Thirty-one years ago tonight it was Lent, I was a 5th grader, and I was at my church for a mid-week church service. In a rather unusual turn of events for my church, the sermon was preempted by a group from the local Lutheran high school (from which I was later to graduate) which gave a slide presentation about its mission endeavor to Puerto Rico to teach Vacation Bible School the previous year. During the presentation they shared a simple gospel formula which they had shared with children during the mission: we are sinners, and God loves us and sent Jesus to die for our sins. No doubt there was something more to it than that, probably something about baptism, probably something about Jesus calling us to share the gospel with others. That part I don't remember.
What I do remember was that this was a life-changing event for me. We sang a hymn (I still remember, it was number 496) called Hark! The Voice of Jesus Crying, based on Isaiah 6:8. The hymn asked the question "Who will answer... here am I, send me?"
It was such a simple thing. I don't know that I had ever had the basic gospel proposition explained to me this way, especially not through the faces and voices of teenagers on a mission. To consider that the gospel proposed something personal to me, asked something of me, was new. And I remember that as I sang the verses of that hymn I was giving God a real answer. Here I am. Send me.
I should note that I was Lutheran, not Baptist, and no one ever encouraged me to mark down the date and the time that I gave my life to the Lord. It wasn't so formulaic to me at the time, but a year or two later I was able to think back and pinpoint a change that began happening to me starting then. I dug out a binder from the shelf of the church's cry room where all of the past bulletins were kept, and found the notice about the speakers from the mission trip, and that is how I discovered and remembered the date.
Does it seem odd to you, too, that what impacted me wasn't about finding forgiveness, or even finding love? It was about finding mission. There have since been profound times when my meditations on the gospels have found me in the shoes of the ones Jesus touches and heals. But I think my normal feel for the gospel has been in the shoes of one who walks with Jesus and tries to see how He does what He does. "How am I supposed to live?" has always been a cry of my heart.
Someone said to me recently that we are all walking questions, we are all walking needs. I find it beautiful that we, perhaps, are all slightly different questions. This is yet another way that the Lord calls us each by name.