Monday, October 20, 2008

Following in the steps of William Carey...

When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
John 10:4
"I'm honored to have this opportunity to share with you our sheer joy at following in the steps of William Carey..."
With the verse above as his backdrop, and "following in the steps of William Carey" as the opening line, Tom Thurman delivered the William Carey lecture in our chapel time at WCU.
It was incredible!
I am so very blessed and honored to call Tom & his wife Gloria friends. Let me tell you just a bit about them.
There's an old hymn that goes like this:
There’s a call comes ringing over the restless wave,“Send the light! Send the light!”
There are souls to rescue there are souls to save,Send the light! Send the light!
Send the light, the blessèd Gospel light; Let it shine from shore to shore!
Send the light, the blessèd Gospel light;Let it shine forevermore!
Tom said that he & Gloria used to sing that hymn often. Very stirring words. One day, he felt impressed that God was telling him "I don't want you to send the light; I want you to take the light over the 'restless wave'."
So, in 1965, Tom resigned his pastorate with his young bride, and headed across the pond. Way across the pond. To what was then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Ferociously, militantly Moslem, combined with Hindu. A vastly different culture...with a completely different and challenging language. You know the pictures we see on the news of nearly annual flooding on a vast scale? That's Bangladesh. A long, long way from Monticello, MS.
35 years later, Tom and Gloria came back home. Their sons--both raised in Bangladesh--came to America to attend college. One son, Philip, is a dear friend of mine. He was on staff @ my church for a while; now he pastors a church up north of Jackson. Couple hundred members, mostly totally unchurched previously. The church started...(wait for it) Philip's living room 5 years ago. As I told Tom this morning, Philip is doing up north of Jackson exactly what he saw his folks do while Philip was growing up in Bangladesh. Philip is one of the most effective evangelists I have ever run across. Speaks 4 languages fluently, and can scramble his way through some others. The missionary focus of Tom & Gloria Thurman lives on in their two sons. I 'spect it is taking root in Philip & Lori's three children too. BTW, I asked Philip once what language he thinks in. Despite graduating from Mississippi College & Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and despite working in Atlanta for a few years, and despite marrying a Mississippi girl, he told me that he thinks in Bengali. "Home" to Philip means Bangladesh.
Monday morning, Tom showed us his copy of the Bengali translation of Scripture that William Carey translated. That's William Carey the guy...back in the early 1800s...the "Father of the Modern Missionary Movement." William & his associate travelled in the same part of the world back then. There are churches over there that still today have markers commemorating their speaking there. When Carey completed this particular translation, he remarked that his life's work was complete. He died shortly after. Tom calculates that he and Gloria are either the 9th or 10th generation of missionary in that part of the world. So when Tom spoke of "following in the steps of William Carey," he was speaking very literally.
So many stories, many of which I have heard while sitting in Tom & Gloria's living room in Columbia. Here's just two.
Tom offered a young man a ride in his rickshaw one day in the mid 1980s. Made contact, shared addresses, and kept in touch. A couple of years later, due to his continued contact with Tom, that young man became a Christian. An outspoken Christian (like we're all supposed to be...). The local Moslems were not amused. After prayer one day (ironic, huh?), they took the young man and beat and tortured him severely. (I'll spare the details, which are gruesome to ponder). Left him for dead. He was found the next day (still unconscious) and taken to a hospital, where he eventually recovered.
The end of that story? That same young man's reaction to the beating was to follow in the steps of Paul and Silas who rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ. The guy has started 7,000 churches in villages all over Bangladesh & eastern India. Over 300,000 & counting former Hindus & Moslems will be in glory because of the guy. Who will be in glory because this soft-spoken, southern gentleman from Monticello, MS was listening to a call that he himself gave to his church regularly. To take the light...the blessed gospel light. And that's just one of Tom & Gloria's spiritual children.
The other story involves a war. Remember George Harrison's "Concert for Bangladesh" in the early 1970s? Great concert/album. But the event that inspired GH to put on that concert was the civil war that ultimately resulted in "East Pakistan" becoming "Bangladesh." When the war broke out, Tom & Gloria prayed for direction. Nobody would have blamed them had they come back to America with their two young sons. They stayed. Philip remembers listening to the artillery & mortars around their village. The morning after one particular mortar barrage, Tom & Philip went walking through the village to check on their neighbors. The Moslem shopowners came up and said "Mr. Tom! You are here! We have hope because you are here..." (yeah, I know...chokes me up too, and I've heard/told the story a bunch of times...)
On behalf of Tom & Gloria Thurman...and William Carey before them...and Paul & Silas before them...will you go? More than that, on behalf of countless millions who have yet to hear...the countless millions who are "all His own" and who are waiting to "follow Him" and to "hear His voice" and join us in the white-hot eternal worship party around the throne...will you go?
Note carefully, as Tom reminded us this morning, it's wherever you are. Your home. Your neighborhood. Your workplace. Your county. Your state. Your nation. And maybe, just maybe, the other side of the world.
They're all waiting...let's all take the light!
p.s. - thanks, Tom, for following so well...and for encouraging and challenging all who cross your path...and for letting me sit in your living room as a friend. Your reward in glory continues to grow. Only eternity will show how great it is.


Anonymous said...

Mike, want a really odd connection here? In Gloria Thurmon's book, it mentions a man named Roy Carter. He was somehow involved in their wedding or worked with Tom or something, I can't remember. Roy Carter was a senior deacon at my 'home' church. His son, Paul, was a mentor to me when I was in high school. In youth, we read the book about Gloria and Tom (a missionary book of some type) because Roy was mentioned in it. It wasn't until later when Philip was over the college group that I made the connection between everything...funny how we are all twined together sometimes, isn't it?
Christy Guined

DeeDee said...

Hat's off to the Thurman's! They have trod when others made the choice to stay...Eternity will not be the same b/c of their lives..."well done thy good and faithful servant"

Mike, I still miss Wm Carey College and the ministry I felt I had w/the students there..I am glad you are there for them..and of course others, Carol B too!

Hope you are doing well! Continue to pray over you.