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Distributing the Word of God is Hard Work -- with Great Potential

By David R. Lema Jr.

MIAMI (BP)--Many years ago in a small town in a developing Caribbean nation, a 19-year-old college student was given a free Bible by a lady missionary.

This young man liked to read very much. He was in a stage in life where he was searching for knowledge. He was on an idealistic quest for the instruction manual for life. When he got home late at night he decided to get a taste of this new book and began to read.

He had been instructed to commence reading with the New Testament and so he did. He began to read the Gospel according to Matthew. This was some very interesting reading, he thought, as he kept on reading these wonderful stories of a man called Jesus.

The young man read through Mark and then Luke. In the wee hours of the night, when he started reading the Gospel according to John something began to happen in the mind and heart of this young man. His thinking veered to reflect not only on the story of Jesus, but also his own story.

His was not an easy life. He lost his father to tuberculosis at the young age of 7. He lived in poverty watching his mother work very hard washing clothes and ironing to support the family. From early on, he had to assume a great deal of responsibility. He had to work selling all types of items in the street to help maintain his mother and sister. He also had to go to school and do homework. He knew that education was his only ticket out. Life was hard.

Hardness had become a part of his personality. However, when he got to the part in John's gospel where the Bible states that "Jesus wept," this young man saw himself, he saw Jesus weeping for him, and then he saw all his hardness melt away as tears streamed from his eyes.

All of a sudden he realized that this Jesus was no longer living in the pages of some ancient Scriptures but rather he was real and he was making a difference in his life. At that very moment the young man assented to the claims of Jesus the Christ and received him as Lord and Savior of his life from that day forward.

Quite a story, huh? Testimonies like this abound where the Bible becomes a sharp sword, nay, scalpel, and begins to cut deep into the mind and heart of human beings, performing spiritual surgery that changes the lives of so many people. Indeed, as the Bible states, "the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword ... ."

Every year, during the latter part of March, our Baptist association is involved in a special ministry at the Miami-Dade County (Fla.) Youth Fair. This ministry consists primarily of giving away the written Word of God to individuals so that they can have a personal encounter with the Living Word of God just as the young man in this story had.

I have to admit that this ministry has seemed like drudgery at times. People just don't care to get a free New Testament. Some people rudely threw back the New Testaments at the volunteers who were distributing them. It was hard to keep a saintly smile when facing the rudeness. It was hard not to wonder how many people only waited to get out of sight before they dumped the precious package containing the New Testament in the nearest trashcan. It was hard carrying the heavy boxes and standing for hours on the concrete floor distributing the Word. It was hard not to just turn away and save the time and money by not spending the long hours distributing the New Testaments nor spending many dollars buying them nor paying for the fair booth.

And then I remembered the story of the young man in the Caribbean. This story was "burned" in my memory a long time ago. I will never forget the story of how a Bible changed the life of a young college student. For you see, the man whom I heard tell this story so many times that it was etched indelibly in the panels of my mind was himself the young man who experienced it and who went on to become a Baptist pastor and missionary for the Lord.

That young man was my father. The lady missionary was Zadie Shoff, a Southern Baptist layperson from North Carolina who was visiting friends in the small Cuban town where my father lived.

She made it a point to use her own money to purchase Bibles in Spanish to distribute to anyone who would care to take one. I cannot imagine where I would be today if that one missionary had not given that one Bible to that one young man and he had not experienced the love of that one Jesus!

Lema is the director of Hispanic ministries with the Miami Baptist Association and a missionary with the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. 

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