In 1993 we were due for a furlough, and this was also a natural juncture for us to leave the fellowship in the hands of the local believers. Our departure also seemed to be the right time to accept a position in the Overseas Department of the home office. The leadership had been asking us to consider it for the past eight years.
We arrived at our new home in Eastern Pennsylvania during August of 1993. The house we rented was located in a nice middle class suburb.
What a contrast from the densely populated, heavily polluted city we’d lived in for the past 14 years! There had been ten times more people just in our one neighborhood of than were in the whole county of our new location!
In another contrast, everything here was so green, lush and well kept as compared to the browns and greys of the Middle East—a gracious gift prepared by the Lord just for us.
Moving here also opened up new possibilities for the boys that were totally missing in our other city. First was some help in the transition into a new culture. The guidance counselor at their school met with us and warned the boys about two things that would help their transition into American high school.
“No one is going to be interested in where you’ve come from,” she said. “I was an army brat, living in Europe and other places; when I returned to the States for school, no one wanted to hear my stories. They won’t want to hear yours, either.”
She paused. “And keep away from watching too much TV, especially MTV. It’s not a healthy way to spend your time.” These were good points of advice and the boys took them to heart.
God’s second provision was through the high school cross-country coach. In our first visit to the city, Coach Hetrick came to the office to talk with Nat. He checked Nat’s shoes for wear to determine his running style, and talked about developing his abilities.
Nat had never run competitively, but was fast, and Mr. Hetrick picked up on this potential. He turned out to be not only a great coach for Nat, but became his mentor as well. Running provided an entry niche for Nat and he was quickly accepted by the other runners, giving him an instant sense of belonging in this new environment.
He went on to excel, being named the best runner in the county his senior year and placing 8th in the Pennsylvania State Championships. Nat’s performance inspired others to try running. In his freshman year there were only 6 male runners, but by his senior year ten percent of the entire student body of eight hundred were running cross-country.
Josh’s experience was very different. After finishing his sophomore year in the German school, Josh had transferred to a boarding school for MKs in Germany for his junior year.
Now, his senior year would be spent in yet another high school. But the Lord provided just the right niches for Josh also, first in a singing group and later in the drama club. He even landed a major role in the main production for that year, an unusual accomplishment for a newcomer.
Josh was not afraid to speak up in class, which the teachers appreciated, since most of the other students didn’t find class participation cool. The fear of man ruled, but Josh ignored it. He also was not afraid to talk openly about his faith and was quickly dubbed as “God boy.”
During that year Josh, Nat and a couple of other MKs started a student prayer group that has continued on after their departure for at least another fifteen years. It was usually led by an MK from our group.
Nat was still a pretty lazy student and was happy that he didn’t need to work at all his freshman year. His German school education had already taken him quite a bit beyond his classmates who all thought he was brilliant because he knew so much more than they did.
He and Josh had the advantage of having lived in three cultures, speaking three languages, and having traveled through much of the Middle East and Europe. In addition, from an early age they had avidly read the National Geographic, Reader’s Digest, Ranger Rick and many other books full of facts which cumulatively gave them a grasp of a wide range of information.
At one point Nat’s history teacher called us in and said, “I have never met a freshman who knew so much about the world and understood its significance. But, could you get him to write more than one-sentence answers on his essay tests?” Nat might know a lot, but he had no real motivation to use it.
However, the Lord had plans to wake Nat up, using running as His primary tool. With Nat’s natural talent being developed under his coach’s good training, he began to win races, and found he liked that. He began to realize that putting effort into reaching goals could be a worthwhile endeavor. He began to study more, do more around the house, and most importantly, began to grow spiritually.
When he turned sixteen, Nat decided he wanted to be baptized. This decision brought a very deep surrender in him, triggering a lot of spiritual progress. He then started using his status as a successful runner as a means of sharing his faith with others at school.
He later told us that in high school his running fueled his spiritual life, while in college his spiritual life drove his running. Nat realized he needed to lay down the foundations for his personal faith. He had been riding on ours, but needed his own. During his sophomore Nat researched and wrote a paper to help him sort out the relationship of the Bible and science. He entitled it, “Why I am not a Monkey.”
When he had to present a position paper for English during his senior year, he chose to polish up this paper and gave it a better title. His classmates laughed when he announced his subject, “How I Know That Evolution Is Not True.” But when he presented it, they were fascinated and the student evaluators gave him an A.
His teacher, however, was not so impressed, giving him a lower mark. She asked, “If God created the world, then where did he come from?”
Nat, who normally doesn’t think well on his feet, was helped by the Holy Spirit to reply, “As Stephen Hawkins and his associates pointed out, both the universe and time have a beginning. Since God lives outside of time, He doesn’t need a beginning.” The teacher, not knowing how to respond to that, turned to the class and said, “OK, next paper!”