Two small articles that changed my life forever

The Commission magazine exists now only on-line but for many generations it arrived in the homes and churches of Southern Baptists all over the country. I’ve known and appreciated several of its editors and grieved when it went out of business. (It was the monthly publication of the SBC International Mission Board, headquartered in Richmond.)

Two things in that magazine changed my life forever. They were so tiny, I’m confident that the people who dropped them in had no idea how powerful they were and no inkling of how God would use them.

We need a cartoonist! 

The first was a tiny notice in the fall of 1976 announcing that a cartoonist was needed by the missionaries in Singapore. As a part of their urban strategy, they wanted to produce an evangelistic comic book and distribute to teens all over that island nation.

They needed someone to draw it.

I read that in my office and thought, “I could do that.” The phone rang. Margaret was calling from home. “Did you see this little note in The Commission that they need a cartoonist to draw a comic book in Singapore? You could do this.”

That’s how it happened that in May of 1977 I traveled to Singapore and spent two weeks with missionaries Bob and Marge Wakefield. The urban strategists who had conceived the idea–Ralph and Ruthie Neighbour–had returned to Houston, but they continued working with us on this.

I worked with the Singaporean believers on developing a workable script and sketched people and places all over the city. Then, returning home to Mississippi, I set about drawing the full-length comic book. Ralph Neighbour had the drawings transferred to acetate cels, which we–my family, my church members, my neighbors!–worked at coloring by hand over the next few weeks. It was a job!

My church members kicked in the money to print that comic in full color and it was shipped to Singapore. Ten thousand copies. Some were sold on newsstands for only the amount needed to give the seller a profit and the others were distributed by the churches. I kept out enough to give one each to our helpers and contributors and my children. (I have one copy left, plus the acetate cels.)

That was memorable and life-changing for me–I hope it was for some Singaporeans, but we’ll have to wait for Heaven to find out–and it began with a tiny announcement in our missions magazine.

A church goes on a mission trip 

The other thing was a small news item which I clipped out and have used in sermon after sermon ever since.

I don’t know the date of it, but here is the article verbatim.

“Volunteer learns to sing old song in a new way.”

“Pastor Jack Hinton from New Bern, NC, was leading music for a worship service held in a leper colony on the island of Tobago. There was time for one more selection. He asked for a request, and a woman who had been facing away from the pulpit turned around.”

“‘I saw the most hideous face I had ever seen,’ Jack says. The woman’s nose and ears were entirely gone. Most of her lips had rotted away.”

“‘She lifted a fingerless hand in the air and asked, ‘Can we sing Count Your Many Blessings?’”

“Overcome with emotion, Jack left the service. He was followed by a team member who said, ‘Jack, I guess you’ll never be able to sing that song again.’”

“‘Yes, I will,’ Jack replied, ‘but I’ll never sing it the same way again.’”

That’s the story.

I photocopied the page and filed it. I told the story to friends, preached it in sermons, and promptly forgot Pastor Jack’s last name or where I had filed the page.

Some years later, after I had told the story in Newport News, Virginia, a man came up. “That pastor you spoke about is my uncle, Jack Hinton. He’s retired now. I’ve heard him tell that story.”

He assured me I’d gotten it right.

Funny thing. Reading the story as it first appeared, I realize I embellish it a tad now, and it generally takes 3 to 4 minutes to tell. (Trait of a good storyteller–make it come alive; don’t just tell a story, but put people there!)

I was called into the ministry in 1961 and started pastoring in November of 1962. I must have used a jillion stories and illustrations over these decades. But this one was the best.

This is the finest story I ever read or used in a sermon.

Anyone can rejoice when life is good, the kids are well-behaved, the news from the doctor is great, the company is thriving, your job is secure, and your team is winning.

But let’s see you count your blessings when you are at the bottom of life’s pit. This leprous woman in Tobago had nothing but who she was on the inside. Far from having her beauty, she didn’t even have her face. Far from having her nails done, she had no fingers.

And still she could sing.

Can you sing, “Count Your Many Blessings?

If not, there is a leprous woman in the Caribbean who would like to know why.

This story and the last three verses of Habakkuk chapter 3 go together as though God in Heaven intended it from the first.

“Though the fig tree should not blossom,

And there be no fruit on the vines.

Though the yield of the olive should fail

And the fields produce no food;

Though the flock should be cut off from the fold

And there be no cattle in the stalls,

Yet, I will exult in the Lord.

I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.

The Lord God is my strength.

He has made my feet like hinds feet;

He causes me to walk upon my high places.”

(I always like to point out that “hinds” are the sure-footed mountain goats. A “high place” is anywhere in life that’s scary, where if you fall, it could be disastrous.)

If, at the end of my earthly life, they ask, “What was your best message?” this is the answer:

That story and that text.

It’s as good as they come.

Thank you, International Mission Board, for The Commission. Thank you, Pastor Jack Hinton for going to Tobago and for telling us that story.

Thank you Lord for your countless blessings.

Help me to sing your praises today and to do it regardless.

2 thoughts on “Two small articles that changed my life forever

  1. Joe, I was a member of the congregation in Columbus, MS when you asked the church for leave time for this mission. Of course, it was given. Thank you for sharing both stories. I am especially moved by the cartoonist because I was personally involved but “Count Your Blessings” is wonderful. Keep telling your two stories and more. Please continue to pastor me. I try to take the messages in and then pour them out in service and love.

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