In the fall of 1973, I walked into my dorm room (Snowden 416) at the University of South Carolina and was met with a very unexpected but pleasant surprise. My roommate, Mack, was sitting on his bed along with two of my friends from Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as Cru), listening to them present the gospel message about Christ through the use of a small booklet known as The Four Spiritual Laws. As simple, and maybe as simplistic as it may sound, my friend, Jay, was reading through this small evangelistic pamphlet word for word, with Mack listening quietly and attentively.
Now, I must explain that I myself had been a Christian for only about a year, having given my life – everything – to Christ the fall before. Although Mack and I had been roommates for just a couple of months, I had spoken to Mack about the gospel, the Bible and Christian matters a few times. But I had never pushed the issue of becoming a Christian upon him. Although he was my roommate, we hadn’t been together very long, not even the entire semester thus far. We were actually thrown together.
I guess I wasn’t too good with roommates because during my freshman year, my first roommate, a friend from high school, dropped out of USC. He kind of failed out but mostly he became discouraged and left, returning home at the end of the fall semester. My next roommate, one given to me during the spring 1973 semester (by default on my part, through the USC housing department), was from a small town, had nothing in common with me (or my new found faith in Christ) and struggled with drug use. Needless to say, we didn’t sign up to be together the next year.
For some mysterious reason, however, I decided to trust the USC housing department once more and go for another “pot luck” roommate in the fall of 1974 (I’m still not sure why I did that). When I showed up that fall, my roommate was a fellow South Carolinian with a kind and thoughtful disposition. However, after a couple of weeks, it was quite apparent that we were not going to become good friends or even compatible roommates. We got along fine when we were together but that was the problem. Whenever we were in the dorm room together, one of us was trying to sleep. I tried to live somewhat normal human hours and would go to bed at 12 midnight most nights, whereas he would start studying at 12 midnight and study through the night, while sleeping throughout the day. He was a pharmacy major and his studies required long and arduous hours. He studied best in the quiet of the late night and the early morning. Thus, he would try to sleep during the day while I was both awake and present in the room (I don’t know what he did during the non-sleeping daylight hours). It didn’t take very long for us to realize that this situation would not work out for us.
In a very amicable manner, we discussed our dilemma. It boiled down to this: he had a friend who lived on our floor, directly catty corner from our dorm room and this friend had a roommate who was willing to trade places (i.e. dorm rooms) with him. We would simply swap roommates; he was going to live with his pharmacy buddy and I now would be receiving a complete stranger, one hailing from a foreign land (New Jersey)! I did meet this northern freshman prior to our agreeing to this new rooming arrangement and he seemed compatible enough for me. At least he slept normal hours. My new roommate, Mack, was seemingly a nice guy, could carry on a conversation and apparently didn’t do drugs. Raised in the northern Presbyterian church, he probably had some respect for the church but he (like myself a year earlier) had no interest in church or Christian involvement of any type.
A Providential Slip Up
It was inevitable, however, that he would meet my good friends in Cru, Jay and Randy, because Mack and I ate a lot of meals together in the campus cafeteria at the Russell House. Jay and Randy would show up there as well. One day, having run into Jay and Randy inadvertently (we might say) and without me being there, Mack returned to our dorm room and adamantly stated to me, “Tell your friends, Jay and Randy, to stay away from me. I have no interest in what they are selling!” I fully understood his request and would soon inform Jay and Randy that Mack did not want to be harassed by them.
However, God had other plans. I am a conscientious sort of guy. I was definitely going to tell Jay and Randy to leave Mack alone. But for reasons only God knows, I didn’t see them for a few days. This was unusual because we went to at least two Cru meetings a week together and we also attended the same church together, First Baptist Church of Columbia, where we would see each other at worship, Sunday School, the college student lunch and most likely at the Sunday evening worship service as well. Somehow, I missed them in the coming days and Mack’s admonition could not be communicated to my friends.
A Providential Dorm Visit
Life goes on, the days are busy and I dutifully attended my classes the next few days. Late one afternoon, however, after a long day of classes, I returned to my dorm elated to be done with class attendance and study. When I opened the door and entered my dorm room, there were Jay and Randy sitting on the bed with Mack, gradually making it through The Four Spiritual Laws, Jay reading it to Mack phrase by phrase. At first, I recalled my failure to explain Mack’s recent request to these guys and I thought, “Oh no, they are harassing him!”
