Renata and I had fallen in love wandering the vineyards of Sonoma County on warm California evenings. When we parted, the day after graduation in June of 1982, we weren’t sure we would ever see each other again. But a year later we were wed and we drove away from her childhood home on Vancouver Island with all her possessions packed into my grandfather’s oversized 60’s-era station wagon. We waived our marriage papers at the US Immigration agents as we crossed the border at Blaine (yes, times have changed), and settled into our first home together in Kirkland, Washington, where I was in a Pastoral Ministries program at Northwest College.
That lasted six weeks. And then we moved.
In the year leading up to our wedding I had stumbled upon a new Jesus: not only was he my Best Friend, he was also Saviour of the World, the post-Easter Jesus Christ. And he wanted us to help him; he wanted us to go and make disciples in far off places. Sure, being the pastor of a church was a noble ambition, but what about those who knew nothing of Christ? How could we live at spiritual ease if there were literally millions of people out there who had never even heard the name of Jesus, who didn’t know he could be their friend too?
N. T. Wright hadn’t written it at the time but his book “Paul and the Faithfulness of God” provides perhaps one of the best contemporary treatments of the theology which motivates this evangelizing impetus. It involves a meta-narrative, a story which casts the framework for our many human stories:
“First, the creator made a world with a purpose, and entrusted that purpose to humans… Then, second, the humans to whom the task was entrusted abused that trust and rebelled…. The purpose of that relationship [between Creator and Creation] appears to be thwarted.” (pp. 476) God’s solution to this problem is found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, for it is through Christ that God has initiated a New Age, a project of recreation, where the original intent of the cosmos is being restored. The first act of that recreation is the resurrection of Jesus (more than a mere “raising from the dead”, resurrection is a whole new mode of existence, which – to this point – only Christ has experienced). Little by little, step by step, through Christ, God is reclaiming His sovereignty over the world. And, from an evangelical point of view, this can only be accomplished if Christ followers are found in every culture and ethnicity in all the world.
I first caught this vision at the Seattle Center Colesium, at a memorial concert for the recently deceased Christian singer-songwriter Keith Green. I had also become a sporadic visitor at an evangelical mega-church in Kirkland, a church which had recently made the regional news for having raised over a million dollars in one weekend, the funds destined for world missions projects. Soon after Renata joined me in Kirkland we became members of this church and volunteered with the missions department. And then, just before the new academic year was to begin, a local Christian periodical came to us in the mail, and in it was a small article about a two-year program at a Christian university, with a focus on urban ministry, to be offered in Amsterdam.
Our youthful imaginations and ambitions took over, completely. Within two weeks we abandoned the academic program I was in, wrote to the contact in Amsterdam, informed the missions department at our new church that we were setting course for the Netherlands, and moved to a dingy, cockroach-infested apartment just up the block from the Greyhound station in downtown Seattle. How better to prepare for “urban ministry” than to live for a year in a low-income urban setting?
The crazy thing is, it all came together. The church, flush with money and impressed by our passion, largely underwrote our project. The year in downtown Seattle, our first year of marriage, proved an adventure we still cherish. And in September of 1984 we set out to change the world, starting with “two years” in Amsterdam.
What’s that they say about making God laugh?