Hours later there came a change. It began to grow light in the bus. The greyness outside the windows turned from mud-colour to mother of pearl, then to faintest blue, then to a bright blueness that stung the eyes. We seemed to be floating in a pure vacancy. There were no lands, no sun, no stars in sight: only the radiant abyss.
This imaginary bus ride is described by British writer and lay theologian, C.S. Lewis, in his book The Great Divorce. This is among the top five books I would recommend for anyone stranded on a desert island or quarantined due to a pandemic.
The book begins as the narrator finds himself standing in a long line for the bus in an oddly grey town. The Narrator has lost some of his memory. He only recalls walking through dark streets in hopes that he would find the “good part of town.” After walking alone for an unknown length of time, he comes to the bus stop where he finally finds some people. That was enough for him to stop and wait to get on a bus without knowing its destination.
The grumbling crowd boards the bus when it arrives. What we learn is that this bus is taking lonely, isolated, and unhappy people from a dark place to a bright place, from hell to heaven. The description of the “radiant abyss” reminds me of a bus ride I took into the Andes Mountains of Peru in 1987.
I was co-leading my first outreach for a YWAM School of Evangelism team. We took a nine hour bus ride from Lima, Peru to Huaraz. We climbed for hours on treacherous, winding gravel roads with no guard rails. Shepherds were often on the road with their herds of sheep. But that didn’t slow down our bus driver. We kept flying about 55 mph around hairpin turns as we looked over the cliffs along the road that disappeared as we looked out the windows at clouds and no view of any ground below. One wrong turn and we would be in the abyss.
The air got thinner with each climb and turn, and the team at the back of the bus got motion and air sick. We arrived in the beautiful alpine village of Huaraz with several of our team members blue in the face gasping for air and losing whatever was on their stomachs.
We unloaded our bags as a cool, light rain fell on our faces. We split up the team of about twelve of us to several home stays with families around the village and a few stayed with Wycliffe missionaries in their translation center. I stayed with a pastor’s family. Despite our language barrier, every simple mealtime was a celebration of joy and laughter. Our School of Evangelism was morphing into a School of Missions, which didn’t exist in YWAM yet. So we focused our curriculum on many aspects of cross cultural missions, including bible translation, language learning as a means of building relationships on daily walks, radio, construction, church planting, and sports (We played soccer the first morning there at 12 thousand feet. Guess how that went. LOL.).
At twelve thousand feet, we were so high and so close to the Equator that we would get sunburned very quickly, including our lips and our noses. The beautiful white-capped mountains surrounding the village were more than a feast for the eyes every day; they were also the source of our running water. Our hosts did not have water heaters, so our daily showers were way too cold.
Two of our team members went up seventeen thousand feet, using a VW and then donkeys, to a village that had never seen white people before. They baptized a dozen or so people in the most frigid waters you can imagine. Tom McFarren was our school leader. Because he and his wife had a new baby, he only visited us for a while during the outreach. I’m grateful I was trusted to co-lead with Pauline McDermott because I learned so much.
It was at the end of that outreach that Rick Allegretto, our YWAM base leader, came for the debriefing. We sat on a hill looking out at the mountains and he asked me if I wanted to stay there in Huaraz to start a new YWAM work. My response was that I could see the need. I saw up close the effectiveness of traditional missions, Bible translation, Church planting, etc. But I learned something more significant, especially as it relates to my calling. I saw how ministry in the spheres of education, business, communications, arts and sports, and technology was also essential to bring transformation to a community. I said to Rick, “If I were to return, it would be with many others with greater skills than mine.” But then I said, “This town could be transformed, but the nations need the same thing.”
This was the beginning of a time of deep discerning of my calling. I am not called to a people group, or to a place; I am called to a purpose, the purpose of mobilizing students who would engage every sphere of society to bring a witness of Jesus to bring transformation.
The bus ride with that missions team to the Andes Mountains in 1987 was the beginning of my journey from the hell of not knowing my calling to the heaven of knowing what God has called me to do. First, he called me to himself. Second, he called me to his purpose. Third, he called me to my specific contribution to his Mission of making disciples of every nation.