One of the characteristics that has always impressed me about highly committed servants of Jesus Christ is that they continue to actively serve Him to the very end of their lives. Long after others have retired from their vocations and various forms of Christian service, these deeply dedicated Christian servants continue right on actively ministering for the Lord in whatever ways they are able. For them there is no such concept as retiring from the Lord’s work. They may not be able to serve Christ as actively or in all the ways they did in younger years. But they continue to serve Him to the full extent of their physical strength and other capacities (even as those are diminishing) to the end of life.
Dr. Carl Becker (1894-1990), who some say was the most outstanding medical missionary ever to serve in Africa, was a definite example of ongoing active service of Christ in the latter years of life. (See my May 2, 2016 blog, “Dr. Carl K. Becker – Africa’s Greatest Medical Missionary,” for a summary of his remarkable ministry career.) In 1964, after serving in Belgian Congo (modern Democratic Republic of the Congo) for thirty-five years, Becker was forced to flee his medical missionary compound at Oicha and the country in order to escape Simba rebels who were intent on capturing and executing him. Though seventy years of age at the time, he did not entertain thoughts of returning to the United States to retire. Instead he spent fifteen months serving at two medical missionary stations in neighboring Uganda, while awaiting the opportunity to return to Congo.
At the end of 1965 Becker was the first doctor to return to the vast area of northeast Congo. Following the recent violent uprising, the spiritual and medical needs throughout the entire region were enormous. In addition to rebuilding the work at Oicha, Becker desired to fulfill a longtime dream of founding an inter-mission medical training center at Nyankunde. While taking the lead in establishing that training center, Becker also regularly returned to Oicha and other mission stations to help promote their medical mission endeavors.
Then in the middle of 1966, Becker fell by a Congo roadside after suffering three heart seizures in one day. For two hours he lay quietly, completely helpless. But gradually his strength revived and he returned to Nyankunde. After a good night of rest, he appeared at the hospital early the next morning and insisted on resuming his normal medical routines.
“Why, Dr. Becker, you should be ashamed of yourself,” a nurse reprimanded him. “You shouldn’t be working like this after suffering three heart attacks yesterday. You should be resting in bed!” To which Becker responded softly, “If this is to be my last day on earth, I certainly don’t want to spend it in bed.” After which he promptly returned to his medical duties.
By the end of that year the Inter-Mission Evangelical Medical Training Center was opened at Nyankunde, with four mission boards cooperating in the shared venture. The center soon had six doctors and thirty African students receiving advanced medical training. As many as 1,500 people per day came to the Nyankunde hospital for treatment. The Nyankunde Center supervised and assisted hospitals at Oicha, Rethy and Aba as well as many smaller dispensaries. The doctors made monthly visits to those three remote hospitals, performing twenty to twenty-five operations per visit.
Becker’s responsibilities included supervising the Nyankunde Center, maintaining oversight of the Oicha hospital and visiting three other outlying dispensaries each month. He continued his active medical missionary work until he was eighty-three years of age. He then returned to the United States, having served as a medical missionary for forty-seven years.
Like Dr. Carl Becker, may each of us who follow Jesus Christ, faithfully and actively serve Him through all the years of life He entrusts to us. Much more inspiration may be gained from Becker’s outstanding example of lifelong Christian service by reading William Petersen’s excellent biography, Another Hand on Mine, The Story of Dr. Carl K. Becker of Africa Inland Mission.
What an excellent story of faithfulness! I am familiar with several older Christians, and it is sobering to see a very great difference between some of them. Some are on fire for serving God; and others seem very content with remaining how they always lived, with little zeal. Any ideas on how we can motivate older Christians to serve the Lord when they feel like they are ‘too old?’ (Especially if they were saved later in life?)
Thanks for your thoughts, Daniel, and blessings on your own faithful service for Christ and His people. It does seem that often habits of actively serving the Lord in older age are forged throughout life before one reaches latter years. That pattern of faithful, active service then continues in older age. Rarely do people who don’t have a heart to actively serve Christ throughout life suddenly transform into active Christian servants later in life. But I definitely think it’s worthwhile to keep encouraging and inspiring senior saints (from Scripture and great examples like Carl Becker as well as more common faithful folk) to make the final years of their life count in the service of the Lord. Sometimes inviting them to carry out simpler ministries or to join others in accomplishing more challenging ministries helps to whet their appetite and build their confidence in ministry. Senior saints can make some of the best prayer warriors too.
Thanks so much for your thoughts. My grandfather was converted when he was about 83 (about 2 years ago), and I know several other older saints, so it is a good topic to think about!