But, as I walked in and observed what was happening, I saw that Mack was listening attentively, so I simply sat inertly on my own dorm bed. I listened and watched. As Jay approached the question, “Would you like to invite Christ into your life right now?” I prayed in my heart to the Lord for Mack. Surely Mack wouldn’t agree to this. He had never responded to any of my gospel oriented conversations (later, he told me that he didn’t even remember any of those conversations). But, amazingly, when Jay asked this question, Mack said “Yes.” And, consequently, he verbally prayed the prescribed prayer to receive Christ out loud, repeating it line after line, parroting Jay as he read it right out of the booklet.
Skepticism Countered by Providence
I too bowed my head but being the skeptic that I am, I wondered if anything real was going on here. The prayer ended and then, in a few minutes, Jay and Randy left the room. “Did this really happen?” I wondered. “Could Mack be serious about this decision?” Being a typical doubter about such things (on the spot prayers especially), I wasn’t sure if he really had become a Christian right before my eyes. But I knew one thing – if he was really a Christian, he would want to read the Bible. “We’ll see about that,” I thought!
So, the next day, I hustled downtown to the Columbia Christian Supply bookstore searching for an inexpensive and easy to read Bible. I found an edition that I would not normally endorse or give away since it wasn’t an actual translation (I had already learned that it was important to read from a good Bible translation) and so I bought Mack a brand new copy of the recently popular, light green, soft cushion covered Living Bible paraphrase written by Kenneth Taylor. I believe it cost about $17, which wasn’t too hard on a college student’s budget, even in 1973. I contemplated what passages he should read, if indeed he would read any of the Bible.
So, I took a scratch piece of paper and started to scribble down a number of Bible verses and passages that I thought a new Christian should read and know. This task wasn’t too difficult since in the past year I had been involved with a campus ministry called The Navigators. As a matter of fact, I became a Christian through the Navigator ministry at USC, providentially attending the very first Bible study that they had ever held on campus. The Navigators were famous for their emphasis upon memorizing Scripture and I had already begun to memorize a lot of individual Bible verses. Therefore, I just wrote down a number of these verses and some other passages and handed him a small list of about 15 verses or passages. I figured that would take care of him for the next week or so. He started reading that night.
The next day, he said, “Okay, I’m done with that list. What’s next?” I frankly didn’t expect such a quick turnover of Scripture reading. But, again, having been trained by someone in my past, I knew that the Gospel of John was the next place to begin (“I’ll give him something longer this time!” I thought to myself). And I threw in both the meaty book of Romans and the practical book of James and some Psalms on top of the Gospel of John “assignment.” He read something from the Bible most every night, usually while we were in the room together. In a couple of weeks he told me that he was finished with all of the reading I had “assigned” to him. So, at this point, I told him to just read the New Testament through. He complied. By the end of the semester (maybe 6-8 weeks), he had finished the entire New Testament! I was pretty sure he was now a Christian, i.e., definitely a new creation in Christ!
A Providential Christmas Card
We wrapped up the fall semester and Mack went back home to New Jersey for the Christmas holidays. As he left, I wondered how he would fare in his new found faith while at home, since, in my own experience, returning home after becoming a believer is not always an easy transition. I don’t recall exactly how things went spiritually or in relation to his parents and sisters upon his return, but I do still recall receiving a simple but very special Christmas card in the mail just before Christmas. It was from Mack.
I opened it up and all it said on the inside was “Merry Christmas.” But underneath those imprinted words, Mack had written in pen, “Rod, you have a one track mind – thanks for sharing it with me!” Wow! That is a memorable Christmas card, one which I still have in my possession! Mack was correct in many ways – I had been converted to Christ about 16 months before his conversion and God had thrown us together and allowed me the unbelievable privilege of watching my “stranger” roommate visibly and verbally enter into the kingdom of God! I really didn’t have a one track mind (I was dating, studying, playing and following sports, as well as Gamecock athletics, etc.), but that one track certainly did impact everything I was doing in life. And I still remember a special verse that Mack used to quote all the time when he reflected on his conversion to Christ. The verse came from Paul’s epistle to the church at Colossae, where he wrote these words: He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son… (Col. 1:13, ESV). Mack would often audibly express these words to me, knowing that he had received both new life and new light in Jesus.
