The people of Chuuk Island are a poor people. Outside of the one “town area,” the road is virtually unusable except with a 4×4. Medical care on the island is meager. The people make do with what they have. We have seen railroad wheels being used as weights on a weight bench, a turned-on-its-back freezer used as a bathtub, and banana leaves used as eating plates. One very creative use of resources is sewing rice sacks into purses and backpacks.
Epinupe village is remote. The best way to get there is to take a boat ride followed by a hike over some jagged rocks. My 12-year-old daughter was privileged to make this trip in the summer of 2015 and quickly made friends with the other girls there her age. Many of their clothes would be considered sub-standard by most of the world. Some of the girls needed obvious medical attention, but with a difficult trip to town and medical treatment on the island being what it was, they simply did not go.
We were able to visit that village every day for a week, and friendships were formed between the girls. When it came time to leave, a rice-sack purse was given to my daughter. It was what they had to give; it was from the heart; and it was the most beautiful purse my daughter and I had ever seen. Like Mary when she washed Jesus’ feet with her hair and tears, these teenage girls did what they could (Mark 14:8). My daughter continues to keep that purse which reminds her of the friends she has in Epinupe village, Chuuk.
I was on a Bible study in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia. This Bible study was with an individual by the name of Jones. Scott Shanahan, a friend and local missionary, had been teaching Jones. Jones was always very hospitable and had good questions. The culture in Pohnpei is very open. Doors and windows are usually open. Houses are very close and people are roaming around everywhere. While we were studying, a man by the name of Edgar came to listen at the door. Once Jones recognized he was there, he invited Edgar to join us. Edgar accepted Jones’ invitation. Later, Scott and I went by to visit Edgar, but he was not home. We went by another day and he was there. He agreed to study and it went great! Edgar had been exposed to many denominations. As we read the scriptures, he recognized the truth and would point out the false teachings by various denominations. Edgar really understood the truth, and, thankfully, he obeyed the gospel.
One might wonder why this particular moment is such a memorable one. As far as I know Jones, the man I originally was teaching, never obeyed the gospel. Edgar was a man merely passing by, and, yet, he is the one that obeyed. This event has made me more aware of the fact that we never know who will have the honest and good heart. Five months later, something else occurred that caused these events to stick in my mind. I had been emailing Scott to see how Edgar was doing. He was attending worship and doing well. I then received an email from Scott informing me that Edgar had died. I was shocked. I have thought many times since then of where Edgar would be had he not stopped by Jones’ house that day. What if Jones had not invited him into the house? What if Scott and I had not gone back to see if Edgar wanted to study? What if we had not been out teaching? As far as I know, Edgar is saved. Those turn of events made the difference in his eternal destiny. These events remind me to always be looking for every opportunity to teach others the truth.
My most memorable moment as a missionary occurred in Guyana while still engaged in local preaching in the US. Having already been to Guyana on a short-term campaign, I was determined to return. In July 2012, my wife and I traveled to Moruca in Guyana’s northern region for a ten-day campaign. The days were hot, and the nights were terrible. The spiders and roaches kept us alert. We walked everywhere along dirt roads, paths, and trails that lead to nowhere in particular except to the next Bible study.
At first, people were hesitant to study the Bible, but then they began to open up to our presence in the community as well as the gospel. Half of the persons that were ready to be baptized made the decision to do so during the last two days of our campaign. By the end of the week, there were 20 baptisms. My wife and I had the privilege of studying with half of those 20 souls that I was later blessed to baptize. I had not been a part of an experience such as that in all of my years of local preaching in the U.S. That event was the single biggest factor in my decision to transition from being a local preacher in the U.S. to being a full-time missionary. This decision has left no regrets.
Returning to Moruca in July 2015, we campaigned around the newly constructed church building in the Mora community. There were 16 additional baptisms, and I had the privilege of immersing seven of those being baptized. Five of the seven were of the same family. As I remained in the river awaiting the next family member to wade out to me, the passages in Acts where complete households were immersed into Christ flooded my mind (Acts 16:15, 34; 18:8).
At that same 2015 campaign, I was able to see and follow up on a few of the ten persons I had baptized three years earlier. It was a joy to know that they were still faithful to the Lord. These visits answered the questions I had about those I had previously baptized. I look forward to returning in order to check on those baptized and to set up additional studies with others. Moruca ranks among the top of my most memorable experiences.
While working short-term with a preaching school in Lethem, Guyana, I made an offer to the congregation there to study with anyone who was willing. A sister asked if I could come visit her non-Christian son, Kenny. Kenny was staying with his mother because he had broken his leg while drinking. It seemed like a wonderful opportunity to highlight the need for repentance, and Kenny was certainly a captive audience.
To reach Kenny, I had to cross a river on what locals called the “monkey bridge.” It consisted of a fallen tree and some crudely nailed together planks. I went to visit Kenny two or three times during my stay, and each time I had to cross that bridge. On the last Sunday I was there, Kenny came on crutches to hear me preach. His mother later told me that he said, “If Patrick can come across the monkey bridge to see me, I can go to church to see him.” Unfortunately, he did not obey the gospel that day, and I have yet to return to find out if he did. However, this event reminds me that I need to cross bridges myself if I expect others to do so in coming to Christ.
It is truly difficult for me to determine which moment as a missionary is the most memorable one given that God has blessed me with an amazing number of memorable moments. Perhaps, however, my most spiritual memorable moment happened in a small Russian village in 1991. The weather outside was 30 below zero. We were sitting in a small, warm, and cozy apartment teaching a 92-year-old Russian babushka. This sweet lady told us how she had hidden a Bible in her fireplace behind a loose stone for many years. She told of how she would take it out to study it and then hide it again. We noticed that when she talked about spiritual things, she used the same verbiage that well-studied New Testament Christians use. She had not had any teaching from any source other than her own study of the Bible. Her knowledge and discussion of the Bible were absolutely amazing!
As our study with her was drawing to a close, she looked right into my eyes and said, “I have been waiting for years for someone to come and baptize me into Christ. Why have you waited so long?” With tears in my eyes I answered, “I came as soon as your government would allow me.”