We've come face-to-face, once again, with beautiful evidence of the amazing power of God’s work!!
We were hosting a young man from Belfast, Ireland, the youngest of seven kids in a missionary family whom we met in the Canary Islands of Spain. The mother and father, Marie Pat and Dennis, were challenged in Ireland years ago to serve the Lord as missionaries in the Canaries. They were not married at the time; each of them received the call independently, and each of them ventured to the Canaries as single missionaries....
It’s hard to conceive of anyone in the U.K. making such a decision: missionary fervor had been waning for decades; the missionary focus in England was mostly over by 1914. But these two kindred spirits left their native Belfast — headed to the Canaries — came together there — and set out on a lifetime of ministry! What are the chances of that? Answer: In God’s system, 100%!
Dennis and Marie Pat are “old school” in several delightful ways. Take procreation, for example! As they planted and grew a church in Gran Canary, their own clan also grew. They considered themselves a “real family” at the point when they had four boys and three girls! Beautiful children and wonderfully committed children to the faith and the cause of their parents.
Dennis is not a man of half-measures — he is a finisher 100%! When I met Dennis, he was the pastor at the church in Jinamar. He had planted the church, and he and his family had built an impressive building, one of only a handful of its kind in all of Spain.
Because the town of Jinamar is central to Gran Canary Island, and because of Dennis’s unparalleled work and ministry ethic, we chose to put our seminary extension in his church. This turned out to be a God-led and God-illuminated decision.
The years since then have been glorious years in our mutual ministry. We have made many disciples! In Spain, the average seminary has seven students. Our Canary Islands extension had 116! We’ve had churches and pastors from the U.S. coming to teach, to preach, and to do evangelism. We’ve had professors from our Madrid central Seminary come and teach and rejoice in the enthusiasm of the Canary Island believers!
I remember when it became clear that the time was ripe for a massive unleashing of the Gospel. We decided to launch a three-pronged evangelistic campaign to all eight islands. (Look for the Canaries on a world map and you only see seven islands. The eighth is too small for cartographers — but not for the Lord. It has 1,000 souls!)
I enlisted nine U.S. churches to help us. From among them came the professional quartet “This Hope.” When they hit the airwaves on one Spanish network, all the other networks wanted them too. With the presence of the group, we gained free airtime on radio and television, and the Gospel of salvation was freely offered.
In the wake of this Gospel-saturation effort, we had scores of people in training in the Canaries. As a bonus, a number of couples headed to our seminary in Madrid to prepare full time for ministry. The future was yet to reveal the wonders God had in mind for these wonderful couples! Today...
• Some of them are pastoring in the Canaries in major churches.
• Others are pastoring in other parts of Spain.
• One couple started an itinerant evangelistic ministry and planted a church in the mountains next to Madrid.
• Another couple went to Western Canada where they launched a group of churches.
• The latest couple is going into the fourth year of studies in Madrid while planting a church — with our son Manny and his wife Jamie
A mighty harvest! A mighty crop of disciples, with even greater harvests to come in their fields as well.
And what about Dennis and Marie Pat, the self-effacing missionaries from Ireland? Their story has become one of those .
“old school missionary” acts of the past century...
When the time came for their “keds,” as Dennis calls them, to enter high school, the family had to face a decision. Would the “keds” leave the Canaries, for better schools back in Ireland? Dennis and Marie Pat had made a choice to serve the Lord with their lives, but they felt as a matter of principle that they could not impose their own choice on the “keds.” At the same time, they felt that the children at this point in their lives still needed their parents to be close at hand. But the leaders they had brought up in the church in the Canaries were not ready to take over the ministry.
After much prayer and soul-searching, Dennis and Marie Pat felt that the only solution before the Lord was “to deny themselves.” Marie Pat would go back to Ireland with the “keds” ... Dennis would stay behind and tend the flock at Jinamar.
You and I may not have made the same decision — but I have to admire their courage in faith and devotion.
We learn from the earliest days in Sunday school about believers having “a cross to bear.” Dennis and Marie Pat had considered it an easy yoke to leave Ireland and serve in the rough neighborhood of Jinamar. But now “their cross” had come fully into view. Full of God’s grace, they were ready to bear it.
I began to visit Dennis frequently in the Canaries. The fellowship was rich and deep. We talked about the Bible and theology late into the night. In the morning I got up and ran many miles. Then we had our devotions, then breakfast. Then it was time to tackle the day!
Some nights, Dennis opened his heart, and tears flowed, with the true feelings of loneliness at his post. But also, deeper than that, was a commitment to stay true to his God and to his calling.
One night I asked Dennis about sending his children to prepare for ministry at Dallas Seminary. He had never dreamed of it; there was no money for such a plan. I offered to find help.
We talked to the first two boys — named David and Jonathan! They were thrilled to visit this legendary seminary. A pastor friend who studied with me at Dallas was eager to help through his church — his own father was born in Ireland a mere 12 miles from where Dennis was born! What are the chances of that? In God’s system, 100%!
The boys went to Dallas; it was love at first sight. David graduated with a Master’s degree and is now a pastor. Jonathan graduated with Master’s and Ph.D degrees. He is currently on staff at Dallas Theological Seminary. Paul, third son, graduated from the Master of Theology program and won the “Preacher of the Year” Award! Their youngest, Daniel is also currently attending DTS.
As you read these words, hundreds and even thousands of other lives and ministries are in the formation process! Take heart! There are many other disciples incoming!
This is the truth we encounter again and again, all around the world, as we pursue the calling of God!