When I was nine, my father left my family for a year to serve in the Viet Nam war. It was a sad day in our family when he left. We didn’t know if he would return one day in a body bag.
It was very traumatic.
Every week my father would send a letter or tape from Viet Nam telling us about the horrors of war and how much he loved us. My mother would get my sister and I together on the couch and share them with us.
If your father has ever left you, you know how painful it can be. There was a hole in my heart that only the love of a father could fill. Though my mother loved me very much, she couldn’t give me a father’s love. The weeks went by and my father’s absence was a great void in my life. There was no one to throw the football to me. No one to take me fishing. There are things that only a father can do for a son.
All of us have a hole in our heart that only a father can fill. I craved a father’s approval and his affection. My heavenly father wanted to fill this hole. He wanted to meet my need for approval by showing how pleased He was with me.
One day my mother read me the story of how God the father loved me so much that He sent His son to die for me. She read about Jesus’ painful death, a death he died so that I might have eternal life. I was cut to the quick. God wanted to show me his fatherly love if I would just accept it. One night I did so, thanking God for what He had done for me and asking forgiveness for my sins.
It was a great joy when my father returned from the war. But God had used my father’s absence to show me His love for me. He redeemed my difficult situation. I learned that just as we long for a father’s love, so He longs to give us that love.
So I grew up in a Christian home. My parents loved me and gave me many opportunities. My mother is a prayer warrior and a disciple maker. She encouraged me as a junior in high school to go on a two-month mission trip to Guatemala. That took a lot of effort on her part, because I was shy and had no desire to do so. She propped me up in front of her friends and had me ask for prayer support. I thought to myself, “Why in the world would anyone ever want to support me?”
In 1975, things weren’t like they are now. Nobody in Columbia, Missouri went on short-term mission trips.
I got on a bus bound for Florida, and in a way, I was journeying away from my childhood and into the future. The trip to Guatemala was eye-opening in many ways. I saw poverty that I never knew existed. I fell in love with the exotic Indian culture. The beautiful volcanic landscape was beguiling.
The following summer I went on another mission trip, this time high into the Andes mountains of Peru. The love for missions that the Lord had awakened in me in Guatemala continued to grow.
But I was later to see that this mission trip was missing two key factors that have since become so important to me. Instead of discipling me, the agency I went with focused on teaching us other things like personal hygiene and construction techniques. Most of our ministry was construction, so I missed a great opportunity to interact with the nationals.
Still, as I went off to college, I knew that my future lay in overseas work. I was convicted by God’s heart for the poor and oppressed in Isaiah 58 and determined to commit his life to helping others understand that they can make a difference in the world. During my senior year, a great human tragedy was unfolding. The Khmer Rouge was killing nearly two million of their countrymen. The Cambodian people were fleeing to the Thai border by the hundreds of thousands. As they spilled across the border on the brink of starvation, they were placed in large refugee camps.
So, I went to work in a refugee camp. I chose to do this in spite of the fact that I’d recently fallen in love with my wife to be and was earnestly courting her. As shocking as the situation in Thailand was, it inspired me to go deeper in pursuing a life of ministry.
After college, Karen and I were married. We went directly to Indonesia where I did economic development work to help the poorest of the poor. Later, we moved to the Dominican Republic and did the same thing there.
It was only after completing business school and continuing on in ministry that I discovered what had been missing from my walk with the Lord all my life. It was intimacy. While I’d always heard about having a personal relationship with Christ, I never understood that it’s possible to hear His voice. I was at a retreat where Peter Lord spoke. And not only did I hear God speak to me in a very personal way, but I discovered for the first time what a personal relationship with God can be.
Since then, I began to earnestly seek the Lord. Prayer became much more important to me. Evangelism became a passion. And now, late in life, I’m discovering experientially what it means to disciple others as I’ve discipled my own teenagers.
I’m a work in process. I’ve found that the main thing one needs in a relationship with God is hunger to know Him and be in His presence.
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I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.