By Rick Chromey
It was a blustery, cold Thursday in January 2005.
My meeting with Bill Leamon—the maintenance manager for Kentucky Christian University—was scheduled for 3 p.m. I initiated the meeting to announce my resignation from the youth worker team for Bill’s mission trip to Mexico. My daughter had roped me into going. Our church youth group annually traveled to Ciudad Acuna to serve impoverished families. The trip of 1,400 miles was a grueling, nonstop, 24-hour, one-way drive from Grayson, Kentucky. My daughter’s enthusiasm had proven contagious.
I said yes.
But I never wanted to go.
Mission work, I believed, was for someone else.
For most of my life I resisted working in a foreign field . . . any foreign field. It wasn’t my “calling.” I happily supported missionaries and promoted their work. I gave time and money so friends could serve in short-term missions. I interacted with dozens of missionaries over my ministry career. I was inspired by their stories of sacrifice, courage, and perseverance. Nevertheless, my desire to travel abroad was limited to exotic locales like Alaska, Hawaii, and eastern Kentucky.
I also told God I wouldn’t do it.
And that’s never a good idea.
Oh, I occasionally worked a local or U.S.-based mission situation. I served with groups that painted homes, built fences, fixed roofs, mowed lawns, and raked leaves for the aged, poor, or disabled. My heart was open to mission work, but remote African villages or dangerous Amazon jungles were not options (and I said no to a few invites). Frankly, I have a distaste for exotic foods and avoid dysentery, dengue fever, and malaria like the plague. I prefer pythons, cobras, and pit vipers behind glass . . . television glass.
Everything was copacetic . . . until my daughter signed me up.
Now to be fair, we didn’t plan to stay in Mexico. I never would’ve done that. We would spend our nights in Del Rio, Texas, then daily cross the border for our work. Since I liked Mexican food, I figured I could survive on burritos, chips, and Coke.
And yet, as this trip neared, my interest faded.
I decided to bow out.
My meeting with Bill would be short and sweet. I’d share my situation, my busy schedule, and a dozen reasons why I couldn’t go. That plan worked well for about five minutes. That’s when Bill Leamon—a really nice guy with an undying love for Mexico and teenagers—commandeered the meeting for the next 90 minutes. He enthusiastically re-recruited me to help lead the trip. He assuaged my fears of getting lost, food poisoning, and Mexican drug lords.
How could I say no? Bill was right. I was needed on this trip.
“OK,” I told him, “I’ll go.” Bill just smiled. It’s like he knew what was coming.
The next day I was home from work early when the telephone rang. There was a car accident outside of Grayson.
Bill Leamon was dead.
The news was shocking. Why would God let this happen? Why Bill? Why now? Three days later Bill was buried. It all seemed surreal.
True to my promise, I went on that mission trip to Mexico. And, yes, I did survive. The experience ignited a passion for intercultural work in both my daughter and me. I went back to Mexico the following spring. A few years later, I accepted an invitation with KidZ at Heart International to train in Tanzania . . . twice! I fell in love with Africa. I eventually joined the KidZ at Heart staff and became a self-funded missionary. I traveled and trained in South Africa, Uganda, and Moldova in July 2016.
Those international experiences forged a passion to build my own nonprofit educational services ministry to train leaders, teachers, pastors, and parents in the United States and abroad. I’ve now been to Cote d’Ivoire and Italy to lead training and I’m passionately open to serving foreign missionaries wherever God leads . . . whether I like the food or not.
And to think, it all started with a Leamon.
And a conversation that converted a no into a yes.
And then a tragic death that opened a new life chapter and greater calling.
God truly works in mysterious ways.
Dr. Rick Chromey is the founder and president of MANNA! Educational Services International (www.mannasolutions.org). He serves churches, schools, and faith-based organizations with “curiously Divine” training for leaders, teachers, and parents. He lives in Meridian, Idaho, with his wife, Linda.