My mother spent her childhood living in the small, dilapidated rectory of a downtown Winnipeg church. Only a few dozen people filled the pews each Sunday, but my grandfather had a heart for the community anyway.
He and my grandmother had their children later in life, and at the age of 40 they had toddlers. Yet they had a heart for children. Before she was married, my grandmother used to read Bible stories dramatically on the radio in Winnipeg, and at her funeral a few years ago several people told me they still remembered.
My grandfather, for his part, felt that part of his job as minister of this small congregation was to reach out to the kids around that church.
So every week they had a boys & girls club, where often 150 kids piled in for crafts, Bible stories, and games.
My grandfather taught himself metal work so that he had something exciting to entice the neighbourhood boys with. There was never any money in their small family, but somehow this outreach always found enough pennies to scrimp by.
Most of these children who came through those doors did not come from churched homes. And few even started coming to church even though they came mid-week. But still my grandparents pushed on.
My mother remembers a family of three boys in particular. I can’t remember their names, so we’ll call them Billy, Tom, and Harry. They were handfulls. They were active, they played pranks, but they loved coming. Nobody ever knew if they were getting through to the boys, but the boys would memorize Bible verses nonetheless to get their prizes. For my mother, who was only around 10 at the time, these nights were always chaotic and a bit stressful.
A few years later the family packed up and moved to a rural Manitoba town called Steinbach, where they stayed for the next five years. My mother never saw any of those three boys again.
But a few weeks ago my aunt received an email from Harry, informing her that Tom had just passed away. He had managed to track my aunt down, because he thought that the family might want to know what Tom had done with his life.
It turns out that Tom and his wife had spent the last three decades in Ghana, founding a ministry there.
They had church planted, and spread the word, and had done so much for God.
My grandfather died ten years ago. He never knew in this earth what his chaotic metal-working club had done.
And yet I can picture the scene in heaven, when an angel calls him over. “George,” the angel may have said. “There’s someone here I want you to see again. This is Tom, whom you shared the gospel with many, many years ago. Tom took that gospel to Ghana, and from what you did, God caused much fruit.” And I’m sure there was a wonderful reunion.
George planted the seed, someone else watered it, but God made it grow.
And my grandfather George never saw that Tom accepted Christ. He never saw what Tom did with his life. But what George did was important.
Ephesians 2:10 tells us that God has prepared great works for us to do since before the foundation of the world. What it does not tell us is that we will see the fruit of these works, or even understand what these works are.
Perhaps the most important thing my grandfather ever did for the kingdom was that kids’ club. And yet he may never have known that. Over the course of his life, he may have spent much more energy and time at his sermons, or his choirs, or some other ministry. But that kids’ club mattered.
Sunday School teachers, Awana leaders, and youth leaders: don’t become discouraged if you don’t see fruit.
It doesn’t mean that God isn’t growing fruit. The important thing is to follow God wherever He leads. And remember that we judge too much in terms of numbers and success, and not enough in terms of what God may be doing behind the scenes. We think of fruit in terms of people saved, and not necessarily in terms of character development. And yet two of the fruits of the Spirit are faithfulness and patience. God grows faithfulness and patience in us as we do what He has called us to. As we work out our purpose, He grows that fruit in us, and that is important, even if it doesn’t seem flashy at the time.
I think my grandfather’s story is far more the norm than the exception. Few of us will understand the impact the things we do on this earth will have until we leave this earth and see through God’s lens. So stay faithful now. Talk and listen lots to Jesus. Listen to His promptings. Don’t get caught up in successes. It’s faithfulness and obedience that matter, not success, because we can’t see the big picture.
But one day we will, and I think we’ll be very surprised, and very humbled. I’m looking forward to that day!
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