Musings: October 2018

When jets fly overhead, stitching up the airspace between Boston’s Logan and somewhere-in-Europe, by the time they reach the sky over Mid-coast Maine they are barely visible, nothing but contrails. My roots are deep here on this country hill, thirty thousand feet below, so I’m no globetrotter, but over the years, visitors from around the world have eaten apple pie, soaked up their gravy with warm yeast rolls, and responded in grace to the imperfections and barely managed chaos of this busy household.

At the same time, they have enlivened my family’s vision of an international, border-crossing Gospel and a God with room in His heart and in His plan for everyone He has created. It turns out that missionaries are some of God’s best warriors against small-minded belief, because they put flesh and bone around this truth:

“Biblical religion is aggressively internationalist.”

In Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best, Eugene Peterson writes about Jeremiah, the “prophet to the nations” (1:5) who barely ever left home. Since October is missions emphasis month at my church, it is well and good that I am deep into Jeremiah’s letters to “the nations.” By “nations,” God meant foreigners, in the same way that people around here might describe you, if you happen to come “from away.”  You see, folded into Jeremiah’s job description–along with carrying to Judah’s kings all the bad news about Nebuchadnezzar– was the task of writing ten oracles to ten different nations comprising an area of about 750,000 square miles. He was “the prophet to the nations” who only left Jerusalem at the end of his life because he was carted off to Egypt, probably against his will.

Hand-Carried Judgment

The letters Jeremiah wrote were hand-carried–but not by him. We know the identity of one courier, Seraiah, the messenger to Babylon with the news  that she would “sink to rise no more because of the disaster [God] will bring on her. And her people will fall.” By way of Jeremiah’s tethered pen, God’s message was delivered to nations that could have been written off as hopeless pagans. Eugene Peterson notes that letters of condemnation employed “judgment in the service of salvation.” Read for yourself:

This is what the Lord Almighty says:

“See, I will break the bow of Elam,
the mainstay of their might.
 I will bring against Elam the four winds
from the four quarters of heaven;
I will scatter them to the four winds,
and there will not be a nation
where Elam’s exiles do not go.

“Yet . . .

I will restore the fortunes of Elam
in days to come,”
declares the Lord.  (Jeremiah 49:35-36, 39)

God extends a glimmer of hope, not in all ten oracles, but then, He went on record with some stern words to Israel as well, and He did not relent.

This Month at Living Our Days

We’ve run the gamut from poetry to memoir to biblical exegesis in October, and I love offering resources here and sharing my reading with you.

First poetry:

As Christians, we have no light of our own, but the nature of our Borrowed Light is so compelling that others are drawn to its warmth and luminosity, just as we are drawn to the borrowed light of the moon against an inky sky.  In her poetry collection (The Consequence of Moonlight: Poems), Sofia Starnes has expressed this exact quality of sainthood, the here-ness or there-ness of a life that “orbits the earth but [is] not of the earth.”  It is the discipline of recalling the source of our Light that keeps the underlying Presence in proper view. And maybe it’s because of Mr. Roger’s influence, but when I reviewed the book, my takeaway was that the believer’s right response to our borrowed light is to run toward the darkness with it.

That same week, I shared one of my own poems, inspired by a sermon series on Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount from my excellent pastor. If His warning to “beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” has ever jarred you into pondering your motives, you can read my own reflections on it here.

Bring Me a Vision: A Story of Redeeming Hope is the true unfolding of BeckyReview of Bring Me a Vision: A Story of Redeeming Hope Moreland’s story. Founder of RAHAB Ministries, she lived a miracle of turn-around and her co-author Pam Ecrement bore witness to it, first as her counselor and then, later, as her friend and colleague in ministry. When Becky first approached Pam for counseling, she was seeking help for her children, but Pam soon learned that Becky’s own traumatic childhood was impacting her mothering in ways that were detrimental, in spite of her best intentions. The glory of God is put on display as His story runs its course in the life of an ordinary woman who has been impacted by the love of an extraordinary God. Purchasing details and a link to RAHAB’s website are available here, as all proceeds for the book will be turned over to RAHAB ministries.

