I sat on the platform looking down at their faces ... about sixty of them. They were candidates for missionary appointment. Long months had passed since they had first applied ... months of waiting and apprehension ... apprehension lest the Missions Committee or the Missions Board would fail to feel what they felt... or would find some cause, physical or psychological, that would close the door to their call.
But they had "passed muster." They had made it! What a day it had been when the phone rang after the Missions Board Meeting and the Personnel Secretary had given the good news. Approved for appointment! What a joy! What victory!
And now two weeks of "school of missions" were behind them. They had met old veterans ... had shared hopes with fellow candidates ... and had been challenged and sobered by the speakers. But today was their day ... they were the center of attention ... for the occasion was the commissioning service ... the high point of the two weeks of orientation.
The master of ceremonies was calling their names, and they were lining up across the front of the auditorium facing the platform ... with stars in their eyes. I wept as I watched. I wept for joy ... because God had answered prayer for more missionaries. I wept for sorrow ... because I knew there was no way I could prepare them for what they would face. How do you prepare a soldier for the sickening sight of tom flesh and the smell of death? How do you prepare a missionary for the loneliness ... the oft times sense of failure ... or the feeling of betrayal that comes when communication breaks down and those to whom you look for leadership don't seem to understand your problem? I do it every year. I can't help it. I watch ... and I weep.
I wept again three weeks ago. This time I was seeing them in Africa ... the place of their fulfilled dreams ... or so it should have been. I was weeping for a young missionary who is ready to pack it up. Bitterness has crept into his once sweet soul. Things haven't been as he thought they would be. Instead of changing others, he is finding himself being changed ... for the worse. He was one of those with stars in his eyes. But the stars are no longer there. In their place is anguish as he wrestles with what he sees happening to him. He is too honest to deny his dilemma, but too disappointed to believe there is any way out other than to go home and forget his dream. Where have the stars gone?
I saw another ... a beautiful young man ... again a first termer ... with potential; extraordinary leadership material for sure. I saw the stars in his eyes as he stood tall at that commissioning service, and I had said to myself, "for sure, those stars will shine!" I saw his eyes again ... just the other day. There was anger in them. Anger at his leaders ... anger at the nationals ... anger at himself... and maybe, I can't say for sure ... anger at God. He had had a successful pastoral career. Everything he had done had prospered. And now ... well, now his hands were tied. Nothing seemed to be going right. He shared his unhappiness with veterans who, instead of countering his pessimism with optimism, had added criticism and negativism of their own. In fact, it was the veterans who got him started down the road of resentment... resentment about his assignment... and, unfortunately, resentment about decisions that were being made. He had allowed himself to become crosswise with the national church leaders, and was convinced that they were completely wrong and that he couldn't go on if things continued as they were. Where have the stars gone?
How well I remember this next couple. I took a liking to them immediately at that School of Missions. They were buoyant and full of fun. They were people of balance ... who wouldn't be thrown by difficulties or reverses. They were people of experience with their feet on the ground. They had done well in the States ... extra well... but had left all to follow Jesus. The stars were there for sure, and I came to their field in Africa fully expecting to share with them the joys of their first experiences. To my amazement, the stars were gone. I couldn't believe it! So soon? What cloud had obliterated the brilliance of the stars? I found it to be a cloud the size of a man's hand, but it had grown into a thunderstorm that was obscuring their vision. It occupied their conversation. It spilled in vindictive venom on all who would listen. It caused harsh words. It caused rebellion.
The "problem" was easily solved, but the cloud remains. I left them silent and defiant. They had gotten their way, but it had brought no happiness. I wonder what will happen the next time if we aren't able to give them what they want? Will they again create a scene? Will they again spread dissent? Will they pull up stakes and go home? What will it take to make the clouds roll back and the stars to scintillate once more?
It is God who puts stars in men's eyes ... and I'm convinced that it takes God to keep them sparkling.
How quickly clouds obscure! How quickly visions vanish! How quickly glory fades! The proverb says that he who "putteth on his harness" should not be the one to boast. It is he who has born the heat of the day ... whose sweat is embedded in the leather ... whose muscles are gnarled with the strength that toil brings ... who can put off the harness and say, "I've fought a good fight... I've finished my course ... I'm ready for my crown!"
I'm waiting for another commissioning service where the Master of Ceremonies calls our names one by one and we line up before the Throne of God with eyes lifted up to Him Who called us. We'll have stars in our eyes, for sure, as the Master's voice thunders through heaven,