This Great Cloud of Witnesses

Early on this summer I was given a bulky cardboard box full of paper--it felt old, it smelled old, soon I discovered it was relatively old, at least older than me, as noted by one of my coworkers. The box was full of newsletters from World Renew field staff ranging from the early 80s to mid 90s. I began the monotonous process of scanning and cataloging each newsletter into our database. It went something like this: Grab five newsletters. Walk ten paces to the scanner. Choose scanner settings. Send papers through scanner. Recycle papers. Walk ten paces back to computer. Drag files to proper network folders. 

Unsurprisingly, after a bit I got bored with the scanning. I took to scanning a few newsletters before lunch or in between meetings to fill time, but the papers weren’t depleting from the box as quickly as I had hoped. I decided I needed to crack down in order to finish them before the summer was over, and that’s when things got really repetitive.

Before long I decided to add one extra, very important step: Read newsletters.

Whoa.

I began journeying with countless faithful, inspired, God-fearing, courageous missionaries through the words they had put to paper. I learned about the fear of leaving family, friends, and homes for a new place, which was often lonely and difficult at first. I rejoiced when I saw photos of a group of young women, all of whom had asked for prayer for companionship and courage, come together and experience the fellowship they craved. I was thrilled when I read birth announcements from young couples in the field, stories of little ones learning to talk, and finding photos of missionaries’ sons and daughters alongside their Honduran, Kenyan, and Filipino, friends was a treasure. And my heart broke when I learned of husbands and wives, fathers and daughters, tragically dying a continent away from their loved ones.  

I began to feel familiar with the authors of the newsletters, as though they were my old friends writing to me from decades and miles away. One morning I answered the World Renew phone and the caller introduced himself as someone I had just seen in the signature line of a letter. “Oh, right! We’ve met before.” I said, not remembering where we would have met but knowing the name felt very familiar. “No, no I don’t think so,” he said slowly. I caught myself, and laughingly, sheepishly replied that I had made a mistake--I had been reading his newsletters, and obviously enjoying them. He chuckled and graciously took a few moments to chat with me about his life since returning to the states.

I was especially astounded by the ramifications of a lack of communication and technology for field staff. Much of the correspondence was through snail mail. Letters from family and friends were precious; constant communication, as we are used to, would have been only wishful thinking. Even now we can learn about the world through the internet and network with others easily through social media, preparing us even in small ways before we travel.

I was overwhelmed with respect for the authors of these newsletters, and it prompted me to think of all the Christians called to show God’s mercy and love around the globe ever since Jesus walked the Earth, from the Apostle Paul to Jim Elliot, from Amy Carmichael to Mother Theresa.

The call to missions, in all of its forms, can be discouraging. It can be lonely. It can feel like our efforts are futile. However, through a heavy, musty cardboard box and days of pacing between the scanner and my computer, the Lord gave me a beautiful picture of the “great cloud of witnesses” we are surrounded by as we “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). It was a gift to be encouraged by these witnesses to God’s grace who have been a part of World Renew over the years.

To learn more about the history of World Renew in the past, look back on our 50th Anniversary stories.

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Guide

Abby, this is beautiful! Thank you for ensuring that these voices will not disappear.

Community Builder

thanks, Abigail, for this work with old colleagues!   I was one of those writers of dusty letters back in the late 80s,(yes they seemed dusty even while I wrote), and I remember that the fax was a new hi-tech development over there in Asia.Nobody dreamed of such a thing as email.  I really enjoyed reading your reflections on the boxes of correspondence.