Nancy Guthrie picked up her pen, gathered up the tangled threads of the earliest story set in a garden, and then she moves forward in hope through the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan in her latest book, Even Better than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything about Your Story. On her meandering way from the thunderous God-force of creation to the end of the ages, she shares stunning truth about “what the original garden has to show us about the more secure, more satisfying, and more glorious garden we’re destined to live in forever, which will be even better than Eden.” (14)  This was one of those books that I can’t stop thinking about. If you’ve read it, too, I’d love to have a conversation with you. Here’s a link to more details.

As a long-time journal-keeper, I was happy to review Deborah Haddix’s is Journaling for the Soul (Nourish the Soul), a handbook of journaling methods that goes beyond pen and paper and invites readers to span the spectrum of spiritual disciplines in their walk with God. Deborah explores the use of drawing, paper crafting, photography, and even decorative lettering as an expression of her heart to a God who is NOT in the business of putting His children in ill-fitting boxes.

In The Gift of Prophetic Encouragement: Hearing the Words of God for Others, we find Kitterman’s confidence and fervor flow from years of learning alongside biblical characters like little Samuel that the voice of God in our ears and in our hearts requires action on our part.   We are built for connection, for relationship with God and with each other. Living in harmony with the example of Jesus means embracing a lifestyle of encouragement. “Jesus had radical encounters with ordinary people every day. By listening to the Father’s voice and doing what the Father said, Jesus was able to release heaven into the situations and lives of those He encountered.” (21) You’re invited to read more about Debbie’s bridge-building ministry of encouragement here.

News from the Hill

The garden has exhausted itself just in time for our kitchen to be torn apart and put back together again. The new cabinets arrived on the 15th in a very impressive truck, and since that day we have been moving toward the goal of peace and order. Let us live in awe of the Lord our GodNonetheless, homeschooling, enjoying the grandchildren, the comings and goings of turkey hunting and trumpet playing sons, and a glorious fanfare of fall color have filled this month with plenty of joy.

Crossing to Safety (Modern Library Classics) by Wallace Stegner is the book I used to re-read every fall. It’s a story in which a friendship is so front-and-center that it seems to become one of the characters in the book. I’ve been luxuriating in Stegner’s gorgeous prose this month, so I will leave you with his rich definition of friendship, and with the prayer that you have people like this in your life.

“It is a relationship that has no formal shape,
there are no rules or obligations or bonds
as in marriage or the family,
it is held together by neither law nor property nor blood,
there is no glue in it but mutual liking.

It is therefore rare.”

Blessings and love to you,

Michele Morin

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Image credit:  Jason Leung of Unsplash

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Is There a “Right Way” to Do Church Ministry?

Conversations about missionaries and missions strategy are commonplace in our home. We talk about the latest newsletter updates, who’s “home,” and who’s “back on the field.” We wonder about the members of our missionary family when we don’t hear from them, and we puzzle over big picture concerns in an era in which more missionaries are retiring than can possibly be replaced by new recruits.

In Mapping Church Missions: A Compass for Ministry Strategy, Sharon Hoover introduces a way of thinking about the genuine challenges of initiating and maintaining a program of global outreach that is in keeping with a biblical view of The Great Commission, while also taking into consideration the uniqueness of each body of believers. Her good work and varied experiences have helped her to produce a road map for intentional missions strategy that transcends personal interests and agendas.

Rarely are our burning questions about church practices able to be corralled with a pat answer. My husband chairs the missions committee in our church, and his life would be so much easier if shimmering golden percentages were handed down from heaven to guide missions policy: What is the ideal percentage of the budget to allocate to foreign missions and how much for local ministries? Approval of short-term projects would be a cinch if everyone could just agree that their purpose is outreach and impact on the field.  Or is it mainly for the development and growth of the participants . . .?

