He's 81, but for the past decade he has traveled tirelessly: to Kazakhstan; Turkey; India; Kenya; Nigeria and Tanzania--several of these countries he has visited repeatedly. He has gone whenever and wherever the call came to preach or teach.
In between missions trips and being at home in Worcester, England, Paul's Uncle John comes here, to our home in Canada, to rest and be spoiled a little. When he arrived with Paul's cousin Stephen, two weeks ago, we noticed that his latest trip had taken a toll. He looks more frail, and it's hard to imagine that a few months ago he was traveling across India by train at night, and preaching in stifling heat by day, on a schedule that I would have found exhausting.
Shortly after arriving home from India this time, he fell ill with an unidentified illness which has only just been pegged as Dengue fever, the result of a mosquito bite.
On Friday evening, our friend Jamie came over and had dinner, and afterwards we all just sat back and talked. Mostly we listened. When you get to 81, you have some wisdom to share and it would be a shame to miss it.
Uncle John started telling a story from his last missions trip and he wasn't far in when I grabbed a piece of paper from between the pages of a book and a pen so that I could capture the details.
He had been in touch with an Indian pastor in a remote location when putting together his itinerary, but it seemed that when Uncle John would be there, the pastor would be away. When he got there though, the pastor emailed Uncle John and said, "Why didn't you put me on your itinerary?" It was clear there had been a misunderstanding; so Uncle John arranged to squeeze in a visit so that he could encourage the pastor.
It was night when Uncle John got to where the pastor lived, and in the dark the pastor took him to see the church he was building. They stumbled over the building materials on the ground, and made their way carefully into the church--which only had walls and no roof yet, as the money had run out at present.
Inside the roofless walls, in the dark, Uncle John said that he felt the presence of God powerfully, as they prayed over the building and all who would come to worship there.
The pastor told Uncle John how God had used the story of Elijah, and the way God had provided for him through a widow, and then ravens that came to feed him. This story had given the pastor the faith to start building a church, trusting God to provide. In spite of knowing that he was following God's direction to start this church, though, discouragement set in, and he wondered, had he heard correctly? He grew lonely, disheartened and tired; when something unusual happened. He was in the primitive shower, which Uncle John said was, "Not like what we would call a shower, but four walls with some means of spraying water over the body." He caught a movement in the window and looked up. There was a crow in the window, looking at him--and in its beak it held two coins and left them there.
The pastor was amazed and encouraged--seeing the parallels with Elijah and the ravens--the very story that God had used to inspire him in the first place; but later on in the day, human nature and scepticism took over and he wondered--had this been merely a coincidence?
The next day the pastor was back in the shower when again, movement in his peripheral vision caught his attention, and there, to his amazement was the crow again, and this time, in his beak, he was carrying 3 coins! The pastor was stunned and overwhelmed by this unmistakable demonstration of God's assurance and encouragement.
When Uncle John and the pastor went inside, he opened a drawer and took out five coins--the ones the crow had brought to him. They were not of great value; probably a rupee each, but to the pastor they were a constant reminder of God's presence and promise of provision.
As Uncle John told the story, I was writing as fast as I could. I asked the pastor's name, and he told me, carefully spelling it out as I transcribed it.
On Friday night, I started to write the story, for the weekend post on Whatever He Says, but Paul popped his head around the door and asked if I was coming to bed. He sometimes does that, but often I try to finish what I'm writing first. This time I turned off the computer, intending to finish it in the morning.
The next morning, on the countertop was a note from Uncle John, saying, "Do NOT publicise or place (here he inserted the pastor's name,) it could put him in DANGER." Uncle John said he had woken up at 5.00 am, suddenly gripped with the knowledge that his name should be kept secret.
But for Paul's encouragement to come to bed, and my actually listening to his urging this time, the story would have been published yesterday morning, complete with name...God's protection of a faithful pastor many thousands of miles away in India.