My World Keeps Growing Smaller
by Roger Bruner
Many people would claim that the world started growing smaller with the advent of the Internet.
Not me, though. My world started growing smaller during the early 1960s, when—as a teen—I inherited an ancient Zenith shortwave radio receiver. I listened to stations from all over the world and ended up with a good-sized bulletin board covered with QSL cards—colorful postcards verifying that I had picked up those stations at specific dates, times, and frequencies.
The nations of the world became real to me through my short wave listening. More than once I heard my letters read on one of those stations, and I’ll never forget an announcer at a station in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, commenting about being able to hear machine gun fire across the river in Leopoldville in the Congo Republic. Those were the days before satellite news coverage of events around the world.
With college in the mid-1960s, I gave up short wave radio for the pleasant sounds of FM and soon lost touch with most of the world.
Flash forward to 1984, when I started working at the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. IMB employees are conscious of the world outside the United States. And concerned about the physical and spiritual needs of the billions of the world’s people who don’t even know the name of Jesus.
Since the IMB coordinated volunteer mission trips all over the world, developing an interest in going on one came naturally. But what could I do? I wasn’t a preacher or an evangelist. I was a computer programmer.
In 1991 I went on my first trip. God sent me to Australia and let me take my guitar. It arrived safely in London instead of Sydney, however, and took three days flying back to my waiting hands.
But one of the keywords in missions is flexibility. So I made do with a lesser borrowed guitar.
I’d read about Australia being a highly secular nation with a small percentage of professing Christians, and was that ever accurate. At the church’s welcome banquet, one friendly fellow walked up to me, told me his name, and announced that he was an atheist. He’d come to the banquet to please a relative.
No wonder our host pastor kept our team so busy. We went from event to event at breakneck speed. While we probably didn’t make a huge impact on the area we served, the experience changed us “missioners.” And became addictive.
By 2005 I’d gone on six or seven additional trips—several times to Australia, but also to England, Wales, and Romania. My world was growing smaller again.
Especially at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, where I met visitors from all over the world. And in Romania where—for the first time—I ministered to people who spoke a different language from me. My faith and concern for the world’s needs were growing.
My world shrank to its smallest this past March. And happened in the strangest way.
I’d been working on a new novel for several months when I sensed that God wanted me to set that manuscript aside and do something else. He was specific: Complete Overshadowed, the novel that was to have been the third book in my Altered Hearts series—a manuscript I’d written 30,000 words of before learning that my publisher was discontinuing its Young Adult line.
I’d never bothered to finish it before because, frankly, what publisher would want book three in another publisher’s series? But the compulsion to complete Overshadowed grew too strong to resist.
Overshadowed involves a mission trip to Nicaragua. When I reached that part of the manuscript, I was stumped. I got plenty of facts from Internet research, but not a real feel for the country. Sensing my frustration, my wife reminded me that we’d been saving for a mission trip for several years. Why not find out whether our church had a trip to Nicaragua planned anytime in 2014?
Hmm. None of our members had been to Nicaragua in several years. But I’d ask.
Would you believe a team was getting ready to go in three weeks? Did I ever more scramble to get ready. No guitar this time, though. We needed all of our free checked luggage for things to give the churches we would work with.
Nicaragua may be the closest geographically of any country I’ve gone to, but it was also the most foreign. Despite its natural resources, it’s still a third world nation, and too many of its people live at a level of poverty I wouldn’t have believed without seeing it first-hand.
Even as I look at the photographs I took while we were there, I still have trouble believing that people could live in makeshift shacks of miscellaneous pieces of sheet metal, wood, and cinder blocks. Most were smaller than our single car garages and some didn’t have even a cloth over the doorway—or enough roof to cover the whole inside. The roughest of outhouses, lack of clean water, and barely enough food to get by on were all too common.
But the Christians were the same as Christians everywhere—joyful in spite of what they lacked, hopeful about an eternity that far surpasses the best this world can offer, and extremely gracious to their far more affluent American Christian brothers and sisters.
My world has finally grown smaller again. I’ve come to realize that much of the world is like Nicaragua in its need for the basics of life…and especially in its need of the Gospel.
Roger Bruner is a former English teacher, job counselor/interviewer, and programmer/analyst. He retired at sixty-two to write full-time. His published books include young adult novels Found in Translation and Lost in Dreams and a short collection of miscellaneous older works, Yesterday’s Blooms. Two mid-life novels are due for release later this year.
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