Ep. 10 --1972 – Part 1: When the Lion Roared
Updated: Sep 23
In December 1971, we felt we were finally about to begin experiencing the joy of fulfilling God’s call to the mission field. Then within three months, right on the verge of our leaving for Brazil, there was a possibility that it could all come crashing down in the blink of an eye. We were less than a month away from our scheduled departure, when it appeared the rug was about to be pulled out from under us.
As 1972 dawned, we were back in Colorado after travelling 24000 miles from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to Mexico. We were excited about this new year. Our application for a missionary visa to Brazil had just been approved. Hallelujah! Now all we had to do was travel to Rockford, IL, turn in the final forms at the consulate in Chicago, pack and ship our things, and book our flight! How fun! How exciting!
But reality rarely conforms to what we envision. The first three months of 1972 were the hardest of all. Have you ever undertaken a long, difficult project…remodeling a house, for example… and the closer you got to the finish line, the farther away it seemed? Battle weary, your energies and resources exhausted, you were ready to sit down and say, “It’s good enough”. “Be not weary in well doing,” wrote the apostle Paul. Well, that advice is easier to give than to follow.
But reality rarely conforms to what we envision. The first three months of 1972 were the hardest of all.
The closer a soldier gets to the front line, the hotter is the enemy fire. Now that we had the Brazilian government’s approval, everything seemed to turn against us. Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 16.8-9 that he had a wide-open door in Ephesus, “yet many oppose me.” Although we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, it is precisely flesh and blood Satan uses in his attempts to thwart God’s plans.
#1 - The Old Gray Mare
Satan’s first line of attack takes advantage of our natural disposition to focus on things on earth. As the children’s song says, “The old gray mare she ain’t what she used to be”, and our old yellow VW, worn and bruised from its duties as beast of burden and our home on the range, struggled in those last three months. The transmission and the engine both had to be rebuilt. The car failed to start time and again in the cold winter of northern Illinois. A wire from the battery came loose and left us stranded, and a week later a vacuum line came off and the engine overheated. The next day the muffler fell off. Without it, the VW roared like a monster truck but denied the power thereof.
I don’t know how many parts can go wrong on an old gray mare, but our old yellow VW had at least 8 different problems in less than three months.
#2 – Finances
Although offerings in January and March were over $600, better than any month in 1971, February’s total was $88.46, lower than any month the previous year. One pastor called to say that his church wouldn’t be sending any more offerings, due to financial difficulties. But support had come from more churches, often just $15 or $25. Our sending church gave us $18 in January and $18 in March, which, by the way, was up from the last offerings they had sent us in 1971: October ($15) and November
Support is not measured by what gets put in the bank account.
($10). God’s books are better than mine, however, and He knows how much that little church did for us between Jan. 15 and Mar. 22. They lodged us and fed us and started our car many times, gave us a battery in the cold winter weather and put a muffler on it. Support is not measured by what gets put in the bank account. They stored our stuff until we could pack it for shipping, and they served as the base from which we completed our paperwork for the consulate in Chicago, both of which were essential needs.
#3 - Our stuff
For a year we had traveled in our VW loaded with clothes and personal items, and we picked up things along the way: gifts from people and books I acquired—Greek and Hebrew lexicons, grammars, and concordances I still consult regularly. Occasionally,
As we inquired into the cost of shipping and pondered the five loaves and two fish of our resources, we had to make some hard choices.
we mailed boxes of things to Rockford to be stored with the other household items we kept after we gave up our home in Wisconsin. When we got to Rockford in mid-January, our first item of business was to pack up what we had stored and make a baggage list. But as we inquired into the cost of shipping and pondered the five loaves and two fish of our resources, we had to make some hard choices. The 6 drums we had originally packed shrank to 2 drums and two steamer trunks, which, according to Abbie, held more books than anything else. Who am I to say otherwise? We culled out items in stages, and the baggage list shrank accordingly. I called the consulate in Chicago several times and made a couple of trips in person just to make sure all our papers were in order. The baggage list had to be retyped on official forms, part of the red tape I refer to later.
By early March, after repacking the drums and trunks for the nth time, we had them sealed up and stenciled, ready for delivery to the shipping company. We breathed a big sigh of relief and took them to the trucking company. Sorry, the man said. Each piece had to be weighed first. Would they weigh them? Of course not. Our sigh of relief turned into a groan. We had to take everything back to the pastor’s house and weigh it on bathroom scales. Again, a sigh of relief. Then back we went to the shipper. Sorry, the man said again. “We don’t have anyone here to unload the cargo and put it on the dock.” Again, Abbie and I groaned, this time literally, as we unloaded the drums and trunks and set them on the shipping dock ourselves. After all, this was one of our cardinal rules on the mission field: You do what you gotta do.
