“Many missionaries will talk about a “call” to missions and ministry. This is, as they describe it, the firm conviction that God would have them serve Him, first, and second, a willingness to go where He sends them.” -Mom
Dad’s position aboard the submarine was to be the Supply Officer. It was his responsibility to keep track of all the inventory aboard ship from food for the kitchen to spare parts for the engine. He would compile the information and determine the nature and quantity of items that needed to be stocked aboard ship before heading out to sea. “You never wanted to run out of toilet paper,” he would joke. It would seem that going into the Navy would be one of the least likely options for growing one’s faith, but God has His ways. Dad had originally requested the Mediterranean as his place of service, but when his assignment was announced, it was to be aboard the fast-attack submarine USS Pogy, stationed out of Honolulu, Hawaii. Dad was amazed; his father had served aboard the Pogy’s diesel counterpart in WWII. It was not only an unexpected link with a father he loved and admired but a continuing connection with the Asian culture he had learned to enjoy at UCLA.
After flying half way across the Pacific Ocean, Mom and Dad landed in Honolulu. Settling into a motel while they awaited housing, Mom and Dad became familiar with the base and the local mall before attending a welcome aboard dinner given by the ships’ officers. It was there that the next step unfolded in their call to ministry—an unexpected opportunity. Dad was seated next to the executive officer’s wife, a self-described atheist. When the subject of religion was broached, Dad suggested that “we simply do not have enough information to determine there is no God. The most someone could be was an agnostic”, he said. The conversation was low key and the topic was easily dropped for less controversial themes but his thoughtfulness had its effect. The following day, when he reported for duty aboard the submarine, Dad was surprised to discover that in addition to his duties as Supply Officer, he had also been appointed the Protestant Lay Leader. Unlike other ships that carry one or more full time chaplains, submarines carry only essential crew. On submarines, two of the existing crew members would be assigned collateral duties as non-ordained clergy, or lay pastors – one Protestant and one Catholic. Despite little formal training for this position, they were expected to take on the role of clergy aboard ship – from sermons to counseling. Dad accepted this assignment and delved into the study of scripture and reading books about the Christian faith. Working alongside the Catholic lay leader, he and other spiritually-keen men aboard ship held Sunday and midweek services, retiring to pray in the quiet space next to the diesel generator. Seeking guidance from chaplains on larger ships whenever they were in port, Dad steadily grew in knowledge and faith, and the change was evident to those around him.
In search of fellowship and a home church, Mom and Dad scoured the island for a Bible-believing church. They visited several churches without any particular denomination in mind. Then, on the southwest side of the island sitting underneath the iconic slopes of Diamond Head, Mom and Dad came upon the Kapahulu Alliance Bible Church. They were drawn to this church by its style of worship, its ethnic diversity, and their focus on world missions. The pastor and his wife had served as missionaries in China and Hong Kong, the organist had been a missionary in Japan, and their Sunday School teacher had worked with Wycliffe in Mexico. God was alive and moving at the church, and my parents wanted God to be moving in their own lives as well.
My father was a handsome, tall man, whose deep intellect was veiled by his introverted personality. His smile–his genuine smile– was a beam of happiness drawing others into his sense of excitement and contentedness in the moment. But he also desired a life of purpose. This was in good part due to the death of one of his good friends from college. Bob had been Dad’s roommate for two years at UCLA and had accompanied Dad on his adventure to tour the British Isles by bike during one of their summer breaks. Tragically, his life was cut short during his senior year of college by a drunk driver, shortly before his wedding. This event shocked my father and made him think about his own purpose in life more deliberately. He took to reading apologetic books (books explaining Christian theology) by Francis Schaffer and by C.S Lewis. While many people associate C.S. Lewis with The Chronicles of Narnia, he also wrote many books about Christian theology and the relationship between men, God and the spiritual realm, framing them in real and practical terms. From these books, my Father discerned that the greatest purpose in life was to seek God’s calling – that is, to discover God’s purpose in creating us and what He created us to do. God had planted a seed in my Father’s heart and it had found good soil, and started to grow.
