by Gary Corwin
Psalm 96:3 is sometimes referred to as the “Great Commission” of the Old Testament: Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. It recently occurred to me that I have not responded adequately to the admonition of this verse. God has done a gracious work in my life, which ultimately led me into vocational missions. While a bit out of the ordinary for this column, I sense a burden of stewardship to share this story in print as a means to declare his glory and marvelous deeds.
I grew up in a small town along the Delaware River at the gateway to the beautiful Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania. It was a great place to be a kid. We could ride our bikes anywhere, and cause no one any worry as long as we were home by suppertime. Although poor, my sister, Joyce (six years my senior), and I felt secure and loved. Other than the great flood of 1955, life in our town was pleasant and uneventful.
During my seventh year, however, it took a decided turn for the worse. My mother was diagnosed with acute schizophrenia and spent the majority of the next twenty-five years in state mental hospitals. My father enjoyed his beer too much and had a temper. Impulsive by nature, he also spent some time in a mental hospital. When I was 12, an auto accident took his life after an event where beer and anger played a major part.
After my father’s death, my sister and I went to live with our grandparents until my sister graduated from high school. We then moved back to our family home and largely parented each other for the next decade. This included parenting our mother as well, especially during those times when she was at home and experiencing many invisible, tormenting voices. Had it not been for something that had happened some years earlier, I’m not sure we would have made it.
At the age of 8, I was introduced to the person of Jesus Christ through the ministry of a Back Yard Bible Club and the testimony of my sister. I exaggerate not when I say this made all the difference. During the years that followed, God provided several adults who took an interest in my sister and me, and encouraged our involvement in the ways of Christ. I will be forever grateful to each of them.
Two other important things happened when I was 12. The first was my acknowledgement at summer camp of a calling to vocational ministry; the second was my explaining to our pastor that my sister and I would be leaving because he was not preaching the gospel. In the years following, my sister and I were warmly embraced and discipled in a conservative Baptist church across the river.
One of the less happy features of growing up in a small town is that everybody seems to know everybody else’s business. This grated on me during my teen years so that I could hardly wait to leave for college.
College was also an important goal because I was battling a sense of shame. I had concluded that I was probably doomed to inherit mental illness and my best shot at an antidote, I genuinely believed, was education and achievement. That was an important part of the baggage I took with me to college. Thankfully, I also took a profound faith and trust in Christ, who had always been faithful to meet every need in my life. Trusting him fully, therefore, became relatively easy. What was much harder was overcoming the sense of shame and lack of respectability that clouded my horizontal relationships.
In God’s mercy, life in college was a new beginning that included lots of kudos for athletic, academic, and leadership achievements. These provided the crutch I needed. It was not until my later twenties and beyond that a fuller understanding of all that I possessed in Christ freed me of the need for that crutch.
But before that realization, I acquired several post-graduate degrees, including PhD work (ABD). Thankfully, God has managed to make good use of all of them. My wife and I also took a two-year break during those years of education and threw ourselves into youth work at a local urban church. These were very rich years of ministry for us, as were the two months we spent in short-term work with SIM in Ghana.
Three things significantly impacted my long-term calling to missions: (1) the preaching, teaching, and life of my wife, Dotsie’s, father, a missions-minded pastor; (2) the influence of J. Herbert Kane, who mentored me in mission history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; and (3) Urbana 1973, to which I took several of the college youth from our church when I was a youth pastor.
In the final analysis, it is undoubtedly true, as my uncle said in more recent years, that I “could have certainly turned out differently” (implying that it might have been a lot worse). Of that there is little doubt. But it is also true that the credit for whatever might be worthy belongs only to the Doer of “marvelous deeds.”
Gary Corwin is associate editor of EMQ and staff missiologist with the international office of Serving in Mission (SIM).
EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 3, pp. 262-263. Copyright © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.