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Worn-Out Shoes

Photographer: Dave Provencher 2020

As Samuel unpacked his tattered suitcase, he remembered how he had always wanted to be a missionary — always!  A husband and wife came to his church when he was nine years old and told of their adventures and time in the jungles of Ecuador.  He was captured instantly when he saw their photographs of native Indians, age-old tree hammocks with their vines sprawling with such density you could not see the villages from the plane they flew over those villages.  Sam decided right then that he wanted God to use him in such a place to share His Word with those who had never heard it before.

As soon as Sam graduated from high school, he set off to a mission training school with a fresh heart and mind for Christ.  He plunged himself into language school and Bible studies…and Ginny.  Oh, how he loved Ginny.  She had beautiful brown eyes and hair the color of cornsilk — and, well, she shared Sam’s passion for bringing others to the Lord.  He knew that he needed Ginny beside him and he married that beautiful girl.  These two knew where God was leading and they stepped forward together to another jungle far away in Papua New Guinea.

When they arrived at their “new” home, they were met with wonder.  The native people had never seen such fair-skinned and funny dressed people in their lives.  The men stood off and observed Sam and Ginny, but the women began gathering around Ginny like butterflies.  They too loved her fairness and beautiful cornsilk hair of which they’d never seen before.

Sam began the work of learning the culture from the men — gaining their trust and earning their respect.  The men would laugh, as his hands tried to learn how they fished or hunted or built a hut.  Ginny set up their humble hut with just the bare necessities of life and began learning from the women of food and children and life.  The children flitted around her and followed her to the river and the gardens.  Ginny soaked in the sounds of their foreign tongue and set to writing them in a book each night as she learned them.  Slowly Sam and Ginny began building a bridge that would carry God’s Word into their hearts from the words and dialect they used.  It was a painstaking task, but they remained diligent in their work.

As days and months followed into years, they hedged a life with these beautiful souls.  Sam and Ginny birthed five of their own children, brought men and women to the saving knowledge of Christ, and wept and prayed for those who seemed forever frozen in the world of darkness and superstition.  Tears and laughter and hard work and life and death were their companions for more than 40 years in those hidden hammocks of Papua New Guinea.  Now the time had come to return to their home far away in North America.

Sam and Ginny left men who were capable of carrying on the work as ministers to the people…new and younger missionaries came in…time had turned its full rotation and they were confident in God’s Word “that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) Ginny packed their few, small bags because all things couldn’t return with her.  She left one of her own children buried in the deep, mountain soil of that place they called home for 40 years.  She took with them only their Bibles, their tattered worn-out shoes and clothes, and a handful of pictures they had managed to capture over those years.

They said tearful goodbyes to these they loved knowing they would not be left abandoned because He promised to never leave them nor forsake them (Hebrews 13:5), and His promises are sure.  They were showered with hugs and kisses and smiles and waves knowing that so many they would see again on the Bright Shore of Heaven.  It was not goodbye at all, but “until then.”

When they were home, the house of Sam’s parents was quiet.  The furniture covered with stark, white sheets to keep the dust away.  His parents were home with Jesus, his children were around the world in their ministries, and he and Ginny were left in the quiet.  Sam opened his tattered bag and put his old things away.  He sat on the edge of the bed and looked down at his feet and his old, worn-out shoes reflecting on the life journey.  Tears dropped quickly and spattered on those old shoes.  His heart was full with no regrets.  Ginny walked into the room and he took her hand and they, for the first time in 40 years, were still.

“How lovely on the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who announces peace And brings good news of happiness, Who announces salvation, And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7)

 

Writer’s Note:  This story does not reflect that of any living missionaries and is a work of fiction, however, it does reflect the stories I’ve heard from many missionaries who have served in many parts of the world.  I’ve written it to honor their lives, which have been given so freely for God’s use and Christ’s sake.

Photo By:  Dave Provencher © 2020

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