Despite Us, God Works

Spring Break 1990 in Daytona Beach, Florida

I was a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. 

If it had been one year earlier I would have been at Daytona Beach to join in the partying. As it was, God had intervened mercifully in my life before going to college, and I was there for a beach evangelism project. Christians sure know how to almost have fun.

A bunch of us had driven down from Philadelphia in an old van. The first night I ended up staying alone in an isolated motel room surrounded by drunk bikers partying outside my door. One night a homeless man who seemed to be high on drugs approached our group while we were out walking and said, "I know who you are!  You're here to tell us about Jesus!"

Daytime wasn't any less scary. We combed the beaches looking for people to engage in conversation with hoping to get a chance to share a clear Gospel message. We went in pairs. I usually tried to grab an upperclassman that I could hide behind emotionally if not physically. 

A Providential Encounter

One day I was paired with a friend Janet (an upperclassman). It was about time to call it a day, and I was ready to slink back into being inconspicuous again after a long day of being stared at and laughed at by the hundreds. I don't remember who it was who suggested that we try just one more time, but I'm guessing that it was Janet.

So we walked the beach and Janet (who is Korean-American like me) says to me, "It would be nice to talk with some Asians." Nodding, I added bravely, "And it would be nice to talk with people who are away from the crowd and by themselves." "If it were two people that would be nice," Janet remarked. "And two guys," I said.

A few moments later we both looked up on the horizen and there by the edge of the water were two Asian guys sitting by themselves. Janet and I looked at each other and took the opportunity that God had given.

We shared the Gospel with two exchange students, Caleb and Henky, from Indonesia studying in Canada. Both were very friendly but also uninterested in the Christian faith, almost hostile to it. One had recently lost thousands of dollars at an Atlantic City casino and was at a loss for what to do.

Despite the spiritual gap, we hit it off relationally and eventually Janet and I followed up with them visiting them in Toronto that summer.

During that visit God opened up Caleb's heart to the Gospel. Life had become tough for him, and he even showed me the roof of his apartment where he almost took his own life. 

From hopelessness to hope, God rescued Caleb that day.

Caleb Wrote Me a Letter

20 years later I received an email from a man named Caleb from Indonesia with the subject line, "Greetings from an old friend."

He wrote,

I wonder if you still remember me. You shared about Christ to me on the beach of Daytona, FL. Few months after that, you drove to Toronto, Ontario with your friend Janet, with a message from God that He loves me and wants to use me. That's the turning point of my walk with God, the moment that I consider myself born again.

God has done many wonderful things in my life and through my life since then. Praise be to His glory!

Caleb had been invited to represent Indonesia at the 2010 Lausanne Congress in Cape Town and found my name and picture on the Lausanne website.

Today he serves as executive pastor of a church of 10,000 people in Surabaya City, Indonesia.

if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.

2 Timothy 2:13 is a wonderfully comforting promise of God. It's a comfort especially to those who minister in hard fields and to those of us who know in our hearts that so many times we're faithless.

That day 20 years ago was the first of many in my life that I experienced how, despite us, God works. It was the first of many times in my life that in my heart I knew I was faithless, but God remained faithful. God did not deny himself, for he cannot deny himself.

Caleb and I had a joyful reunion at the Third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, South Africa. I had a chance to share my side of the story, and Caleb shared his side of the story. He told me that he'll never forget how there up on the roof where he had almost committed suicide I said to him, "God is going to use you in this world."