Taken from my autobio, “From Canterbury to the Ends of the Earth and Back.”
In the summer of 1976 Barbara, Josh and I went with an Operation Mobilization team to Austria for a two month outreach.
There was no evangelical church in the town we worked in, as Austria is heavily Catholic, although most Austrians are pretty nominal in their faith. At one house when I asked if they had a Bible, they brought me a hymn book instead. They didn’t even know what a Bible was!
We were given boxes of good, Christian books to distribute and were told that we would buy our food from the money received from selling the books door to door. What a great incentive to pray and trust God, along with a powerful motivation for working hard at selling.
We were the only couple on the team and our main function was to be chaperons. Along with that, Barbara did a lot of the cooking and shopping for food, while I joined the team’s book sellers.
Josh was the team “pet.” Everyone wanted to hold him. After one young fellow was done playing with him, he set nine month old Josh down on the floor and was very surprised that he fell over. “Can’t he stand yet?” he asked, having no idea that many children don’t walk until they are about a year old.
I went out with the other team members each day, going door to door to sell books. This was not something I naturally enjoyed, but as we were called to it, I did my part. Besides we all wanted to eat. No sales, no food.
Whenever possible, I took little Josh along in a backpack carrier. When I rang a doorbell, I’d put a book into his little hand and he’d hold it out to the person who answered the door. We sold more books than anyone else, for some reason.
One door I knocked on was opened by a woman in the headscarf and the baggy “shalvar” pants of a Middle Eastern villager. She spoke no German, and of course I couldn’t speak any of her language. I held out the book to her, but she just shook her head, backed into the house and closed the door.
I stood there, struck by my inability to communicate and by the woman’s refusal to even look at the book. “This is what it’s like for Muslims,” I thought, “no understanding, no desire, no openness. How will they hear? How will they understand?” I turned away with a heart that was becoming more and more burdened for these people.
Later, as I was praying about this encounter, it was as if the Lord said to me, “In three years you will be on the field telling these people about me.”
This was an experience similar to when, in my twenty-fourth year, He told me that I would be married when I was twenty-eight. So I quit looking for a wife, and God brought Barbara along, all the way from Germany. And sure enough, our marriage had taken place one month before my 28th birthday. So this new date and message He gave me needed to be taken seriously. I tucked it all away in my mind.
Throughout the summer we sold thousands of books, hung hundreds of posters advertising the evangelical radio station, and held lots of evening meetings. There were no visible results at the time, but today there is an evangelical church there, born out of those efforts and the people who stayed to follow through.
But the biggest outcome, from our perspective, was the call to work among Muslims. And, just as God said to me, in 3 years we were in the Middle East where we served for 33 years and did see some Muslims come to Christ.