The white apron covered her faded flowered dress. Breakfast was the first thing on the agenda for my visit, but I stopped eating my cornflakes when I noticed my grandmother reach into an apron pocket and pull out a crumpled piece of notebook paper.
Just a few months earlier she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. “I want you to do my funeral,” she bravely said.
“Let’s not talk about that now,” I replied.
“Oh, yes we will,” she insisted, handing me the notebook paper. “This is my obituary, and it’s what I want you to read to the people.” The scribbled writing compressed her 82 years into just a few short paragraphs. “And . . .” she continued, “I want you to read Psalm 23 for everyone. I want you to read it from the King James Bible, not one of those newfangled versions.”
I was 26 years old, and her funeral was one of the first I ever conducted. Yes, I read from the King James Bible. I’ve wondered every now and then, if I had read from “one of those newfangled versions” if I’d be scolded someday when I see her in Heaven.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the printing and distribution of the King James Version of the Bible. The newly crowned King James I of England wanted to correct some perceived problems in earlier English translations (the Geneva Bible and the Bishop’s Bible). He directed 47 translators from the Church of England to remove margin notes (some earlier versions proclaimed the pope the Antichrist in the side margins). Then, in 1611, the first of the huge (more than 16 inches tall) King James Bibles came off the printing press. For the next 250 years it would be the most printed book in the history of the world.
Throughout history the Bible has offered guidance to everyone from my grandmother to the king of England. The same is true for me.
Just a year ago, after serving for 26 years as a minister on a university campus, I began to wake up in the middle of the night with the faces and names of international students on my mind. Over the years I had noticed the growing population of these foreign friends, but I was too preoccupied—too distracted—to see what the Lord was trying to teach me.
I began listening more and more for his gentle whisper as I read the Bible. Isaiah 60:3 kept coming to me over and over again, “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” I tried to look away but just couldn’t. At 54, the thoughts of future retirement on the sandy beaches in Florida didn’t fit with this divine invitation.
I asked some of my friends and godly counselors from around the nation to pray for me as I asked the Lord, “What do you want me to do?” That’s a dangerous question to ask. The only thing more dangerous is not to ask it at all.
During that season of seeking, one of those close friends said, “I can’t conceive of a more effective means of taking the story of Jesus to every corner of the globe than to share Jesus with international students—winning the world by winning future world leaders.”
For years I had heard people say, “We need to wait on God.” My eyes opened in the wee hours of one of those early mornings and I realized that maybe, just maybe, God was waiting on me. It was a sacred moment.
A team of national leaders helped launch a new ministry last year—Crossroads International Student Ministries. Designed to alert, recruit, equip, and network people to reach out to international students, the ministry is still in infancy. But we are dreaming big dreams. We are convinced that God has realigned the cultures of the world to allow us to make disciples of all nations from our own living rooms.
Now as I walk with God and encounter him through his Word, I hunger for a lifetime of those sacred moments. Every day I want to walk so close with Jesus that it’s dangerous. I want to ask him the hard questions from deep inside my soul and then intently listen. I want to live a life that overflows with meaning and is filled with uncompromising trust and risk-taking adventure. I want to know what it feels like to have the Lord as my shepherd and experience what it means to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Greg Swinney is ministry facilitator with Crossroads International Student Ministries in Omaha, Nebraska.