She said she was 18, but she barely looked 16. Life in the Papua New Guinea jungle wasn’t easy, and I didn’t want my new student missionary to get hurt, so mentally I stuck a huge “FRAGILE” sticker on her. She cheerfully embraced the duties my wife and I gave her, but she didn’t like the sticker. Day after day as she home-schooled our children, she watched us carefully to see what else she might do without getting in the way. She cooked and cleaned in our home and inspired people wherever she went. But she knew she was capable of so much more.
One morning as I was at my workbench, she came over. “What are you working on, Pops?” she asked.
“Well, the chain tensioner on the chainsaw broke,” I said. “It will be months before I can get to town again, so I am trying to make a new one.”
“Do you have anything else you need to work on?” she asked.
We were living in a half-built house, sleeping on the floor, and my wife was cooking on a box. “Sure, I’ve got all kinds of things I need to do!” I laughed.
“Do you want me to take over this little project so you can work on something more important?”
I wasn’t sure how to respond. I didn’t want her to get hurt, nor did I want the part I was making to be damaged. But she assured me she knew what she was doing, so I hesitantly backed away. That little girl confidently stepped up to my workbench, inspected the pieces, and then started grinding, drilling and filing until she had a flawless match. Later, as I installed the perfectly functioning part on the chainsaw, I remember thinking, There is something different about this kid.
A few days later she finished ripping off my FRAGILE sticker when she asked to borrow the chainsaw. MY CHAINSAW! Then it was the table saw, generator, electric planer and other tools. It was amazing to watch her walk into the rainforest with a Stihl 070 on her shoulder, cut down a tree (a full 30 inches across), saw it into usable lumber, dry it, plane it, and use it to build kitchen cabinets for my wife, put shelves in the pantry, and make beds for every member of my family.
I once asked her what she did before she came to PNG. “Well,” she said, “I was the foreman of a construction crew, and I drove a bulldozer, and . . .”
Sheepishly, I finally let go of my wrong first impression and let her enjoy being useful.
She saw obstacles as more of a nuisance than a barrier. We had neither lemons nor eggs or an egg beater. But this girl found a wild lemon tree in the jungle, begged some eggs from the villagers, found a bucket in the house and headed for my shop. Bending one end of a coat hanger into a coil, she jammed the other end into my electric drill. Then she dumped the egg whites into the bucket and stuck in the coiled contraption. A horrific noise ensued as the egg whites were whipped into a froth. When my wife and I returned home that night, we were greeted with a freshly baked lemon meringue pie.
This student missionary has become a legend. Her commitment to God is unquestionable and undoubtedly the birthplace of each of her other treasured qualities. She also had a potent desire to make her life count for something worthwhile—every day of it. When she felt her capacity to give was greater than what was being demanded of her, she scanned the world around her to identify more needs she could fill with her knowledge, skill or character traits. Helping made her happy.
But what simply amazed me was that she didn’t just focus on how she could help. As she scanned the world around her for things that needed doing, she also thought of her friends and their knowledge, skills and character traits. She wasn’t afraid to contact them for help with things too big for her to do on her own. This spread the satisfaction of meaningful involvement to more people, but more than that it ensured that more was accomplished. There is a major difference between making a personal contribution towards filling a hole, and ensuring a hole is filled. While contributing made her happy, she wasn’t after the happiness. She genuinely wanted the holes filled.
This student missionary’s example challenges me to a deeper level of commitment in reaching the lost, serving my family, and, well, almost everything. It also reminds me of why AFM exists. Roughly 40 percent of earth’s population still lacks a living Christian witness. A hole this size can’t be filled by any one person, no matter how much they contribute. So as we each commit ourselves fully to the task, let’s remember our friends and colleagues as well. Your invitation may be all that is required for your friends (and then their friends) to get involved, and, in the process, to discover life’s greatest joy and fulfillment.