Sunday, April 22, 2012

Stories Worth Listening To

My husband has the gift of becoming friends with strangers, a talent that I wish I possessed with such a genuine spirit as he has. His ability to ask good questions and let people know he's really interested in their stories gives us many great conversations with people we'd never know had such fascinating lives.

Like these guys.

Paul and Peggy.

We had the very great pleasure of meeting Paul and Peggy this past weekend over dinner at a bed and breakfast, and I think we did more talking than eating. We quickly learned they were in the area to learn about a local prison ministry that they were considering beginning a branch of in their home church, and we gladly asked them to give thanks with us for our meal. (What a joy when strangers are suddenly brothers and sisters!) Over the next hour and half, we sat and listened to their story.

A Mennonite couple, married 54 years, these two spent most of their lives overseas on the mission field. First in Puerto Rico, then in Peru and later Kenya and Zambia, working with Wycliffe Bible Translators and JAARS. They were in Peru in 1956 as Jim Elliot and his comerades were killed nearby in Ecuador; Paul was a radio operator and remembers hearing all of the news breaking and happening on the radio.

They spent years in Kenya living in tents, eight hours from Nairobi, teaching other missionaries how to survive in the African bush. Peggy recounted how a favorite weekend activity for their family was rising early to watch the sunrise over a watering hole at a local game preserve.

As a young man, Paul told us, he only ever wanted to be a farmer. His life was changed, however, by a man named R. G. LeTourneau, who is quite famous in his own right (inventor, philanthropist, Christian legacy, and founder of the university). LeTourneau wanted to help the impoverished peoples of South America by helping them cultivate their lands for farming, and so planned a mission to clear jungle and turn it into roads and farm land, and bring in Mennonite men (well-known for being good farmers) to teach how to farm well. Paul was one of ten young men who spent two years in South America with LeTourneau, building roads. He told of exciting plane landings in small villages, and of dinner at the LeTourneau's home. After these two years with LeTourneau, Paul said, he was never content just farming. He and Peggy farmed for a few years after their marriage, and then left for the mission field, where they stayed for almost half a decade.

After this evening of listening to their stories, told with such joy and obvious pleasure at their own life and God's goodness, I wondered if perhaps some of heaven or the New Earth will be spent thus, hearing and telling with joy the stories of God's goodness and provision on this earth.

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