“Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection.  Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.  They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated– the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.  These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.  God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:35-40).

“Everything has been sold”, he said, “and all of the arrangements made”. There couldn’t have been much to sell since his clothes were hand-me-downs and smelled of moth balls. He was nearly 80 but he and his wife of over 50 years were returning to the place of their calling – the deepest jungles of Africa. He was a Bible translator, a missionary and, in a very real sense, a martyr. I met him on a brief visit to the Wycliffe Bible Translators Ministry in Texas. Our 30 minute lunch encounter shook my world. To this day, though forever changed by this providential appointment, I do not remember his name.

He and his devoted wife had spent over 10 years with a remote and primitive people-group in Africa. It took them that long to translate small portions of the Bible into their native tongue. There was virtually no written word and but a couple of tribesmen that knew about language in the written form. These missionaries had previously endeared themselves to the people by giving insight on how to keep tribe’s newborns free from pestilence and therefore alive. Things that we take for granted in America were door openers for them in their Bible translation ministry. Based upon this couple’s medical knowledge and caring, the clan eventually befriended them and they collaboratively began to put the pieces of their language together. The missionaries lived in tents and their target audience in huts. But they eventually got the critical New Testament texts translated and in the hands of those who could communicate to the tribe the truths of the message. Then they returned to America to retire. Or so they thought.

All of this had happened several years before I met this devout man. Now he shared his new vision for his last days on earth. He and his wife had just been granted a visa by the African country to return and minister again – “This time we will tell stories of Jesus. That will be quicker and more effective. They will pass these stories along to later generations who will never be able to read”. He said this with an unmistakable gleam of joy in his eye. Then he bounced up from the lunch table and stated, “There is much to do for our journey”.  He walked away with a lively step. But before he could escape, I asked the question, “when are you coming back home”? “Actually”, he quickly replied, “we are going home. We will never return to The States. We plan on dying there with our tribe. We have the Good News to share and little time remaining to do so”. Then He glanced back and said a sincere, “God bless you…I will remember you in my prayers”.

“What a servant”, I thought! He was going to pray for me as he prepared to go with his wife to the place of their death. Today he, and maybe his wife as well, is probably is buried in some unmarked grave that is surrounded by jungle, bugs, predatory animals, and an illiterate tribe that desperately needed to hear the gospel of Jesus. This disciple of Christ was going to tell the stories of Jesus with no sense of personal acclaim or sacrifice. It was his calling – so it was something he must do and he was doing it with a very distinctive attitude of joy and excitement. Suddenly I was humbled, virtually broken, at the pathetic nature of my own commitment to God’s calling to global missions. Frankly, I needed his prayers while he and his wife deserved mine. This man and his bride were living examples of Revelation 12:11: “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death”.

As I remember his thrill in returning to the darkest parts of Africa to spread the gospel and die for His Savior, I must admit again that I don’t recall his name. I’m not even sure I got it. But that isn’t really important. God knows his name and that is all that really matters. For God had truly planned something unfathomably better for this man of faith and his wife – “However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9).