Dr. T.A. Patterson, my noble father, understood his responsibility to teach his son Paige to share Christ. I went with Dad first at age nine, and the lessons I imbibed have hung with me until now. Through the years I have labored to teach that method to my students. I figure that if you get a kid witnessing before he learns that Christians do not have to do this, he is likely to stay with it.
Imagine then my elation when I received several photos from a recent journey of Pastor Mamitiana into the bush in Madagascar. A terrible drought and consequent famine has ravaged Antandroy land, and remaining alive has become the challenge for these special people. Mamatiana has a bush vehicle equipped for the interior of southern Madagascar and named it “The Dorothy” after Mrs. Patterson. Loaded up with food and other necessities, Mamitiana ventures into the “out back” with sustenance and the soul-saving gospel of Jesus the Christ.
Mamitiana said to his nine-year-old boy Fitahiana, “Come go with me, son, to help these tough but wonderful people.” Most kids that age would be repulsed by an offer to bump over several hundred miles of pot-holed dirt roads in order to deliver food. Fitahiana is obviously cut from a different piece of cloth. Not only did he gladly accept the invitation, but I have several pictures of him giving his testimony about the grace of Jesus poured into his young life. My favorite photo is one with a line of his contemporaries standing at the front of the village. Fitahiana stands alone before the line and shares Jesus with the children.
You can have a witnessing class – a wholesome activity, to be certain, if you wish. But for Fitahiana, a refreshing course will never be a necessity. Riding “shotgun” with Daddy over the miles, he has learned the land. On the way, he got to spend “man-time” with Dad and talk about things that might not be of much interest to Mom and his sisters. And then he got to preach his early sermons to hungry people.
No put-down of school intended, but I will promise that Fitahiana learned more geography, physics, psychology, and ecclesiology in about four days than he ever could have wrapped his mind around in a classroom full of other kids. And while he was at it, he learned how to share his faith effectively, and he came home feeling that God had used him in a unique manner.
So comes the lesson of “out back” Madagascar for the more sophisticated world. In addition to all the other lessons, two stand out to me. First, there is the lesson about what matters. It does not matter whether you are trucking to a football game, pursuing an opportunity to take food to the hungry “out back,” or walking through the downtown area, there is no place with as much adventure or as great a reward as a journey for Jesus. How many American kids know that?
Second, Fitahiana learned that to feed a hungry child is good and noble. But the child will awaken in the morning, and he will be physically hungry again. Feed the same child the manna of God’s Word, and he will be satisfied spiritually for eternity! Not only so, but in addition, he will remember you long after he has forgotten the one who fed him his human food, because “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
So, Fitahiana, congratulations today on your graduation from Christ’s most important school! Some seminarians never learn what you know at age nine. And millions of nine-year-olds around the globe wish they had a mother and dad like your parents. Teaching a child to serve others constitutes one of life’s most critical lessons.
My dad never taught me in a class on personal evangelism. But he taught me by leading me to see the immense value of others. He showed me how to share what Jesus had done for me; and now, nearly 70 years later, I have never ceased adding new chapters to my greatest adventure. Greater adventure than travel or hunting? Oh yes. Adventures that live on forever in one’s soul.
And Fitahiana, in years to come, you will remember year number 9, the radiant face of your dad, and the love of your mother, not to mention the joy in the faces of those children with whom you shared Jesus!