The other day an old friend came to visit. I had called him last week and asked to get together to talk about the mission work we've been doing in Cuba, but which has been on somewhat of a hiatus for the past two years. Joel was instrumental in our getting involved in Cuba some ten years ago. I've made multiple trips over the years, but circumstances for the past two years have prevented me from getting down there, and the situation there is so fluid that I wasn't sure where everything stood. To tell the truth, I was beginning to wonder if I should begin putting my efforts elsewhere.
Joel is an interesting man. About my age, he sports a white beard and facial features that makes him look somewhat like "papa" Hemingway, who of course, is well-known in Cuba. Raised as a missionary kid in Vietnam, then working toward his doctoral degree in missions back in the seventies, he planned to invest his life teaching in a mission school overseas when the whole structure of American mission work went through a major upheaval, essentially leaving him stranded with an education for which there was little demand.
Over the years, he has done some teaching in the public education system of his hometown, but his heart and soul is in missions, and for awhile, he felt like his life was on hold till he met Willie and became a champion for mission work in Cuba. Often at considerable personal sacrifice, he has traveled and taught, led mission teams, and served as liaison and chauffeur to Willie while stateside, always doing his utmost to promote mission work in Cuba.
As we talked the other day about how we might team up to teach in Cuba, it wasn't just Joel's educational knowledge that impressed me; it was his passionate heart. Never once in the years I've known him has his enthusiasm for and commitment to Cuban missions flagged or fainted. He's known discouragement and difficulty, but when we talk Cuba, his eyes brighten, his smile widens, and he is all in. I am grateful for men like Joel who, largely unknown to the world, take the short hand they were dealt and play it for all it's worth. We need more men like this, disciples of Christ who keep plugging away no matter what. You'll not see his name in any history books, but when the final books of God are opened, I believe I'll see his name written in gold. I am honored to be his friend, and thankful that God is using him to rekindle a fire in me that had begun to cool.