Sometimes the preaching of the gospel in scripture uses agricultural illustrations to describe the process of conversion. Not everyone who preaches is always a part of every step but contributes the part that God intends for that process. In 1 Corinthians 3:6-8, even Paul describes his part, then Apollos’ part, and that his confidence was in God giving the increase. Some plants grow and can be harvested in a short period of time. Some take years to produce visible fruit. For others, one may not even know that the seed took root. … but the Lord does and gives the increase.
Sometimes God lets us see the process of what He is doing. My parents, Sandy and Maisie Sutherland, served the Lord in the Philippines. Their initial years of “preaching” the gospel resulted in what they described as “hand picked fruit”. Building personal relationships through kindness and helps gave opportunity to share the gospel, lead people to Christ, and see assemblies established. The steps in the “planting to harvesting” process was tangible to them.
Other times we have seen the opportunity to “scatter” the seed, not knowing where it will land, grow or who might harvest the grain. Both the planting and the scattering are opportunities to trust what God is doing.
My wife, Margaret, and I went through a time of “wondering” what God was doing “through” us. We were serving Him in the Philippines. I might note here that we continued to trust what God was doing “in” us but struggled with not seeing outward results. He was gracious to give us a “peek” at what He was doing, three reminders in a two-week period.
- There was a stretch of time when our children were young that we moved to Manila to enroll them in school at Faith Academy, a school for missionary children. It actually gave me, Craig, more time to work on our Bible translation project. We were still back and forth to Palawan and knew that this change was God’s place for our family during that time period. One day Margaret came home and let me know that she had a flat tire on our motorcycle and had to leave it at Faith Academy. We lived nearby so I walked up to the school to fix the flat. As I was lifting the back part of the cycle to put a concrete block under it to remove the wheel, an elderly Filipino gentleman approached me to offer his help. He was wearing a cap with the name of a province, Bukidnon, on it. As young boys, my brother and I had attended school in Bukidnon on the island of Mindanao where Wycliffe Bible Translators had one of their centers for seminars, conferences and aviation support. The man’s face looked familiar so as he offered to help I asked him if his name was Cisco, a man from that era 25 years before that we had befriended. He was quite surprised and asked me who I was. When I responded he asked me about my older brother, Glen. Then he added, “Let me tell you a story.” He commenced to give me his testimony. As a young man he had taken a job as a groundskeeper at the Wycliffe center. My father was the speaker at Wycliffe’s annual conference at that time and Cisco would slip in the back of the auditorium to listen to his messages. He said that one message my father spoke was on Esther, emphasizing the importance of Ahasuerus’ second edict – that the Jews could be delivered from the first decree which Haman had orchestrated – the edict of death. This decree was translated and sent to all the provinces in the empire in each of their own languages so that they might have the hope of deliverance and life. It was a challenge to the current Bible translators to translate the good news in scripture into the languages where they lived, God’s decree of hope of deliverance and eternal life – the GOSPEL. It was the first time Cisco had heard of the hope of deliverance provided by the gospel. He accepted Christ on his own. My father never knew of Cisco’s decision. My father had passed away four years before my seeing Cisco at Faith Academy, 1,000 miles away from Bukidnon and 25 years later. Cisco’s story of his life and the service of his children in the Lord’s work was a reminder of the growth and harvest over the 25 years that God had accomplished. We did get the tire fixed and I never saw Cisco again. It was God’s way of reminding us to trust Him. (Philippians 1:6)
- A few days after seeing Cisco, we were registering our children at Faith Academy. An OMF missionary approached me near the school office. He asked if remembered him. How does one forget a Scottish missionary in the Philippines! One of the ministries we do is sports evangelism, usually bringing basketball teams from the US and Australia to play in the Philippines in order to preach the gospel. The basketball court affords a neutral place and the game draws large crowds of people to watch. Every town has a basketball court at the center of town – the plaza. We also had a local team of missionaries and Filipino players and sometimes would be asked to spend the weekend helping some of the missionaries to make contacts where they ministered. I was always privileged to present the gospel at halftime. We sang a few songs, shared testimonies and offered a Bible correspondence course, both for the purpose of putting the plan of salvation in their hands and having a record of the names of interested people. The pamphlet contained an application for an Emmaus course which was followed up by Bible School of the Air, and assembly ministry in Manila. The OMF missionary who had requested help to make contact in his city, a place where he had just started to minister, received a copy of all the names of the interested people who signed up. So, we had spent a couple of days playing 2-3 basketball games a day in different sections of that city. We left, confident that seed had been sown and follow up would take place. Our last game that Saturday night drew a large crowd. The Scotsman asked me if I remembered the referee at that game, which I didn’t! At least 3 years had passed since we were there. He continued to share that the referee was a dentist who after the game had asked if he could find out about what I had shared at halftime in my message. It resulted in a Bible study, the dentist’s conversion, the start of a Christian fellowship and the weekend before we met at Faith Academy, a baptism. The dentist’s wife had been baptized. “A more radiant Christian I have never seen.” was the description by the OMF missionary. Being confident of this… (Philippians 1:6)
- Before that period of two weeks was up, I received a letter from a former US Air Force soldier who had served in the Philippines. I had been invited approximately five years earlier to speak at a conference for US military soldiers who served in Asia. It was held at a US military, R&R base in the mountains north of Manila. “The Just Shall Live By Faith” was the theme based on the book of Habakkuk. It was a great time of speaking, fellowshipping, rubbing shoulders with the US servicemen, and eating American hamburgers! At the same base, as a 13 year old boy, I had given, “dedicated”, my life to serve the Lord. It was the same context, except now 16 years later I was the speaker instead of my father. At the banquet supper which concluded the conference, I sat at a table with a young psychiatrist who was a new believer. We talked more than ate and I enjoyed my time with him, answering his many questions. Approximately five years later we received a gift from a person whose name I didn’t recognize. In thanking him I asked who he was. His response brought back memories of that young soldier. He had resigned from the Air Force, had been to Capernwray Bible School in England and was practicing psychiatry and counseling at a Mennonite counseling center in Pennsylvania. He hadn’t attended an assembly before but chose to fellowship at one nearby where he lived. At this assembly he noticed our name and decided to send a gift to us. The Lord had led him from the Philippines to Pennsylvania and back into our lives. We were leaving for furlough soon after that letter and I found that we were going to attend the same counseling seminar not far from where he lived. I bunked in with him, met his family and have remained friends to this day – almost forty years later. God reminds us the He continues and completes the GOOD WORK He starts. (Philippians 1:6)
Reminders don’t always come in three’s but the Lord knew we needed His encouragement through those times when we wrestled with what he is doing through us. It was a great reminder to trust Him fully for what He does – from what He begins to what He completes. The promise reflects His character when Hebrews 12 says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the AUTHOR and PERFECTER of our faith.” He is the Alpha and Omega and everything in between.
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.