As I settled into my pastorate in Danville, Pennsylvania, I was delighted to have as one of our parishioners a retired missionary by the name of Charles F. Stamm. It is always wonderful to have a missionary in the congregation to remind us of what we are all about.
As I became acquainted with Charlie, as he wanted to be called, I grew a little disappointed. This missionary was probably the most depressed and discouraged person I had ever seen. It was hard for me to understand why a man who had committed his life to serving the Lord should come to the end of his life a discouraged and depressed old man. I did whatever I could to try to cheer him up, but to no avail.
It took a while for me to come to the center of Charlie’s discouragement and depression. To put it simply, he and his wife had served as missionaries in Mali, West Africa for many years. According to Charlie, his entire ministry was a failure. Several years before I arrived in Danville, Charlie’s wife, Sadie, had died of cancer. That brought more depression upon this dear old brother.
In a rare moment of confidence, Charlie told me that in all his years in Africa, he had never led one soul to Jesus Christ. When he told me that, his eyes overflowed with tears of sorrow and regret. “What has my life really meant?” he sobbed. Unfortunately, I had no words of encouragement for my dear brother.
In doing a little research, I found an article in the Alliance Witness dated June 5, 1991. One sentence in that article jumped out at me. “Thirty-three years later there were still no Fulbe churches. The Stamms had succeeded only in sowing the gospel seed among these people.” According to the record, there was nothing to show for Charlie and his wife’s ministry in Africa.
After getting to know Charlie a little bit he shared with me his testimony.
“One night my brother and I heard a young man preach the gospel on the street corner. I do not remember just what he said but he put me under conviction. I was self-righteous and thought I was saved because I thought I was doing the best possible for one to be saved.
“Billy Sunday came to Pittsburgh and as I was hungering after God I gladly attended one of his meetings. After one meeting, one of the Christian workers asked me if I was saved. I told him I thought so. He then gave me two tracts, ‘What it means to be a Christian,’ and, ‘How to make a success of the Christian life.’
“I used to read those tracts, then read my Bible and compare my life with what I was reading. One of the first things I saw was that I was lost and undone and that Christ had borne my sins and it was necessary for me to accept Him and live for Him. I tried my best to accept the Lord at home but something seemed to say that I needed to accept Christ publicly. I wondered where I could do such a thing.
“One day on my way to a Lutheran church I saw a small sign on an old building that said, ‘Gospel Mission’ and something seemed to say that this is the place to accept Christ publicly. On August 1, 1915, I accepted Jesus as my Savior and my burdens rolled away. A few years later in another mission I surrendered to Christ as my Lord and the verse, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age” became a reality to me.
“Since I found Christ as my Savior I knew that there were many heathen have never heard about him and my heart went out to them. I wanted them to have a chance to accept Christ as their Savior as I did. I believe those in America can find the Lord as their Savior easily enough if they seek and there are many who know the gospel and will give out the gospel. I believe there are many poor heathen souls who are really seeking the light and they need someone to tell them the simple gospel story. I offered, if need be, my life to serve Christ and felt certain I should offer at least as much to my Lord who bought me with his precious blood. I know I am a failure in myself, but I also know that ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.’”
I was delighted when Charlie shared his personal testimony with me. As he talked I was convinced he really had a sense of God’s calling upon his life to be a missionary. The problem he had was, he believed he was an absolute failure as a missionary. After all, the results did not show him to be very successful.
Several years after coming to Danville we had a missionary conference and one of the missionaries was from Africa. After he settled in, he asked me, “Does Charles F. Stamm come to the church here?” When I answered in the affirmative, he said he really needed to go and see Charlie.
When we got to Charlie’s apartment, I introduced the two men, one an old seasoned missionary and the other a vibrant young missionary. I could see the curiosity in Charlie’s eyes as he looked over this young missionary.
“Rev. Stamm,” and he stood in front of Charlie as Charlie sat in his easy chair, “I want to bring you Christian greetings from…” He then rattled off the names of leaders of the church in Mali who were converted from the Muslim religion. As it turned out, these men all remembered Charlie and contributed their conversion to Christ to good old Charlie’s ministry in Africa.
As the missionary told the story of how these young Africans were converted to Jesus Christ and became the leadership of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Mali, good old Charlie’s eyes filled with tears and they ran down his cheeks almost unstoppable. Charlie began sobbing. Then, I began sobbing. I was not quite sure why I was sobbing, but I knew exactly why good old Charlie was sobbing. For so many years, he felt his ministry was a failure. Now, almost 20 years after he left the field, he is witnessing the fruit of what he thought was a barren ministry. The missionary gave Charlie pictures of the leaders of the church in Mali and until the day he died, Charlie cherished those photographs.
About two years later, I had the honor of officiating at Charlie’s funeral. It was my privilege at that funeral to share Charlie’s story.
I have had a long time to think about Charlie’s story and I have come to a very serious conclusion. Sometimes, for whatever purpose, God calls us to be light in a dark place. What we might be doing at the time may not appear to be very successful from a human standpoint. After all, were not working for a man but rather for God views our life, work and ministry from a divine perspective.
Today we are worshiping at the altar of “Results.” If we do not get the results we want or are expecting, we close up shop and go somewhere else. The sense of “the call,” has somehow been watered down to a “vocation.” This vocation is guided and evaluated by the measurements of the world. How we can bring the world’s values to bear upon the work of the ministry is one of the neatest tricks the devil has ever played upon the church of Christ. How many people, like my friend good old Charlie, feel that their life and ministry is a failure because they do not match up to the results the world considers important?
The great commission is simply “Go Ye,” without any mention at all of earthly results. If a person were to study the early missionary efforts under that grand missionary statesman, A. B. Simpson, we would have to conclude that he was an absolute failure in many regards. More missionaries died on their way to Africa than actually arrived in Africa. Along the way were trials, tribulations, heartaches and disappointments. Establishing God’s work in Africa was paved with the blood of the martyrs.
We have forgotten our history. We look to the world for some kind of paradigm to judge what we are doing for the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Charlie’s story taught me one thing if anything, that is, I am serving Jesus Christ and not man. I am to honor and please Christ, not me.
Where are those who are willing to be, for the cause of Christ, a light in a dark place?