What was it like to come into the ministry later in life? you ask. How well I remember the beginning of our first appointment—standing in the middle of an empty house with tears of disappointment stinging my eyes. The house was completely devoid of anything resembling electricity, water, telephone, transport, and most importantly, our furniture, which was still, as the man 'helpfully' pointed out somewhere 'out there.' "So this is ministry?" I thought.
From the direction the man was pointing I imagined it was already lost—still inside its container—by now probably floating somewhere in that vast two hundred mile stretch of water so accurately named by the meteorological department as the 'roaring forties'.
With the moving contractors garrulous promises still ringing in my ears, John disappeared to do something about it. Meanwhile, I was left to my thoughts and own devices as I made a quick check of the house, deciding which position on the floor would be the least uncomfortable to pass the night!
That was the beginning of our two-year 'volunteer' stint, which was, unknown to me at the time, about to broaden and lengthen into a new life of ministry. It was a type of initiation course where I found myself in a sink or swim situation. I was thrown in at the deep end without even a rubber ducky.
Naivete tugged at my sleeve as we hurriedly planned 'things' with the conference president prior to our taking up the offer to fill the need of a mission ministry caring for a small Adventist group. Our assignment was a remote island where the only transportation available to the mainland was roughly the cost of a gold leg in air fare. The only other alternative was dusting off our water wings and running the gauntlet of sharks snapping at our splashing heels or slipping steadily into the grip of hypothermia between the freezing ice flows.
The thought of being involved in ministry sometime in the future could never have been further from my mind when I gave my heart to the Lord in baptism at the age of twelve in 1946. Although the love and fellowship I found in that first little church (which was actually only a rented room on the side of a house in the bombed out ruins of Midland's, Birmingham) was an oasis of joy to me.
Later on I met and married a young man who loved the Lord, and who also enjoyed nothing more than bringing people to Jesus.
But now, as the mother of three grown up children, the whole concept of ministry was something entirely different from the comfortable life of a civil engineer's wife who was accustomed to having her husband finish work at four-thirty on the dot every day. As laity, our weekends were unfettered and predictable and our holidays were clear cut and organized.
Becoming a clergy family meant that I would never, apart from vacations, enjoy Sabbath School and divine service sitting with my husband, experiencing that special joy of companionship on Sabbath. After a few months I soon realized Sabbath could be a rather lonely time for me.
I didn't realize then that this `house' on the island, which had been rented for us, was something of a contraption/It was a challenge to locate the bathroom in normal daylight. But in the wee hours, with only half open eyes, or during one of the island's regular blackouts, it was really an adventure because there were always scorpions doing a night shift.
I also didn't realize that our home walls seemed to become `transparent' to the members and that my husband's smelly socks would be elevated to the 'peerage' of ministry and he would be placed on a pedestal by the church members, From this lofty perch it was difficult for me to reach him and find out what was happening in the congregation. I learned to thoroughly read the church bulletin and ask questions at the business meeting.
It also became clear that if something was going to happen in our parish, we had to make it happen. We were it! Be it cooking demonstrations, weigh-rite or stress programs, I (the unpaid half) had to be willing, like the subject in Elijah's quest, not only to water the camels but produce food, too. Sometimes lots of it at the drop of a hat for unannounced potlucks. Then there were always the casual or intentional drop-ins needing a meal.
I didn't understand then that the loneliness of isolation could be so profound or that because my husband was so preoccupied with his other life (and actually getting paid for it), we would become like ships passing in the night. He was always busy with other people and their needs.
Because my first introduction to ministry was on an isolated, wind-swept, rocky island, I missed my mother's passing and services.
But it was there, during my long, lonely walks along beaches echoing with nothing but screaming gales, the pounding of the majestic ocean and the cries of wild sea birds, that I would discover the Lord as my dearest Friend. He would support me through the other personal family tragedies that could have completely engulfed me during those two long years.
In retrospect, it turned out to be a special training ground for our service to the Lord. It was sometimes inconvenient and lonesome but it was never dangerous as some ministerial appointments are in war-torn areas.
My heart goes out to the special women who serve in non-secure areas and to those ministry wives whose husbands are away from home for weeks at a time. They have to steer the ship alone—away from loved ones and familiar things,
Glancing over the faces of the sweet young things (new ministry wives), gathered at the recent Ministry Council, I wondered what hopes and dreams they have for the future. What will they be called upon to cope with? What seemingly insurmountable problems could dim the stars in those trusting eyes?
I used to wonder why the Lord had allowed me to experience the hurts during my childhood and youth. Why had there been no love and protection for me at a vulnerable time? I discovered the Lord's answer in our ministry. Those early experiences prepared me to understand where hurting people were coming from. I am now able to support the heartache of the lonely and sad because I know what it is like from first-hand experience.
Yes, things are different in ministry. But it can be a difference that has a special joy. A joy that nothing else can supply. The ultimate joy of helping folks come to the Lord. The quiet satisfaction of being the woman behind the man that 'pulls the strings' for the Lord.
Yes, there is criticism. Yes, there is discouragement. But the Lord has been there before us. He knows we have the potential to be His disciples and win souls for His kingdom. Refurbished and renewed by the Lord, we will meet someday soon in the Kingdom. What a joy it will be to hear the words, "I'm here because of you."
I discovered that although ministry 'shoes' are often too big for me, they fit perfectly when the Lord has His feet in them, too.