Most cultures define who a person is or what he lives for by what that person does – a career or livelihood like doctor, lawyer, businessman, teacher, minister, etc. People are commonly introduced to me by title – Attorney, Reverend, etc. But scripture defines that what a person does should be defined instead by who that person is – a servant of the Lord who practices medicine, law, business, teaches, ministers, etc. Even the church has become full of titled people and positions which is not found in scripture. All of us needs to look at the FOR TO ME TO LIVE IS __________ and fill in the blank. For what or for whom do we live? To start off, this truth, the statement FOR TO ME TO LIVE IS CHRIST, doesn’t make sense to many because it appears to be too intangible, even mystical. This statement only makes sense when we understand who we are – servants of the Lord whose life is to serve Him.
One of the blessings Margaret and I have experienced in serving the Lord is to start a camp, Andros Bible Camp, on Andros Island in the Bahamas, a miracle story in itself. I would like to share a story from that ministry that illustrates Philippians 1:21.
One spring I scheduled a retreat at ABC for the different church leaders in North Andros where our facilities are located. It was on a Saturday, a one-day seminar to give an overview of Hermeneutics and how it would help their study and understanding of the Word of God. The day before, one of the ministers asked if two men from a church in Nassau could take a few minutes to share with the local group, which represented fifteen churches on North Andros, their burden and plan to go door to door to share the gospel so that the local churches could be helped. They chose a different part of the Bahamas each summer to do this ministry. Before the first session began they shared their plan in a few minutes time and all agreed to accept their offer to help. Then the two men joined us for the day, a great time of study, discussion, and fellowship.
Early the next morning which was Sunday, I went to the small airport to fly to Nassau to visit an assembly there and the two men were also at the airport waiting for their flight. They were both studying their Hermeneutic notes and said how much they enjoyed the teaching and the fellowship. It was a joy to see them so interested.
Around a year and a half later a large syndicate of car thieves was caught in the Bahamas. They stole cars from the US and sold them throughout the Bahamas. Andros was an easy place to unload and hide these cars. As an act of revenge against the government, the syndicate burned all the cars in the customs compound at Morgan’s Bluff on North Andros. $13,000 of our camp goods still in the compound were burned up in that fire. We were never able to recoup this loss due to loopholes in the maritime laws between the US and the Bahamas. This fire also complicated the fact that even though ABC was tax-exempt and cleared this exemption at the port on Andros, the ministry of finance returned all the authority for customs back to Nassau leaving us having to pay taxes when we received our shipments. Some of the officials had been part of the syndicate. Our only way to recoup the money was to file for a refund from the offices in Nassau, a long process with no assurance that we would be reimbursed. I approached a close friend for advice on what to do. As it turned out, this friend’s son was an economist who worked directly with the Prime Minister of the Bahamas. We made an appointment to talk to him and flew over to offices of the Department of Finance in Nassau to hear his solution. After explaining our problem to him he answered that he knew the individual who might help us, the Bahamas’ Secretary of Finance who was a believer. So he called the office upstairs and the secretary said he was in and would see us. We were escorted to an office with a dozen secretaries, a beehive of activity. Our host knocked on the door and a deep bass voice invited us to enter. As we entered, Ehurd Cunningham, the Secretary of Finance looked at me and I at him. He was one of the two men who had attended the Hermeneutics seminar on Andros almost two years before. We were mutually surprised and he greeted me very warmly. We “caught up briefly” on how their outreach had gone that summer, which went well, and then brought up our issue. That visit cleared up our dilemma – a simple FAX to him each time we needed to clear customs. First of all, the human irony is that his job was supposed to generate revenue for the Bahamas, not waive taxes for us, but he did. After that experience I heard from others on Andros that he was strict with import taxation, even taxing the Department of Education on imported books and school materials. Secondly, as I checked back on our camp records, of those who had attended the seminar, both signatures and group picture, he signed the ledger as “Brother Cunningham”. All of the other attendees from North Andros used their ministerial titles. Not a single person at the seminar knew he was the Secretary of Finance for the whole nation of the Bahamas. They knew he was Brother Cunningham, a servant of the Lord who went door to door to share the gospel in the outlying islands of their country.
Brother Cunningham has since gone home to be with the Lord. He passed away in the Nassau hospital recovery room after open heart surgery. I lost a friend and a brother in Christ and an outstanding example of Philippians 1:21 – FOR TO ME TO LIVE IS CHRIST (Not being the Secretary of Finance for the Bahamas but a servant of Christ.) AND TO DIE IS GAIN. I can only imagine how he was received in heaven for his faithfulness – true gain.
I share this story in honor of Brother Ehurd Cunningham, a man who knew WHO he was which defined HOW he lived.
Craig was born in the Philippines to missionary parents. He came to the States to finish high school and college. After marrying Margaret they were commended by Asheville Gospel Chapel in 1972 to the Lord’s work in the Philippines. They have completed the translation of the whole Bible in Palawano, the ethnic minority language.