Once upon a time…
I’m always tempted when I start telling old stories to begin by saying that, and this time, I’m doing it. Maybe I’ll do it from now on. Yeah, I think I will.
Where was I? Ah yes. Once upon a time.
I believe it was January 2018. I was sitting on my couch, my neighbor was over visiting, and I was trying to figure out something to do on my week of vacation days I had taken off that upcoming February, just one month away. I had plenty of out-of-state friends I could visit. My son lived in Chicago at the time. I could have gone there. There were several options, but I wanted to do something I hadn’t done, or go some place I hadn’t gone. And then it came to me.
Voice of the Martyrs.
Seriously, it just came to me. Voice of the Martyrs.
I wondered if they accepted volunteers. I’d been supporting them for several years, loved reading all of their magazines, hearing about all of the missionaries and reading about those who needed prayer. One of thee best books I’d ever read came from them them. “Tortured for Christ” by Richard Wurmbrandt, the organization’s founder. I tried to get everyone I love to read it. Still do.
So I called. They had an opening for a volunteer the very week I was off, but they needed a reference. I gave them my friend’s phone number, and so help me God, the woman called me back within 30 minutes with an approval, and an hour later, I was the proud owner of a plane ticket to Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The night before I left, I phoned the gentleman who was arranging for me to stay in a condo on the base. He gave me instructions to phone him once I secured my car rental. Okay, I can do that.
So I did.
“Get on the freeway going north,” Mitch said. “Go about one hour, and when you see the Sonic hamburger joint, turn right.”
Seriously? Yes, seriously.
So I did.
I drove for one hour, spotted Sonic, turned right, and vwa! la! Voice of the Martyrs stood in the distance.
I arrived to find Mitch standing outside of what would be my home for the next week. I had a beautiful condo with photos of missionaries and martyrs all on every wall. Every direction I would turn was another person to pray for. It was amazing.
There were 20 volunteers that week, and 19 of them were assigned to stuffing envelopes. Me? I was alone at a table on the other side of the building handwriting a scripture verse at the bottom of every receipt to be sent out to donors. Apparently, Richard Wurmbrandt, prior to his death, had wanted this scripture verse signed by hand at the bottom of every thank you sent to donors.
At first, I was a little miffed that I was left alone, but if you know me… handwriting anything all day long was… well, right up my alley. So I was only miffed for a minute – if that.
And much to my surprise, every morning one or two new local volunteers came to join me, so I was really never, ever alone. In the afternoon, another one or two showed up. A few of us became fast friends. They were the sweetest people, a few of them jam packed full of godly wisdom. And I made a darling little friend, the daughter of one of the volunteers stuffing envelopes, who just wanted to sit next to me and practice her handwriting, and what better way to practice handwriting than to handwrite scripture verses over and over! She lives in Branson, Missouri, and we are still penpals five years later!
On the very first morning, we had chapel, and all of that week’s volunteers were introduced. As it turned out, I was not the only Michigander in Bartlesville, and I met a few new friends from Northern Michigan who were full time staff at VOM. Nance, the secretary, took me one evening to Pawhuska, Oklahoma and we had dinner at the Pioneer Woman’s place. The following morning prior to leaving Oklahoma, she took me to Woolaroc, https://www.woolaroc.org/wildlife-preserve to see the buffalo.
Two of my evenings were free, which I spent alone just relaxing, but one night two sweet gals invited me out to an event at their church. “Someone” was speaking they said. I’m pretty adventurous (and curious) so of course I said yes! Silly Annette said she’d pick me up, but when she showed up, she laughed and laughed once I sat in the passenger’s seat. “What’s so funny?” I asked. “I just learned how to drive, and I don’t know how to go in reverse!” Well, we did not need to go backwards, but I promptly offered to drive, and we switched seats and were soon on our way. We picked up Marilyn along the way who made herself known as the more “serious” one.
We soon arrived to First Baptist Church of Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
Now, I had no idea who was speaking or what they were speaking about, but I knew in the few short days of spending time with these sweet women, that I could trust them. We walked into church into the Bartlesville, and come to find out, the speaker was Abdu Murray, who I knew from my previous home church. A sweet treat! I knew it would be good! A few days later, I would even get to fly home with him, and pick his brain along the way in the airport. He made the recommendation that I read “How Should We Then Live?” by Francis Schaeffer, and now I am passing that recommendation on to you!
A few years after spending that week at VOM, I was at the Gospel Coalition Conference in Indianapolis and was traveling from table to table when I spotted a booth across the aisle for Voice of the Martyrs. And, I also spotted Cheryl and Ramon. Cheryl was one of the volunteers during the week that I had become fast friends with. I ran over, pulled down my mask, and said, “Cheryl, it’s me!” and we jumped up and down laughing like two foolish old childhood friends who hadn’t seen each other in a few decades.
Fast forward another year or two, and VOM came to my church where we would host their yearly conference. Another sweet weekend in the books getting to see familiar faces.
What’s the point of all of this? Well, just terrific memories, I suppose. “Drive for an hour, and make a right when you see Sonic Burger.” I’ll never forget it. It was precisely accurate. I still laugh about it.
I also still laugh about Nance pretending like she was going to leave me standing alone in a field of buffalo. She was dying laughing in the car all by herself. The joke was on me.
It was a tough season of life for me. Personal, yucky junk going on. But the Lord got me quickly, obviously and purposefully, hilariously at times even, to a place where I would be surrounded by reasons to pray, and people and places and face to remind me that there are bigger things going on than my personal issues. He even made sure I enjoyed myself and got in a few laughs, in between the tears we shared. And we did share a few tears together. I got to run into someone from home – twice! And I made friends with a few people that are the lifetime kind, even if we don’t talk as frequently as we’d like to.
“Tortured for Christ” is still one of the best books I’ve ever fead, VOM hands down my most favorite organization to support, and one of the places I’d really love to return to for another week. (And you too, should check them out!) https://www.persecution.com/
God met me in my sorrow that week. He knew exactly what He was doing; He always does. He put me all by myself in the corner of a warehouse, but I was not alone! He gave me the verse He wanted me to learn, and then He had me write it over, and over, and over, and over literally thousands of times.
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:8 ESV
One by one, He brought me four of the sweetest people I’d ever meet. They may have thought they were just getting up and volunteering that morning, but they had no idea the impact each of them would have, and continue to have in my life. He showed me that week, just how small the world is for His kids. Everywhere we go, we find our family 😉
Lord willing (and the creek don’t rise), I hope to return some day to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and give Voice of the Martyrs another week of my time. They will always be near and dear to my heart. But if I don’t get to do that, I sure do look forward to seeing Marilyn, Annette, Cheryl, and Nance in heaven, where Annette won’t need to know how to put her car in reverse, Nance and I can laugh about me standing alone in a field of buffalo, and Cheryl and I can jump up and down like silly little girls, glad to see one another again.
Ya’ll, God is so good!