Providential Roommates Once More
FAST FORWARD: Without going into great detail, Mack and I remained not only good friends but in the coming years, we would remain roommates. Mack’s sophomore year, while searching for a major that he could enjoy and succeed at, Mack discovered the language of French. It was obvious that he loved studying French. Much to my sadness, but happily for him, Mack left me at USC for an entire year (his junior year) while he studied French in the city of Limoges, located in the south central part of France. This was my senior year at USC; it was a long year.
Yet in God’s providence, because I had changed majors, I was required to attend an extra semester in order to graduate. So, in a blessing beyond my imagination (have I said that I loved him dearly as a brother and friend yet?), Mack and I were able to room together for one more semester. I really don’t remember the semester of fall 1976 at USC very well (I spent a lot of time thinking about post-graduation plans) but know that I couldn’t have been any happier to have my best friend and roommate back in my life. Nevertheless, soon I would have to graduate and move on with my life, looking to the future with Mack no longer being such an integral part of my life.
The future, by God’s very good providence, meant that in January 1977, I would travel by faith (i.e., flying across the country without enough money to return home) to Arrowhead Springs, California to investigate and explore a possible calling with Cru as a campus staff member. My few weeks attending Cru’s Institute of Biblical Studies (IBS) were great, but those contemplative days also led me to decide to forego Cru staff for a number of reasons, thus planning to attend seminary instead. I researched a number of fine seminaries but settled on Columbia International University (CIU now – then it was Columbia Bible College and Graduate School of Bible and Missions). Conveniently, CIU was located in my beloved city of conversion, Columbia, SC and I would start school there in the fall of 1977.
In the meantime, Mack, having fallen in love with not only French but language study in general, was pursuing a possible career of Bible translation with the well known translation ministry of Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT). He had interviewed with Wycliffe, attended a session of their Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) and since he was going to become a part of their missionary staff, they recommended that Mack attend one year of seminary training for mission preparation (note: most evangelical mission organizations at that time required a year of seminary or Bible certificate training prior to going on to the field).
And where do you think that Wycliffe sent (recommended) Mack to study for that one year, beginning in the fall of 1977? Providentially, Mack and I were reunited for one more year as graduate school roommates, living on the bottom floor of East Hall on the campus of CIU. What an unexpected blessing for me! Without going into details about that year together (we were overwhelmed with our studies), time passed and once again, after Mack completed his one year Certificate of the Bible program, we had to part ways. I would remain in seminary for two more years working on a Master of Divinity degree, while Mack would attend Wycliffe’s SIL training in Dallas, Texas in order to earn a Masters degree in Linguistics.
Separated But Providentially Called
In time, we both found our future wives, married and moved into our respective careers, God giving us opportunities to do the things we loved. Mack (and his wife Doris) headed into translation work (his location choices were either Cameroon, West Africa or Papua New Guinea – PNG), whereas my wife, Cathy and I were granted the heaven ordained gift of doing full time campus ministry at the University of Florida. Doing ministry at UF was actually a pipe dream I had held onto since visiting this beautiful campus during the summer of 1974 (in order to assist a friend, whose sister was moving out of her dorm after the completion of her summer school session). Mack and Doris, eventually moved with their newborn daughter, Sarah, to the secluded mountains of Papua New Guinea (the Jimi Valley) in order to work with the Kandawo people of that area; I would minister to UF students with Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) for almost 10 years.
To understand our separate callings and how we both were perfectly suited for them, I need to tell a short story. First, I have to say that Mack and Doris and Cathy and I only see each other every 5 (or more) years or so. Our times of being reunited are infrequent. But in one of his early visits back from PNG, Mack, Doris and their first two children visited us in Gainesville, Florida for a couple of days during the fall semester. The year was 1986 and the UF football season was in full swing. Mack and his family stayed over through the weekend, so together both of our families went over to the beautiful, historic dorm area of the university in order to attend a pregame cookout. This gathering included both our RUF students and a number of students from other UF campus ministry groups. As we were all eating with the students (photo below), Mack and I were conversing together and I turned to him and said, “I have no idea how you can live and minister in the middle of nowhere on the other side of the world.” He replied, while looking at all of the students attending our pregame event in this campus saturated environment, “I love what I am doing. I don’t understand how you can work with college students all the time. I wouldn’t know where I would begin!”
