I’ve told the story before. Stop me if you’ve already heard it.
It is the story of a Yankee spinster who left her family behind in Pennsylvania and made her way to the southern hills of Oklahoma and Arkansas, with a detour through Chicago.
I suppose the road to the hills actually was the detour. Chicago was in the master-plan. But, the road should have led from there to China instead of Oklahoma.
Oklahoma and Arkansas are a long way from China. When one is aiming for the Orient, the back roads of the central U.S. might seem like a disappointment.
Perhaps I should just tell the story. I’ll try to keep it short—or not. Probably not.
Miss Peggy was called to be a missionary to China. She just knew it. She even knew what to do about it. In Chicago, a little Bible school called Moody Bible Institute had been started about thirty years before by the great evangelist, Dwight L. Moody. They would give her the training she needed.
She started there. China would be the next stop.
Only it wasn’t.
Political unrest had already begun in that country, with the result being that no mission organization would allow a single woman to go there by herself. She didn’t know what to do. She was called to go to China. Called.
A young man in her class at the Bible Institute heard of her dilemma and asked to meet with her. In that fateful meeting, he explained that he had been called to minister to the rural communities in Northwest Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma. But, having heard that she was being forced to abandon her plans, he wondered if there might not be another solution.
The mission boards were still sending single men to China. Perhaps, he could go in her place. There was one stipulation though. She would have to take his place in rural Oklahoma and Arkansas.
It wasn’t what she wanted, but it made sense. She agreed and headed for the hills when her classes at the institute were completed. For sixty years, she faithfully taught Bible classes to the children in rural schools throughout the region.
Sixty years. She was allowed to travel to the schools and given a classroom to teach children who wanted to learn Bible verses and listen to her stories. Flannelgraphs were manipulated, and mimeographed papers were handed out to the eager students. The ones who memorized the most Scripture verses were the envy of the other kids, because Miss Peggy awarded them little New Testaments of their very own.
Sixty years, she was faithful to her task. Can you imagine the number of children who heard the Gospel story from her lips. Can you imagine the spiritual legacy?
I said she was faithful for sixty years. And, so she was. But, for every one of those sixty years, she mourned for her beloved China and her calling.
She was called to China!
Because of her great love for the Chinese people, she made an effort to meet and befriend all of the Chinese folks who came within her reach over the years. To that end, she contacted the local university in our little town regularly to inquire of new students from that great country. They were happy to arrange for the sweet old lady to meet the newcomers, whenever there were any.
Sam and his wife had left China under a cloud, his father having been arrested for preaching the gospel in a land where it was forbidden. His father died in prison and there was a fear that Sam might suffer the same fate. So, they came to the United States under a student visa and made their way to this little town of ten thousand and the Christian university here.
Miss Peggy wasn’t long in befriending Sam and his family. When I say befriending, I mean they spent hours together, talking of China and the secret Church, along with many mealtimes spent discussing the Lord they all loved, and His great care for all His children.
By this time, Miss Peggy was nearly blind from the disease of macular degeneration, and had lost much of her hearing. Still, her love for China, and this Chinese family in particular, drove her to ignore any hardships caused by the additional activity.
It would be an understatement of huge proportion to say she was not prepared for what happened one Sunday afternoon after they had shared a meal at Sam’s house.
Somehow, as they sat drinking tea and relaxing, the discussion turned to his family in China and he took out the family Bible, written in Chinese. Reading the names from the front of the big book, he spoke with love and respect of several who had already gone to be with the Lord.
Suddenly, Miss Peggy jumped as if an electrical current had gone through her.
“Stop! Go back and read that again!”
Sam looked up with a quizzical expression, but did as he was bid. Reading the name and Scripture verse the person had inserted into the record on the page, he explained that this American missionary had been instrumental in bringing his father to faith in God and also had encouraged him to enter the ministry. Then he stopped speaking and looked at the little elderly lady again.
The look of shock on Miss Peggy’s face was almost comical. Mouth open and unseeing eyes like saucers, she raised her hands to her face and the tears began to fall.
It was the very man who had traded places with her! The very man. And here, right in front of her, were the products of that transaction.
As the impact of their discovery hit them, there were more folks than the old missionary crying. Imagine! Out of the millions of people in China—out of the multiple countries this family could have fled to—out of the thousands of schools they could have attended—they came to the one place they needed to be.
I can’t imagine a more fulfilling moment in the ninety-four years the dear saint lived on this earth. In that moment, she realized that her life’s ambition, the one thing she had ever desired more than anything else, had been achieved.
She had given it up to take a detour to the backwoods of Oklahoma and Arkansas. Sixty years, she had served faithfully, keeping a bargain she had made under duress. Thousands already, had benefited from her service. Now, in her last days on earth, she realized that her deepest desires had been fulfilled.
She was called to China!
Talk about a pay off!
And the Teacher told His followers, give and you will receive it back—more than your cup can hold—sifted and blended, it will run over into your lap and onto the floor. (Luke 6:38)
Life doesn’t always go the way we’ve planned. Oddly enough, it seldom goes the way we’ve planned.
The road leads to places we never dreamed of.
We walk it anyway.
The years take away our physical strength and abilities. We keep moving ahead.
The pay-off lies up there. Ahead. Beyond the hills, past the valleys, through the flooded streams.
And, after all the toil and hardship, we find that God gives good gifts.
Even after sixty years of waiting.
Winners never quit and quitters never win.
(Vince Lombardi ~ American football coach ~ 1913-1970)
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him…Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
(James 1: 12, 17 ~ NIV)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.