Last Saturday, Heaven gained another one of the faithful. Ivan Martin, a long time missionary to Zimbabwe and a personal family friend, was taken to Glory after a long bout with cancer. The world's loss is Heaven's gain.
We first met Ivan and his wife JoAnn twenty years ago when we ministered to a small church in Colorado. JoAnn's mother was a member of our church and one of the most hospitable women I have ever met. At 80 years old, it was Evelyn's goal to have every church family to her home for Sunday dinner at least once during the year.
We had the privilege of hosting Ivan and JoAnn in our home as well. I still remember sitting around our dining table in our crowded living room, hearing Ivan give a different perspective on the problem and causes of AIDS in Africa. Just a few years later, they sat again at our dining table, this time in the parsonage of our ministry in rural Kansas. I doubt my girls remember much of the visit but they were enthralled with the Martins. The older girl signed up for Ivan's missionary letter and still to this day, both girls ask occasionally, "What do you hear from Ivan and JoAnn?"
If Heaven had an award for outstanding faithfulness, Ivan would be in the running. In spite of the mega-epidemic of AIDS sweeping across, Africa, the Martins stayed on. In spite of out-of-control inflation and political corruption, placing conditions on the country few of us would put up with for more than two seconds, the Martins stayed. Because of the economic conditions, the Martins lived simply, doing without necessities many of us take for granted; to their neighbors they still lived like royalty so theft was always a concern. Still they stayed - at a great price, for one of their daughters was murdered and another fought health issues. When Ivan was diagnosed with cancer, he had to seek treatment in South Africa. Each journey was long and arduous; although not that many miles, on African roads, it took hours. They could have so easily come home to the States citing any of the above as legitimate reasons and no one of us would have blamed them. Instead, they saw these problems as opportunities to display the love of Jesus to those around them.
I'm certain my daughters have an interest in missions and global evangelism today because of exposure to people like Ivan and Joann. I once had a relative who criticized ministers for not trying hard enough to house visiting missionaries with church members, instead, feeling they had to shoulder the burden by themselves. Burden, nothing!! After becoming the wife of a minister and meeting Ivan and Joann, I felt almost greedy for wanting visiting missionaries to stay with us. The influence on my children and the mutual strengthening of our faith, far outweighed any inconvenience it was to feed and house them.
Too often, the church asks visiting missionaries to share their pictures and accounts of their work to adult Sunday School classes and morning worship sermons. Why not instead, ask the missionary to spend time with the children? Let them tell the stories, let them share some ethnic food, let them tell the children why sacrificing your life as you know to live in a foreign land is worth it. That missionary may never know, like I'm sure Ivan never knew about my girls, the potential influence he or she may have in inspiring a new generation of world Christians.
But Heaven will know. And that is all that's needed.
Thanks, Ivan, for sharing your life with us and with the people of Zimbabwe. I hope you are hearing the Lord say about now, "Well done, good and faithful servant."