This story is the third installment of my series to tell the tale of what God has done and what God is doing to call me to serve in a new place, in a new role, in a new way. This story is from my second year in seminary, and in many ways it was the watering of the seed that had already been planted. Something had certainly started to grow in my heart and mind about expanding the scope of my ministry, but this encounter was the catalyst that allowed me to dream a bit larger than before.
It was a beautiful day if I recall rightly. One of those days that make people long or fall. Sunshine, crisp air, people milling about everywhere. It was a beautiful day.
And it was homecoming.
It was our first Anderson University homecoming street fair, and it was a day I had been looking forward to because I knew people were coming. People I had not talked to in years. People who I knew in another time and another place, but who now shared a connection with me through this school.
I was excited to meet up with new friends. I was excited to see old friends, who happened to know some of my new friends. But mostly I was looking to find two people in particular. Adoptive parents from the days of my youth. The kind of people who opened their doors, welcomed me in, and made me family.
And so I walked the street, anxiously looking for familiar faces while trying to enjoy the beautiful day.
I don’t remember if I knew that Susan would be with them or not. It seems likely I knew she was in the country and therefore would have assumed she was with them. I am certain that I was happy to see her as well. It had been years since had been around Susan, and even though she had been fighting cancer, and recovering…for a time…she still had the light in her eyes. That passion that I always remember about her that seemed to dare life to try and not be lived. It was great to see her again, an added bonus as I found her brother and his wife, my second family, Gary and Debbie.
And then she turned to me and asked about my call to be a missionary.
At least a decade had passed. No one seemed to remember that I’d once thought of myself as called to missions work, especially now that I was following the call to youth ministry. Shoot, I barely remember at times that I once felt called to be a missionary.
But Susan did. Of course she did, and not just because she was a missionary herself, though I wouldn’t be surprised if she held a special place in her heart for people who felt that call. No, she remembered because she was Susan, and that’s what she did. She cared about the people she met, and she remembered, and she asked.
When I gave her my response, I should have known right then. I should have heard the words that came out of my mouth and realized that what I said was work that required a far broader audience than 6th through 12th graders. No, I said, I didn’t see myself as a missionary any more, but I had become interested in the this new idea. This idea that we needed to apply what we had learned from missionaries here in the US as well as the church moved forward into a post-modern, post-Christendom world. I’d been reading Lesslie Newbigin, and I’d been listening to Alan Roxborgh, and JR Woodward, and the people in the Missional church. And it was making sense.
I recall I wasn’t nervous or defensive either, which was surprising. It was all right where I was at the time it was. All of it true. All of it pointing me to a sphere of wider influence in the church. And I should have known.
If she was disappointed I was no longer considering foreign missions, she didn’t show it. She just gave me that look of encouragement that seems to call me even now to get out there, and get kingdom work done, wherever that may be, and dare life to try and not be lived.
As I sat at her funeral I remember being so challenged by the life she lived.
Every moment precious.
Every moment for Christ.
Every moment lived.
The seed had been planted and by the time I ran into her that fall day it only needed encouragement to grow. And now, if I’m faithful, the fruit it will produce will carry with it a glowing reminder of the influence of Susan Hardman. And that is a good thing indeed.