Chapter 1: the quest for fulfillment

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Defeatists say ‘Yesterday’; winners say ‘Yes’ today. It’s too late to lament the past. That’s lost forever. But it’s never too late to move into overdrive. The present is ours to charge with defiant faith.

‘You’re too old,’ the mission board told a rejected candidate. God, who’s a little older than most of us, must have thought she was too young. He waited two more years before sending her to the field.219

Perhaps you have heard it calculated that John Wesley preached over 40,000 sermons and travelled 225,000 miles (his horse had never heard of kilometers). Did you realize these figures belong only to the latter part of his life, from age 36 to 88?220 I was impressed; until reading George Müller’s figures. He is said to have travelled 200,000 miles, using his linguistic ability to preach in several languages to an estimated three million people. Now admittedly, Müller travelled extensively overseas. If I had a choice between travelling a thousand miles on horseback or a thousand miles by sailing ship, I’d go by plane. But here’s the spice: Müller’s statistics only began after his seventieth birthday and continued for the next seventeen years.221

Dr. Robert Lowry, renowned for many accomplishments as a Christian musician, first undertook the serious study of music after turning forty.222 Fanny Crosby was forty-three when she found her life’s work – she wrote her first Gospel song. So many songs followed, under so many different pen-names, that no one could keep track of them. Informed estimates range to beyond 8,000 (some say 9.000), with more than a hundred pseudonyms.223

Francis Schaeffer was little known until he was in his fifties.224

Child Evangelism Fellowship was founded by a sixty-year-old, who remained at its helm for the next fifteen years.225

At sixty-three, Clara Mcbride Hale began caring for addict babies. The number she has helped now runs into the hundreds.

Peggy Smith, eighty-four and blind, and her sister Christine, eighty-two and crippled, were key people in the world-famous revival in the Scottish Hebrides.226

Elizabeth Wilson felt the tug of China when she was twenty. She arrived thirty years later. Conditions were harsh and dangerous, yet her age proved a treasured asset. The Lord had called her to the Orient, where – as in most societies outside our own – age is honored.227

Paul Kuo presented the administrators of Hong Kong Theological College with a headache. He was already sixty and he wanted to enroll. By the time he graduated he would be too old for any church to want him. He was reluctantly admitted and although he learned, he failed to obtain a degree. In 1975 he left for Thailand’s ‘Golden Triangle’ to labor for Christ amongst mercenaries, bandits and opium farmers. His past military training earned him respect and his age made him a celebrity. He dived so deeply into ministry that he soon had to recruit other missionaries. Before long, Paul was heading up a large missionary venture.228

In 1968, two middle-aged tourists, florists for over thirty years, were so moved by what they saw in Kenya that they decided to return as missionaries. Denny and Jeanne Grindall, with no engineering skills or even formal Bible training and very little money, instigated the building of a dam almost eighty foot high and piped the clean water nearly three miles to tribespeople. The Maasai gradually became so responsive to the Grindall’s message that twenty churches were opened and hundreds came to Christ.229

Black American missionary to Liberia, Eliza George, was forced by her mission to retire at age sixty-five. Undeterred, she raised her own support and continued independently for the best part of three more decades.230

‘I want to go to the mission field as soon as I can,’ announced an enthusiastic teenager on the day of her baptism. She made it – as a seventy-one-year-old widow. In Papua New Guinea, Guatemala, Thailand, Burma and Communist Russia, Margaret Cole squeezed more excitement into a few years than most people ever see.231

Cam Townsend, founder of the Wycliffe Bible Translators, flew to Moscow and began learning Russian to assist in Bible translation work in the Caucasus. The nation was still under the iron grip of Communism and he was seventy-two.232

At that same age of seventy-two, Maude Cary accepted her missionary society’s plea ‘to open the city of El Haheb [in Morocco] to resident missionary work.’233

Evelyn Brand came to India as a young missionary. After her husband’s death she pressed on, living on a pittance, caring for villagers scattered over five mountain ranges. At age seventy-five, Granny, as she was now known, had grown too old for such arduous work. Having fallen and broken her hip, she had to be carried down the mountain by stretcher, then driven 150 bone-jarring miles to the nearest hospital. By the time her son – a brilliant medical missionary – finally arrived, she was walking with two canes and managing to ride a pony to outlying villages. The skilled doctor mustered all his persuasive powers to lovingly convince his ageing mother that she ‘presented a constant medical hazard,’ riding horseback to such remote, rugged mountains with her paralyzed legs and deficient sense of balance. Brushing aside his pleas, Granny toiled for eighteen more years, despite being ravaged by tropical diseases and suffering concussions and fractures from falls off her pony. She was ninety-three when she reluctantly exchanged her horse for a stretcher; continuing her work by being carried from village to village by devoted Indians for her two remaining years.234

In modern China the seventy-year-old wife of a persecuted pastor travels extensively distributing Bibles at great risk. In another part of the nation a ninety-year-old prayerfully studies a map, wondering where to lug her next bundle of Bibles. She hugs her books, rejoicing that the Tiananmen Square massacre increased not just the danger but the demand.235

Think of it this way: if growing old is as bad as is sometimes claimed, how come so many people do it?

I don’t care if you’re so long in the tooth you’ve blown your entire savings on toothpaste; so out of touch that you’re fazed by newfangled things like the King James Bible; so old your grandchildren are in nursing homes; so frail you have to rest up to watch television: God can still use you. Of course, if you’ve already passed eighty-five, I can’t promise you’ll write 8,000 songs. You might, like Fanny at that age, have to settle for only 250 hymns a year.236

If you’re ninety-one and still don’t know what you’ll do when you grow up, throw a party. If you’re ninety-five, it’s time to go to Bible School. That’s what David Sizer did. The last I heard, he was 101, still preaching in a prison and five retirement centers every week.237

Dr. Bernhard Johnson tells of a tiny Negro in Brazil aged 105 who had led hundreds to the Lord. Uninspired? A further detail should cure that. He did not know the Lord until he turned 103.

So if you’ve graduated from make-up to poly-filler, hang on to your dentures, it’s ministry time.

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