Providence and Patience
The love Mack had for Christ, for language study, for translation work and for a people who were not necessarily always impassioned about his presence in the Jimi Valley was undeniable. He believed in the hope of the gospel for people everywhere and anywhere. And these people of PNG deserved to hear the Word of God clearly spoken and expressed in their own dialect as much as anyone. Without going into the details regarding the many challenges, trials and even persecution that Mack, his wife Doris and their three children underwent throughout the years living in Papua New Guinea and in the secluded area of the Jimi Valley, I simply want to explain that they remained as a constant presence there, serving the people of the valley and the ministry of Wycliffe Bible Translators for over three decades.
Some might wonder why anyone would spend what amounts to, in essence, a lifetime of quiet, industrious service in and with an obscure and low profile location, people and task. I imagine that, at times, they wondered as well. But, in God’s perfect timing, through the help and assistance of “uneducated” and non-literate faithful locals, as well as the latest in state-of-the-art technology, the complete New Testament in the Kandawo language was consummated during the year 2014. Fittingly, a Bible dedication is scheduled to occur on April 14, 2015.
Patience Providentially Rewarded
Yet, after all of this time and effort, one might ask the inevitable question, “Will any of this translation work and New Testament production make a difference to the people who hear it?” “Was it worth it?” With the assistance of the provision of a strategic technology, the Audibible®, an inexpensive mechanism that plays the Bible audibly in the language of the people, the Kandawo people are now able to hear the Bible read in their own language. The Audibible® is a solar-rechargeable audio player in a strong and sturdy package about the size of a cell-phone, capable of holding hundreds or thousands of hours of high quality audio content. The Audibible® was designed and developed as a cost efficient, durable tool to meet the needs of those who do not read (source: https://biblerevival.igloocommunities.com/home/products/audibible).
It must be noted, however, that many of the Kandawo people previously have heard the Bible read in local worship services. But it must also be explained that the readings during these services were not always clear and edifying, since the Scriptures had not been provided in the Kandawo’s own specific dialect. 30 plus years later, however, the Kandawo people finally have the complete New Testament in their own, audible language, (see photos below) which is easily accessible through the means of the Audibible®.
So, how would the Kandawo people respond, hearing the Word of God in their own language for the first time ever? Below are two stirring quotes, spoken directly to Mack and spawned by those who were enabled to hear God’s Word through the use of the Audibible®:
“We were starving and we didn’t know it. Now this AB (Audibible®) satisfies our hunger and tastes sweet. Now I’m waiting for the Lord to come back to get me. You’ve come with the AB, at this exact time in my life. It’s perfect for me. I have worries and heavies, my husband left me to work the garden and feed and clothe our two grade school children. But the AB has given me so much peace. We saw ourselves as wild animals, pigs and dogs that die and are lost. But when you came and introduced this machine to us, it enlightened our minds from being like wild animals. It has taken us out of the destructive road we were on, and we have entered into its (new) road. It has been a game changer for me. I feel that it has met my deepest longing. The AB said that if I humbled myself before the Lord, He would lift me up. So now I give things to God and I am at peace with this because God will raise me up.” [Mack continued…] The next morning through tears, she pleaded with me, “You have to understand how very much this has completely changed me and my situation! This has changed everything for me.”
This woman’s mother said, “I couldn’t afford K20 (about $6) for an AB, but when the price came down to K10 (Mack’s note: second price; it is now K5 – about $1.40), I borrowed money and bought one. I tell others ‘to avoid hunger, you need to get one of these. Find the kina (money), sell stuff at market…get one!’ Before I got the AB I felt like a pig that was tied to a stick. But now I feel like I’ve been freed. I’m only a rotted old woman and I was going to church every week and I always wondered during the Bible reading. We thought that it was some language from some far away people. But now this machine has brought it close to me. We were ignorant pigs and dogs, but now we are changed. I take it to the garden and listen to it playing on my chest as I fall asleep because I love it. Now in the family we respect each other. I make them sit quietly and we listen to the AB. No more talking baksait (criticizing others), or stealing from others.
Pondering God’s Providence
What beautiful testimonies from those who have received the good news of God in their own language! May the Lord Jesus be praised and given the glory! His Spirit evidently has been at work!
I walked into my dorm room over 40 years ago and watched part of God’s plan unfold, a sovereign plan designed to provide a remote and neglected people, a Bible-less tribe, with a means to finally hear Him speaking to them through His Word, in a language that was their own. Little did I know what God was doing that day when four young University of South Carolina students sat together on two beds of a dorm room engaging in a message that began, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”
God was working right before my eyes.