For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29
Recently, I was given an unassuming little book published in 1984 by Christ for the Nations. It’s author is Freda Lindsay, who took over as president of the ministry and institute after her husband’s death in 1973. The book contains her recollections of the joys and challenges during the first decade or so of accepting what felt like overwhelming responsibility—leading a growing international ministry and Bible school. Especially, as a woman in a culture that was resistant to women leading men. Nevertheless, CFN’s board of ten men had unanimously elected her to take the helm.
I attended Christ for the Nations Institute during the 1975-76 term, and reading the book gave me a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges the leadership were facing while I was there. Mama Lindsay, as almost everyone called her, told story after story about people who laid it all on the line for Jesus. They lived modestly and traveled light, unencumbered by the accouterments with which the rest of us adorn our lives. They were missionaries. All over the world. All the time. Often working with underground churches in countries that were hostile to Christians. Countries in which Christians were killed because of their faith in Jesus, and no one intervened. During seasons of respite, these missionaries taught at the institute, recounting their exploits to students who were eager to follow in their footsteps.
Today, if you visit the CFNI campus in Oak Cliff, on the south side of Dallas, as I did a couple of weeks ago, you’ll find they’re still living modestly and traveling light. Nothing much distinguishes the ungentrified neighborhood surrounding the campus from the buildings that house offices and meeting space or the reclaimed apartment complexes that house students. They haven’t worried about presenting a noble front or making a statement about their place in the world.
I, on the other hand, have been seriously gentrified since my days at CFNI. No longer can you discern my own lack of nobility from my clothes or jewelry or hairstyle. Unless I’m making a quick, no-makeup trip to Walmart, I appear to be pretty affluent. In fact, as I got in my car and passed through the campus to drive home, I thought the place could use a little sprucing up.
Then I read Freda Lindsay’s book, and it all came back to me: The fervor. The steadfast digging in for something you believe in. The joy of seeing hope fulfilled, even when it takes years. The life spent pushing gifts—material, emotional, and spiritual—to people who need them, even when others fight you every step of the way. The ecstasy of knowing you hear God’s voice (see The Road Not Taken).
An inconvenient life. A pioneer’s life.
I was a mess when I first walked onto the CFNI campus, and I was still a mess when I walked off it into what would become my life. I was hardly prepared to live as a Christian, much less a missionary. Nevertheless, something was planted in me that year. Something that remains. Something that changed me and continues to change me, from the inside out.
In her book, Freda Lindsay made this observation about plants and people:
“I had one little plant that looked like it really wasn’t going to make it, and several times I almost threw it away,” she says. “But one day it began to bloom and now it’s the prettiest I have. People are a lot like that little plant. I look at them and think, ‘What a mess.’ But God doesn’t see them that way. Sometimes the most unlikely turn out to do the most for God.”
Ezekiel 16:1-14 is dear to me. I wasn’t thrown away. Even when it looked like I wasn’t going to make it. And now—after everything—I bloom. I’m not the prettiest or the most prolific, but I’m here. May the beauty He has given me lead to fruit and not only fragrance.