My mother was a beautiful woman of short statue, angelic voice and a perceptiveness that ran as a deep undercurrent. She could see straight through a well-built facade to the underlying state of a person’s emotions and experienced the world in a raw and unfiltered way. Mom had been raised in a Christian home and had given her life to serve God when she was in Middle School, but she was also a practical woman, and having grown up in financial hardship, she dreamed of the niceties of a normal life. She wanted to have a simple, but nice house; to raise her kids with the opportunities that she did not have, and to be an active participant in God’s work at a local church. Dad’s service in the Navy had been a detour from living a normal life, but once his service was over, they planned to return to the mainland and continue to build their lives together. Or so they had planned. Dad’s ministry at sea and on shore were quickly changing his heart towards not just the ministry, but missions. Dad began to feel that their mutual love of cross cultural experiences and their respective gifts were supposed to be used to further God’s kingdom. This change of plans and talk about going into full time ministry was a shock for my Mom.
The pastor, sensing this gap, tried to help. He introduced Mom to many interesting people in the church whose lives had been totally surrendered to the Lord. One particularly humble woman God used in Mom’s life was named Eleanor, the church’s secretary. Eleanor had grown up in a wealthy family in China, her father being the dentist to the last Chinese Emperor. Raised in a walled courtyard with her own slaves and maids, she had rarely known trouble. With the onset of the Chinese Cultural Revolution however, Eleanor and her family were forced to flee. After arriving in Hong Kong she heard the Gospel message and quickly became a believer. She traveled to the United States to study the Christian faith at Biola College, and soon after found a life of ministry among the Chinese in Honolulu. Eleanor had known a life of riches, but had traded it for a life of ministry. She explained to my mother that all of the possessions and niceties she had grown up with as a wealthy Chinese woman were nothing in comparison to being a daughter of God and all of His riches.
While my Dad was away at sea growing in fellowship in Officer Christian Fellowship groups and Overseas Christian Servicemen’s Centers, my Mom had long hours alone to read books written by Schaffer and C.S. Lewis. She began to understand where Dad was coming from. Still, Mom struggled with God. Being the perceptive woman that she was, Mom could see a foreshadow of what God’s calling was: God was not simply asking for my mother’s participation in ministry, he was asking for her surrender, come whatever may. God was honest with the array of possibilities. Mom would later joke that “the pastor would share missionary biographies with her, but most of them seemed to end up dead! It was discouraging.” She also struggled with the ease with which Dad was willing to sacrifice having a normal life together. She wrote in her journal: “Couldn’t [David] understand my earnest desire to know if there was one shred of doubt in him that could speak to and conquer my doubt? Didn’t he long for the same things in life I did? Was he truly willing, without so much as an “I understand” to give up everything—not just the possibility of loss, but a real look at the at the reality of loss?” God had planted a seed in my Mother’s heart and it had found a rocky place. It has sprung up quickly, but was now in danger – not of dying, but of pushing its roots deep enough through the rocky soil. God’s intention, remarkably, was to prepare a firm foundation for an uncertain future. “The turning point was when we watched a group of weary and confused missionaries just off the plane from Vietnam file through our buffet line at the Kapahulu Church. They were on their way back to the mainland, without possessions or even a future, having been evacuated from the land and people they loved. Some had lost spouses and friends to the Viet Cong.” Mom recalled. “They looked so human! There was nothing special about them; they were weak and weary and I could identify with that. But we also saw their quiet faith, their trust in God showing through, and their gratitude in everything. I wanted to be like them and have their unshakeable faith. That was when we finally understood that missionaries are not chosen because they are special but because they are willing, sometimes just willing to be made willing. It is not because they have faith but because they long to have faith and the joy that comes from total rest and reliance on God.” Mom’s struggle finally reached a climax one quiet morning as she was dusting the house. She could feel the tension between God’s will and her own reach its peak. Setting down her dust cloth, she sat down on the bed and finally relented. “Lord, I surrender David to you for your purposes, and I give myself to you for your purposes; but you are a hard God!” In the moments that followed, a palpable warmth filled the house as a deep peace settled on her. It was not a peace that everything would be alright, but a peace that wherever she went, God would be with her. She would never be left alone or forsaken.