7 Continuums to Sort the Issues

Since pat answers are unavailable (and mostly unhelpful), Hoover has identified seven topics, seven conversations that need to happen and each one represents a continuum:

  1.  Is the church called to perform good works OR to to engage in activities that present the gospel?
  2. Is our highest priority to meet the needs we can see all around us OR should our focus be centered on the regions beyond, those who have never even heard of Jesus?
  3. Are we to direct our resources mainly toward emergency crisis relief OR will people best be served by long-term engagement once the crisis has passed?
  4. Which is most necessary:  Tangible investments such as money, clothing, and vehicles? OR will an investment of time and talent be more valuable in the long run?
  5. Can short-term ministry teams work effectively on the field OR is this nothing more than Christian tourism?
  6. Is the focus of ministry a matter of serving those who are sent to minister OR those who will receive that ministry?
  7. How much risk is acceptable in planning a ministry? Is safety an obstacle to fulfilling the Great Commission OR should “common sense” prevail?

These seven questions are a wise starting point for conversations that assist local church leaders in  discovering and then maintaining their location on these key bandwidths for missional engagement. Sharon Hoover asserts that “we need to check our compass bearing frequently to confirm that our direction remains true to our initial calling. As time passes and we become familiar with the terrain, we are tempted to set the compass aside. But when we do this our kingdom-focused navigation gets off track.”

“If You Want to Go Fast, Go Alone. If You Want to Go Far, Go Together.”

Driving south on I-95, my Kindle illuminated the front seat of our car as my husband and I made an impulsive trip to L.L. Bean one August evening. I had brought Mapping Church Missions: A Compass for Ministry Strategy along for the hour’s ride because I wanted to get his input, but soon found myself reading great chunks aloud. The questions stimulated conversation and the well-conceived scenarios at each chapter’s end acted as both mirror and light.

Sharon Hoover has developed a resource that is thought provoking and will challenge any individual who is excited about the call to build God’s kingdom. However, she has also constructed a compass, a tool for groups who need to have monumental conversations that will help them get their bearings, clarify their thinking, and ensure that they are traveling in line with both the truth of Scripture and the passions and callings of those who are on the road together.

Many thanks to Intervarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to If you should decide to purchase Mapping Church Missions: A Compass for Ministry Strategy, simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Imagining the possibilities,

The Missionary Experience: A Path of Faith in the Midst of Paradox

Starting in the book of Acts, the history of missions is characterized by controversy. It may have begun when Paul and company set out with freshly-minted instructions from the Jerusalem Council, defining the parameters of the message they were sharing. It was certainly evident when the citizens of Lystra decided to fold Paul and Barnabas into their eclectic assortment of deities–and then to take up stones against them. And remember the story of New Testament heroes of the faith clashing over personnel issues and going their separate ways for a season? Throughout history, according to His own counsel and sovereign wisdom, God has chosen to put the transmission of the Gospel into the hands of His fallen and often short-sighted children, and the effects of that have made for some fascinating reading.

A Train-Wreck of Two Cultures Colliding

Over fifty years ago, Eleanor Vandevort came home from South Sudan in the wake of political unrest. Her thirteen years of language acquisition, Bible translation, literacy work, and relationship building were cut short with no certainty as to their effect or ultimate impact. When she set down the account of her struggle and her achievements in A Leopard Tamed, she was a woman ahead of her time, asking questions few in the golden age of U.S. missions were asking and even fewer wanted to entertain.

Vandevort’s narrative centers around her work among the Nuer, a remote and primitive culture eking out a living on dry, flat, hard-packed land bordering on the Sobat River in South Sudan. She was fortunate, early on, to connect with Kuac (pronounced /kwich/, rhyming with quite), a young man who had been educated at the mission-sponsored village school and was, therefore, a valuable informant for learning the language and reducing it to print.

What followed from Kuac’s conversion, subsequent education, and eventual call to pastor the church in Nasir is a glorious triumph of light over darkness–and it is also the story of a train wreck of two cultures colliding in one frail human soul. With vivid descriptions of the Nuer way of life, this 50th anniversary edition transported me to a land of unique beauty alongside unimaginable hardship and hopelessness.