In a way, at this point we were finished “barreling” towards our departure date of March 23, but we still had to decide what we could take on the plane, between carry-on and checked baggage. The Brazilian airlines VARIG said each of the kids could have 44 lbs. of checked baggage, and when we finished packing at 11:30 p.m. on March 22, we had 218 pounds of checked baggage and 73 lbs. of carry-on. At the airport the next day, we were charged $82 for 40 lbs. of excess baggage.
But that’s not the whole story. Some brethren apparently felt we were trying to take too much. “Sell-it-here, replace-it-there”, they said. The 6 drums we had originally
We were literally committed "lock, stock and barrel".... we left for Brazil, leaving behind only two things we could call ours
packed were down to 2, leaving us 4 barrels of things to deal with. So, a yard sale was organized for the weekend before we left the country, which netted us $81. That was $1 short of what we would have to pay four days later for 40 lbs. of excess baggage. What didn’t sell, we gave away. We were literally committed "lock, stock and barrel". The following Wednesday, we left for Brazil, leaving behind only two things we could call ours: Abbie’s wedding dress and a checking account.
You may have heard the saying, “Two moves equal a fire.” Verily, verily I say unto you, “One move between continents equals two fires” and we’ve done it four times. That would make 8 fires. I say, four times, because our move to Portugal in 1976 involved moving from Brazil and from the US at the same time. The strain of deciding between what to take and what you know you’ll never see again takes a tremendous mental and emotional toll. Those 4 drums included many household items and linens we never could replace in Brazil. There were wedding presents we had received only 5 years earlier that were practically, or literally, given away. Abbie always regretted giving up her set of several pieces of Corning Ware she has never been able to replace. Not only was the money from their sale a relatively insignificant sum, but other countries didn’t have many of those things, and if they did, the prices were much higher. By the time we moved to Portugal 4 years later, we were acutely aware of the drawbacks of the “sell-it-here, replace-it-there” philosophy. Whatever we left behind was considered lost for good. The expectation of replacing them was merely an illusion.
We were on the mission field in Brazil and Portugal for 9 years before we could even get a phone line installed in our house.
The world is a different place today from what it was 50 years ago. Today we debate the pros and cons of a global economy, but we don’t dispute the fact it exists. Even people living in the remotest villages of Africa or Asia have cell phones and the internet. We were on the mission field in Brazil and Portugal for 9 years before we could even get a phone line installed in our house. “Sell-it-here, replace-it-there” probably makes more sense today.
We got two offers of $1000 for the VW on the same day. The first one was a firm offer, contingent on our not getting a higher offer by the next day. We simply told the second prospective buyer we had a pending offer and his offer of $1000 was not high enough. He came back the next day and offered $1400, and that money was the nest egg we would need to get by on during our first months in Brazil.
#4 – Red tape
The red tape never seemed to end. We had to deal with: passports, baggage lists, police clearances, health examinations, visa forms, and vaccine certificates. Just 5 days before we left, I received the letter from the Selective Service Draft Board stating I was allowed to leave the country. The Vietnam War was still in full swing, but because of being enrolled in university when I reached the age of registering with the Selective Service, I was never drafted. By the time I graduated, I was married, and we had Rachel, plus I was an ordained minister. I had deferments aplenty, but I still had to have permission to leave the country.
#5 – The Lion Roars
All those things are part and parcel of life. Cars, like our bodies, grow old and wear out; we never stop having to deal with material matters, whether money or stuff, accumulating it, storing it, or disposing of it. The challenge is to find the right balance. Forms and applications, licenses and approvals are what governmental administration is made of, although in some countries bureaucracy is more burdensome and time consuming than in others. From car repairs to visa approvals, getting funds for food or funds for fuel, financial income is a constant concern. All those things pale in comparison to the most formidable foe we faced in the last three months before we left. I’ve read that a lion’s roar is so loud, it can be heard up to 5 miles away, farther than the sound of any other animal. The roar of the king of the jungle strikes fear far and wide. How apt then are Peter’s words in 1 Peter 5.8, “Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.” In those
A lion’s roar is so loud, it can be heard up to 5 miles away.
closing weeks, the enemy roared, his last-ditch attempt to frighten us and keep us from following through on God’s call. His weapon: the deadly and effective Discouraging Word.
