Article 2 - Born for Purpose Print
Thursday, 16 April 2009
The Growth of a Soul

This is Wales, a pleasant land, rich in the culture of faith's heritage. As the years have passed into the memory of the earth, the echoes of revival have grown fainter. Yet the energy of Divine Purpose, which appointed revival to its hour in our history, remains like a vein of gold running through time. When rediscovered it renews in us the glimmer of springtime hope. As I write this article, I feel the excitement of knowing that this vein also runs through the common clay from which we are made. It is the point of reference that helps us navigate the unpredictable, that welcomes us to become the flesh and bone of dream and to celebrate the individuality of our unique destinies.

To be ordinary is to be extra-ordinary Twenty years have elapsed since a former director of O.M.F. Korea challenged me to recruit Korean young people into mission. From my first visit, a warm friendship formed and a fresh breath of urgency fanned the creative flame of a number of Korean youth to build their own missionary force.

There is a myth that sets apart the missionary leader as someone with a uniquely superior spirituality and a faith that is unavailable to the ordinary person. However, nearly half a century in mission work has confirmed to me that this is not so.

A missionary leader has a reverence for the purpose that awaited his birth. So he adopts a lifestyle of a humble apprentice, learning to walk quietly and inoffensively in the shadow of his God. Within his inner silence, he listens deeply and respects those he has come to serve as being among his finest teachers. He is kind to failure, both in himself and in others, as he recognises gain where most others will see only loss. He welcomes the Holy Spirit to fill his capacity to hold dream or vision, yet he is never arrogant, for he is aware that it is not his dream, but a small share of the holy dream. He never knowingly puts himself at the centre of things, but lives by the secret that it is by helping others fulfil their dreams, that his own dream will be fulfilled.

So in this edition and the next, I would like to use the parable of my own story as it unfolded in the close culture of Wales. For although we are each the product of divine imagination, we each fare differently in the turbulence of being human. We set our sails for the voyage but we have no control over the strength of winds that blow.

Wales is a land where the mountains cradle hidden valleys, each with their private skies, where springs chuckle out sweet water into streams that weep over rocks. Here my earliest memories were framed. The name of my hilltop home consisted of a single Welsh word, 'Dysgwlfa'. Its meaning holds a fascination for me. 'A high place of expectant hope where vision is unrestricted'.

This image has been the inspiration behind my constant prayer of enquiry. 'O Lord, where are you? For I want to move to where you are, to see all through your unrestricted vision.'

To the west of my hilltop, the mighty Atlantic swell pounds the shores. Often its mists isolated me in a holy sanctuary of cloud. To the east, mountains thrust for the sky. Their view would fill me with an inner warmth. I had an intuitive understanding that creation was a poem and that I lived in its lines. The presence of the Poet seemed to be everywhere.

When a Community Bleeds

A dark slash appeared on the canvas of this idyllic painting. As I walked down the hill to the infants' school, more children would join in and our little group became friends. Suddenly one then another did not run from their houses to meet us. We missed their fun and laughter . . . and never saw them again. We heard adults use a word I grew to dread. 'Tuberculosis'.

Then I became ill and for more than a year, through periods where ice spiked our windows and no buses could climb the hills, I made long journeys for treatment. Eventually I recovered and rejoined the group walking to school. Its numbers were few, but I had survived. From her meagre house-keeping money, my mother bought me extra milk. She did not realise that the tuberculosis had spread from the farm that produced it. My world collapsed for a second time under the scourge of this terrible illness. It became very obvious that my survival through these tender years was determined by what is common to us all . . . the security of Divine Purpose.

Lost Innocence

These were also the years of European sadness. Although the fire and steel of war lay on the coasts of France, the German preparation for our invasion had begun. By night, German bombing raids blasted our towns and seaports. Sirens would scream as war planes, diving into their bombing runs, thundered low over our house. Children cried in the air raid shelters and adults cursed Hitler. My father showed me the bomb that had landed in the garden of our house but, by miracle, had not exploded. After the raids I would stand amongst the men and look towards the town, but could only see the red glow of where it had been. This was not the poetry of the wild mountains and the sea, so eloquently whispered by the wind. This was the sharp edge of destructive anger that burnt holes in our peace. So the children in my generation lost their innocence . . . and learned to hate . . . our spontaneous hope in God, destroyed.

The Cost of being Who we are

In very early years, what we have in common with others seems to outweigh our differences. As natural self-awareness grows, our differences are highlighted and frustrations build. I was intelligent, with pronounced artistic and engineering abilities. I put enormous energy into life and was becoming an accomplished sportsman. However, in the classroom I was considered to be semi-illiterate, unable to respond to normal teaching methods. So I took the easy option within Welsh culture and developed an attitude of shame. I shivered at the thought of being alone in a dark cloud of restricted possibility, of belonging to a race apart, always having to cross a culture to enter the world where everyone else belonged.

Dyslexia was not seriously considered at that time, so I had not been diagnosed as a profound sufferer. Neither had many of the great Italian painters, nor, nearer home, had Winston Churchill, our inspirational wartime leader; nor had Professor Albert Einstein. Sadly, nor had 70% of our delinquent juveniles who, out of frustration, turned to crime.

However, many years and two doctorate degrees later, I still remain dyslexic but continue to discover its advantages. So dislocation may affect our journey, but not our destination, which, from eternity has already been prescribed . . . by the Eternal Purpose of God.

Where Rare Orchids Bloom

As I worked to come to terms with the debilitating effects of dyslexia, my family moved to another location. We lost the sweet air of the open fields and the ancient Celtic trails, for a small town which had grown during the industrial stampede. Here, endless rows of identical stone houses were stacked together into long streets; black industrial waste tips formed the horizon; without sunrise or sunset, without colour except for the weeds that survived the contaminated soil; where a foul river soured the air and the rattle of railway trucks polluted the silence.

Yet in this claustrophobic wasted valley, at a low point in my young life, through a kind uncle who shared with me his Geographic magazine, I began to discover the world that lay outside my narrow perspective. In particular, my frozen emotions began to thaw into a dream of the vast African Sahara desert with its Tuareg 'blue men', and the high plateau of Tibet with its vermilion-robed monks. Though it would take a further ten years, and the blood and steel of army experience, for my beliefs to transfigure into faith, the vital foundations of my future missionary career had come into place.

Whether it is in the wide pageant of life where every nation is on the stage, or in the remote loneliness of some unvisited corner, it is eternal purpose that prevails against impossible odds. So my prayer and work is that many more unknown young Korean men and women will rise from obscurity and follow a dream which carries the shape of the future in its life. From the perspective of their generation as from mine, every disadvantage will be their advantage, and impossibility . . . will be just an opinion!

Last Updated ( Friday, 25 May 2012 )
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