As Eleanor learned to respect and collaborate with national believers who did not share her affinity for logic, efficiency, or planning, she also gained a sharper image of God in the context of heathenism, for He has made it clear that He loves the entire world, even the parts a North American Christian cannot comprehend:

“Try, if you can, to fathom Him, to draw His picture with clear, solid lines, to pin Him down. Just when you think you have God in focus, He moves, and the picture blurs.” (11)

A Bridge that Spanned Two Cultures

In 1949, at the tender age of 24, Eleanor Vandevort embarked upon her career as a Bible translator, joining the ranks of Wheaton College classmate Elisabeth Elliot and her peers who put their hands to the plow with no thought of turning back. It was an era in which the boundary between Christian culture and Western culture was decidedly blurred, so Vandevort was nonplussed to find that she had arrived in Africa bearing a message that would meet a need the Nuer did not even know existed.

With Kuac’s help, Eleanor slowly acquired a working command of the language with its fourteen vowels, three levels of tone, and absolutely no Christian jargon. Learning her way into those speech patterns helped in building the bridge that spanned the two cultures. However, observations throughout the book reveal a growing awareness that along with the Gospel, she and her fellow missionaries were sharing a full menu of lesser messages, some merely lamentable and others disastrous:

  • “I was incredulous that after fifty years of missionary work among these people, there was no striking hunger on the villager’s part to hear the Gospel. I wondered where the people were who reportedly were crying out for the Word of God.” (34)
  • “As far as I could ever tell, Christian behavior patterns were outlined by the missionaries and were not born out of the Africans’ own experience with God.” (22)
  • “It was painful and disappointing to be making friends with people for whom my ideas were nonsense. The more I came to know them, the more I realized the barrier of taboos between us. But my disappointment went deeper. It stemmed from the fact that God was not shining in the darkness as I had prayed and hoped for and expected.” (39)
  • “Is my scientific orientation to life, which has removed me from the constant threat of death, the factor which stabilizes my faith? Or, in that I need not fear God physically as the heathen do, has this freedom set me adrift from God, missing Him altogether?” (46)
  • “How does a person decide that he’s not going to be afraid of death?” (83)
  • “The many problems of translation exploded my theories of Bible translating, and precluded the possibility of producing an exact and therefore inerrant–as Evangelicals used the term–translation of the Scriptures. (95)
  • “We did not foresee that our things would become more important to the people than our Gospel, that they would want them. No one was to be blamed for this, but as it was turning out, were we not becoming more of a stumbling block than a help to the people?” (187)

Leaving the Results in God’s Hands

As a young missionary, Eleanor Vandevort began to realize that the methods she had inherited from her forebears were an imposition upon the culture. From the tone of voice used when speaking aloud in prayer to the denominational distinctives around church government, Christianity and its trappings became an ill-fitting garment in a world that required Christians to address issues such as polygamy, marriage to the dead, animal sacrifice, and grisly coming-of-age ceremonies.

The prevailing idea among Presbyterian missionaries was that “what was good for Calvin was certainly good for the south Sudan.” Within a context of very isolated and individualized people groups, the concept of “a congregation” was strange enough, but then they must “call” a pastor and provide for him. “It would hardly have occurred to the people to pay a man just for talking about God. . . In that as Christians they were now to believe that God works by the faith of His people, it would seem likely that they would wonder at having to pay a pastor at all.” (82) Then, they must submit to the leadership of the Presbytery with decisions handed down from the UPC of the USA.

Nearing the end of her time in South Sudan, it was evident to Eleanor that Kuac was floundering in his role as “Pastor Moses.” (Upon ordination, national pastors took on a biblical name which, in Kuac’s situation, was never adopted by his people because it was unpronounceable and meaningless to them.) With the introduction of a money-based economy and the acquired need for clothing, furniture, blankets, soap, and utensils, Kuac was under pressure to become something for which there was no precedent in his experience or in his history. When the mission withdrew their support and yet continued to expect Pastor Moses to pay the expense of travel to official church meetings, it became clear that the white man was dictating “what was to be done from behind the Bible without having to submit to the discipline involved himself.”