In the moment when we finally relent, when we, our person, our identity, and our dreams, are finally broken before God, something amazing happens. God gives us a new understanding; one focused on His heart and His outlook towards the world. The dreams that we grasped so tightly begin to fade away in light of God’s perspective of what is important in life. Our hearts that were so greatly troubled before are suddenly at peace with the future, come whatever may. Surrender then brings a new understanding of God’s mission, discerning between the thousands of things that could be done to serve God down to the one thing that we should do at the moment. But most beautifully, in that moment, our lives take on purpose and direction. Children of God, once submitted, are no longer wanderers, but missionaries; that is people on a mission, people of purpose. In recalling the struggle of those days, Mom commented “I have never been challenged by the Lord that sternly, at that level, before or since and I will never forget either it or the peace that followed.” God had brought Mom and Dad to Hawaii and had presented them with an opportunity and a challenge. Like Martin Luther, they had come to see that “Faith is a free surrender and a joyous wager on the unseen, untried and unknown goodness of God”. They had accepted His call and were willing to walk by faith. They realized that God, in His marvelous love, was truly with them.
At church He had placed them in a group that not only had the vision to disciple those following God’s call, but the means to support them through the process. The Kapahulu Alliance Bible Church was an outgrowth of a larger missionary vision, the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA), a missionary movement begun in the late 1800s by A.B. Simpson. Simpson had been a visionary, leaving a position as a successful pastor in New York in order to work among the immigrants and the neglected masses of New York City. Under his leadership, ministers and missionaries were trained to work with the many different cultures they encountered, leading to an organization of Christians eager to support missions work not just locally, but internationally as well. There were many things that my parents liked about the C&MA. First, the C&MA was an established missions organization with hundreds of missionaries across the globe. It therefore had the infrastructure to train missionaries and support them in their mission efforts. This included prayer and financial support from hundreds of churches in the United States and abroad. All of the C&MA churches placed a great emphasis on missions, with many of the churches sponsoring one or more missionaries directly. Second, the C&MA also had what was called the General Fund for missions. Part of each church’s tithe as well as funds from special fundraising events would go into the General Fund to help support missionaries and their ministries. While each missionary would be expected to speak at churches about their missionary work, they had the assurance of being backed by funds from the General Fund. If the support from their fundraising efforts started to dry up while overseas, they could continue to serve and finish their term and not have to abandon their ministry to fly home and fund raise. Third, women as well as men were considered “missionaries” as essential members of the team. Mom would be expected to have Bible training and language skills along with Dad. This was different from some other mission groups where the wife had to pick up whatever knowledge of the Bible or language she desired on her own. This was important to my Mom, who, despite her lack of height and homely disposition, was a deeply intelligent and perceptive woman. God had called them both to be active in ministry, using their own gifts, and the C&MA allowed them to fulfill their calling together. Fourth, the C&MA believed in the gifts of the Sprit and that God was active and present in a real and tangible way in human lives. There were many churches and Christian organizations that separated the physical and mental acts of ministry from the intangible spiritual ones; viewing prophesy, healing, and speaking in tongues as movements that had long since past in the church. This was important to them because: “We knew that the Spirit was active in our lives and in the lives of others. From our study of scripture we were unable to say that the Spirit’s gifts had truly ceased—been misused by people who wanted fame and fortune, yes, but not ceased. The C&MA’s position on tongues was also helpful: “Seek not, forbid not.”” Finally, the structure of the organization provided for accountability. While every Christian is called to follow the Lord, not everyone is called to the ministry. A person’s sense of call has to be verified by a community of believers who prayerfully consider their gifts and abilities, their theological preparation and health and well-being. For all of these reasons and more, Mom and Dad began to look into becoming missionaries with the C&MA.
