Our second child was two days old. My wife and daughter Sally were still in the Columbia, Missouri hospital when I announced what God had just revealed to me: it was time to resign my ministry focus from high school outreach to something new. Precisely what new missionary field the Lord was calling us into was an unknown. I only knew I needed to resign with two weeks notice from a mission I dearly l had loved and served for seven years.
Eighteen months later, surviving by faith, all bills paid, dozens of fresh Mercer University college disciples added to a growing church, I was not altogether satisfied that I had heard all that God was tuning my ear and turning my heart toward. On our annual Christmas trip home to Colorado Springs, I felt lead to pray to stay for two weeks, a week beyond our normal limits of endurance. However, at the end of the first week, I boldly announced to my wife, that I was ready to leave. I hadn't seen any reason why we should stay a second week. I only had a tiny breakfast appointment with a former supporter to our high school ministry who wanted to hear what God had been doing in our lives since resigning from it.
After exchanging pleasantries and looking at my watch in anticipation of the long trip home, he casually asked if in our new college outreach we had thought of reaching international students. I mentioned that one or two had slipped into our fishnet not by design and had required an extra amount of discipleship time bring them up to speed in basic Christian doctrine. But basically, the answer which came from my troubled heart, was no. My fear factors immediately jumped into over drive. Foreign students were known to be the top academic students in any program. I was worried if even with my graduate level degree in theology and limited background in world religions I could stand the test of their challenge. Their customs were strange, it took a lot of time to learn and appreciate. Their English was second rate and their accents even more difficult to understand. Some smelled bad. How could I overcome both their and my limitations?
Overcoming my simple detours, he then asked if I'd like to see how the ministry of ISI (International Students Inc.) worked. I didn't really care, but since he was a former supporter and family friend, I thought I should at least nod a sympathetic "sure." Like the women at the well, I though I had dodged another bullet, Then he told me that ISI was going to have a Christmas conference for international college students at their new national office, Star Ranch, the former office and ministry retreat center in Colorado Springs for Young Life, the very spot where I committed my life to Christ as a senior in high school. Furthermore, they specialized in relational, incarnational evangelism. He was beginning to hit bullseyes.
Trying my best to act sincerely interested, but still disguising my desire to leave, I asked what I thought would be the final stump the band question: when would this conference convene? Next year, I assumed, since it was now the week after Christmas. To my surprise, not only would it begin that night, but it would last the whole week!
The second week's unknown prayer request was beginning to take shape. I knew God was about to unlock a significant mission door in our growing desire to serve him. Rushing home, I told my wife to unpack the bags, that we'd be staying for an extra week. She didn't need to; she hadn't even packed. God had already told her to wait upon Him and for me to catch up.
That night I began a thorough investigation of the ministry of ISI: their methods, personnel, leadership, job descriptions, burdens, etc. It seemed to be a perfect match to all we had been doing. The only difference was the audience: international college students vs. American college students. Eager to launch such a mission back on the Mercer campus, I took one of my best American disciples with me to search and locate such internationals, to whom my mission eyes had previously been blind. It was now the first week of January and although we looked everywhere to meet an international student, we failed miserably. None could be found anywhere. We went to the Foreign Student's office: none. To the Deans office: closed. Finally, to the student union cafeteria where we expected at least a thousand students to appear: still none.
Then it dawned on me: it was still Christmas break. How dumb could we be? Exasperated, we sat down for coffee and evaluation. Then it happened. A lone Chinese student walked into the almost empty room. We prayed: if God really wanted us to meet internationals, would he please lead this first one to us and precisely, to the table right next to ours. With our eyes glued to his every step, we watched as he wandered right up to our table after buying hot water for tea. What a coincidence! Or was God answering prayer?
Chin became the first of hundreds and now even thousands of internationals we have since learned to befriend. Most have not come from a Christian background and thus the focus of our missionary call. Reach, teach and preach the basic message of God's love to the world God has brought to "US". Or, as other Christians and churches have heard me explain: "plow," "plan" and "pluck" the seed of God. For those who can't remember that rhyme, it's "hoe," "sow," and "moe." The goal: that the churches will become "a house of prayer for every nation."