On Friday's for the next several weeks, we are going to go on a journey with Robert and Margaret Fortenberry. This journey will take us back to 1994 when they left the U.S. to travel as IMB Missionaries to Botswana Africa. The journey will take us through key points in their time and ministry in Africa, and will conclude with their retirement and return to the states a couple of years ago.
We will follow them by remembering various newsletters they sent out through this journey. Today, we will begin with one that was written after several months on the field. I know you will enjoy looking over their shoulder and remembering.
"As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country."
I have been looking at photographs this evening. Bethany prevailed upon Margaret to buy a small album from a street vendor in Lobatse. It had a picture of horses on the cover which, with Bethany's present passion for anything equine, made it irresistible to her. The girls chose a few favorite photos to put in it when we got home and then later I sat down to select my contributions.
I found myself lingering over the pictures of last Thanksgiving in Alabama. At that point I had already concluded my work at Fairfield so the time there was free from the usual need to prepare for a return to pastoral duties. My grandmother joined us for Thanksgiving Day and brought a four-generation completeness to the Fortenberry family circle. The weather cooperated by being cool in the mornings and comfortable enough to sit out on the screen porch during the middle of the day. The hunting was leisurely and profitable.
The Christmas photos evoked equally vivid recollections. I could smell the food on the table at our traditional Christmas morning brunch. I could hear the squeals of delight as our girls and Elizabeth (my niece) exclaimed over each new treasure. I had almost forgotten my own of joy of the night before when I found that all the pieces to certain toys were all there and that they all really did have a place to go. But the pictures brought it all back with every detail crisp and clear.
The bitter cold of the weather at MLC and the sweet warmth of Christian friendships newly forged were both called to mind by the snapshots. Those last few frantic days of packing in Jackson, one last bass tournament with my dear friend Eddie Walker, the surge of the plane as it roared down the runway, lifted off and banked to the east for a seemingly endless journey in that direction and so much more were paraded before me with the Kodak seal of approval.
As I sat in my recliner, selections finally made, my thoughts turned to deep introspection. I found myself examining what I honestly believe. Jesus said that when all is said and done this is what the Christian life always returns to; whether I fully accept what He says in His word or not (John 6:29). I asked myself some basic questions.
Do I believe that there is an actual place called Heaven where I will go when I die to be forever united with my loved ones who know Him? Is there really a place where oceans do not divide, where hands are always close enough to hold, and the choked back tear of a goodbye to people deeply cherished is never seen? If so, then I can leave those nearest and dearest, for the duration of my earthly life if necessary, knowing that the comparatively miniscule span of my days on earth separated from them will be swallowed up in the never-ending expanse of eternity together.
Do I believe that there is a free and ready offer extended from the throne of God to others not yet on the road for that blessed place to join in our glad pilgrimage? Is the vast bulk of mankind really lost, wandering in a world headed for destruction, unaware of the dark vortex of Judgment drawing ever nearer? If so, His assignment for me in this corner of the world is more than worth the loss of the conveniences of modern American life. Indeed, sacrifice is a word I can hardly use with a clear conscience to describe my calling when so much hangs in the balance for those without the knowledge of Christ which I take for granted.
The few scenes captured by our camera (and the much larger file of mental images which they evoke) have caused me to review what I believe in my heart of hearts. And I have come to the conclusion that the truths which I have proclaimed from a comfortable stateside pulpit are more than mere words to occupy the mind on a Sunday morning. They are eternal verities amply worth staking a life on.
So I am here in Botswana, far removed from the people, pursuits, and places which I have developed an ever-deepening affection for in the first half of my allotment of "three score years and ten." I have brought my family and we have cast our lot among the Batswana. I ask you to pray for us that the elemental truths testified to by the one who is The Truth may sustain us day by day in this new life.
Robert and Margaret Fortenberry.