Duke University chapel, Durham North Carolina
UN Mission Camp in South Sudan
William Willimon is a Methodist minister, and for many years was the chaplain at Duke University. Duke, like many colleges and universities in the United States, was founded by Christians, and still offers worship services for students in their beautiful chapel. As chaplain, Willimon was the main preacher at these services, and since he was talking to students in the process of deciding what to do with their lives, he would sometimes preach about the call of God on one’s life. He would discuss all the usual topics: like how Jesus said to his disciples (and to us all), “Follow me;” and how Jesus sent the early Christians (and sends the church yet today) to the ends of the earth with the Gospel message and to serve others in the name of Jesus; and how Paul said God has called some to be pastors and some to be teachers and some to be healers and how God equips all kinds of people for all kinds of works of service. And I would suppose that sometimes in their chapel service they would all join in singing old traditional favorites like “Take my life that I may be, consecrated Lord to Thee… Take myself that I may be, ever, only, all for Thee.”
William Willimon is a great preacher, listed oftentimes as one of the ten best in the whole United States. But even though he is a great preacher, he was surprised when a student one time took him seriously and decided to actually act on something he heard in a sermon. Brad was a graduate student in engineering and one day came into the chaplain’s office to tell Willimon he had contacted a Christian mission organization about going to work for them in the African nation of Sudan. He had done some research and learned there was a great need in South Sudan for someone with his engineering skills. He said he wanted to serve Jesus by serving the people there. Brad said he was deeply moved by one of Rev. Willimon’s sermons, and believed the Holy Spirit was calling him to the mission field.
The pastor said to him, “Have you really thought this through, Brad? I know something about that organization, and they don’t pay much.”
“I know that,” said Brad, “but what about all those sermons you given about how money isn’t everything?”
“Well, yes, I guess I have talked about that,” said the pastor. “But did you know there is a war going on in Sudan. It’s dangerous to work there these days.”
“Yes, I know,” Brad said, “but I have also heard you preach about how God protects us. And I’ve even heard you praise those many people in church history who were willing to lay down their lives for the sake of the Gospel. Shouldn’t at least some of us still be willing to do that today?”
“Well, yes,” Pastor Willimon said, “but what does your wife think? And you have a little baby now, too, don’t you?”
“My wife is also feeling called to this by God, and we think our baby will be all right. I’ve known some students around here that grew up on the mission field and they’re just fine. So,” Brad continued, “I just want to thank you for the influence you have had on my life. I really think God has been speaking to me through you.”
Sometime later, Pastor Willimon was visited by two very upset people. It was Brad’s parents. The father was angry, and said, “I’ve been paying a lot of money for my son to go to this University and learn to be an engineer. He’s done well, and I know he could get a good job here in this country, and make big money. Now he says he wants to be a missionary, live in some shack in Africa, and work for peanuts. I don’t know what’s the matter with that boy, but he said he has been talking to you about all this.”
Brad’s mother wasn’t as angry as she was sad, and said, “Pastor Willimon, Brad is our only child, and now he wants to go live on the other side of the world— and with our little grand-daughter. We love her so much, and we’re just heart-broken about this. We’ve always been a close family, and now we will hardly ever see them.”
Willimon saw the tears in their eyes and replied, “I understand how difficult this must be for you. I have kids too, and I love to see them as often as I can. But yes, I have talked to Brad, and I do think there might be something of the call of God in this. Brad told me he was brought up in the church and his faith has always been an important of his life, and I think there is much to admire and be proud of in his decision to serve Jesus in this way.”
Brad’s father shot back, “Don’t go making it sound like this is our fault because we sent him to Sunday School. Yes, I’ve always said religion was important—up to a certain point. But you just can’t be going overboard with this sort of thing.” (continued…)
Matthew 4:19a — “Come, follow me,” Jesus said.
Isaiah 6:8 — I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Matthew 19:29 — (Jesus said), “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.
Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.
–Frances Havergal, 1874