During my PhD studies at the University of Durham (Durham, England), I lived and studied beside some of the most dedicated Christians I have ever known. Separated for years from their families, they worked without ceasing, seven days a week, indebted to the communities that supported their education. Often struggling with English and the bitter cold climate (and culture) of Britain, they shouldered many heavy burdens. Keenly aware that each hour of study meant greater capacity to serve their churches and communities throughout India, China, Europe, and the Middle East, they worked without ceasing. Though they were young compared to most graduate students in our department, their disciplined passion was extraordinary, giving them that singular focus of an exceptional leader.
Three of my closest friends were women from China. They were spiritual descendants of the Hudson Taylor revivals and they would return to China to educate the next generation of pastors serving the underground church. Committed to the responsibilities that accompanied their calling, these women put their needs and comforts aside in order to serve others with excellence.
Even as I tell their stories, my eyes tear remembering the courageous faith of one who received news her father was dying. How she longed to return home, pray by his bedside, hold his hand and say, “Thank you! I love you.” What many of us take for granted was not a possibility for her. Yet, in faith she accepted the cost of her vocation, the most painful of which was separation from loved ones. Once she returned to China, she would go wherever the need was greatest, no matter the hardships.
After graduation, I knew I would never see these friends again. Our lives overlapped only briefly, but their stories changed mine forever. I treasure a picture of us sharing lunch one sunny afternoon. It reminds me to pray for them, and it gives me courage. When my own vocation seems unbearable, I remember their smiles, beaming with confidence in Christ’s risen presence. As I reflect on the integrity of their lives, I find myself following their lead as I did years ago. Jesus can be trusted. He is more faithful than husband, sister, or parent. There is nothing more real than Christ. In small and large ways, they embodied Christ, and their faith was utterly contagious.
As Paul said of servant-leaders, through hardship they not only survive but thrive with lives of “purity, knowledge, patience, and kindness; with the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and divine power. . . as unknown and yet well-known, as dying and yet—as you see—very much alive, as punished and yet not killed, as sorrowful and yet always rejoicing, as poor and yet enriching many, as having nothing and yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:6–10, ISV).
Through so many difficulties their vocation as theological educators was formed, enlarged, and emboldened. Returning home, they were equipped to train thousands of pastors to serve bereaved communities with an unshakeable trust in the transcendent God they themselves knew so well.
I have great confidence in these authentic leaders and I consider it an enormous honor to lead an organization that provides the biblical and theological resources that open opportunities for their vocation and the calling of others like them. And, I smile and pray, with an inspired imagination, that the pastors and theologians they train will one day come to the US and become leaders in the seminaries, colleges, the Evangelical Theological Society, or in denominations that need evidence for the hope that is ours as Christian egalitarians.
In sharing their story, I hope they will become your friends too, at least through prayer and through your support of CBE. Remember their unshakeable faith when you encounter challenges and painful circumstances that seem unbearable. Consider the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith (Heb. 11:13). For the power of Christ in them, and in you, is able to do more than you can think or imagine possible (Eph. 3:20). That is the power of the gospel as it shapes some of the most outstanding lives and stories the world has known.