Therefore, when Eleanor received word from the Commandant of Police in December of 1962 that she was no longer welcome in South Sudan, she wondered, with a sinking heart, what would become of her translation work and of the ministry. The Arab military government had already imprisoned Kuac numerous times in an effort to stamp out Christianity through fear. Like Elisabeth Elliot in These Strange Ashes: Is God Still in Charge?she was called upon to leave in God’s hands the results (or lack of same!) of any work to which He had called her.

To Know, to Believe, and to Understand

From her home and new career in the United States, Eleanor heard of war coming to the Sudan, and then coming again.  Her story challenges many of our western assumptions about missions, while underscoring the sovereignty of God. He is free to work in a nation –or in a young, white, and slightly perplexed former missionary–in any way He deems fitting. As believers who are committed to the fulfillment of the Great Commission, let us also read and love God’s words to Isaiah, setting forth the purpose of our witness on this planet:

“You are My witnesses,” says the Lord,
“And My servant whom I have chosen,
That you may know and believe Me,
And understand that I am He.”  (Isaiah 43:10)

In our witnessing and serving, the path of God may cut through mystery and paradox. Sometimes the greatest test of faith is to know, believe, and understand the power and presence of God, even when the evidence we receive is not what we had expected.

Many thanks to Hendrickson  Publishers for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to If you should decide to purchase A Leopard Tamed or These Strange Ashes: Is God Still in Charge?, simply click on the title (or the image) here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

I appreciate your joining me today in thinking through the conflicts and the joys of the missionary experience,

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

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Around the Table. Around the World

For all its challenges, moving into a fixer-upper six days before the birth of my oldest son was what set my face like a flint in this direction:

We will not wait for perfection. 
We will welcome the world into our home. 

Hanging off the northeast corner of the U.S. mainland, we’re not on the way to anywhere, but whenever missionaries visit our church, we jump at the chance to gather them around our table.

Sign us up!

The energetic young couples with multiple children, the middle aged with support levels sagging, the nearly retired with their golden memories and wealth of hard-won wisdom:  we want to hear firsthand their stories of the faithfulness of God.  We want to ask all the questions.   We want to let our hearts travel around the world so that we can be reminded that God is at work everywhere.

DSCN0586.JPGThere’s Mediterranean Pasta Salad on the menu today (and I’ll be sharing the recipe!), so I hope you’ll pull up a chair and join me for the remainder of this History of Morin Hospitality over at Welcome Heart where Sue Donaldson has thrown open all the doors (and windows) in an enthusiastic greeting.

While you’re there, you’ll notice that this post is wrapping up a series on hospitality with all its many beautiful faces.  If this is the first post that you’ve read in the series, click here to catch up.


And the conversation will not end here!  The welcome mat is always in place at the Every Table Tells a Story Facebook Community.


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A Study in Perseverance

Determination perseveres in spite of the word “no.”

When Rosalie Ranquist realized that she was called to be a missionary, her rough background and lack of education led church leaders to discourage her from pursuing her goal.  Even so, in 1967 she left for Papua New Guinea and her career was remarkable in every way — particularly in light of her seemingly inadequate preparation.  Although she is, technically, “retired” now, she continues her involvement as an international literacy consultant on a limited basis, and she still shares her favorite Scripture verse with others:

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord,”

I Corinthians 15:58

Knowing that Rosalie is facing some health challenges, she and her verse have been on my mind lately, and since I’ve been reading in I Corinthians 15 for the past three weeks, this was the perfect time for me to visit for resources that deepen my insight into Rosalie’s verse.