When Moses allotted territories to the tribes of Israel as they were about to enter the Promised Land, two and a half tribes asked for portions on the east side of the Jordan River. Moses’ immediate response was, “Why are you discouraging the Israelites from crossing into the land the LORD has given them?” (Num. 32.7) He reminded them of what had happened 40 years earlier when 10 of the spies came back and discouraged their fellow Israelites from taking the land, as God had commanded them to do. The
The Discouraging Word is one of our enemy’s most effective weapons.
result was the loss of an entire generation as they wandered through the wilderness. A paraphrased version of Moses’ reaction would be, “Don’t even think about it! Don’t you dare repeat their mistake of discouraging the people from following God’s directions!” When the men of those tribes promised to accompany their brethren in battle and not return home across the Jordan until all the tribes were settled in their territories, Moses consented, but he left a dire warning in Numbers 32.23, “But if you don’t do this, you will certainly sin against the LORD; be sure your sin will catch up with you,” or as the KJV famously words it, “Be sure your sin will find you out.”
Satan’s tool from the very first has been to whisper lies and create doubt in human minds regarding what God has said. Satan’s first recorded words in the Bible were spoken to Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?” His tactic worked. And it still does. The Discouraging Word is one of our enemy’s most effective weapons, and our defense is the shield of faith Paul wrote about in Ephesians 6.16: “In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Now that the door to the mission field was open for us, we had to take up our shield, because the arrows flew fast and furiously.
Already on January 2, after I preached a farewell message at the church in Colorado where I had grown up and surrendered to preach as a youth, an elderly sister who had known me from the time I was born called Mom aside to talk about my sideburns. She was concerned that they would interfere in my ministry in Brazil. The sister was sincere, I’m sure, but I’m also sure that the issue of sideburns was a frivolous one. Satan has no qualms about using sincere brothers and sisters to focus on frivolous issues, as long as it will hinder the Lord’s work. The next arrows were not so innocuous.
When we arrived in Rockford in mid-January to begin preparing everything to go on the mission field, the pastor, Bro. Garner, told me that he had heard I had said something about a certain preacher to yet another preacher. The actual details of the he-said-he-heard-that-someone-said-I-said-something-about-someone-else case have not survived to the present day. But it was a reminder of what James 3 says about the importance of governing the tongue. That’s a positive lesson, but it was a brick in the wall being built to hinder our progress.
Although that was an important matter, it was a relatively small brick in the wall, compared to the next ones. At the end of January, less than two months before we left, the pastor told us that if Abbie didn’t change, she and missionary Steve Montgomery, whom we were planning to work with, would never get along. He said he had received letters “from all over” about Abbie. Now the enemy turns up the heat on his flaming arrows and shifts the target. Now it’s Abbie. That works, too. The pastor never showed me the letters “from all over”, so I had no way of knowing who wrote what, and there’s no defense against anonymous innuendo. I think the gist of it was that Abbie ran our family and I was not head of the house, but I made no attempt to fight back.
Less than two months before we left, the pastor told us he had received letters “from all over” about Abbie and that if Abbie didn’t change, she and missionary Steve Montgomery, whom we were planning to work with, would never get along.
Like Moses, when the people complained about him, I turned it over to the Lord; the apostle Paul, too, is a model of how to deal with criticism, and I tried to follow his example. I’ll never know and didn’t want to know then, and certainly not now 50 years later, how many letters there actually were. But it’s interesting that the following day after Bro. Garner made the “from all over” comment, he admitted he “hadn’t received ‘very many’ letters concerning Abbie.” My conclusion: there weren’t many letters, they just came from widely scattered places.
Then on February 20, a month before our departure, I noted in my journal, “Bro. Garner preached on ‘Hindrances to Worship – Self-will and Worldliness’ and he brought in the teaching on order in marriage.” Given his recent comments regarding Abbie and what had been said regarding my lack of leadership in the home, the point he was trying to make was not lost on me. It was like he was firing shots across the bow from the pulpit. The point was not lost on some others, either. The next day I wrote, “Bro. Gene mentioned that one of the members suggested the church remove its recommendation of us because I have not ruled my house.”
One of the church members suggested the church remove its recommendation of us
We weren’t getting a lot of support, but if our sending church were to tell sister churches they had removed their recommendation of us, that would have spelled the end of all support and any hope we had of going to Brazil. This was exactly what happened 28 years later in 2000, when the church we were sponsored by at that time removed their recommendation of us. We had been in Madeira for 24 years and had established an autonomous local church, but in a matter of two months we lost all our support from the US. The Lord, of course, already had a backup plan we could never have dreamed of, and we continued working there for 16 more years. In fact, we ended up better off materially, because of that.
