The evangelist Dwight Moody said, “Some day you will read in the papers that D. L. Moody … is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I will be more alive than I am now.”
I thought of that quote after hearing that a man who had a big influence on my life, missionary John Abel, had died. For most of his 94 years John was more alive than most anyone I have ever known. It is hard to imagine him being even more alive. But that is the sure hope we have because Jesus has risen from the dead.
I had the privilege of spending much time with John in Brazil, where he was a missionary for many years. The first time I was there I was a 24-year-old seminary intern. I thought I was fairly energetic, but it was all I could do to keep up with John who was in his 60s then. John always had an abundance of plans. There were people he wanted to see and things he wanted to get done. Sometimes we were short on time, but never short on goals and ideas.
One trip we headed out for a weekend to a couple little towns called Iretama and Cidade Poema. We were going from one town to the next, heading down a hill on a dirt road. At the bottom of the hill was a creek with two boards across it. The boards didn’t look like they were much wider than the tires on John’s truck. John maybe sensed what I was thinking because he said, “Those boards aren’t too wide so you have to be sure you hit them just right.” He also seemed to sense the question that was on my mind: “If we have to hit them just right, why are we flying down this hill so fast?” He said, “We have to keep up a good speed so we’ll have enough momentum to make it up the hill on the other side.” We made it across the creek and, while sliding around a little bit, made it up the hill on the other side. Just another enjoyable and memorable adventure with John.
John had the smarts, talent and energy to do all kinds of things with his life. Why did he spend so much of his life going across creeks and up and down dirt roads? Why did he visit homes and accept hospitality and eat and drink things that he knew might make him sick later? Why move to the interior of Brazil back when it was just beginning to be developed? Because people need to hear the good news of Jesus. “And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14). People of Iretama and Cidade Poema and all the other cities and towns of the world aren’t going to know Jesus and His great gift of salvation unless somebody goes and tells them. It is worth making sacrifices and giving our all in order to let people know what Jesus has done.
During these days of the coronavirus and stay-at-home orders, congregations are having to figure out other ways to declare God’s Word, doing things like live streaming services and using FM transmitters and being creative. It is the kind of thing I could see John doing, using whatever means he could and doing whatever he could to share with people the good news of Jesus.