Since there are thirteen Study Bibles to choose from, I was able to review the verse’s historical context, and also found this insight from John MacArthur:

“The hope of resurrection makes all the efforts and sacrifices in the Lord’s work worth it.  No work done in His name is wasted in light of eternal glory and reward.”

Steadfast, immovable, and abounding are not words that most of us use in everyday speaking, so I was surprised to note how many of the newer translations have stuck with them.  You can check for yourself by clicking on the  I Corinthians 15:58 in all English translations link below the verse.

The NRSV and Amplified Bibles used the word excelling, and the New Living chose outstanding to speak of “abounding in the work of the Lord.”

The Good News Translation used firm and steady for steadfast and immovable, while the International Children’s Bible spoke of being steady and strong.

The Living Bible put some meat on the bones of Paul’s opening “therefore”:

“So, my dear brothers, since future victory is sure, be strong and steady, always abounding in the Lord’s work, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever wasted as it would be if there were no resurrection.”

This rendering of the verse anchors it deeply in the big picture of the chapter’s theme:  Resurrection.  A click on the four brown parallel lines beside the reference allowed me to view the entire chapter as needed, for I Corinthians 15 provides the most thorough teaching of any chapter in the Bible on resurrection and the Christian life.

Paul is not offering an empty or theoretical hope.  His admonition toward a steadfast and immovable perseverance on the narrow path —  even when it feels as if the narrow path may be squeezing the life out of you —  is not just a happy thought to keep us company as we endure.  It is a promise of future life that has been verified by the resurrection of God the Son.  Jesus was the “first fruits” of that promise, and based on that, we know that God can deliver the goods.

Resurrection is the bass note that thrums underneath every word that Paul has written in this long and theologically rich chapter, for the truth of resurrection is the basis of a living, breathing, get-up-in-the-morning-and-obey-God-all-day kind of faith.   It is only because God keeps showing up with power that I can war against sin — every day.  He offers freedom from slavery to other people’s approval and from my stubborn need to be “right.”  He brings life to this new creation so that I can find grace to hate the selfishness and small-living that would keep me at the center of my own universe.

Rosalie Ranquist and the truth of her favorite verse serve as a continual reminder to me that nothing is wasted in God’s economy:  our suffering and our service are all infused with meaning because we live in a hope that is based on Truth.


Check out the resources at by using it to enhance your understanding of a passage that you are studying today!



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Intercede with Greater Focus and Understanding

Traveling to over forty different countries, meeting church leaders who are, at times, risking their lives in the course of doing ministry, and hearing their unique challenges and joys can be an exhausting prospect.  Fortunately, Brian Stiller has logged all the travel time, and he has shared his unique experiences and insights in An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World. 

Meet Ajith Fernando, known as “the John Stott of Asia,” who remains in ministry in his homeland of Sri Lanka in spite of the devastation of violent ethnic conflict and the religious persecution that prevents Christians from having access to education for their children, purchasing property, or even renting public facilities for Bible studies or worship services.

Walk the crowded corridors of a Mexican prison where sleeping space is wherever you can find it (bathroom floors, hallways), and entire sections have been given over to the management of drug cartels.

Visit a seminary in Indonesia that was founded by a man who traveled to the United States to complete his own seminary training, but then returned with a huge vision for church planting that led to the establishment of not only the seminary, but the vision of every graduate planting a new church.

Inspiring stories are followed by Scripture passages and items for prayer related to the country and/or ministry from that day’s reading.  With a colorful map nearby, An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World would be an excellent resource for family devotions with school-age children.  Also with the Olympics coming up soon, there will be greater opportunity for introducing kids to hard realities about ministry in parts of the world represented by the athletes.

The Insider’s Guide is an un-intimidating reference for a believer who knows she “should” be praying more intentionally for missionaries and extending her prayer ministry to areas of great need around the world . . . but doesn’t know where to begin.  As we pray fervently for brothers and sister in Christ around the world we become motivated to become part of the solution and to trust God for bigger things in our own lives.


This book was provided by Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

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Vocational Equilibrium – A Tribute for Women’s History Month

“I should have worn sturdier shoes.”