Back in 1972, if the Lord wanted us to be in Brazil, nothing could have stopped us from going, but the reality was we had practically nothing, and what little we had was on a ship sailing to Brazil. The lion’s roar of Discouraging Words was deafening now! Just one month from leaving for the field and the enemy threatens to pull the rug out from under us! Concerned, I spoke with the pastor a day or two later, and he said he didn’t know of anyone who would oppose us. So, which was it? The lion’s roar was deafening, but he wouldn’t bite? Here is a lesson for anyone who steps out to follow the Lord: don’t listen to what others say, good or bad. What matters is what God has said. If He confirms that there is something we need to correct, then we must take care of it. Otherwise, the praise or the criticism of men, whether they are God’s people or men of the world, is of no consequence. It was a lesson we had to master before we were ready for God to introduce us to our life’s work in Portugal 4 years later.
On the last Sunday of February, three weeks before our departure, the pastor preached on “Despising the Things of God”, whatever that was meant to convey. In any case, Abbie and I went before the church and renewed our commitment to the Lord and the commission He had given us. The whole church, small though it was, came and shook our hands and expressed their support. The attendance that day was better than usual, too. If the lion was present that day, he kept his mouth shut.
We had practically nothing, and what little we had was on a ship sailing to Brazil. Just one month from leaving for the field and the enemy threatened to pull the rug out from under us!
I believe those who criticized us were well-meaning, but even well-meaning comments can be mean in the hands of the enemy. He has no qualms about using the good intentions of well-meaning friends, fellow believers, or family to launch his fiery darts. That’s a reminder he can even use us in the same way. The arrows of Discouraging Words are dipped in poison. As Moses said, “Be sure our sin will catch up with us.”
Again, the pastor never said who that “one member” was who suggested the church withdraw their recommendation of us, but we were too busy to worry about that. We had things to ship and documents to get in order.
I know that having spent 17 months without a home of our own, living practically every moment in the public eye, our every action and reaction, every word and expression was subjected to the scrutiny of others. The slightest slip-ups were magnified and misinterpreted by observers and easily led to situations that may have hurt others. These, too, are part of the enemy’s arsenal he uses to hinder God’s work.
Abbie’s concern to see that we were taking as much as we could with us to meet our essential needs was also used against her. She was accused of being “materialistic”.
Abbie was accused of being “materialistic” and some people were of the opinion that Abbie wouldn’t last more than two years in Brazil.
In hindsight, I should have told her detractors (whoever they were) to read the description of the “Virtuous Woman” at the end of Proverbs in chapter 31. Even if you’ve read it many times, I encourage you to read it again. In the next episode, we’ll be in Brazil and as I read my 1972 journal for the first time in 51 years to prepare notes for this podcast, I realized how closely Abbie’s life in those first nine months fit that description. I won’t say I took her for granted, but I have just gained an added appreciation for the life partner God gave me. OK, she didn’t spin her own yarn or clothe herself in silk as the Proverbs 31 woman did, but she pretty well nailed the rest of that description. In those last two months, we were repeatedly told in different ways that our work was doomed, and that Abbie would never make it on the mission field. Some people were of the opinion that Abbie wouldn’t last more than two years in Brazil. But the best way to defeat our detractors is not by arguing with them or debating them; we just need to faithfully go about doing what God has called us to do.
As Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5.8-9, “Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. Resist him, and be firm in the faith.” Hebrews 11.33 talks about those “who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, (and) shut the mouths of lions…”
We who live by faith today still obtain promises and shut the mouths of lions, especially the enemy’s lions and their roar of Discouraging Words.
At 11:30 p.m. on March 22, 1971, we finished the final packing and collapsed into bed. I wrote in my journal, “Didn’t have any time today to think about tomorrow. It was exhausting, at times we wondered if we would ever get everything done.” Shortly after noon the next day, we were on the plane, beginning our 25-hour journey from Chicago to São Paulo, by way of New York and Rio de Janeiro. We were also on the first leg of our 44-year journey of foreign mission work. The only roar we heard was that of the jet engines on take-offs and landings at Chicago, NY, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo. But cruising at 33000 feet, there was no roar at all, only the steady purring of the planes’ engines, reassuring us that we were in the right place and heading in the right direction.