On Friday, December 21, 1744, David Brainerd recorded these words in his journal: “Towards noon visited my people [Delaware Indians], and spent the whole time in the way to them in prayer, longing to see the power of God among them.” The following year, January 27, 1745, Brainerd wrote these words: “I was praying (as I usually do) for the illumination and conversion of my poor people; and then the cloud was scattered, so that I enjoyed sweetness and freedom, and conceived hopes that God designed mercy for some of them.”
About the time I was born, God continued to answer Brainerd’s prayers. My parents began the work of church planting among the Seminoles in South Florida. They were later joined by a young man from the Mohawk tribe named Sonny (Tom Claus).
My earliest memories reside here. The Seminoles slept and cooked their food in what they called Chickees so the air was always filled with smoke. On Sunday afternoons after worship, they would fill long wood tables and wagons with a variety of Seminole cuisine, such as deer meat, alligator, rabbit, fish, turtles, wild turkey, beans, corn, and fry bread.
I would spend the the afternoon hours playing with Seminole children and then return to the church building for the evening service. South Florida had one season: summer. By evening, the church temperature would be in the nineties, and our only relief came from hand fans decorated with interpretive scenes from Revelation 3 (Jesus knocking at the door of our hearts), a donation from local funeral homes. I usually fell asleep on my mother’s lap and woke up the next morning in my own bed.
Over the course of their lives, my parents would plant several more churches in the communities where we lived. What’s interesting is that my father wasn’t a pastor. He and my mother just loved Jesus and had missionary hearts. Our home was like a revolving door for church-planting pastors, missionaries, and evangelists.
So for me, the Christian life was all about missions. I think of the Apostle Paul exhorting Timothy to remember the things he was taught by his mother and grandmother. Our childhood memories make deep impressions on us that last a lifetime. My parents never had to sit me down and give me a lecture on the importance of missions. I imbibed that every day of my childhood and those memories continue to bear fruit in my life.
Sonny went on to become the “Billy Graham” of Native Americans, working with Native American Christian leaders to establish indigenous churches throughout North, Central, and South America. A few years ago my family spent the day at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, and were thrilled to see Sonny’s headdress on display there. His son now carries on the work of the ministry through CHIEF, an organization that Sonny founded and that produced the video below. I hope you will take a few minutes to watch it and rejoice that our God continues to answer our prayers even after we’ve departed from this world.