First, Dad would need to receive theological training at seminary, with Mom taking care of the home and studying as she was able. Second, Dad would need to serve a minimum of two years in a pastoral role at a C&MA church. Third, they would need to have the support of their district superintendent who would confirm that they were equipped and ready to become missionary candidates. Fourth, they would need to pass an intensive interview process including several psychological and physical exams. Only after completing all of these steps would they be considered candidates for missions work, and could be sent to almost anywhere to do almost anything. In all, it would take four to six years of training and work before knowing if they were eligible to become missionaries. But one final question remained—perhaps the most important one–what about children? They were called as a couple, each assenting to the call. What consequences would their decision to serve have on their children? From the very first, this was a major consideration for them. Mom recounted: “We agonized for some time about the C&MA’s policy for educating children. It required us to be willing to send our children to boarding school as early as first grade. It was only after many tears and cries to God that we were able to sign it, and only then because we believed that He knew what was best for us and only would require what was necessary for the Kingdom.” Their belief was that God, should He give them children, would work with them as a family, caring for the needs of every member while working out His purposes through them all. Their responsibility for their children, however, would always be their foremost responsibility.
It was in the middle of these deliberations that my brother, Josh, was born. Dad would joke that “every submariner wants to be present at two events for their children: their conception and their birth.” In the second year of his Navy tour, Dad was happily able meet these obligations for the arrival of my brother, Josh. As with any family, having a little one changed the dynamic of their lives. Josh’s birth made real the implications of their decision to follow God and led to many practical decisions. Knowing they would need to have funds for their theological education, Mom and Dad decided to live simply. First, they decided to keep the simple rattan furniture they had been issued by the Navy and not buy new. This was not common among officers. Second, their decision not to drink alcohol was also distinctly unusual. Third, they decided to live without a clothes dryer. Honolulu, being in the South Pacific, had lots of sun but it also had many days of tropical rain and strong storms. How could they possibly manage the diapers and clothes a small baby would need without a dryer? Laughing now, Mom said she made a sort of deal with God. She would go without a dryer but she would rely on God’s help to be sure the cloth diapers were dry. She referred to this later as, “Don’t Wait for the Sunshine,” and it became the motto of her everyday-faith. Her trust was simple, if a bit naïve to her friends: “We will accept God’s leading regardless of the pay and trust Him to supply what we truly need.” It was taking a risk and even unpractical, but God would meet her faith and demonstrate His faithfulness time after time in the years ahead.
The years that Dad spent in the Navy were not quiet ones. The Vietnam War, Arab-Israeli Conflict, Resignation of President Nixon and ever present tension with Russia from the Cold War meant that Dad was out to sea more often than not. Sometimes his return from tour would be delayed and other times his shore leave would be cut short. All of this meant that for much of their time in Hawaii, Mom was alone. In fact, Dad was absent so much and for such a long time that some mothers in the church thought Mom was single and began introducing their older sons to her! But, while Dad was experiencing the rigorous and often suspenseful life of the high seas, Mom struggled with the loneliness of the military spouse. In her diary she wrote, “How will the time ever pass quickly enough? The days seem to drag and yet there are days yet to come. At first, the months of separation loomed ahead like a giant shadow, and now those empty days are a familiar way of life. Not warm, not exciting, but certainly predictable… I look at Dave’s photo and it seems he could be a prisoner, far away. It is like waiting to be married all over again, the communication lines have been cut so long and so effectively.” This time around, Dad had left when Josh was three months old and he was nearly ten months when he finally returned again. It took several weeks for my brother to warm up to the stranger in his house, but he finally did. The important thing was that Dad’s time as a lay leader on the submarine had set off a much larger chain of events. Instead of staying in the Navy, after the completion of Dad’s tour of duty, they would move to Dallas Theological Seminary and begin their journey towards missions together. A short time later, after a farewell party and an honorable discharge, my parents packed up their young family and took the first of many flights across the Pacific en route to begin a new adventure in ministry.
While 40 years have passed since Dad was in the Navy, those years are still very important to him. Now retired, he can be seen driving around with his Navy Submarine license plate cover, walking through town wearing his ship emblem on his faded and stained blue baseball cap, and a tapestry rests over the love seat in the living room documenting the historical design evolution of submarines. For Dad, the Navy was an opportunity to learn new skills, serve his country and identify with his father in WWII. It was also the means by which God gave him a heart for the world and a call to service.
Thanks for following along! If you want to read other stories as part of this series, a full list can be found here: Child in a Foreign Land. If you are interested in following along, we have links for e-mails, Facebook, WordPress and YouTube on the sidebar of the website. If you want to share a link to this story/video, simply choose one of the buttons below this post.
© Divergent Life Media, LLC