By Dr. Ben Sells

President, Ouachita Baptist Univeristy

Giving thanks in disappointment; a personal story

By Dr. Ben Sells

President, Ouachita Baptist Univeristy

Disappointments – we’ve each had our share of them this year. Yet, experience tells me that for some of the disappointments, with the benefit of time and wisdom, we’ll find reasons to give thanks. Here’s one story from my life.

Lisa’s hometown church is First Baptist of Commerce, Okla., and mine is First Baptist of Bolivar, Mo.; both were faithful to communicate the Great Commission. We met at Southwest Baptist University, and through that Christian college experience sensed a call to ministry.

Then a Ouachita graduate challenged us to go. So, in 1986 we were among the first Southern Baptists to re-enter China as year-long volunteer English teachers. The experience with what was then the Foreign Mission Board stretched our minds and enlarged our hearts for the world. We’ve never been the same.

We returned to the States, finished graduate school, started a career in Christian higher education, bought a home and began a family. Yet, we were unsettled.

By now, it’s 1994 and there’s a growing understanding of and conviction about focusing on unreached peoples. The year 2000 was looming, and there was a concerted global effort to do all that mission-minded Christians could toward a church planting movement among every people by the turn of the century.

We were that couple, steeped in Southern Baptist life and with our China experience so fresh in our hearts. We responded to the moment by saying to the soon-to-be-renamed International Mission Board: “Here we are. Send us to a place where Christ is not named.” We began applying to be appointed as career missionaries with high hopes. We were drawn to new opportunities that would be hard.

Then came that day, one I still remember so clearly, that a letter arrived stating we couldn’t move forward in the application process. The IMB was concerned about one of our preschooler’s health concerns. (In retrospect, it was minor but seemed major at the time to the IMB.) We couldn’t believe it. We appealed. Same response. This wasn’t a delay, but a denial. And it felt like the death of a dream. Deep, deep disappointment for Lisa and me.

The disappointment motivated us to look in new directions. “Surely someone will send us?” we thought. We discovered an evangelical interdenominational mission agency, based in the U.S., that focused on mobilizing and educating people to serve among an unreached people. We resigned our job, raised our support and moved to California. That experience would prove to be every bit as life-changing as our time in China.

Then, three years later, the IMB approached me about relocating to its Richmond, Va., headquarters to start the International Centre for Excellence in Leadership. What a privilege to travel the world and work alongside our missionaries, many of whom were Arkansas Baptists and Ouachita graduates.

With the benefit of time and of years walking with the Lord, as our life story kept unfolding, the disappointment subsided and we found new reasons to give thanks. Our plan was not the only plan, so it seems God has reminded us over and over. It illustrates the truth found in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Indeed. The pandemic has created so many disappointments. For you. For all of us. We long and pray for it to be over. Advent, the confident yearning for the Hope of the future, will likely feel very real to us this year. Yet my own life, and the testimony of all the saints before me, reminds me even in the midst of this Pandemic Year of Disappointments, because of God’s redemptive work through Jesus Christ, we can find reasons to give thanks. Maybe it’s not too early this Thanksgiving to start looking for them.

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