“What was I thinking?”

Well, for one thing, I was thinking that an invitation to go for “a walk” issued by a seventy-five-year-old woman with a snowy crown of fly-away hair would be a rather sedate affair.  I was thinking that we would chat, and that Helen would tell me stories about her years as a missionary in China, about her escape from the communist armies – on a bicycle.

Crashing through bushes and skirting a steep embankment, Helen certainly did talk.  (Could she hear me huffing and puffing to keep up?)

She talked about becoming engaged to her husband in a foxhole.  She told of being evacuated from China (the second time) in the unpressurized cabin of an airplane that flew over the Himalayas, about the weight of unborn death she carried into the crowded streets of some Indian city, about seeking medical assistance as a refugee, and then being reunited, miraculously,  with her husband days later.

I’ve always been thankful that I became an adult in time to meet and befriend a few pioneer missionaries.  Hearing their tales, witnessing their clear-eyed following of the will of God has brought much-needed perspective to my understanding of ministry and calling.

Of course, by comparison, my own resume looks like a hen house that was built in a hurricane — random shingles of children’s ministry hammered into place, followed by a few years with an office and a 401(k), and now full-time mothering.  I’m no athlete, but have somehow managed to produce a brood of bike-riding, ice-skating, tree-climbing boys whose sense of balance takes them safely – and effortlessly – through treacherous bike paths, onto snow and ice, and even over ridge poles (don’t ask).  I’ve noticed that the secret to maintaining their balance seems to be movement – the ever-so-subtle adjustments they make to their position.

Could this have been Helen’s secret?  She may have been chased out of China by the Japanese army, but that didn’t stop her from returning – in time to be chased out again by the Communists.  And if all the doors slam shut, and it becomes impossible to minister to the Chinese in their own country, one mustn’t let all that good language training go to waste.  Helen and her husband went on to serve a Chinese-speaking population in Taiwan and then, later, in the Philippines.

It is likely that throughout Helen’s long ministry, someone in an office somewhere was concerned about a 1940’s-era equivalent of the words impact and platform.  Helen’s thoughts, however, would have been occupied with constructing a net that would — hopefully — capture some of the pigeons that roosted on a nearby roof.  Famine brings out the creativity in anyone, but God was way ahead of her:  He sent a torrential rain one night with plummeting temperatures that froze the birds’ feathers.  They fell off the roof into the courtyard, and Helen was able to pick them up by the basketful.

A life-long pianist, Helen brought music to several of Amy Carmichael’s poems, but she wasn’t averse to writing her own hymn lyrics either.  Is her secret to vocational equilibrium found in the simple words of this song she referred to as “My Testimony”?

Through all the journey of the years,
The Lord has shown His grace.
What shall I render unto Him,
How come before His face?
I’ll take salvation’s cup and drink
‘Til all my thirst is lost
In the deep well of Calvary love –
Secured at awful cost.

Helen Anderson had no idea that she would someday be thought of as a “pioneer missionary,” that her photos and the letters she wrote to her mother on dress patterns (paper was scarce) would be archived at Wheaton College.  However, she did know that her heart’s satisfaction was found in the “deep well of Calvary love” – and that she was called to share that love with the world.  Keeping her feet, Helen moved to the rhythm of God’s call on her life.

For over two decades, I have leaned hard into mothering, bearing four boys in eight years, hanging cloth diapers on a sunny clothesline, reading mountains of story books.  Adjusting my stance, I found that you could gather a kitchen-table-full of women around The Word if there was a swing set outside. The tiny deaths to self and the my-life-for-yours of this mothering vocation have kept me moving, adjusting, seeking equilibrium.

For missionaries and mothers, for everyone who follows a calling, the secret of vocational balance may be as simple – and as complicated – as leaning into the task at hand, drinking deeply from salvation’s cup, and trusting the One who says that He is “able to keep you from stumbling.”


Photo courtesy of the Wheaton Archives (Billy Graham Center)

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