church. I was looking forward to it.
The men in Patrick’s family have guy-time (insert appropriate grunting noises now) each spring at a car show in North Carolina. Patrick planned to go bond with the men of his family at the car show the same weekend of our missions conference. I felt uneasy about this and really wanted Patrick to stay home for our missions conference. After some not-so-subtle comments about my opinion, I remembered that I am not Patrick’s own personal holy spirit and stopped trying to change his mind.
The week prior to the car show and missions conference, some of the children came down with a stomach virus. I spent much time cleaning up vomit and changing Pull-Ups or diapers. Everyone seemed to be feeling better on Thursday, so Patrick left for the car show. Thursday night, in the middle of the night, I woke up sick. I spent most of the night throwing up and by Friday morning, I felt like I’d been run over by a semi. I called Patrick, who was three hours away at the car show, and begged him to come home. He left immediately and rushed home to help me.
Though I’d wanted him to be home all along, I felt awful that he was missing one of his favorite traditions. So when I woke early Saturday feeling better, I told him he should return to the car show. Happily, he did.
With everyone healthy, the children and I headed to the missions dinner on Saturday evening. I was overjoyed to see the display tables of the two couples who were preparing for the mission field. Both couples were planning to go to Goroka, Papua New Guinea. Goroka. That’s the town we spent a night in back in 1991 when Patrick and I went to PNG with the group from our college. I had walked through the markets of Goroka. I had spent an entire afternoon playing with children in the yard of a Salvation Army complex there. We tossed balls, blew bubbles, played frisbee, and they taught me Pidgin, a trading language of PNG.
As I looked at the pictures on the display tables there in our church gymnasium, the photos came to life. I knew that place. Their bilums smelled like PNG. Remember how I described that smell I had fallen in love with? The smoke and body odor and beetle nut and all the other smells of PNG mixed together. The stuff on their display tables held that smell. I felt transported back to May of 1991 when I was eighteen and God was opening my eyes to missions. Oh how I wished Patrick were with me!
After we got home and I tucked the children in bed, I called Patrick and told him about my conversations with the two couples and about their pictures and their bilums. I told him I wished he had been there to share the memories with me.
The next morning, the three missionaries spoke in church. Our pastor refers to this former Muslim man as a modern-day Apostle Paul. He is so intense, so burdened to reach the world for Christ, so determined and excited and contagious. He is single-minded. I have half-joked that I expect the entire congregation to feel called to full-time missions after listening to this man preach. That morning, I knew the Holy Spirit was working in our church service. God had already used the pictures and displays and conversations about Papua New Guinea to soften my heart. Then he used this man’s preaching to challenge me and burden me that there are still so many to be reached. I was so excited to tell Patrick about the church service.
After church, I called Patrick and told him about the morning service. I tried to describe this dynamic speaker and his message. I knew Patrick should hear him and meet the missionaries going to PNG, but I stopped short of asking him to come back. As I hung up the phone, I prayed that either Patrick would come home for church Sunday evening or that I would be able to let go of my feelings that he should have been there.
Our Sunday evening church service begins at 6:00. Patrick was three hours away. Just before 3:00, Patrick felt a strong sense that he had to come home for the Sunday evening service. He and his dad and brother were packing up the camper and all the things from their weekend. To their surprise, I’m sure, Patrick said, “Hey, I think I need to get back for church tonight. If I leave right now, I can make it. I’ve got to go.” And he just left them to finish packing up stuff and hopped in his car to drive home. He called me and asked me to lay out some clothes for him to wear and maybe iron a shirt for him. He would barely have enough time to change and make it to the service with us.
I was thrilled he was coming home. I had no idea what God was doing, but I sensed He was at work, and I couldn’t wait to see what happened.